If there were a basic textbook on what it means to be a follower of Jesus in community, it would have to be the Book of Acts. A sequel to the Gospel of Luke, Acts tells the story of the early Church: an expanding, multi-ethnic community gathered around a common devotion to Jesus and a shared experience of the Holy Spirit.
There are many faithful heroes in this story. Peter emerges as the main leader of the Church in Jerusalem. Stephen suffers as the first Christian martyr. Paul has an encounter with Jesus that changes him from the Church’s greatest persecutor into its greatest evangelist! Yet, none of these men could fairly be said to be the main character of Acts. Instead, it is the Holy Spirit who drives the action. Throughout the course of the book, the presence and power of the Spirit of Jesus changes lives, gives direction, and brings order to a new community that walks in the way of Christ.
The presence of the Holy Spirit changes everything. Where once there was a fearful remnant of disciples huddled in Jerusalem, now there is an inspired community of men and women who are ready to take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Following Jesus’ ascension, they had been waiting for further instructions, but now they are filled with the very mind of Christ and shown how to live together as his body in the world. Before they watched and waited, but now they are filled with power and boldness to speak the truth and invite others into the life of Jesus’ new order!
This new order was in no way theoretical. The women and men of the early Church were on fire with the Holy Spirit, and the practical affairs of their daily lives reflected the apocalyptic intensity of their conviction. Individuals and families sold property and shared with all who had need. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. They were constantly together in public, in the Temple, praying and sharing the good news. They also met regularly in one anothers’ homes.
This community’s total focus and unity of purpose was magnetic to all who encountered it. Lives were being transformed, and day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
This Spirit-led community forged individuals who could speak and act with divine power. These Christians were filled with the same Spirit that allowed Jesus to speak with authority, and not as the scribes. It was with this spiritual power and authority that Peter addressed a physically handicapped beggar and told him, I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give to you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.
Like Jesus, the Spirit-filled Peter looked past the superficial need that the beggar sought to have met (alms) and spoke to the deeper need that was crying out for justice (physical health and wholeness). As part of a community that lived in Christ’s power, Peter was able to speak from a position of holy weakness, possessing nothing of his own yet bearing the healing power of the Most High God.
I can sense the Spirit inviting me to abide in that amazing life of holy weakness, a life that leaves room for the power of Christ in me. All that’s asked of me is that I humble myself and open a space for the Spirit to move. It’s not that God needs me to do more or better; rather, I’m being asked to get out of the way.
What holds me back from the singleness of focus and abandonment to Christ’s love that Peter and the early Church dwelled in? What am I holding onto that prevents me from fully experiencing the freedom and love of the Holy Spirit? What would it look like to be able to say to those around me, I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give to you?