July 01, 2018 | Taylor Rutland
Passage: Acts 4:32-37
Last week we looked at one of the most well known passages in all of Acts. It gives us a picture of what a healthy church should look like. They broke bread together, listened to the teaching of the apostles, and fellowshipped with one another. It’s a summary of how the followers of Jesus were acting since the Spirit came upon them. We come upon another summary after the events earlier in Acts 4. Some of the disciples had been arrested for preaching the good news of Jesus. In fact, Luke tells us that on this particular occasion 5,000 people came to faith in Christ. The religious elite asked Peter who’s name are you doing these miracles in, and of course, he replied Jesus. Eventually, Peter and John were told to no longer speak or teach about Jesus and of course they refuse to do that. But then Luke gives us a summary of the state of the believers at the end of this chapter. So we are in Acts 4:32-37 as Luke describes for us some qualities that the early followers of Christ were exhibiting.
Unity in Purpose:
"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and one soul…" — Luke 4:32
I think we are all aware of the importance of unity within the church. Not just the local church, but the universal church of Jesus Christ as well. It is increasingly difficult to be of one heart and one soul in today’s world, however, it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Perhaps you have been a part of a church where division reigned supreme. It is an ugly and sad experience. Almost every time division happens in a church it is because the church has moved away from the mission that Jesus clearly communicated before he left earth.
So let’s review what Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19-20. First, he tells us to go. If a church turns completely inward and no longer goes to those who need the gospel division will eventually happen. Second, the main verb of the sentence make disciples. You want to find a church that is heading towards division than find one who doesn’t care about making disciples. Third, the teachings of Jesus. If the teachings of Jesus are not being shared with the congregation, then that leaves an open door for any self help or moral truth to take over in the congregation.
Now look closely at verse 31 right before Luke gives us this description of a church that is clearly unified and on mission together look at what we find them doing. V. 31 tells us that they are praying, they are filled with the spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. So to remain unified we cry out to God together, we ask for a constant filling up by the Spirit, and we proclaim God’s word boldly. That is the formula Luke provides us here for staying unified. Idealistic? I think not.
- Francis Schaeffer points out in his book, The Church before the Watching World, that there are two principles that the church should be exhibiting simultaneously. One principle is the love of God, and the other is the holiness of God. He says that when we don’t exhibit these qualities simultaneously then we provide a false reality of what the church should be. What he means by this is that if we focus all of our time, energy, and efforts strictly on the love of God without the holiness of God we compromise the nature and character of God. But if focus all of our time, energy, and efforts on the holiness of God at the expense of his love we paint a picture of something that is hard and lacks beauty. You see without the love of God who would want what we have to offer, But without the holiness of God who would ever see their need for Jesus. During this time of transition it is crucial for us to have unity in our purpose.
"…and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common." — Luke 4:32
I have a feeling that some in this room might be thinking that I’ll spend the next 10 minutes either justifying or rejecting the concept of Christian communism. I’ll tell you now that to take these next few verses and begin to dissect various economic models is really bad interpretation of Scripture.
Luke is not giving an endorsement or rejection of some model. Remember, Luke has no idea what communism or capitalism even were. These words didn’t exist in his world. So there is a big fancy word for this it is called anachronistic, which means talking about something in the biblical text when the biblical text would have no idea what you are talking about.
Our minds have trouble grasping this concept because our understanding of ownership is completely individualistic. I own this, or I own that therefore someone else can’t possibly own it as well. But again, when we go down that road we are missing what Luke is truly talking about.
Biblical generosity is not just giving of your possessions, money, and time. Instead, it’s realizing that it was never yours to begin with. Most of the time the problem with our lack of generosity is that we are forgetting the source of where everything comes from. Psalm 24:1 reminds us that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.
The early church wasn’t thinking in terms of mine and yours. Any concept of personal property or private ownership seemed to not be as important to them anymore. We live in a culture full of counterfeit Gods. Idols that draw our attention away from the mission of Jesus Christ. One of those idols is our possessions.
- Andrew Carnegie one of the wealthiest individuals in American history made his money in the steel industry. He knew that his wealth could become a problem and he penned the following reminder to himself: Man must have an idol – The amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry. No idol more debasing than the worship of money. Whatever I engage in I must push inordinately therefore should I be careful to choose the life which will be the most elevating in character. To continue much longer overwhelmed by business cares and with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make mor money in the shortest time, must degrade me beyond hope of permanent recovery. I will resign business at Thirty five, but during the ensuing two years, I wish to spend the afternoons in securing instruction, and in reading systematically. The only problem with this statement is that Carnegie didn’t follow his own advice. He wanted to eliminate the idol in his life, but as Tim Keller points out in his book Counterfeit Gods you can’t remove an idol, you only replace it.
You replace a lack of generosity by more fully understanding the most generous person who ever lived. The one person who gave up his own life for us. The one who extended unlimited grace and forgiveness even when we didn’t deserve it.
If you find yourself struggling with letting go of money, possessions, or time then you need to ask yourself is this an idol in my life? And if so, dive deeper into the work and person of Jesus Christ.
Provide for the Needs:
"There 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 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." — Luke 4:34-35
The early church did a fantastic job of taking care of their own people. In our desire to reach the people of our city for Christ, we must also ensure that we do not neglect the brother and sister in our own congregation.
A lot of people in the church in Jerusalem were poor and many were hungry, but there were also wealthy members of the church and they were taking their “extra” stuff and selling it to make sure that the other members would be taken care of. Everyone in this room listen closely, your shepherds (ministerial staff) want to care for you. We want to be an encouragement to you. We want to be at the hospital with you when you undergo surgery. We want to grieve with you when you lose a loved one. When tragedy strikes your family we want to be there to pray with you and listen to you talk. Do not isolate yourself from this body. Keep us informed. We want to help you.
Not only should an individual body of believer’s care for each other, but we should also care about other churches of Jesus Christ here and around the world.
- When our congregation decided to open up our facility to Franklin Avenue after Katrina, this is a perfect example of caring for the needs of fellow believers in Christ. And because of that gesture an African American congregation and a predominantly white church are better partners in ministry because we cared for each other’s needs.
I want to caution all of us here. When we read this we see the church providing for the needs of those in the church. That is a very important thing to do. But it can’t be an either/or. We don’t decide to just provide for the needs of the church at the expense of those outside the church that need the Gospel and their needs met. At the same time, we don’t simply provide for those outside the church and not take care of our own. It is a both/and scenario. And it is tension that we will always have to manage.
- Ji’Air Luckie 3 years and his brother Jerone, 7 years old woke up the morning of June 11, 2011to find their mother lying dead in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor of their home. This is a brief excerpt from an OpEd piece in the Times Picayune in response to the Children of Central City series that NOLA.com put out a couple of weeks ago. The premise of this entire series of articles is to point out that the biggest problem among at risk children and youth in our city is trauma. In a survey of more than 300 students from Central City area public schools since 2016, 1 in 5 children said they have witnessed a murder and more than half said someone close to them had been a victim of homicide. Children that grow up surrounded by crime and violence become conditioned to respond in a defensive mode. They have difficulties with anger management, impulse control, and processing and retaining information. This prevents them from being successful in the classroom. When the ability to better yourself through education is not possible, many of these kids and youth return to violence and crime on the streets. So here is a need. What can we as a church do about it? I’m not asking for a solution today, I’m asking you to prayerfully consider what the church of Jesus Christ in New Orleans can do to help. There will be a link on our Facebook page for you to read the entire series of articles entitled “Children of Central City.” I think we have an opportunity to do something, and I would encourage you to join me in prayer over how God could use this congregation.
Sacrifice for the Kingdom:
"Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet." — Luke 4:36-37
Luke does something every interesting with Barnabas. He contrasts him with two other people at the beginning of Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira. Barnabas sold a field and brought the money to the apostles. Ananias and Sapphira also sold a piece of property but instead of bringing the entire proceeds from the sale to the apostles they brought only a portion. So what’s the difference between the two examples. It’s not like Ananias and Sapphira did not give something right. They sold a field just like Barnabas did, but the difference is one of motive. Barnabas was all in, and Ananias and Sapphira wanted to keep some back just in case. And because of it you read later in Acts 5 both die for their decision.
Barnabas’ field was sold because he wanted to make a sacrifice for the kingdom of God. He freely laid it down at the apostle’s feet. He didn’t say the money had to be spent this way or that way. He had enough faith in his God and trust in the leadership that God provided that he was willing to lay it down freely to be used however the apostles saw fit.
Luke intentionally brings Barnabas into the story here to provide an example of someone who sacrificed for the kingdom of God. We find Barnabas throughout the book of Acts playing an instrumental role in the expansion of the Gospel.
Here are some of the things that Barnabas did. First, we read in Acts 9 that the disciples were so afraid of Saul that they were not willing to work with him, but it’s actually Barnabas who led the disciples to accept Saul into the ministry. Imagine if Barnabas had not been willing to sacrifice for the kingdom of God, the story of Saul could have been a lot different. In Acts 13, the Spirit leads the believers to appoint Barnabas along with Saul to take the Gospel out to Cyprus and other locations on the first missionary journey. It is on this first missionary journey where the Gospel begins to spread like wildfire. Later in Acts 15 we find Saul and Barnabas taking a huge role in what is called the Jerusalem Conference where the leaders of the Jewish church decide what they would require of Gentiles who professed faith in Christ. It is Saul and Barnabas who give testimony to all of the ways God was working among the Gentile believers.
So imagine for one moment, Barnabas decides to keep that field and not sell it. We just talked about all the various ways that God was able to use him, and yet if he held back if he said I don’t want to sacrifice for the kingdom. The shape of Saul’s mission would have been drastically different. Friends, sacrifice for the kingdom of God. Give up your time, your money, your relationships, and your stuff so that you can make an eternal impact the way Barnabas did.