If I could give one quality gift to you as a leader, I would give you the gift of gratitude. If I could have God do anything for you, I would ask that God make you a grateful person. Gratitude is the fundamental value of the Christian faith. It has the potential to change the world, as much as impacts your relationships.
Over my 48+ years of ministry, I have never known a person who was grateful who was at the same time bitter, hurtful, mean, or vengeful. If you are a grateful person, you will lead with gratitude. Who you are is how you lead.
This week, as you gather with family and friends to celebrate thanksgiving, give thought to the words “glad and generous hearts” recorded in Acts 2:46.
Read Acts 2:46-47
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
These words in Acts are words of good news. With these words we see people in the community giving thanks, filled with joy, caring for one another, and giving to meet each other’s needs. We see a picture of a church that is inviting and attractive. In the midst of the fighting, division, and pain, there is good news, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”
Depending on your point of view, or may I say your disposition, you might see these words as a dream of what the church could be. A mission to be accomplished. You might dismiss them as impossible, improbable, and uncomfortable. A matter of wishful thinking. Or you might be skeptical. You are asking yourself, “Did that really happen?” or “It might have happened then, but it will never happen now.”
In the day in which we are living, it is difficult to see the church as a place of “koinonia” fellowship where people are together with glad and generous hearts. But before you dismiss these words as wishful thinking, let’s look at their context.
Good News about the Church
Understanding the context of the words will give us insight into the truth of the words. In the New Testament, there are some words that are prescriptive. They tell us or teach us what we should do, how we should live, or who we are to follow. An example of prescriptive words is, “A new command I give to you, love one another as I have loved you.” The words are straightforward and direct.
The New Testament also has words that are descriptive. We call these words narratives or stories. They don’t tell us what to do but tell us what happened. When Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray it describes what he was doing. Those words are not telling you what to do, but they reveal a truth that is both meaningful and purposeful for living and leading today.
Luke’s main goal, in the book of Acts, is to tell the story of the life and growth of the early church through the ministry of the apostles. It is a narrative, a story, which contains truth for you as a Christ-centered leader.
You might think of it this way, Luke is telling us a good news story about the church so you and I can learn from it and find hope in it.
Glad and Generous Hearts
In the story, everyone is in awe. God is moving. The church is filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Its members gather to study the Gospel, eat together, pray, and fellowship with one another. There is generosity overflowing and people are caring for each other’s needs. Some followers go as far as selling assets and giving up material goods to do so. Daily worship, meals in homes, thankful attitudes, “glad and generous hearts,” good relationships with their neighbors, and new people welcomed into the family of Jesus followers. We see the early church being full of life and joy.
So, what truth is found in the story?
First, Following Jesus is meant to be done together. On the day of Pentecost, thousands of people decided to follow Jesus after hearing Peter’s explanation of the life, crucifixion, death, resurrection and living presence of Jesus. The response is not only internal and individual, but external and corporate. The believers don’t separate and try to make it on their own. No, they gather regularly and form a fellowship (koinonia), with glad and generous hearts. Their coming together was an essential part of who they were as followers of Jesus.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that being together as the church is essential to being a Christian. He wrote, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ” In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer described Christian relationships as a prerequisite for following Jesus. He wrote, “God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother (sister)…Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to (her)… (S)He needs (her) brother (or sister) as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”
Following Jesus is not meant to be a solo endeavor. It is a relational response to God’s love experienced and understood through Jesus. Those early Jesus followers were together for the purpose of becoming who God had created them to be.
Relationships – Being Known
Second, Following Jesus involves developing and strengthening relationships with other followers of Jesus. If you ask, “What does a church need to be a church today?” You will hear someone say, “A building” Someone else will say, “A good Sunday morning worship experience.” And another will say, “We need a leaderboard, committees, and infrastructure.” While each of these things are good and helpful in their own way, they are describing parts of an institution. They don’t necessarily give life to a group of Jesus followers.
Luke described the basic practices of the church as the apostles teaching, the good news of Jesus, and regular daily prayer. But he did stop there, he described what I am calling, “friending and eating.” In verse 42 he described koinonia, “they devoted themselves…to fellowship” and in verse 46, “they spent much time together and ate together…with glad and generous hearts.”
Friending is more than Facebook. Friending is more than our understanding of fellowship or participating in potluck dinners. Being a friend is about building genuine relationships of care, support, and accountability.
There are relationships involving worship, scripture, and prayer. But there are also settings outside of what we normally think of as “church.” Following Jesus involves knowing other Christians intimately.
You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but you do need a core of Jesus followers who help you grow in your faith and live out your faith in a loving relationship with the people with whom you live, work, and play.
Bonhoeffer wrote, “In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.”
So, the truth of this scripture is, being a follower of Jesus is not just about you. As you follow Jesus, you learn that your faith is lived out in relationships with others, like family, friends, strangers, and enemies. It is in and through your relationships that you develop a glad and generous heart and become more who you are created to be.
Third, following Jesus, in relationship with others, helps you develop holy attitudes about the world around you. It helps you develop holy attitudes about everyday life, such as attitudes of joy, gratitude, and thanksgiving. Being in relationship with others also helps you develop holy attitudes about your neighbors and your material possessions.
The worldview of those early followers changed. They saw the needs of others as their own needs. The burdens of the world were their burdens. They understood loving neighbors as not only loving them emotionally but also as sacrificing to meet their physical and economic needs. These early followers of Jesus did not see their material possessions as solely for their own benefit. They worked together to meet the needs they were discovering. It is interesting that no one forced anyone to participate and not all possessions or goods were sold. But things were sold as the need arose.
According to William Willimon, this community of Jesus followers had “confidence in the ability of the resurrection faith to overturn all material and social arrangements”
Luke is telling the story, not of a specific prescription for the community, but of the truth that the Spirit-filled community cultivated generosity, joy, and material sacrifice for the good of others.
Following Jesus, in relationship with one another, helps us to develop holy attitudes about the world around us, about our daily life, our material possessions, and our neighbors. May we be like the early church and seek to cultivate glad and generous hearts.
To be a Christ-centered leader in a spirit-filled community is to be focused upon Jesus, helping people to develop healthy relationships, and providing opportunities for people to grow in holy attitudes about everyday life. Your leadership is key to cultivating gratitude. It is gratitude that whether you are gathered in koinonia or scattered into the community, the experience is glad and generous hearts. Gratitude has the potential to impact the world just at the experience of Pentecost.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expressed his gratitude, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy” (Philippians 1:3-4).
Who are the people who fill your heart with love, happiness, and gratitude? Take a moment to think of three or four people for whom you are grateful. People through whom you have experienced God’s love. Who brings you joy? Who has been influential? Write their names on a piece of paper. You now have a list of people who are special to you. Give God thanks for them and for how God has provided you with a glad and generous heart because of them.
Have a blessed thanksgiving with family and friends. Remember, who you are is how you lead.