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THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS

SINGLENESS OF HEART


By Martyn Lloyd-Jones


And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
(Acts 2:46-47)


The central error of modern thinking, surely, is that today men and women imagine they have the right to decide for themselves, anew and afresh, what Christianity is, what the church is, and what her message is. This is not only presumption, it is unutterable folly, because we are dealing here with something that is historical. Today is Palm Sunday. Why do people call it Palm Sunday? It is because it is connected with certain facts of history. The message of the Gospel is not a philosophy; it is not just a teaching amid many other teachings. It is based upon facts: the fact of Palm Sunday, the fact that this person, Jesus of Nazareth, rode on the foal of a donkey and the people crowded around Him, shouting, “Hosanna!” And further, the fact of the trial and the scourging and Christ’s death upon the cross on Good Friday and His burial in the tomb, followed by the Resurrection.


These are facts of history, and the church came into being as the result. So if we really want to know what Christianity is and what the Christian church is, then in common honesty there is, I repeat, only one thing to do, and that is to go back to the record.


So we have been considering the account in Acts 2 of these early Christians. The words and expressions used here were not chosen at random. They were inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself. And we have here the marks and characteristics of the true Christian. The moment men and women become Christians, these are the ways in which they show it. And we come now to one of the most interesting: “They . . .did eat their meat” not only with “gladness” but also with “singleness of heart.”


This most important statement means, first and foremost, that these Jerusalem Christians were all of one mind, that they were experiencing a wonderful unity. “Singleness of heart”! Their hearts, as it were, were melted into one another. It is a description, then, of the company, the society, of these believing people looked at in general. Our Lord had prayed that His disciples might be one, even as He and His Father were one (John 17:21), and here they were giving expression to this oneness. They had different temperaments, different backgrounds, different upbringings. They differed in almost every conceivable way, and yet they were all melted into one in this extraordinary unity.


The New Testament constantly emphasizes that great truth. The apostle Paul was particularly proud of it. He was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Though he had been a narrow and rabid Jew in his old life, he now said, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11). All are one in Christ Jesus, and that is amazing. The Christian church, when she functions truly as the church, is the greatest phenomenon the world has ever known. It is the only thing that ever can unite people.


The world is disunited. We see groups and classes and divisions. But in the true church, all are one, “Singleness of heart”—melted into one in Christ Jesus. This is astounding. Here in Acts we are given a picture of what the world will eventually be like when Christ comes back to reign, having conquered all His enemies, to set up His glorious kingdom. “Singleness of heart”! A day is coming when wars shall cease. But this will not be the result of human organizations. They will never come to anything: “Ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6). Politicians and foolish idealists constantly claim they will produce a state in which there will be no war. They never will. But Christ will put an end to war when He returns. He will reign from shore to shore, and there shall be “peace. . .as a river” and “righteousness as the waves of the sea” (Isa. 48:18) over the whole universe and cosmos. What we see here in Acts in embryo will someday be world wide.


But the question that arises is: Why were they thus manifesting this great unity? And the answer is that they showed this “singleness of heart” because each one of them separately had a single heart. Each one had been made a unit, had been unified. This is one of the most remarkable things about the Gospel, and it is one of the greatest characteristics of the Christian life. Our Lord said, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness” (Matt. 6:22-23). There is this same expression—“if thine eye be single.” What does our Lord mean by that?



It is a great principle that when men and women believe the Christian Gospel, the main effect it has upon them is to unify their life, to make them “single.” Men and women apart from Christ, outside the life of God, have double vision. They do not see things properly. They do not see them unified. They do not see them steadily and as a whole. What Christianity does is get rid of the complications and produce an essential simplicity.


I can show you in general as well as in particular that the effect of Christianity is always to simplify, to make single. We see it in the history of the Christian church. Here is a lyrical picture of the church at the beginning. The believers went at first to the temple because they had been brought up to do so, and it was available for them to have their meetings. But that was supplemented by their meeting together in one another’s houses—“breaking bread from house to house.” And we read in the epistles about “the church that is in their [Priscilla and Aquila’s] house” (Rom. 16:5), and so on. That is Christianity as it was at the first. We, of course, inevitably tend to think of the church as some great institution with buildings, and people dressed up in robes, and pomp and ceremony and processions. How different it has all become from what we find here in the second chapter of Acts.


Why has the church developed into an institution? There is only one answer—people have done all that. They always make everything complicated. That is one of the tragedies of the hour, is it not? We have great problems, but in trying to solve them, we create fresh problems. Have you not noticed how government is becoming increasingly complicated? I am old enough to see the extraordinary development in complexity. Someone sets up one office, then has to set up another to look after that one, and another to look after the second, and so we get a bureaucracy and do not know where we are.


And that has happened in the life of the Christian church as well. The whole thing has become almost unrecognizable in terms of what we read in this second chapter of Acts. At the end of the Middle Ages, we see the Roman Catholic Church—such pomp and ceremony, with the Pope claiming political as well as religious power, and the Vatican becoming a state. True Christianity has almost become lost, and the people simply went one to this priest, and one to another. No one knew God; nobody had assurance of salvation. Everybody was relying upon payments of money for favors and blessings. The whole thing had become so involved and complicated that ordinary people had no idea what Christianity meant.


And then came the Protestant Reformation. What did that do? It went back to the New Testament, back to the Acts of the Apostles, and Christianity immediately became much simpler. And Puritanism took this further, saying that even the Reformation had not gone far enough, that it had carried too much of Rome with it. Puritanism asked, “Where in the New Testament do you find all these other things? No, no, they must go.” That was Puritanism purifying, making Christianity single. And the great Evangelical Awakening of 200 years ago did exactly the same thing.


The Gospel always gets rid of complications. It says that God’s way is the way of singleness of heart, the single eye. Complications are man’s doing; simplicity ever characterizes the true Gospel.


But look at this in the case of the individual. The unbeliever’s life is a complicated life. Sin always introduces complications. This is all to be seen in Genesis 3. What a delightful, simple life Adam and Even were living before they fell and rebelled against God. The Garden of Eden was called Paradise. There was no need for government there. There was no need of all this great machinery to deal with problems and difficulties—they were nonexistent. When the man and woman lived life as they were meant to live it, in harmony with God, it was essentially simple. But the moment they sinned, they were in trouble. They had sinned against God, and now when they heard the voice of God, they had to run and hide. They did not know what to do. They could not face God. They needed protection. Already the complications had come.


Then, because of their sin, they were driven out of the Garden and had to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. We read about Cain starting to build cities. This was the beginning of civilization with all its complications. Sin makes life complicated and difficult because it divides our lives into sections. WE no longer have a unifying principle. Do you not see that in life today? Human beings are the most contradictory creatures on the face of the earth, on one side brilliant in their achievements, and on the other so often despicable in their living. Mastering the elements, they are unable to master themselves. They arrive at knowledge and understanding of great mysteries away up in the heavens but often live like beasts and worse. What is the matter? There are warring elements and factions within them.


We have all found this out from experience. The apostle Paul expresses this problem perfectly in Romans 7, where he talks of this duality that is in us: “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (v. 18). “For I delight in the law of God after the inward mean: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind” (vv. 22-23). That seventh chapter of Romans is the most profound psychological analysis of man without God and without Christ that has ever been written. Paul says in effect, “I am at least two I’s. There is an I that wants this; there is the other I that wants that.” He looks at these warring elements in his personality, and he does not know what to do and cries out in despair, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?” (v.24). That is the effect of sin—complications, divisions, warring elements. But the moment people believe the Gospel, singleness comes in—“singleness of heart.” Order is brought into the life. A principle is introduced that governs everything. Life is made whole.


The psalmist looked forward in prophecy, and he, too, saw something of this. You will find it in Psalm 84:5. The King James Version renders this, “in whose heart are the ways of them,” but a better translation is, “in whose heart are ways.” When men and women become Christians, a “way” is put into their lives. There is a unifying principle, singleness enters, and the complications begin to disappear. That is what happened to all these people in Acts 2.


This is something that is given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to do it. He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). “As people are,” he said in effect, “they are only existing. They do not know what life is. They are nothing but a conglomeration of factions. They do not know what it is to live. They do not have a unified view of life and a life that is itself unified. I have come that they might have it.”


So how does our Lord do this? How does the Christian life become simple and single? First of all, this principle is introduced in the mind. The first thing people discover when they become Christians is that there is only one thing that finally and ultimately matters, and that is their soul. Look at the world today. Look at the thinking people. Read the more intelligent journals and the books that come out dealing with the problems of society. I do not want to say a word against them—these are absolutely essential. Government and order are appointed by God. “The powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1). But let us make no mistake here: They are never ordained by God to solve the problem, but only to keep the problem within limits. And they cannot even do that. Today’s problems can only be solved by the message of the Gospel, which tells us that there is only one thing to examine, only one thing to investigate.


The trouble with people who are not Christians is that they begin to examine this problem piecemeal. One says, “I must examine that.” Another says, “no, it is this.” There they are, setting up commissions of inquiry, subcommittees, and more subcommittees. But they never arrive even at an understanding of the problem, let alone a solution. And this is where the Gospel is so different from every other teaching. It comes immediately to the center and says, “There is only one thing that matters—it is your soul.” I have often quoted a sentence from Shakespeare that is the perfect introduction to the Gospel at this point:


The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,

But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

                                       Julius Caesar


What is it that is wrong in me? It is that I have not realized the importance of the soul. Here is the key and the center of everything.


The story about our Lord in the house of Martha and Mary illustrates this well. We read that our Lord went to a village where


…a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her…


Here is the essence of the Gospel, and this is what Jesus says to any troubled, unhappy, defeated soul:


Martha, Martha, thou art careful [anxious] and troubled about many thing: but one thing is needful; and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

                                                                 Luke 10:38-42


“Martha,” our Lord said in effect, “the trouble with you is that you are distracted—you are trying to do this and that. You have invited Me into your house, but now you are concerned about giving Me a meal instead of listening to what I have to say. Martha, you are divided. Mary has a single idea. One thing is needful, and one thing only.”


Our Lord was constantly saying this. Listen to Him on another occasion: “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36). This is the tragedy of the twentieth century, the age of encyclopedias. What knowledgeable people we are! How ignorant our forefathers were! They did not know what we know. Look at all our vast scientific knowledge, our learning, our books, and the lectures on the television and radio—what amazing people we are with all the information we possess!


Why do we fail then? What is the matter with us? And that is the answer: What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world of knowledge and wealth and everything else but lose his own soul? Our Lord emphasized this from the beginning, in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13).


There Jesus is not only talking about morals but about thoughts. If you want to know a single-eyed life, if you want this essential simplicity that characterizes Christianity, you must start with the mind, and in this way you enter in at the narrow gate.


This means, in the first instance, that, as our Lord says, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Or, as the apostle Paul puts it: “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” (1 Cor. 1:26). If you want to learn how to live, says Christ, come to the strait—the narrow—gate. This means recognizing that nothing matters but what God can do in your soul. Forget all your learning, all the lore of the centuries, and all that you regard as wonderful; none of that will help you. You can be brilliant in philosophy, wonderful in music and in art and in many other respects, but what is the condition of your soul?


And that is what happened to the people listening to Peter on the day of Pentecost. Oh, they had their interests, and they talked about them, but as they listened to Peter they came to the realization that only one thing matters. They said, “What does it matter what I think about the Roman government or about my wealth or learning? When I am on my deathbed, nothing will matter to me except God and myself and the relationship between us.” That is the way in which our Lord simplifies everything and produces this singleness of heart.


And this is still the truth. The world is busy with its learning, but there is still only one fundamental question we need to face, and it is: “How can I stand before God?” The world and its kingdoms are passing away: “Change and decay in all around I see.” Every day I get a day older, and I know that the time is inevitably coming when I shall be alone with God. So the Gospel simplifies the problem, does it not? It tells us that all the teeming problems in the world have arisen directly because men and women have lost the right to be face-to-face with God and are sinners in his sight and are thus under condemnation. Do you know that it all comes to that? Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, marriage guidance councils—so many groups are being set up to deal with this and that problem. But if men and women were only right with God, we would not need any of them. All the problems would be solved because they all stem from this evil that is in humanity as a result of a wrong relationship to God. That is why the Gospel talks about singleness of eye and singleness of heart—this great principle of unification.


Now the people in Acts had come to that. But, thank God, it does not stop at merely isolating the one question that matters. Christians have not only been brought to see the one problem that confronts them—they have also found the one and only answer, and this is what, if I may say so, I rejoice in at times more than in anything else. Christians are people who are no longer seeking—they are people who have found. They are no longer swayed by different views and ideas and schools of thought. They are no longer waiting on tiptoe for a book that is to be published next week that they are assured by the publishers will be of great help. No, they say, “I’ve got it. I’ve already found it.”


Christians have found the answer: It is in this one blessed person, Jesus Christ. There is no other answer. The seeking and the questing and the striving and the searching have come to an end. They know that Christ is the Son of God. He is the one who brings us to God. And we have already seen how Christ brings us to God by Himself taking the punishment for the sin that separates us from a holy God.


Have you discovered this? Have you got singleness of mind? Or are you still looking, searching, reading about other religions, reading about this or that latest cult? Come to Christ! Did He not say, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12)? So “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Then you will have an answer: You will have a singleness of mind and of understanding, and this knowledge will be a central, controlling principle in your whole outlook upon life. What a wonderful thing it is to have a view of life that can take in all the contingencies, to have all your questions really answered, to have the singles that comes to the mind of a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.


But this same singleness affects the heart also: “with gladness and singleness of heart.” Here is an end to the old restlessness and lack of peace. What a terrible thing such a lack is. We have all known this, have we not? You remember that famous, often quoted statement of Augustine—and it can never be repeated too frequently: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” The whole universe cannot satisfy us. We can have wealth in abundance, we can have possessions and learning, but they will not give peace and rest of heart. Listen to a hymn written by Gerhard Tersteegen and translated by John Wesley:

 

Thou hidden Love of God, whose height,

Whose depth unfathomed, no man knows

I see from far Thy beauteous light,

Inly [inwardly] I sigh for Thy repose;

My heart is pained, nor can it be

At rest, till it finds rest in Thee.

 

‘Tis mercy all, that Thou has brought

My mind to seek her peace in Thee;

Yet, while I seek but find Thee not,

No peace my wandering soul shall see;

O when shall all my wandering end,

And all my steps to Thee-ward tend?

 

Have you not known something about that restlessness? The world cannot satisfy us. Why not? Because “God has put eternity in the heart of man” (Eccles. 3:11, Revised Version). Thank God, human beings are too big and too great to be satisfied by anything in this world. That is why those sociologists and others who say that people will be happy if they are given good houses are insulting human nature. You cannot be satisfied with a house. Everyone deserves a decent house, but you can have a mansion and be miserable. The heart is restless, longing, yearning for something that ever eludes it. The whole world is looking for the quiet heart, the rest, the peace that the world can neither give nor ever take away when it is truly given by Christ.


When men and women come to Christ, the restlessness goes. Listen to Philip Doddridge, expressing it from his own experience:


Now rest, my long-divided heart,

Fixed on this blissful center, rest:

With ashes who would grudge to part,

When called on angels’ bread to feast?

 

This is what had happened to these early Christians. It all went away—that old restlessness, that feeling that they wanted something else, that there is always a fly in the ointment, that there is no final satisfaction, no real peace. Now they were no longer divided within themselves as to what they ultimately wanted. Now they had peace because they had “singleness of heart.”


Our Lord expounded that fully in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). That is the whole trouble with most people, with all people, indeed, who are not in Christ—the divided heart. They feel they must serve God, and yet they want to serve mammon. So they worry, saying: “What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (Matt. 6:31). They worry about what will happen tomorrow.


Perhaps your heart is divided and distracted, and you cannot sleep, and you have to take more sleeping pills, and then you need a stimulus to enable you to live the next day. You are divided. You are a mass of contradictions, and you do not know what you want. You think you want to travel—you feel new sights and scenes are what you need. But you travel around the world, and still your heart is as restless as it was before you left home. That is because the human heart is lusting after various things. It is divided within itself. It does not know what it needs. So there is this conflict: “God and mammon; heaven and earth; time and eternity. Which shall I live for?” We do not know which is most important. All of that is done away with in Christ.


Furthermore, the heart is restless and divided because of self. The ultimate cause of all this heart-restlessness is self. I set myself up, and that means casting somebody else down. There is conflict, jealousy, envy, despising, hatred, ambition, desire—what a terrible business it all is! The heart is divided against itself. But the moment men and women come to Christ, they get a single heart. It all happens in Christ, and they are able to say:


Object of my first desire,

Jesus crucified for me.

         Augustus Toplady


Charles Wesley says the same thing. Here was a man like ourselves who knew all about the restlessness and the division and the conflict and the seeking and the searching for a heart at rest and peace and a firm ground on which to place his feet. This went on for years, but at last, in a very simple way, he just believed this message and was able to say:


Thou, O Christ, art all I want;

More than all in Thee I find.


And he meant what he said. It is all there. Everything is in Christ. There is nothing further that we can desire. He will satisfy your every need, whatever your need may be. In Christ we are “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.” He is with you in every respect and in every circumstance.


Once men and women really know Christ and His salvation, they are given a final satisfaction. Let the world rob them or mock them, let the world spit upon them as it spat upon their Master, it makes no difference.


Man may trouble and distress me,

‘Twill but drive me to Thy breast.

Life with trials hard may press me,

Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.

                                                       Francis Lyte


The world may rob them of everything, but Christ remains. So the apostle Paul was able to say, “I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).


Again, when he was an old man in prison in Rome, Paul heard a rumor that the emperor Nero had decided to put him to death at any time. How did Paul write about it all to the Philippians? He said in effect, “It’s all right. Don’t be worried about me, ‘For to me to live is Christ’ (Phil. 1:21). Christ is life to me. He is as much life to me in this prison cell as He was when I was free, out and about, traveling across continents preaching His glorious Gospel.” Yes, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain…having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:21,23). “They…did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” Christ was there in their thoughts and was giving them full and complete satisfaction.


Finally, the need for singleness applies also in the realm of the will. What is our aim? What is our motive? What is our object and purpose in life? There are millions of people who are unhappy because they have the wrong aims—to cut great figures, to leave their names on the pages of history, etc. But “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” said Shakespeare. There is nothing that so troubles a man or woman as worldly ambition—muddle and confusion in the realm of motives and ideas.


But the moment someone believes in Christ, that person has singleness in the will as well as in the mind and heart. Each Christian has one great desire. It is, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Phil. 3:10-11). That was the apostle Paul’s sole ambition—“that I might know him.” Anyone who knows anything about Christ gets consumed by this great passion.


Count Zinzendorf saw it. He said, “I have one passion; it is he; it is he alone.” Oh, to know Him who is life indeed, who so loved me that he came from heaven and suffered all that He suffered in this world, even death on the cross, that I might live! Oh, that I might know Him and live to His glory! Once you are imbued with this ambition, the whole of your life is revolutionized in that it becomes simple. Listen to Tersteegen again as translated by John Wesley:


Is there a thing beneath the sun

That strives with Thee my heart to share?

Ah, tear it thence, and reign alone,

The Lord of every motion there!

Then shall my heart from earth be free,

When it hath found repose in Thee.

                                Gerhard Tersteegen



Take my will, and make it Thine,

It shall be no longer mine.

                           Francis Ridley Havergal


That is the prayer of Christian men and women. They have singleness in the realm of the will. They have one idea, one desire, one motive, and that is to live to His praise who has died for them and opened the gateway of heaven to them. The whole of life becomes simple; the program becomes a simple one. John Wesley said, “I have become a man of one book,” and in a sense that is true of every Christian. Have you discovered that all the books in the world cannot help you unless you know this? This one aim will bring you to one book. It will bring you to one person, to one death, to one resurrection, to one hope, all in Christ Jesus. Here is the explanation of the singleness of heart of the Christian. This tells us why Christians are able to say:


O for a heart to praise my God,

A heart from sin set free,

A heart that always feels Thy blood

So freely shed for me.

                                      Charles Wesley


So there remains one question: Do you have this singleness of your mind, in your heart, and in your will? The world knows nothing about it. The world is typified by Martha—cumbered, distracted, rushing about, fussing, and missing everything. The Lord of glory is there, and there she is, busy. He has not come to eat—He has come to teach. Have you sat at His feet as Mary did? Is this your prayer?


O that I could forever sit

Like Mary at the Master’s feet.

Be this my happy choice.

My only care, delight and bliss,

My joy, my heaven on earth be this,

To hear the Bridegroom’s voice.

                                      Charles Wesley


It really comes to that. Are you rushing about madly, intellectually, emotionally and in the realm of will, seeking satisfactions that you never find, seeking knowledge you cannot attain unto, divided and distracted and weary and tired? Listen to the invitation of this blessed Gospel. Emulate the example of the people who “gladly received his [God’s] word” as preached on the day of Pentecost by the apostle Peter. Listen to the Lord’s words spoken to Martha: “One thing is needful,” and one only.


So stop rushing about, stop reading, stop arguing. Take your seat with Mary at the Master’s feet. Listen to Him, and He will say to you, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me…and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:28-29).




Taken from Studies in the Book of Acts, Volume One: Authentic Christianity, by Martin Lloyd Jones, Copyright © 2000. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 60187. This material is not to be electronically transferred. Down-load for personal use only.



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