Opening Our Hands: Christian Unity & Generosity Part 2

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Sermon Series- The Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years

Acts 4:32-27

Acts 4:32-37

32 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. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 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 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Our passage today starts with very intense language. “the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” Heart and soul have lost their meaning in the modern era. Heart tends to be associated with eros, or the love between a man and a woman. If someone we love in this way leaves us, we say that they “broke our heart.” And because we have given ourselves fully to materialism, the word “soul” has almost no meaning. We tend to use it as a synonym for the word “heart.” When we say that we love someone, “body and soul,” we are generally just interchanging the word “soul” for the word “heart.” 

The Greek word for heart is “kardia.” You should recognize it. We use it in medical terminology. Change the “k” at the beginning to a “c,” and you have cardia. If you have a heart attack, it is a cardiac arrest. If you need heart surgery you see a cardiac surgeon. If you have general heart problems, you go and see a cardiologist.

The Greek word for soul is “psuche.” It means breath. In Genesis 2 the Bibles says, “7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” The phrase “living creature” could be translated as “soul.” In the King James version of the Bible it is in fact translated “soul.” Another word we could use would be “being.” “Psuche” is also the basis for a medical term. The word “psyche” comes from it. If you are struggling in your thinking you go and see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. We generally associate “psyche” with the life of the mind.

In truth, the two words are more totalizing than how we use them. The heart is the fountainhead for all our feelings. It is the source from which all our feelings, passions, and desires spring. Feelings are emotions like happiness, sadness, or anger. The first inklings of lust are passions, not yet sinful but inappropriate. Desires are passions when conceived, to use the language of James 1:15. Emotions are often strongly felt in the body. Anger is a passion to be repented of before it becomes a desire that brings forth wrath. A desire to have what someone else has is envy. When envy conceives, it turns to hatred. The heart is where things are felt, first internally and then externally. For instance, there is a feeling in the chest, or the stomach of impatience and anger, isn’t there? This is why the Greek word for compassion describes a feeling in the “bowels.” And the word “soul” is even more totalizing than the word “heart.” “(A)nd the man became a living creature,” or being, or soul. (Genesis 2:7) How do you define something that significant? It is all-encompassing.

I wanted to explain how totalizing the words are so we could get the real strength of what is being said by the Holy Spirit through the instrument of the writer, Luke, in this passage. “To be of one heart and soul” is to feel the same, think the same, and, in a sense, BE the same. But let me break a little bit of the ice for us. The next chapter has a man, and his wife struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit. The chapter after that sees a complaint against the Apostles themselves. It will not always be this way. We read this passage and say, “wow, I wish we could be like the early church!” That is pretty myopic. I hope I’ve already burst that bubble. I’ve spent a ton of time in the early sermons in Acts showing the amount of conflict that erupts in the Church. From this point until Acts 15, conflict will be the rule, not the exception. After Acts 15, conflict continues between the Jews, false teachers, and Paul. Conflict is the very context of nearly all the Apostolic epistles. Even Peter and Paul have a showdown. So let’s not put ourselves under a huge cloud of guilt because we have never experienced this totalizing sense of unity. The Church, to my knowledge, has never felt this totalizing sense of unity ever again.

The one thing I don’t want to do is discount it. The other thing I don’t want to do is hold it up as a standard. Peter and the other apostles will never experience this again. Poor Paul, I don’t think he ever experienced it. For him, it was a desire for the church, a longing. His task was to take the Gospel to the Gentile world, where there was no unity in feeling and thought. A variety of gods and truths and cultures all swirling around, brought together for two reasons, trade and pleasure. Synagogues, temples, and marketplaces were his mission fields. Sacrifices in the ancient world were to gain material possessions and partake of them. Health and wealth as a religious message is as old as paganism. Do you want a lot of children? Burn the first one in the fires of Molech. Do you want more births in your herds and flocks? Then give of your herds and flocks to appease whatever god held sway in that city or region. Don’t want to lose them to war or famine, or pestilence? You get the picture. The Gentile world Paul reached with the Gospel, and the churches it produced were messy. Take a trip through the Corinthian letters or the early chapters of Revelation, and you’ll find out how messy it was.

Look for Part 3 tomorrow!

Blessings and may God be with you!

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