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Sharing is Caring

10 Jul

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Last week, the disciples were ordered to stop preaching in the name of Jesus and they responded in prayer. They established a pattern for prayer that we should follow in our lives: pray first, pray together, pray with confidence, pray biblically, and pray expectantly. As we continue our journey through Acts, we’ll see how vital prayer is in accomplishing the mission God has set before us. This morning, we’ll see what happens when people are truly transformed by God.

Acts 4:32-35 says, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”

Let’s be clear on something. The disciples have just prayed and God answered by shaking the place where they were and they were, “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” This is not a contradiction to 2:4. They were empowered again by the Holy Spirit which leads to v. 32. Luke tells us, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” The word congregation is better translated multitude. At this point in the young church, there are at least 8120 men. There had to be lots of women and children that aren’t numbered so it’s reasonable to conclude that the number of believers far exceeds 8120. Don’t use this as an excuse to justify the attendance at a particular church as a measure of success. The point Luke is making here is that of those people that made up the assembly that believed in the finished work of Jesus Christ, those that made a profession of faith and lived like Jesus, those people, “Were of one heart and soul.” You’ve heard that phrase heart and soul before. It should be obvious that Luke is not talking about a physical heart or soul, but a spirit of oneness, a spirit of togetherness, a spirit of community. This passage is very similar to 2:42-47, but one theme stands out in this passage compared to the previous passage at the end of chapter 2.

The overarching premise here is that of unity. This spirit of unity led them to do something very contrary to our way of thinking. “And not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” That doesn’t mean they didn’t own anything themselves. This isn’t some justification for socialism or a misguided notion of fairness. The idea of fairness is running rampant through our society. We think it’s not fair that someone has a better car than we do. It’s not fair that my kid doesn’t get a trophy. It’s not fair that they got promoted and I didn’t. The idea of fairness has spread to the church too. It’s not fair that they get to teach and I don’t. It’s not fair they get to sing and I don’t. Thankfully, we haven’t really experienced those kinds of things at 3RC.

The defining point where selfishness gives way to selflessness is found in that word, “believed.” Jesus always transforms the heart. Show me someone that remains the same after salvation, and I’ll show you someone that is not genuinely saved. Only in the modern church do we deemphasize the power of God and accept simple profession of faith without corresponding transformation. The murderer Saul was radically transformed into the Apostle Paul. The greedy tax collector Zaccheus was transformed to the point that he gave away half his wealth and if he cheated someone he paid back four times the amount. Peter was an uneducated fisherman and forsook all he knew to follow Christ and was transformed into the leader of the Apostles. Don’t tell me that God doesn’t have the power to transform lives today. The same power that transformed those Bible guys, transformed me. Paul told us, “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph. 4:22-24)

These believers were so radically transformed, they had all things in common. We tend to think of things as our own. I earned it; it’s my money; it’s my room; it’s my toy; it’s my guitar. This selfish nature is destroyed by Christ. Our attitude should be, what’s mine is yours. If you need it, I have it. “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.” The apostles continued telling people about what they saw after Jesus died. The resurrection of Christ is a pivotal event in the history of the world. I don’t have the time to go through all the reasons why it’s so important, but the short answer is that Jesus’ resurrection confirms the Old Testament prophecies of Messiah and it validates who He said He was.

At this point, Luke focuses on one particular aspect in the life of the new believers and that is sharing. This idea of sharing is nothing new to these people. Luke mentioned the idea of common property in v. 32. This goes back to the ideals of Greek society attributed to Pythagorean and Plato that there is no private ownership of anything. That ideal likely never materialized, but the concept would not be foreign to the people that the Apostles are now teaching. This idea of sharing is more in keeping with the Old Testament promises of God. Deut. 15:4-5 says, “However, there will be no poor among you, since the Lord will surely bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, if only you listen obediently to the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all this commandment which I am commanding you today.” These believers were experiencing the power of God and, “abundant grace was upon them all.” Peter referenced the last days in 2:17 and they are experiencing God’s blessing in 4:33, and now they are working toward the ideal that there should be no poor people among them.

Is this an ideal or is it something that can actually be achieved? Again, we can point to society today where we have so called experts saying it’s not fair that executives make so much money. We have government programs for people that fall below a certain income level. We have government grants that are available for some people to go to college. We have Obama phones because everyone needs a cell phone. These are all programs designed to even the playing field of society. But did these first century believers seek to even the playing field? I can answer that with one emphatic word: no.

So how did it work? Look at vs. 34-35. There were believers that had property. They voluntarily and willingly sold property when there was a need. There is no evidence to suggest this was mandatory, but when a need arose, they sacrificed some of what they owned and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. Before you go and put your house on the market, this is what they used to do. Now if the Lord is leading you to do this, by all means go ahead and do it. In reality, we have to go back to the first century context of what a need is. A need is to require something because it is essential or very important rather than just desirable.

Over the years, I have become very jaded over the subject of needs. The vast majority of people that have come across my path wanting help from the church are not affiliated with any church and are not affiliated with Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way, the church has become the go to place to make ends meet. From car repairs to cable bills, from rent to utilities, from gas to medical bills, I have seen a lot. Strangers coming to the church expecting to get what they want. They want the church to help them because they think that’s the way it should be. Before you get all judgmental on me and say we should help our folks, most people that come to the church wanting money are not in need; they are in want. I have watched people spend foolishly then come to the church and expect to be bailed out. If you have ever been involved with church finances, you will quickly agree. We will help our members in one way or another. It might be with money, but it also might be with biblical, financial counsel, and accountability. Sometimes we talk about giving up that Starbucks or passing on a new outfit, or you’ll be encouraged to eat at home instead of eating out and then we can give to a good church cause, but these early believers were selling property and land to meet the needs of other believers.

We have such abundance in the church. We fill our homes with stuff and when it overflows, we put stuff in the attic, then is spills into the garage, then we build a shed, and that overflows so we put our stuff in a storage unit. We end up paying money to store stuff we don’t use and likely won’t use. Why? Because we’ve bought into the idea of the American dream. I’ve never heard of the Honduran dream or the Brazilian dream, or the Paraguayan dream. The American Dream was publicly defined in 1931 by historian James Truslow Adams. He coined the phrase in his book, Epic of America. In the book, he says, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” He goes on to say the American Dream is not, “. . . a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

The America Dream seems contrary to the example of the early church. Maybe you’ll point out that what the early church did was descriptive and not prescriptive. You might say, “We don’t have to sell our houses and land to meet people’s needs,” and I would agree. I think it would be appropriate to look at an Old Testament passage from a book few people have read let alone studied. Take the time to turn to Haggai 1. To quickly set the context, a remnant had returned to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. There is economic hardship in the land of Judah. Look at the five things Haggai says is going on in vs. 5-6. Even though they’ve planted a bunch of crops, they’re not getting much in the way of harvest. Since the harvest isn’t so good, there’s not much food to satisfy their hunger. There’s not enough to drink to quench their thirst – the word drunk here means satisfy fully. They just can’t keep warm with the clothes they have. For the people that do work, it seems like they just put their money into a pocket full of holes where it disappears. The people have got to be thinking, “How in the world can we afford to rebuild the temple when we can’t even afford to take care of our families?” Many today would ask the same question, “How can I afford to sow into the work of the Lord, when I’m having trouble making ends meet?” I cannot afford to tithe or give.

In v. 7, the Lord says, “Consider your ways.” Haggai doesn’t stop there. Look at vs. 8-11. The real call is to evaluate your priorities. Have you ever thought that perhaps your current economic situation is a result of misplaced priorities? The people of Haggai’s time sure didn’t. They were content to hang out in their paneled houses all the while neglecting God’s house. In other words, they were more concerned about how their own houses looked. Their priorities were messed up. These early believers Luke is talking about are way different than the remnant that returned to Jerusalem. I think it’s fair to ask, is your attitude more like those exiles that returned to Jerusalem or these early believers? The early believers sold their stuff when there was a need and brought the proceeds to the Apostles. In the church today, we operate a little differently. We receive tithes and offerings as a way to support the mission of the church God established in Scripture and to fulfill the vision of your pastors. That financial support typically comes in through giving a portion of the wages people earn through their vocation. The attitude of these first century believers demonstrates an attitude of sharing. We are grateful for all the Lord provides for us at 3RC and I don’t take for granted the blessings He has poured out on me. But sometimes, we focus more on what we don’t have than on what we do have and on what God can do. These believers used what God had blessed them with to meet the needs of others in the church.

What’s mine is yours. If you have a need, we must be willing to see those needs met. There is no reason anyone in the church should walk around naked or hungry, but if you have Netflix and the fastest interned available and can’t pay the electric bill, there’s some issues. As Paul said in Phil. 4:19, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

An Unlikely Leader

24 Apr

Check out the video here.

The last time we were in Acts, Pastor Mark walked us through some mountain top experiences. No matter how exciting those breath-taking experiences are, they cannot sustain life. Food and water are found in the valley and that’s where God equips us to live life for Him. This morning, we’ll see one of the disciples take a position that no one would have foreseen.

I hope you’ll take a look at our passage found in Acts 1:15-26.

You’ve heard it said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Simon Peter made a great first impression in Scripture, but we often forget about that and focus on his shortcomings. According to Matt. 4:18 and Mark 1:16, Simon Peter was recruited by Jesus on the shores of the sea of Galilee along with his brother Andrew. Scripture tells us that Jesus told them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.” (Matt. 4:19-20) Peter made a great first impression of obedience.  he did what Jesus commanded him to do. As we get to know Peter through the gospels, we begin to see him in a different perspective. We saw his faith waiver when he walked on the water toward Jesus in Matt. 14:30. When Jesus told the gathered crowd that the Pharisees were like blind men leading blind men, Peter asked Jesus to explain what that meant. He rejected the idea of Jesus’ atoning death and even tried to rebuke Him in Matt. 16:22 when Jesus responded by saying to him, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matt. 16:23) Peter struggled with forgiveness wanting to limit it to seven times; quite generous when you think about being wronged by the same person. He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet. And no one will ever forget Peter telling others that he did not know Jesus. We learn that Peter was as human as any of us and we like to remember all his failings, but the Peter we see in Acts is not the same Peter that likely screamed like a little girl when he started sinking in the water.

Then we begin to see the new and improved Peter. “At this time” refers to the times of prayer and waiting that followed Jesus’ ascension to heaven. “Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons).” Peter stood up; he took the lead here. The other 10 disciples would have been there too. These men that walked and talked with Jesus, who saw and experienced things that no one in history has experienced since were all together and Peter is the one that takes the lead. Some people are born to lead and others have leadership thrust upon them. There was no election here, no casting lots, no drawing straws, no jockeying for position. Peter stood up and took charge because that’s the way God wired him. Peter shares what I believe was a very impassioned message that I’m going to highlight.     “Scripture had to be fulfilled.” The Bible is right and it’s always right in every case when taken in context and applied in and with the correct cultural understanding. Either Scripture is correct all the time or it’s not. The benchmark for a true prophet of God is that all his predictions come true; if the predictions or prophecies do not always come true, even one time, then they are not a true prophet of God. Peter uses the past tense in v. 16, “The Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Peter is referring specifically to Ps. 69:25 which he quotes in v. 20a and even reminds us that all Scripture is given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Peter is reminding the people about what happened and we tend to think a lot of time has passed, but look at v. 12. This was right after the ascension.

Peter knew the Scripture and he knew the importance of it. You can say all day long how important Scripture is in general and is to you, but if there is no demonstration of that importance, it’s just words. I know from experience how excited people get about an upcoming Bible study. You will never get all you need in the walk of faith by listening to your pastors or teachers. The mandate in 2 Tim. 2:15 is directed at all believers. Until you get a hold of that, your growth will be limited, at best. In the same breath, Peter gives us some insight into Judas. You’ve heard about the duck test? If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. This uses what is known as abductive inference. Since Judas looked and acted like a follower, the most likely conclusion is that he was a follower. There were clues along the way that although he looked like a duck and quacked like a duck, he was a chicken. Just because someone acts like a follower does not make it so. This has and does plague the church even today. People in church walking with believers and acting like believers, but have never made a decision to follow Christ for themselves. I maintain and will maintain for all my days that there is strong evidence in Scripture that does not suggest we become more and more like Christ as live a life of faith, but Scripture demands that we become more and more like Christ as we live our lives in obedience to Him. It’s really hard for us to grasp how Judas walked with Christ and the disciples for those years in public ministry and experienced the wisdom of Christ and observed the miracles of Christ and yet remained lost. Peter even tells us in v. 17 that Judas was counted among those in ministry. Vs. 18-19 provide a parenthetical thought about Judas that Luke gives us as a side note for our understanding. Then we come to the second half of v. 20 which gives us the purpose for Peter standing up. Peter quotes Ps 109:8 giving us the business at hand and says, “Let another man take his office.” “Office” that Peter refers to literally means position as overseer.

Take a look at the qualifications for Judas’ replacement. I guess a good question to ask is why replace Judas at all?        Why not continue with the eleven? These men had demonstrated their faithfulness, they were capable, they were hand-picked by Jesus. There is no biblical requirement to have twelve in this office that Judas vacated. When we get to Acts 12:2 that tells us the Apostle James died and no replacement is mentioned. Perhaps adding a 12th apostle is a reference to the 12 tribes of Israel or to the 12 thrones of Revelation. This we do know: Jesus told the disciples in Matt. 19:28 that they would sit on 12 thrones. Given what we know about Judas, Jesus could not have been thinking that Judas was one of the 12 that would be in heaven. At the very least, and not a bad reason at all, Peter reminds the crowd about what Ps. 109:8 says. Scripture must be fulfilled.

In considering a suitable replacement for Judas, you’d think it wouldn’t be a big deal. Peter was looking for a duck and it really had to be a duck. Peter stands and gives the crowd the first qualification. Judas’ replacement must be a man who witnessed, first-hand, the entire ministry of Jesus. That means he must be faithful. He must have persevered over time. From Jesus’ baptism to His death to His resurrection to His ascension. Peter and the rest of the original 11 most certainly would have known the one that would be recommended. The recommendation was coming from the 120. This was the qualification for the apostleship that we will see throughout the book of Acts, but the office didn’t last forever. The key qualification then is obviously, the one chosen must be an authentic believer; a follower. How do we know? Because faithful people do not quit. There is a demonstration in their life of the power of God over time. I know too many people that are on fire for God for weeks or months. I don’t know a ton of people that are on fire for God for years and decades. I do know lots of people that have attended church for years. This is a wonderful reminder that ministry leaders should be considered and chosen from those people that are already faithful. So, a demonstration of authentic Christ following is the baseline.

The other qualification is that the one chosen must be a witness to the resurrection of Christ. This would be crucial as they went about sharing the good news of Christ. That’s different than what we share about Christ. In speaking to the Gentile believers in Ephesus, Paul reminded them that their faith was built, “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” (Eph. 2:20) Two men were recommended: Joseph and Matthias. Both men qualified, but one only one would be selected. No secret ballots, no show of hands. “And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” They prayed. In Lu. 6:12-13, we see Jesus praying before the original 12 were selected. They prayed because God knows the heart of a man. “And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.” Don’t freak out by what looks like the element of chance. God chose who He would choose. In those days, this was the way it worked. As we’ll see next week, the Holy Spirit did not operate ten the way He does now. Matthias is chosen without fanfare, without ceremony, and takes his place among the 12.

We started this morning looking at the first impression we get from Peter. While he had some issues when he was new to the faith, we saw him emerge as a leader of the apostles: Peter – version 2. He shared the importance of Scripture with the 120. He reminded the people about Judas and provides the qualifications for the office of Apostle. Matthias is selected and walks out of the Bible, never to be heard from again. Would there be other apostles in the New Testament? What about people that call themselves apostles today? Stay tuned as we walk through this awesome book.