SERMON: An Ordinary Community
TEXT: Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you at Gateway Church this weekend. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re continuing our series in the book of Acts today — a series we’ve titled “Ordinary” — as we’re discovering that God is in the business of using ordinary people to be His witnesses in the world. So if you feel ordinary — well — you’re in good company because God loves to use people just like you.
And like I’ve said the past few weeks, we’re in a chapter of the Bible — Acts chapter two — that I’ve already preached to you during my time here at Gateway. And it’s been quite the challenge to look at these verses again without repeating the sermon I preached to you a couple of years ago. And this week — in particular — was the most difficult for me — as this is a pretty classic passage of the Bible — one you’re probably familiar with — one that — after preaching it once — it’s hard to find a second way to preach it.
But as I was studying, I came across a pastor’s sermon who found himself in the same dilemma as me. He’d already preached this passage and had come back to it again — and I appreciate his approach the second time through. So what we’ll do today comes from his idea, though my sermon doesn’t have any similarity to his other than the idea of how to preach this text for a second time.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
So if you have your Bible, please turn with me to Acts chapter two. We’ll be looking at verses forty-two through forty-seven.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
Here are the words in Acts chapter two — beginning in verse forty-two. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)
Now what we’ve just read is the incredible picture of the early church — what an ordinary community of Jesus followers was like. We see that they were devoted to the teaching of the apostles — the early church leaders. They were devoted to fellowship — of doing life together. To breaking bread — the Lord’s Supper — and to prayer.
Awe and wonder was upon everyone. Miracles were taking place. No one had a need. They were worshipping together, gathering in homes for meals, praising God, and experiencing favor with the community. And — incredibly — they were seeing people come to faith in Christ daily.
What a beautiful picture of what has been and what could be the experience of every ordinary community of Jesus followers.
Now instead of going verse by verse through this passage — like I did the last time I preached it to you — what I want to do is share with you seven prayers I have for Gateway Church. These prayers are my hope for us — an ordinary community of Jesus followers — of what we could and should be — of who I hope we’re becoming together. Where — if Luke was to do an investigation into the story about us — he would find these prayers to have been true about us. These prayers overlap with what we see the early church experiencing and doing in our verses. Here’s my hope — my prayer — for us.
My first prayer for us is that the glory of God would be our primary concern in all that we do — that the glory of God would be our primary concern in all that we do as individuals and as a church.
Though Luke’s description in Acts two doesn’t directly mention this, we see through their devotion to worshipping God — their daily praising of God — we see that God’s glory was this ordinary community’s primary concern. Whether gathered together or spread out as individuals and families — their worship demonstrated that God’s glory was their primary concern.
But what is glory and how does it relate to worship? As one pastor has said, “Glory has connotations of weightiness, dignity, magnificence, and beauty. Glorious worship is exuberant, never halfhearted. It is attractive, not off-putting. It is awesome, never sentimental. It is brilliant, not careless. It points to God. It’s worship that seeks to be as glorious as the one it praises...There is nothing more evangelistic, nothing that will win the world more than glorious worship.”
God’s glory — being the early Christian community’s primary concern — is best seen in their worship. And we see in the rest of Acts — and the New Testament — that God’s glory continued to be the primary concern for the early Christians. And we even see them being reminded of the importance of God’s glory being the reason they do everything they do as individuals and as a community of believers when they get distracted.
For example — in his first letter to the ordinary Christian community in Corinth — Paul writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV)
There was division among the Christians about what foods could be eaten. Jews and Gentiles were both believing in Jesus and coming together in a new — but ordinary — community. Before — the two groups wouldn’t mingle — they had different religions, different diets, different practices — and now — because of their ordinary faith in Christ — they’re all part of one group — one community. And there were some disagreements as these two groups meshed together and they didn’t know what to do with their pasts and their preferences. And Paul tells them, “Eat or don’t eat — it’s up to you. Don’t put your conscience on someone else regarding this matter. But — whatever you do — whether you eat or don’t eat the meat — do everything for the glory of God.”
God’s glory was to have primary importance in their lives — not their upbringing, not tradition, nothing — but God’s glory — was to be first. And they’d lost sight of God’s glory being the primary goal — they got caught up in some other important — but not as important as God’s glory — kinds of things.
And in our age, the same temptations are among us. It’s easy to lose sight of God’s glory being the primary goal in all that we do — as a church and with our lives — it’s easy to get caught up in other things — some that are very important — just not as important as God’s glory.
Therefore, my first prayer for us is that the glory of God would be our primary concern in all that we do.
My second prayer for us is that we would live under the authority of God’s Word while being empowered by His Spirit — that we would live under the authority of God’s Word while empowered by His Spirit.
We see this in their devotion to the apostles’ teaching — what we find in our New Testament — and the wonders and signs being done among them by the power of the Holy Spirit. And — like them — we should be a people who live under the authority of God’s Word and by the power of His Spirit. Both of these are necessary in order to live the Christian life.
Being under the authority of God’s Word without the Spirit’s power is to live under the weight and condemnation of something you can’t obey in your own strength and power. Many try — to be sure — but we simply cannot obey God’s Word without the help that comes from God’s Spirit. Jesus — in the gospel of John — refers to the Holy Spirit as our Helper — the One who will help us to obey even after we believe. We need help to believe — but don’t forget that we need help after we believe— that’s how helpless we are on our own.
And as we’ve seen the past few weeks, we need the Spirit’s gifts so we can mature as a church. We need to live by the Spirit’s power so we accomplish all that God has for us to do — the good works — as they’re described in the New Testament — of being the ordinary witnesses we’ve been called to be. Being under the authority of God’s Word without the Spirit’s power is to live under the weight and condemnation of something you can’t obey in your own strength and power.
But the reverse isn’t any better. To live by the Spirit’s power without being under God’s Word is to — well I question if it’s even the Spirit’s power you’re living by. God’s Word and God’s Spirit are not in conflict with one another — they aren’t at war — they don’t contradict. And yet — often — we see people who say they’re living by God’s Spirit while blatantly disregarding the authority of God’s Word. And that leaves us with only one conclusion — it’s not the power of God’s Spirit they’re living by.
In an effort to have a spiritual experience, people who think they’re following Jesus will often forego the Bible — even ignoring what it clearly teaches — for some supernatural kind of high. And this does not honor God — this doesn’t glorify Him.
And my hope for us is that we would be people who know God’s Word, study it, memorize it, apply it to our lives, meditate on it — that we’d be people who obey God’s Word — by the power of God’s Spirit. That we would not put God’s Word and Spirit at odds with one another — for they are not at odds. That we would fight the tendency found in many churches — to lean so far in one direction — either towards God’s Word or God’s Spirit — that we end up neglecting the other.
My second prayer for us is that we would live under the authority of God’s Word while being empowered by His Spirit.
My third prayer for us is that we would be concerned about the interests of others — that we would be concerned not only about our own interests, but about the interests of others as well.
To the ordinary Christians in Philippi — Paul writes — “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)
So let me say — there’s nothing evil about looking to your own interests — or the interests of your family — there’s a responsibility we have there. But the Bible says — Paul says — that to look out only for your interests is unbiblical. That what’s ordinary — for the follower of Jesus — is that they also look to the interests of others.
And this is such a difficult thing to evaluate in our own lives — because it can be so subjective. I mean we’ve all got stories of how we’ve helped others — so we’re all good when it comes to this, right? But think of how hesitant we are to talk about the ways we help ourselves.
I mean, does anyone want to stand up, grab a microphone and talk about all of the ways you look out for your own interests — make a big list for us — I brushed my teeth, I paid my rent, I fed myself, I bathed, I worked out, I did a good job at work so I’ll get a bonus later this year, I planned my vacation, put some money in my retirement, got the lake house ready for the summer, etc...? Anybody want to make the “taking care of myself” list and then make the “taking care of others” list so we can compare the two? That sounds horrible doesn’t it?
But in our Acts passage, we see that these ordinary Christians are willing to sacrifice much in order to meet the needs of others. And these kinds of stories in the Bible make us uncomfortable — “we’re not going to go that radical are we Hanson when it comes to following Jesus — selling our stuff in order to meet the needs of others? You better not go there.”
Sometimes when you come to a passage like this — it’s better to let someone else tell us what’s going on and how it’s to be applied to our lives. They say an expert is someone who drives more than 20 minutes to come and say the same thing the boss has been telling everyone for years. So here’s a quote from a pastor many of you have heard of — you probably enjoy his preaching — he lives more than 20 minutes away — so here’s an expert explaining this text.
Matt Chandler said, “I don’t know if you caught this, but what just happened in this text — [our verses in Acts chapter two] — is that people saw other people with need in their midst and sold what they had in order to meet that need. That’s very, very different than seeing someone with a need and having $1000 in savings and pulling that $1000 out of savings and using it. That’s not the same thing as selling the things that you have in order to meet a need…[and] this is first century, Roman occupied Jerusalem, which means since nearly 80% of everything they make is being taken from them by the Romans to support a massive army to keep the world under control. They don’t have — and please don’t take offense at this... — they don’t have a plethora of junk in their homes. This isn’t ‘Should we get a fourth television for the playroom? You know what, we’re good people. We’re Christian folk. We’re going to forsake the fourth television. We’re going to deal with three, and we’re going to meet the need of this poor brother right here.’ That’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is, they’re already bare-bones. They’re already mostly poor, and they are selling what they need. That will affect their comfort, that will affect their safety, that will affect how they live, how they go about eating — and they’re selling it to meet the needs of others. But they’re not worried because other people are doing it too. So if it gets to the point where they have nothing to eat, then somebody’s sharing food because every day they get together and eat together with gladness.”
There was a real concern not only about their own interests, but about the interests and needs of others. And as a church, we have an amazing opportunity to show concern not only for our interests, but for the interests of our brothers and sisters in Christ who live all around the world. For pastors like Andrew Brunson, who’s in prison in Turkey because of false allegations. A man who loves the people of Turkey and who moved there in hopes of seeing many of them find hope in Christ. We have an opportunity to show concern for people right here in our community through partnerships with Women’s Resource Center, Young Life, Youth for Christ and others. And even for others in our congregation who worship at a different campus — where we can show an interest in what each campus is doing and what they need — not just the campus we regularly attend — we have the unique opportunity to be a blessing to each other.
My third prayer for us is that we would be concerned not only about our own interests, but about the interests of others as well.
My fourth prayer for us is that we would be known by our love and faithfulness — that we would be known by our love and faithfulness. We just saw how they expressed their love for one another in tangible ways, but this prayer goes beyond meeting needs — it gets to our hearts.
Something — that’s been a recent joy — is to hear from you — whether in one on one conversations or as we pass each other in the lobby — to hear you tell me that you love me. A number of years ago, I was reading a book written by a seasoned pastor. It’s a book reflecting back on decades of ministry and the lessons he hopes to pass on to other pastors. And one thing that immediately changed in my ministry was based on him writing, ‘No one hears the words “I love you and God loves you’ enough.” I remember reading those words and thinking, “I’ve got to start saying that.”
Now this was before my coming to Gateway, and I still remember the first Sunday when I planned to say those words — I remember thinking — “This is going to be weird.” I’d never heard a pastor say that to his congregation — at least not on a regular basis — and I’ve listened to a lot of sermons. But that Sunday I said those words and I haven’t had a worship service go by without saying them.
Loving others is hard. Loving yourself can be hard. Let’s be honest — loving God can be hard too. We’ve romanticized love so much — hello Royal Wedding — that we often run from relationships as soon as the romance wears off and the real work of love begins.
And then there’s this whole issue that none of us are perfect — that makes loving each other hard. Some of us can be mean. Others of us are selfish. Others never seem to get their act together. Others are stuck up. Others are overachievers. Others are judgmental. Add in that we’ve got men and women, young and old, Republicans and Democrats, different ethnicities and backgrounds and upbringings and we’re one big mess.
But Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)
All people — the world that we are called to be witnesses to — will know that we’re true disciples of Jesus by our love for one another.
And closely related to love is our faithfulness — faithfulness to God and to one another. Love and faithfulness are the cords that keep us together in the midst of sin — which we all bring to our relationships. Love and faithfulness keep us together in the midst of disappointment — in the trials of life — when there’s conflict.
Often we measure success in a church by things like — attendance numbers — how big was the offering — how many couples showed up to the marriage conference — those aren’t bad things — but if we break new attendance records each week, but have not love, our attendance is nothing more than a noisy gong. If our budget keeps increasing and our giving is incredible, but we have not love, our giving is nothing more than a clanging cymbal. We can be the buzz of the American church world — having everyone look to us as to “how to do church successfully” — but if we don’t have love — we have nothing.
My fourth prayer for us is that we would be known by our love and faithfulness.
My fifth prayer for us is that our identity would be in Christ — that our identity would be in Christ.
One of the reasons why we see these ordinary Christians live how they live — is because they’re living in their new identity — their identity in Christ. One of the greatest freedoms a person can discover is found in not having to make a name for themselves — an identity for themselves — but instead to receive and live out of the identity that’s ours through faith in Christ. That freedom of being a “nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody who can save anybody.”
Often our greatest struggles, heartaches, pains — both the ones we’ve experienced and the ones we cause — regrets, the things that make us anxious and worried — are all tied to our identity — who am I? Am I valued? What am I worth? Am I loved or even loveable? What do I deserve? How do others see me? How does God see me?
Those kinds of questions haunt many people. Identity issues are almost always the root cause for every relational conflict I counsel others through. It’s always part of the mix of why someone struggles with an addiction, cheats on their spouse, has abandoned their children, underperforms at work, is greedy, has anxiety, is worried all the time, is impatient, can’t keep or maintain friendships, or is just a plain old grump.
But what does the Bible teach us about our identity in Christ? It teaches us that we’ve been changed from being children of wrath to children of God. From God’s enemy to His friend. From being separated from God to be united with Him through Christ. Dead, but now alive. Known by God. Eternally loved by God. Welcomed by God. Protected by God. Secured by God. Embraced by God. Healed by God. Taught by God. Helped by God. Guided by God. Cherished by God. Delighted in by God.
Do you hear who you are if you believe in Christ? Do you hear who you can be if you would turn from your sin and turn to Jesus in faith? Do you long for the identity of who Christ has promised you to be in Him?
My fifth prayer for us is that our identity would be in Christ.
My sixth prayer for us is that the next generation of Christians would be raised in our church — that the next generation of Christians would be raised in our church.
In our Acts passage we see this in Luke’s statement “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b ESV)
My hope and prayer for us — is that we would raise up the next generation of Christians. That includes our children and teenagers — for sure — but I’m thinking even bigger than that. That the next generation of pastors, church leaders, missionaries, faithful husbands and wives, moms and dads, men and women who will lead God-honoring businesses, government leaders who will influence our community or nation — my hope is that we will see our role in raising the next generation for Christ.
That we’d see in our nursery, future worship leaders who — may be screaming for their mama right now — but will one day be raising their voice in worship of Jesus.
That we’d see in our youth the future of Gateway Church. One of those pimply, squeaky voiced sixth or seventh grade boys with BO like nobody’s business — may just be the next senior pastor of Gateway.
And that we’d prepare them to — not only follow Jesus — but to pass on our Christian faith to the generation that comes after them.
That — as Paul tells Timothy — we would say to them, “...be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:1b-2 ESV)
Our Christian faith must not end with us. We must pass it on to the next generation. Every generation before us has done so — and now is our time to raise up the next generation of ordinary witnesses for Jesus Christ. That we would have eyes to see every person as a potential believer in Jesus Christ. Young or old — black or white — man or woman — that we would not care about anything except God being glorified in their life. That — as it’s been said — our mission exists because worship doesn’t in the lives of those who are yet to believe. So you and I are here — have been saved — and are being sent as witnesses — because people — who are not worshipping Jesus right now — will one day — because of the gospel going forth from us.
This means we’ll need to focus on what we believe, own our faith, and grow up spiritually, so we can teach others what we’ve been taught — entrust to them what we’ve been entrusted with. From being a faithful husband or wife, to being godly parents, to suffering well when life crushes you under its weight of disappointments — we can’t pass on to the next generation what we haven’t first received ourselves.
My sixth prayer for us is that the next generation of Christians would be raised in our church.
My seventh — and final — prayer for us is that The sleeping giant would awake — that the sleeping giant would awake.
To the Christians in Ephesus, Paul writes, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:14b-17 ESV)
Gateway, I love the story that God has been telling through you. But there’s a hope I have — and I don’t say this to downplay or disrespect the past — but there’s a hope I have for us and it’s that we would wake up to the future God has prepared for us. That we’d believe truths like, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)
That we’d wake up to the promise that is ours: God is able to do far more in and through and for us than we’re able to imagine or think. And the power to do the unimaginable is already at work within us — the power of the Holy Spirit. And when God’s glory is our primary concern — and we have a hope to see Him glorified in the generations to come — God will do the unimaginable in and through us.
And I have no idea what this might mean — I don’t have that kind of imagination. But if we go back to the things we typically measure, does this promise mean we see 100 baptisms in the next year or 1,000? I don’t know. But could it mean we see 10 baptisms and yet celebrate like the angels of Heaven do when one sinner comes to faith?
Does it mean God multiplies us into a church of dozens of locations? Or that we stay at two campuses for the remainder of our days, but handoff Gateway to the next generation who sees the ministry multiply into hundreds of locations?
Will we wake up to God’s will for us, resisting the foolish ways of the world, making the best use of our time, because the days of evil — walking wisely — so that we glorify the God we love — but more importantly — so that we glorify the God who first loved us?
My seventh prayer for us is that the sleeping giant — us — Gateway Church — would wake up to all that God has planned for us.
Gateway Church — I believe that we can experience what the early Christians experienced. Why? Because I believe that we’re just as ordinary of a community of believers as they were. We’re no less ordinary than them — and God loves to use ordinary people for His glory and to accomplish His mission.
The question for us is this: Will we commit ourselves to being an ordinary community of Jesus followers? Will we — you and I — devote ourselves to doing all things for God’s glory — living under the authority of His Word and being empowered by His Spirit? Will we have concern for the interests of others? Will we be known for our love and faithfulness — living out of our identity in Christ as we raise up the next generation of Christians? Will we wake up to the story God has invited us to be part of?
I pray that we will — I’m praying that we will. I hope you’ll join me in praying for us to be the ordinary community that God has created us to be. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, shape us into being the ordinary community of believers You’ve created us to be. Answer these prayers of ours. That Your glory would be the primary concern behind all that we do. That we would live under the authority of Your Word and by the power of Your Spirit. That we’d have concern for the interests of others — would be know by our love and faithfulness. That our identity would be in Christ. That we’d raise up the next generation of Christians. And that this sleeping giant would be awakened to the unimaginable You want to do in, through, and for us.
Father, help us to be an ordinary community of witnesses who show others how good, and gracious, and loving You are. Use us to connect others to Your Son — Jesus Christ — and to Your church.
And Father — do that saving work that only You can do. Spirit give life to those who’ve come here today to believe in Jesus Christ for the first time. And may they live — from this day forward — for the glory of Your name.
We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.