My sister is a high school English teacher. If one of her students wrote the words of Acts 2:1 in a term paper, my sister would pull out her red pen, underline the sentence, and mark a big “X” in the margin. Why? Because, according to the conventions of academic English, the sentence is grammatically incorrect. The wording is redundant.
Acts 2 gives an account of the day the Holy Spirit was first poured out in an empowering way onthe early church in Jerusalem. The first verse of that chapter says, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.” The wording is needlessly repetitive. If people are “all together,” they are obviously “in one place.” Likewise, if they are “in one place,” they must be “all together.” In English, the phrase “all together in one place” is bad form.
But in New Testament Greek, the wording of that sentence is not only correct – it is powerful.Stating the same idea twice with different words was a way of adding emphasis, of stressing that a thought was truly important. The point of this verse is not merely to report that the disciples happened to be in the same room at the same time. The point is that they were truly united. “All together in one place” (pantes homou epi to auto) emphasizes the spiritual oneness that was present among that group of early Christ-followers. The 120 men and women gathered in Acts 2 were all praying with one voice, seeking one goal, looking to one Savior, and longing for one gift – the gift of the Spirit.
Is it any wonder God poured out his Spirit in such a context? The gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the great unifying factors that binds Christians together. The New Testament speaks of “the unity of the Spirit”, our “common sharing in the Spirit”, and the “one Spirit” by whom we were all baptized (Eph. 4:3; Phil. 2:1; 1 Cor. 12:13). God could certainly have sent “tongues of fire” upon any group of people at any time he desired. But it is no coincidence that he chose to give this gift to a group of believers who were united. Unity among Christians opens the door to the Spirit’s power. Disunity makes such power unlikely.
What does it mean for Christians to be united?
Unity is not the same thing as proximity. Biblical evidence suggests that early Christians met in small house churches rather than in auditoriums. (See Acts 8:3; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15.) It is conceivable that Christians in the same city might have gone years without gathering in the same place at the same time with other believers from their town. Yet this did not keep them from experiencing unity. Spiritual oneness is not dependent on physical nearness. Paul told the Corinthians, “For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit” (1 Cor. 5:3).
Unity is also not the same as uniformity. Throughout the New Testament, believers were
counseled not only to tolerate diversity, but to treasure it. Christians were taught to rejoice inthe variety of gifts the Spirit gave the church, not to insist that everyone serve Christ the sameway. (See 1 Cor. 12 and Romans 12:3-8). Similarly, as the gospel reached different nations, churches were instructed to receive new members without forcing them to abandon their cultural outlook and identity. (See Acts 15 and the book of Galatians.) The same principle was applied to matters of conscience. The Apostles acknowledged that Christians might have different opinions about non-essential matters of faith. They encouraged believers to respect each other’s convictions and to agree to disagree. (See Rom. 14 and 1 Cor. 8.)
So, if unity is not the same as proximity or uniformity, what is it? Below are some of the ways the Bible describes Christian unity:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Col. 3:12-15)
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phil. 2:1-4)
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality…. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Rom. 12:9-13, 15-16)
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:16-18)
Let’s pray for this kind of unity in our church. If Acts 2 is any indication of the way God normally operates, when this kind of oneness is present, watch out – the Spirit is about to move!