God’s home is heaven (Is 66:1,2); Israel’s temple was only a place he occasionally visited (1Ki 8:10,11). But Jesus’ body became the permanent earthly home of God (Jo 2:18-21): a living temple, later extended when the Holy Spirit came to live in Christians (1Co 3:16). Not that the church is just like heaven yet! But God’s building work goes on and one day the church will be perfect. In Acts we’re at the start of the project, when the foundations were laid. Since then, the church has developed in many ways, but the work of Acts remains the foundation: the basic shape of the church’s life. Only if we build upon what we learn here, will the church be all it should.
In v32 we see a key truth about Jesus’ church: it’s all about the people. The church is a welding of lives. A local church which meets secretly in a forest is still a church – buildings are just optional extras. However, that shouldn’t lead us to think of the church as an organisation like a business or charity. Some treat the church as that: it exists to put on events for them to attend, if they wish. But the verse shows the church as people coming together in warm and remarkably close unity. Of course, we must not exaggerate this. Luke will soon show us problems and disagreements: the church is a building site and so life within it is not always easy. Also, the Jerusalem church had special blessings. Firstly, she had a unique role in history: to testify to Israel about her rejection of her Lord. So the Holy Spirit gave that church gifts to support this work which are not repeated in all churches down through the ages. Secondly, the first believers all had a common Jewish culture and so there were some good natural bonds between them. But having allowed for that, v32 still captures the heart of what all churches should be, so showing us what we should strive for.
It’s demanding to achieve this, however, and we need to face the cost. Getting close to others will require personal sacrifice. Jesus carried a cross. Why? To give up his life for his people. He said that Christians must do the same (Lk 9:23). This requires us to make the needs of other Christians our concern (end v32; Ph 2:2-4). We naturally ponder our own lives, but sin can poison that into a selfishness in which others are exploited or resented. Christians must fight that corrupted instinct. We can do so in very practical ways, such as with our money. Jesus warned of the need to break money’s addictive qualities (Mt 6:24,25), even telling one man to shed the lot (Lk 18:22)! We have to be willing to use what God has given to us, to bless our fellow Christians. Growing in unity, however, is not only about kindness and generosity in practicalities. It’s much bigger.
Unity is not built simply by Christians trying hard; it requires the Lord’s gracious work within us (v33). All Christians need to grow in the knowledge of the saviour (2Pe 3:18) so that it constantly reshapes how we think, pray and live. In Jerusalem this led the church to see how to fit Moses’ law into their new context, by caring for the needy (De 15:1-11) – an example of the Spirit writing the law on believers’ hearts (He 8:8-13). Luke even mentions one stand-out figure in this: Joseph the Levite. Levites were expected to live off temple gifts (De 14: 28-29) but this Levite hasn’t even donated his land as a gift to the temple. However, changed by the Spirit, he voluntarily gives support to Jesus’ living temple (cf Ex 25:2; 1Ch 29:9), leading the apostles to nickname him as an encourager (v35,36). His example should spur all believers to faithful, generous service.