We come then to the second half of this last section of Acts 4, and here we see a vignette reflecting on the life and work of the church in those days. It was a bit like living in Eden. True, the church was composed of sinful people. We are going to see a pair of them in the very next chapter. But still it was a glorious time. We are told three things about them.
1. “They were one in heart and mind” (v. 32). That was the important foundation for everything they were going to do. I have spoken of this as the church at work, and they were at work. They were doing a great work, and this is the foundation of it. They were building a community which was one in heart and mind. The Greek literally says “one in heart and soul.” I do not know why the translators changed that to “heart and mind,” perhaps because they remembered the old song “Heart and Soul, I Fell in Love with You” and felt an echo of those words would be inappropriate. Still, the new translation, though not literal, is accurate enough and suggestive.
It suggests not only that the Christians were one in heart—that is, one in their emotional bonds one with another, being committed to the same thing—but also that they were thinking along the same lines, that they had the same theology. That is a very proper foundation for any Christian work. We should be one in everything.
What this means is that the disciples were experiencing that for which the Lord Jesus Christ prayed. In John 17 Jesus prayed that His disciples might be one, even as He and the Father are one. He said,
I pray also for those who will believe on me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (vv. 20-23).
This unity is not conformity, where everybody is exactly alike. It is not organizational, as if everyone must be forced into the same denomination. The worst times in the history of the church have been when everyone has been part of one large organization. It is not that kind of a unity. The unity for which Jesus prayed is a unity patterned on the unity of the Father and the Son. That is, it is a unity of mind, will, love and purpose. That is what the church should experience and what the church seemed to have achieved in these early days.
There are things that divide us, such as different points of view, for instance. We will always have those. We are concerned about different things. We have different ministries, and there are different talents and different gifts. We work differently. There is nothing wrong with many of these differences. Indeed, they are given to us by God. But underlying these, as a foundation for effective Christian work, there must be an even more basic unity. We must be one, as these early believers were one in heart and mind.
2. They “shared everything they had” (v. 32). That is, not only were they one in their work. They were also generous in it. Most people are not very generous apart from a saving relationship to Christ. Everyone is usually out for himself or herself. People are polite about it. Enlightened people realize that if you want to get something done, you usually have to get it done through other people. That is just good management. Besides, it is wise to keep other people happy. But the basis of this is not generosity; it is selfishness. It is only in Christianity that something new and truly generous comes into the world.
This is because Christians are people who have come to know God and God is gracious. Christians know that God did not have to do anything for us. He could have turned His back on us and simply have let us go to hell. He would have been just in doing so. But God sent Jesus Christ, His greatest gift, to die for us so that we might be saved. Nobody who has come to know that—to know that God has been so gracious that He has given His Son for our salvation—can ever be exactly like he or she was before. It follows from this that, if somebody says he believes the Gospel but then lives exactly as before, that person is not really born again. He or she is not saved.
When you realize what God has done for you, your nature is changed. That is what happened to these early Christians. God had been generous with them, and so they shared what they had.
3. They “testified to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (v. 33). Not only did they have a solid foundation for their work in their basic unity of heart and mind, and not only did they have a verification of it in their changed lives, being made generous, but they also had the work itself. And that work, as we have seen again and again, was to testify to “the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,” which they did. The chapter says that, as they testified, “much grace was upon them all.”
When the believers were praying, as recorded earlier in this section, one of the requests they had was that God would not abandon them but that He would stay with them and do great works. What we are told as we come to the end of this section is that God answered that prayer: “The place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly” (v. 31). It is a deliberate echo of Pentecost, and the result was the same. They spoke about Jesus boldly. That is the work of God—we have seen it again and again—to speak of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and find that God, by His Spirit, uses our witness to draw men and women to Himself.