Building the Church 2: a Loving Community - John Foster
Acts 2:36-47 John 13:31-35
When we look at the reading from Acts, one thing is very clear. This new group of believers are utterly and entirely sincere. This is no wishy washy maybe I believe, maybe I don’t, or I believe but I still live a normal life. The community of believers was caught up in an utterly different world to those around them. While the society around them was buying and selling, making money, getting to the top of the tree, the believers were more interested in learning from those who were close to Jesus, spending quality time together and having meals and prayer times together. They were prepared to sell the possessions they had in order to provide for those among them in need.
It doesn’t cost a lot to say you believe in something, but when you start asking people to give up their possessions and share everything they have, well that needs a whole different level of belief. But this community was doing just that. They were sharing everything they had without a thought for the cost.
Clearly they still had homes to meet in, so you can breathe a little sigh of relief that I’m not going to ask you to sell your house, but just think for a minute about what we would need to do to for our church to operate in the same way. Would it be possible? Why not?
We can be a part of the church these days by coming to services, or by joining in the Church’s activities, or the less demanding adding our name to the electoral roll. However, if we are to be anything like the church in acts there is something bigger, more powerful, something spiritual that has to take place. This is the greek word koinonia, which can be understood as a sharing relationship that denotes a common unity. It is often translated as ‘fellowship’ or ‘communion’, it denotes a ‘partnership’ together, a co-operative of Christ centred love. We are told in Romans to … love one another with mutual affection; and to Live in harmony with one another … Romans 12.10-16
However koinonia is not just an abstract ideal but carries the understanding of shared action in forming community and fellowship together and in meeting each other’s needs. It involves caring for those in need, giving financially to help others, worshipping and learning together and taking responsibility together for sharing the gospel, even when this involves suffering.
God has designed us to need one another in expressing our Christian life. At the root of koinonia is the love that is poured out from Jesus in whom we have our commonality. So when we come together as a church, each person will have something to share or contribute to our meeting together.
Jesus does not place particular importance on organization, methods of evangelism, or even academic religious training, these things are secondary. The primary requirement Jesus gives us is to love. A new commandment, to love one another, and the effect of doing this is that all people will know that we are Jesus disciples.
Mutual love overcomes the petty rivalries that would otherwise divide and destroy us, it empowers us in order to endure the challenges that will follow. It enables us to withstand persecution john 15:9-17
Jesus describes the most important commandment as: Love God with all your heart with all your soul with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is Love your neighbour as yourself, there is no other commandment greater than these. The love that we share is what sets us apart from the world as Jesus disciples. It is our distinctiveness, our saltiness. But there is a reason it is distinctive, it is because it is humanly impossible. We need Gods Spirit.
We are all part of one body, we are all inextricably joined together. If we were to cause another part of the body pain, then we will all share that pain. If we cause another part of the body joy then we will all share it. Love abounds in us when I share your joy and you share mine. We truly love one another, not when we merely attempt to make each other happy, but when we recognise that when we seek another’s joy, it becomes our joy also.
A true encounter with Gods love will displace everything else of significance in your life. Instead of worrying about your life, you will be consumed with an awareness and focus on God. This leads us to the understanding that what really matters in life is love, love for God, love for family, love for your neighbour, love for living. Every other source of pleasure will become false, hollow, empty. In the light of the love of God nothing else will satisfy. To put it another way, the only way to get satisfaction, pleasure, enjoyment out of our relationships and things in this life is through the overflow of love from our relationship with God.
John Piper describes this as Christian hedonism – the unbridled pursuit of joy and pleasure, which for the Christian only comes from the overflow of spending time in the love of God. Worldly hedonism will always end in disappointment, because it disrupts the right ordering of our lives. Christian hedonism puts God first, and orders our lives in a way that produces real and lasting happiness and satisfaction.
We can attempt to bury the memory of God’s love from our consciousness, and our minds can deny the truth of it, but we will soon discover that the only way to distract ourselves from the absence of God’s love is through a mindless jumping from one thing to another in search of what we are missing.
C.S. Lewis said it like this: I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. In the light of God’s love, we are released to love those around us, to love God’s creation.
Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously. We cannot be a Christian who is happy, and at the same time stingy. It is not possible, being a stingy will make us unhappy. Being happy will make you generous.
We need to be gratuitous in loving God, one another and with those who have need. You might say that you don’t know the person that I have to deal with… so how?
A life of prayer is what gives us the power to love, if we are struggling to love, our only recourse is to turn to prayer to receive more of the Spirit, so that we might overflow with the fruit of the spirit - love
This requires humility and it may help to consider that there are two encounters with reality that bring true humility: The first is when we recognise our own foolishness, and the second is when we truly realise how incredible it is to be loved by God.
True Christian love and action, is gratuitous, free from contrivance, free from a calculating spirit, free from contract, essentially spontaneous. We receive God’s love through grace, and like a fountain it overflows freely from us because God’s love delights to fill the empty.
As Jesus disciples we love and we act because there is someone in need, not to gain approval by God or to receive the benefits of Christian action. This is the issue behind the question that dominates the book of Job. At the start of the book Satan asks God, ‘Does Job serve God for nothing?’(Job 1:9). We need to test our own service to God by asking ourselves the very same question. By the end of the story Job demonstrates that his faith is not about the benefits in this world, not for healing or restoring his wealth. Rather faith is for the glory of God.
Gustavo Guiterrez the south American liberation theologian says this: The truth that Job has grasped and that has lifted him to the level of contemplation is that justice alone does not have the final say about how we are to speak of God. Only when we have come to realize that God’s love is freely bestowed do we enter fully and definitively into the presence of the God of faith… God’s love, like all true love, operates not in a world of cause and effect, but of freedom and gratuitousness.
Each of us has a choice, a choice that we have been given a lifetime to get right, we can either choose to seek full and lasting pleasure in the presence and love of God or we choose to neither love people or please God. Let us choose to be consumed by the love of God and to share that love with one another, both in words and actions.