How would you describe a healthy church? We typically evaluate the effectiveness, the viability, or the health of a church based upon its buildings, its programs, its preaching, its worship music, or the friendliness of its people.

Is the building beautiful? Are there programs for men and women and children? Is the preacher faithful, relatable, and approachable? Is the music production on point? Are the people friendly with visitors? These are the questions we typically ask, and they are not necessarily wrong, but they are questions that the Bible typically does not seek to answer.

It is true that the temple was beautiful and well kept. Preachers were expected to be faithful to the Word, relatable to current issues, and easily approachable by the people. There definitely would have been an expectation that the community of God would labor together to learn, to teach, and to receive instructions from the Word of God as they studied together. The book of Psalms is full of beautiful, God centered, worship music that was sung by the early church. There was also an expectation throughout Israel’s history that the people of God would be friendly with outsiders so that they would someday become insiders.

So, the questions above are not bad questions at all. It is just that the Bible does not seek to answer those questions from the standpoint of a consumer who is looking for the right church family. The questions above are typically answered from the standpoint of what it means to be a faithful contributor as a member of God’s church. The church family is made up of members therefore the church family reflects the character of its members. This is what Luke describes in our text; he describes the character of the early church.2

32Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.


The first thing Luke tells us is that the early church was full of unity and selflessness. In verse 32 he says that all “of those who believed”, all who claimed to be Christians, were united in “heart and soul”; they were united in the deepest parts of their beings and in the highest levels of their thoughts and emotions. The consistent image of believers throughout the book of Acts is an image of church members who were all fully dependent upon Christ and therefore were fully unified just like the Trinitarian Godhead they clung to.

Not only were they fully united, not uniform, but they were also overflowing with the characteristic of selflessness. In the second part of verse 32, Luke says that the early church did not view their possessions as things that belonged to them but instead “they had everything in common” meaning that what they did possess actually belonged to everyone else in the community. This is radical selflessness. And this characteristic of radical selflessness is a direct result of believers who kneel at the foot of a bloody cross, and find their strength in an empty tomb, and look forward with hope to the return of Christ.

The early church did not arrive at this level of unity and selflessness because they wanted to reach the lost or grow their church; they were unified and selfless because they focused on the cross, the empty tomb, and the hope of Heaven where their selfless Savior had died in their place, had risen victorious over Satan, sin and death, and had promised to return to take them into eternity.

If you struggle with unity and selflessness, look to the cross and behold your crucified Savior; look to the empty tomb and witness Christ’s power over Satan, Sin, and Death; look to Christ’s promised return and ponder his unified plan of selfless redemption for you. Do this constantly and I guarantee that you will look back and see measurable growth in your ability to be selflessly united to your brothers and sisters in Christ just as we see here in the text.


The second thing Luke tells us is that the early church was full of power and grace. In verse 33 he says that “with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all”. From the outside looking in, the early church was unlike any other religious movement in history; at this point in history the church was not marred by a lust for power, or an infatuation with wealth, or an insidious blind eye towards slavery or social injustice.

The early church at this precise moment in history was not known for big expansive buildings, or preachers in million dollar three pieces suits, or an unhealthy alliance with the national empire, or an inclusive theology that ignores the plain teachings of scripture in regard to sin, or a sickening legalistic misuse of Scripture that fails to protect the weak and vulnerable.

The early church at this very moment in history was known for its undeniable power and obvious evidence of true grace. The dynamite power of the early church’s message was centered on the crucified, risen, and returning Savior. The overwhelming grace that was obvious to everyone was overflowing like waves in the ocean because every member of the early church fully understood and fully felt the absolute grace of God in saving them from the presence, the power, and the penalty of their sins.

If you struggle with experiencing the power of the cross, the resurrection, and the promised return of Christ in your life it is because you are looking elsewhere to cheap substitutes for the power you need. If you find yourself being absolutely graceless with your friends, family, and even enemies, then it is because you have bought into a works based theology where you think that you have gotten everything you have because you worked hard for it and therefore you deserve it. You have forgotten that grace is free – it is literally undeserved favor from the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

The more you recognize and realize the depravity of your own soul and the more you turn in desperation to the cross, the empty tomb, and the hope of heaven – only there will you find a dynamic power that is full of the grace and mercy that you personally need and not only for yourself but for others as well. True spiritual power and grace can be found nowhere else outside the cross, the empty tomb, and the promised return of Christ.


The third thing Luke tells us is that the early church was full of generosity and encouragement. Inverses 34 – 37 Luke says that no member of the church was in need because everyone who owned extra land or extra houses sold them and gave the proceeds to the apostles so that they could distribute the funds to anyone was in need and he also says that one of those people who did this was a man named Barnabas who was a Levitical priest and was also known to be an encourager. The bottom line here is that people get encouraged when church members practice generosity.

Needing something is definitely different than wanting something. Getting something you want can be exhilarating but having your needs met by someone else is absolutely humbling and encouraging. I remember how encouraged my friend Brian in Africa was the two times our church family generously met the needs for food for his family and their eighteen orphans. I also know how encouraging it is to me when our church family gives generously so that I can continue the work of ministry here at The Well.

I also remember my own journey in growing in my desire and ability to give generously. In my earlier years of following Jesus, I did not comprehend the generosity of God in the cross of Christ as he literally poured out the riches of his love in Christ Jesus so that I, a wretched sinner and enemy of the cross, could become a ransomed and adopted child of God.

If you struggle with giving generously and even sacrificially in proportion to what you make, the reason you struggle is not because of the common excuses we all make (not enough to go around, need to pay my bills, do not trust the church, etc.).

Although those excuses do result from reasons that need to be dealt with, the reality is that deep down inside your heart, you have not been confronted with the generosity of the cross of Jesus. The generosity of the cross of Jesus, where his broken was broken on your behalf and every last drop of his blood was poured out for you even while you were his enemy, this is meant to encourage you and I to live our lives in such radical obedience that we trust God to provide for us spiritually and physically as we labor to encourage others in meeting their needs through our generosity. A church that is full of generous members is a church that is an encouragement in the midst of a selfish and perverse generation.


So, in conclusion, we asked how would you describe a healthy church? But now we have to ask, how do we continue to become a healthy church? We have seen here that the early church was a healthy, vibrant, and effective church because it was full of members who were full of unity, selflessness, power, grace, generosity, and encouragement. These characteristics marked the early church because she had been marked by the cross, marked by the empty tomb, and marked by the promised return of Jesus. We become a healthier church as each member becomes more and more marked by Jesus.

In the cross, the empty tomb, and the promised return of Jesus, we can all see the unity of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the unfolding plan of redemption. In Christ we see the most selfless person who ever walked this earth; we see his power over Satan, Sin, and Death; we know that it is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to scripture alone, for the glory of God alone, that we can have a relationship with our good Father in heaven (something we do not deserve); all of the riches of heaven were poured out in the person and the work of Jesus on our behalf; and in all of this truth there is a great sense of deep encouragement for each of us.

I believe that if we as members of God’s church, would cling to these truths – Christ united, Christ selfless, Christ powerful, Christ gracious, Christ generous, and Christ encourager – then we would characterize those traits that we see in Christ; we would continue to become a healthy church that is known for unity, selflessness, power, grace, generosity, and encouragement. – Amen!

Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).

2 Kent, Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1996), 67 – 73.