Recapturing the heart and mindset of the early church

One of the joys of being a follower of Christ is the privilege that He grants you to likewise be part of His family, the church. In Christ, all believers are united to Him as the head of the church, and to one another as the body. We were created by the Lord to operate in community, and we have the privilege to be a vital and beneficial part of one another's lives.

But living in community with your brothers and sisters in Christ isn't always an easy thing to do. Sometimes, our preferences or selfish tendencies can get in the way. Sometimes, as the result of an offense, it can be easy to pull away from others while you brood over what has you upset. Other times, it can be easy to lose sight of what's really important in this world, and as a result, we invest our time elsewhere instead of investing it in Christ's people or allowing them to make investments in us.

Thankfully, we have multiple examples from Scripture that show us a glimpse of the attitude Christ wants us to foster among one another. As we look at some of these examples, we can learn more about what it would mean for us to recapture the heart and mindset of the early church.


I. Let unity foster your generosity

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common....  There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 
— Acts 4:32, 34-35, ESV

Each year around this time, I attend a conference in Maryland for pastors and other church leaders. For much of last week, that's where I was, so it was nice to return home to my family. I missed them, and I was happy to discover that they missed me too. One confirmation of that happened within the first hour of me returning home. My son had purchased a bag of "Spicy Sweet Chile Doritos" for himself, but instead of eating it, he gave it to me as a gift since I enjoy them too. It was generous of him and I appreciated it.

When we look at what this Scripture tells us about the early church, we see a high amount of generosity among them as well. These believers were, in many respects, living like outcasts in their society. There was a high degree of pressure on them to reject Christ and re-conform to societal norms. But they didn't do that. Instead, they grew closer together. The Lord fostered genuine unity among them, and in correlation with that sense of unity, they joyfully expressed generosity toward one another.

Consider some of the results of this generosity. We're told that within the church, there were no needy people anymore because, in response to the generosity of Christ, the church began treating everything they owned as something that ultimately belonged to the Lord anyway. So when needs were present among their brothers and sisters in Christ, they went out of their way to meet those needs. Some even went as far as liquidating their real estate in order to bless others with the proceeds.

This is a beautiful reality to consider. This wasn't a form of communism of socialism. This wasn't state mandated activity. It was the fruit of changed hearts. When a person gains a deeper understanding of who Christ is and what He has done on our behalf, this becomes the outpouring of a life that recognizes Jesus as Lord. This is the manner in which a true family learns to care for one another. Their unity fostered Christ-centered generosity.


II. Testify to the power of Christ's resurrection

And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
— Acts 4:33, ESV

Over the past few weeks, I have had several conversations with law-enforcement officials in an effort to help them bring resolution to a crime they're seeking to solve. I have given them eye-witness testimony both in-person and over the phone. If it will be helpful to them, I'm also willing to testify when the criminal they're prosecuting is brought to trial. Accurate testimony can be a powerful tool in the hands of our justice system.

Accurate testimony can also be a powerful tool in regard to spiritual matters as well. During the days of the early church, one of the key ways the Lord was using the leaders He had raised up was to testify to the resurrection of Jesus. The apostles , and many others, were eye-witnesses of the resurrected Christ. And as they testified to the historical fact that Christ rose from the grave, I'm sure they also testified to the powerful significance of His resurrection for all who believe.

Do we realize what Christ accomplished for us when He rose from death? He proved He was God. He defeated sin's stranglehold on us. He defeated Satan's control of our lives. He defeated death's power over us. And He assures us that we too will rise again with new, incorruptible bodies that can't experience pain, disease, or death. New bodies that are fit for an eternity in His perfect presence. 

For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,
— 2 Corinthians 5:2, ESV

How openly do we rejoice over this truth? Do our words and our lives regularly testify to the power and effect of Christ's resurrection?


III. Be known for your intentional encouragement (Acts 4:36-37)

Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
— Acts 4:36-37, ESV

The other day, I received a call from a friend who is dealing with some difficult things right now. He has graciously volunteered to lead an organization, but the task he has taken on has produced more stress, conflict, and exhaustion than he anticipated. Four years ago, he sent me a note with a quote from a ministry leader in Africa. The note encouraged me at the time, I just came across it again, and knowing what my friend is dealing with, I sent him the same note a few days ago to return the favor and hopefully encourage him in his season of difficulty.

Imagine being a Christian during the era of the early church. The culture didn't share their values. Christians were often arrested and killed simply for trusting in Christ and making His gospel known. In the midst of that context, the Lord raised up people with the gift of encouraging others. One such man was Joseph, who was called Barnabas which means "son of encouragement." He apparently was so well known as an encourager that it became the primary title people made use of when referencing or addressing him.

What do you suppose the Lord wants us to learn from the example of Barnabas' life? It's clear when you look throughout the book of Acts, that Barnabas was passionate about helping others come to know Christ in a personal and meaningful way. He travelled to do so. He partnered with other ministry leaders to do so. He encouraged his family to do so as well (he was cousins with Mark). But what do you suppose life would be like among believers if we all became known as intentional encouragers?

Is there someone the Lord wants to encourage through your words, but as of yet, you've been holding those words in? How might the Lord be seeking to bless someone else or prod them on in a healthy direction through the encouragement you lavishly bless them with?


IV. Show your church family sacrificial love (1 John 3:11-15)

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
— 1 John 3:11-15, ESV

The major reason the hearts and minds of the early church were cultivating a culture of love within the body of Christ was because Christ had changed their hearts and given them new minds. In addition to that, however, it was also clear that the apostles were going out of their way to emphasize that this was the way in which believers were to treat one another. As Christ had shown us the ultimate example of sacrificial love in His death on the cross, so too should we as believers follow His example by showing sacrificial love to one another.

The Apostle John was particularly known for emphasizing this. When you look at the five books of the New Testament that the Holy Spirit inspired him to write, you can see a repeated emphasis on the necessity of the church showing love to one another.

In 1 John 3:14, John states that displaying sacrificial love toward one another is evidence that we have truly passed from death to life. What he's saying is that if you're looking for proof that you've actually experienced the blessing of salvation, showing sacrificial love to your Christian family is tangible proof that Christ has indeed saved you. It's the fruit of a changed heart. It's the fruit of gaining a genuine appreciation for Christ.


V. Love in deed and truth (1 John 3:16-18)

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
— 1 John 3:16-18, ESV

One last thing that I want to point out are John's words in 1 John 3:16-18. In that passage, as John was doing what he could to cultivate a culture of love among the early church, he stressed that love is more than words. We can tell others that we love them and let those words merely hang in the air, or we can follow through with our deeds and show it to be real. Jesus told us that He loved us, but we're convinced he meant it because He laid down his life for us.

A friend of ours gave my wife a beautiful leather bag this week. It looks fantastic and I'm sure it would be rather expensive to buy, but he blessed her with it for free. It looks like it's from a boutique, but it was actually hand made in a prison from donated and reclaimed materials. There's a story behind that bag that's worth telling.

Several years ago, my friend was looking for a way to effectively convey the love of Christ to those who were in prison. He reupholsters furniture and creates other household items from reclaimed materials, and he wondered if his local prison would allow him to teach those who were incarcerated how to do it too so they would know a skill that could earn them an income when their sentences were up. He was granted permission to do this and has been doing so for several years. When the men he teaches ask him why he's volunteering his time to do this, he takes the time to point them to Jesus who loved us in deed and truth, precisely when we felt like we were completely unlovable.

As Christ's family, we're being called to love one another in deed and truth, and to likewise take the overflow of that love and share it with everyone Christ brings across our path.

There are many things in this world that try to grab our attention, and many things that seek to compete for our affections, but as we look at these passages, let's be reminded and encouraged to recapture the heart and mindset of the early church. May our unity foster generosity. Our testimony point to the power of Christ's resurrection. Our words be encouraging. Our love be sacrificial, and may our deeds be used to confirm that it's genuine, just as Christ's love for us certainly is.

© John Stange, 2018