From the time of the apostles to our time, church unity has been at the core of every successful gospel dispensation. The experience of unity witnessed by the early believers indicates that unity is still a vital tool in promoting the gospel. Our lesson this week explains some of the focal issues that affected unity in the early church, issues that are relevant to us today.
When we allow God to use us, He can transform us and accomplish great things through us.
Days of Preparation (Acts 1:12–14)
Prayer was a key element in ensuring that Christian unity prevailed in the early church. Even before the descent of the Holy Spirit, believers remained in one accord, with prayer as one of the unifying factors. They prayed over their tribulations and over the dangers and challenges they faced in spreading the gospel after Christ ascended to heaven. Prayer dispels fear. It makes believers go through pain and affliction with confidence. On this particular day (Acts 1:12–14), the apostles and other believers gathered for a prayer and fellowship, waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit to be fulfilled.
The Holy Spirit would be their teacher and guide and the informer of their decisions. From the prayer habits of the early church we can learn that when we unite in love and fervent prayer to perpetuate the cause of Christ, we are likely to receive His blessings.
From Babel to Pentecost (Acts 2:5–13)
The message of the descent of the Holy Spirit spread across Jerusalem, and the wonderful works performed by the apostles attracted multitudes of people. Some of them eventually became believers. It is easier for believers to receive the blessings of God when they unite and speak with one voice as one body of Christ. For the early believers, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit confirmed their unity in faith. Christ promised the disciples that He would provide the Holy Spirit to comfort believers in His absence (John 14:16, 17).
With the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were able to meet the demands of the gospel dispensation in their time. They were able to dispense the message of the death and resurrection of Christ to people of various backgrounds. Today’s believers should learn from the influence of the Holy Spirit on the early believers. God works in ways the world cannot understand. From this passage, we can note how some people perceived the action of the Holy Spirit: “Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine” (Acts 2:13). When we allow God to use us, He can transform us and accomplish great things through us.
Living as Christians (Acts 2:42–47)
Fellowship was an important aspect of Christian unity in the early church. The Bible explains that the believers devoted themselves to “the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). The believers developed a new way of life in Christ. They joined the church after hearing the good news from the apostles. Believers today can learn from the trend set by the early church. Fellowship is part of church unity. However, believers need to know that fellowship is not just socializing. The word fellowship implies a communion, a close mutual partnership between people who have a common agenda. For believers, the common bond is Jesus, whose teachings are in the Bible.
Fellowship involves ministering to one another according to the spiritual gifts we possess. It is a way of expressing love, acceptance, devotion, and caring and of ministering to fellow members as one body in Christ. How can we show fellowship in our local churches? Today, fellowship can show up in our activities in many instances. When we comfort those who hurt, offer personal counseling, participate in Bible studies, and encourage people who are downhearted, then we are involved with one another in a form of fellowship.
Generosity and Greed (Acts 5:1–11)
The story of Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, teaches believers about how God deals with sin, especially when believers become unfaithful. Ananias colluded with his wife to embezzle part of the funds that belonged to God’s work. Much as they thought the apostles would not know, Peter exposed the dishonesty that cost them their lives.
There is a raging battle between Satan and believers in which the prince of darkness attacks the church from within. This is also evident in Luke 22:3–6, when Judas, one of the disciples, betrayed Jesus. Many Christians are not able to resist the temptations that the enemy brings their way. However, it is possible to dispel the snares of the enemy if we emulate the principles of Christ (Luke 4:1–13).
As believers, we also have full responsibility over what we own. We need to develop a high level of integrity and honesty when dealing with our Creator. As usual, the devil is on the prowl (1 Pet. 5:8), and we should always be vigilant. “But sin blinds us to the true nature of the offense: that our sin is against God. Sin also blinds us so that we choose short-term gains in this life, heedless of the long-term loss in the next (Lk 9:24-25).”1
Dishonesty ruins church unity today just as it did the early church. If we are to remain true to Christ, honesty and integrity must form the foundation of our character. The message of dishonesty in Acts 5:1–11 speaks to Christians today. We must not allow selfish hypocrisy to ruin our Spirit-filled unity and fellowship.
1. How can we participate in true fellowship as believers in this generation?
2. How can we build and maintain honesty in small things?