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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.”