Note: I wrote a version of the devotional below for the Houston Church Planting Network’s annual season of prayer last year. I’ve added to it and updated it for this website.
The end of Acts 2 paints a picture of the unity of the early church. Jesus had ascended, Pentecost had just happened, and Peter proclaimed the gospel in Jerusalem, where three thousand people were saved.
Verse 44 says that these believers were “together and had all things in common.” But it didn’t mean that they all liked the same kind of music, were the same age, in the same life stage, or anything else we might categorize as an important commonality. I imagine it didn’t even mean that they all agreed on every theological, ecclesiological, or political issue at hand.
What they did have in common was the most important thing of all: the gospel. Despite whatever differences or disagreements they might have had—and we know that they had their arguments—they were united by their mutual faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This shared faith spurred them to share their possessions, give to those in need, care for one another, and fellowship together.
Mutual Faith Eclipses All Differences
The same is true of us today. Because of Jesus, we have more in common with our fellow believers across our city and around the world than we do with anyone who might share surface level commonalities, but does not share the same faith. This includes fellow believers with whom we may disagree on important issues. The gospel eclipses any differences we may have with one another.
To be quite honest, I have recently wondered if I am being too naive to think that the gospel truly can unite us. Perhaps I am just picturing the church through rose-colored glasses. Maybe I am too idealistic. Maybe I am too unrealistic.
Then I realized: if our unity in the gospel is not true, then what a tragedy that would be. If I have stopped believing that the gospel can unite the church, the state of my own heart is worse than I can possibly imagine because that would mean I have stopped believing that the Bible is true. Where else would I find hope if not in the gospel? If I believe Scripture to be true and infallible, I can be confident that the gospel does indeed unite.
A Familial Connection
As I considered this idea of unity, I was reminded of my relationship with my brother. He and I are great friends, but our relationship did not shift to friendship until I left for college. Before then, I’m not sure either of us remembers a time we didn’t argue. Yet I am confident I have always loved my brother. He’s my brother. At the end of the day, we have always been on the same team. It just took a shift occurring to remind us of our familial foundation.
Is it like that with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ—even those with whom we have strong disagreements on important issues? Many of the things on which we disagree and argue are, in fact, important. But are the things over which we argue as central to the gospel as we want to claim? Or have we, like the Pharisees with the law, added prerequisites to the gospel that only serve to build walls between us? My asking is genuine. I don’t know the answer but simply want to encourage us all to take ourselves with a grain of salt; to trust our own motives with as much suspicion as someone with whom we disagree.
We seem to have forgotten that we’re on the same team. Just like my leaving for college initiated a shift in my relationship with my brother, we must make the shift back to our gospel roots. At the end of the day, we are still brothers and sisters and we should love each other accordingly.
A Testament to the World
The behavior of professing Christians towards each other in recent years has slowly eroded my confidence that we can ever be united. It’s no secret that the church is divided these days and the animosity believers have shown one another does not bear witness to the gospel that we claim to believe in.
But the Bible is clear that if we don’t love one another, we are not of Christ. 1 John 2:9-11 tells us that if we claim to be in the light and yet hate our brother, we are still in darkness. So our faith, if it is genuine, should lead us to love one another in the most difficult of times, in the strongest of disagreements.
And perhaps most importantly, our love for each other demonstrates Christ’s love to the world. When we love one another well, then we can love our neighbor well. I think it’s significant that Acts begins with this image of a unified church. The last sentence of chapter 2 says that the Lord daily added to their numbers and then the rest of Acts tells of how the church spread. The church took seriously Jesus’s words to make disciples in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. It was able to do so because it was unified under this common purpose.
The way we relate to one another demonstrates whether or not we actually believe what we say about Jesus. If we are divided, then we look no different from the world. If we are united, then we testify to the world that the gospel is true. The Lord has given us a community with which to proclaim this truth and our actions towards one another will back up our words.
Like the church in Acts 2, let’s devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. It is hard to be divided when we are listening to the same message being preached, spending time with one another, sharing meals, and praying together. And when we do so, we can faithfully proclaim to the world the truth of the gospel. The gospel empowers us to love one another the way the Bible tells us to and it unites us under one mission: the Great Commission.
I know—because Scripture is clear—that I cannot rely on man as the source of my hope or the determiner of my confidence in the gospel. Let this be a reminder that our “hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’s blood and righteousness.” I certainly need the reminder, and perhaps you do, too. The gospel is sufficient for life and godliness. I believe it can truly unite us, if we will only allow it.