************ Sermon on Acts 2:42b ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 30, 2015
Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37
"Devoted to Caring"
A man noticed a boy looking at his car in the parking spot. When he came out of the store, the boy asked, "Mister, how much would a new car like this cost?" The man responded, "I really don't know; my brother gave me this car as a gift." The little boy looked unbelievingly at the car and then, with a look of wonder in his eyes, said, "I wish I could be a brother like that."
Be honest, most of us would say, "I wish I could have a brother like that." This boy shames us with his caring spirit: "I wish I could be a brother like that."
Today, we want to look at that caring spirit as we look again at what was done by the Spirit-filled church of Acts.
I A Devoted Church
A Remember what we learned about the church last week? We learned she was unified, magnified, and multiplied. Why was she this way? How did she become this way? Because filled with the Spirit she devoted herself to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. We learned this church didn't grieve the Spirit. We learned she didn't resist the Spirit. We learned she didn't fight the Spirit. We learned she didn't put out the Spirit's fire. Instead, she fanned into flame the gift of God. Instead, she fully cooperated with the Spirit of God.
The church had to do this to be unified, magnified, and multiplied. The church had to do this because of the three thousand converts who were baptized on Pentecost Sunday. Those three thousand converts needed to be turned into disciples who obeyed the commands of Jesus (cf Mt 28:20).
B Last week we looked specifically at how the church devoted herself to the "fellowship." The Greek word is "koinonia." Koinonia is far more than being chummy or friendly with one another; we learned that first of all it is fellowship with God in worship. This week our focus is on fellowship with fellow believers. By the way, a couple of people asked me why I skipped the first item in verse 42: the apostles' teaching. We aren't skipping it; we are postponing it until our church year kick-off on Sunday, September 13.
C Before we start, let me also remind you of the meaning of the word "devoted." Remember, this is the most important word in our Bible reading. The believers "devoted" themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Devoted means to be loyal to someone or something. It means to give the highest priority to something or someone. It means to identify what is most important to you and to stick with it. Filled with the Spirit, the early church "devoted" herself to God and the things of God. She made a commitment and kept that commitment. Her relationship with God was a high priority. In fact, it was the highest priority.
"Devoted." Does this word describe you? Does this word describe me? Does this word describe Trinity United Reformed Church? Are we devoted to God and the things of God? If we want to be unified, magnified, and multiplied "devoted" needs to be one of the things we deliberately decide to do.
II Devoted to a Fellowship of Caring and Sharing
A Our Bible reading is not the only place we find the word "koinonia." For instance, koinonia is the word Paul uses for the collection he was organizing among the Greek churches for the relief of the Christians in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:4; 9:13). And, "koinonikos" is the Greek word for "generous." According to our Bible reading, it is this kind of koinonia that we also find among the Christians of the early New Testament Church when "they devoted themselves ... to the fellowship" -- a koinonia of caring for the poor within the church.
The Old Testament demands that God's people care for the poor. The Israelites were required by law to give a tenth of their produce to "the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow" (Deut 26:12). Though the New Testament doesn't specify an amount, how can Spirit-filled believers possibly give less? As John was to write later,(1 Jn 3:17) If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Christian fellowship is Christian caring, and Christian caring is Christian sharing.
If there really is koinonia among the people of God, then, as Moses states, "there should be no poor among you" (Deut 15:4). Of course many societies have dreamed of ending poverty. Today, that is the goal of socialist governments world-wide. That was one of the goals of President Johnson's "Great Society." At the time of the early church this was the goal of the Qumran community. According to its Rule, all members, wherever they lived, were obligated to care for the poor, the needy, and the stranger.
In our Scripture reading we find that the ideal of koinonia was realized in the early New Testament church. Dr. Luke notes that he can not find even one needy person in the church of his time (Acts 4:34). Poverty has been eliminated.
B Luke tells us how this koinonia of caring and sharing was accomplished. He says,
(Acts 2:44-45) All the believers were together and had everything in common. (45) Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.These are disturbing verses. Some say they mean that every Spirit-filled believer and community must follow their example. But is this actually the case? Are we being told to practice a primitive kind of "communism"?
(Acts 4:32-35) No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. (33) ... (34) There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales (35) and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
When I think of the rich ruler I do not doubt that even today Jesus calls some of His disciples to a life of total, voluntary poverty. Remember that ruler? Jesus discerned that he loved his wealth and possessions. Jesus discerned that his wealth and possessions was costing him his soul. So Jesus commanded the rich ruler to sell all that he had and to give it to the poor. If we love wealth and possessions like this rich ruler then we too would be better off selling all that we have and giving it to the poor (Lk 18:18f).
Yet neither Jesus nor His apostles forbid private property. It is important to note that even in Jerusalem the sharing of property and possessions was voluntary. According to verse 46, they broke bread "in their homes." So evidently many still had homes; not all had sold them.
It wasn't socialism that they early church practiced. It wasn't communism. Church members were not forced to give up their wealth and their possessions. Rather, it was the koinonia of caring. Goods were not evenly distributed. Rather, they were given to meet needs as they arose.
C Again I ask, how was the koinonia of caring and sharing accomplished in the early church? Being filled with the Spirit those early Christians had a radical attitude towards possessions; and, that radical attitude led them to sacrificial action.
The most important phrase to describe the attitude of the Spirit-filled church is this: "No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own" (4:32). Although in fact and in law they owned their goods, yet in heart and mind they thought of their possessions as belonging to God to be used to help their needy sisters and brothers. They took the attitude that God blessed them with material wealth so they could be a blessing to others. As Spirit-filled people, one of their great desires was to help one another. They valued people over possessions.
This attitude led those Spirit-filled believers to take sacrificial action. Says Scripture:
(Acts 2:45) Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.When those early Spirit-filled believers saw a need in the church, they were willing to make sacrifices for one another. What did they do? They sold houses and lands and brought the proceeds to the apostles for distribution to the needy. No wonder Luke describes them as unified, magnified, and multiplied!
(Acts 4:34-35) For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales (35) and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
The early Christians were not the only ones to practice sacrificial giving for the sake of the fellowship.
Soviet Pastor Richard Wurmbrand suffered terribly for the Lord. Yet he said that even while in prison, he saw fellow Soviet believers practice generous giving. "When we were given one slice of bread a week and dirty soap every day, we decided we would faithfully 'tithe' even that. Every tenth week we took the slice of bread and gave it to the weaker brethren as our 'tithe' to the Master."
The best example of the koinonia of caring and sharing, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ. I think here of the words of the Apostle Paul:
(2 Cor 8:9) For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.Paul is talking here about Jesus exchanging the riches and glories of heaven for the poverty and cruelty of life on earth (including the cross and the grave). The net result for us who believe is that we leave behind the poverty of sin and misery and enter into the riches and joy of new life in Christ.
D Scripture gives us two contrasting examples of the koinonia of caring and sharing. The first example is Joseph, nicknamed Barnabas or Son of Encouragement. He sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet for the support and care of needy believers (4:37). His generosity and openness fulfilled the koinonia ideal of caring and sharing.
The other example is Ananias and Sapphira. To all appearances Ananias and Sapphira did the same thing as Barnabas. Both sold a property. Both brought the proceeds of the sale to the apostles. The difference was that Barnabas brought all the sale money, while Ananias and Sapphira only pretended to bring all. Peter's judgment -- which was the Holy Spirit's judgment -- fell on Ananias and Sapphira for their lack of integrity. Ananias and Sapphira wanted the credit and the prestige of sacrificial giving, without the inconvenience of it. So, in order to gain a reputation they did not deserve, they told a lie. Their motive in giving was not the plight of the poor, but to fatten their own ego. This certainly did not fulfill the koinonia ideal of caring and sharing.
In doing this, Ananias and Sapphira sinned against the Holy Spirit. But they also sinned against the church. You see, falsehood and hypocrisy and lies ruin the fellowship of the church. True koinonia requires trust and truth and honesty. That's why the sin of Ananias and Sapphira had to be exposed and condemned.
E The lesson is clear, isn't it?! A Spirit-filled church that is unified, magnified, and multiplied practices the koinonia of caring and sharing. The Holy Spirit creates a church that cares for the needy and practices sacrificial generosity.
We need to hear this today. In the early church the believers gave abundantly of what was their own; but in our day many not only jealously guard what is their own, but callously rob others of what they have. In the early church believers sold their own possessions; in our day it is the lust to buy that reigns supreme. In the early church love made each man's possessions common property for those in need; in our day the poor are resented and trampled upon.
The Holy Spirit creates a church that cares for the needy and practices sacrificial generosity. We need to hear this today as many struggle to pay Christian school tuition. We need to hear this today as some are too proud to ask for help. We need to hear this today as some are looked down upon for getting help. Marquis de Lafayette was a French general and politician who joined the American Revolution and became a friend of George Washington. An influential man in the U.S. and France, Lafayette was also a man of compassion. The harvest of 1782 was a poor one, but the manager of his estate had filled his barns with wheat. "The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat," said his manager. "This is the time to sell."
Lafayette thought about the hungry peasants in the villages and replied, "No, this is the time to give."Many people, like the manager, would take advantage of the situation to make a killing. Few people, like the Marquis, would reach out in love. Real koinonia is measured by our willingness to let go of what we possess for another's good.
Let me ask everyone here a question. Would you be willing to sell your house or a parcel of land to help a needy brother? We are not obligated to do so, but there may be times and places when this is the best thing to do. We need to see all our possessions as belonging to God to be used for the greater good.
III The Early Church's Health Plan
A An issue of "Christian History Magazine" contains an article entitled "The Early Church's Health Plan." We all have heard of "Obamacare." I call the early church's plan "Barnabascare." Let me read excerpts from this article telling us the koinonia of caring and sharing shown by the early church. The article says the Christian faith produced the following benefits.
First, Social Services. In a world entirely lacking in social services, Christians were their brothers' keepers. At the end of the second century, Tertullian wrote that while pagan temples spent their donations "on feasts and drinking bouts," Christians spent theirs to "support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents, and of old persons confined to the house." Similarly, in a letter to the bishop of Antioch in 251, the bishop of Rome mentioned that "more than 1,500 widows and distressed persons" were in the care of his congregation. This charity was confirmed by pagan observers, too. The emperor Julian noted, "The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well."
B Second, Health Services. When two great plagues swept the empire in 165 and 251, mortality rates climbed higher than 30 percent. Pagans tried to avoid all contact with the afflicted, often casting the still living into the gutters. Christians nursed the sick, even though some believers died doing so. We now know that elementary nursing -- simply giving victims food and water -- reduces mortality in epidemics by as much as two-thirds. Consequently, Christians were more likely than pagans to recover.
C Third, a Close-knit Support Community. Because the church asked much of its members, it followed that it gave much. Because Christians were expected to aid the less fortunate, they could expect to receive such aid, and all could feel greater security against bad times. Because they were asked to nurse the sick and dying, they too would receive such nursing. Because they were asked to love others, they in turn would be loved.
D Fourth, a Longer Life. A little known fact is that Christians in the ancient world had longer life expectancies than did their pagan neighbors because of the three items I just mentioned.
E Pagans took note of this. They saw how Christians cared for each other. They saw how Christians cared for the sick and needy. They saw the sacrificial giving. And they joined and they wanted to join. They saw the church had something you could not find in the world.
You may wonder why I am preaching a sermon on this? Do I think that we have a problem in this area? No! I am simply answering the question of why and how the early church was unified, magnified, and multiplied. And, I am answering the question of why and how we too can be unified, magnified, and multiplied.
Ruth and I have a nickname for each of the churches we have served. Are you ready to hear Trinity’s nickname? Our nickname for Trinity is "A Generous Church." I have never met a church as generous as this one. In this generosity, do you know what I see? I see the koinonia of caring and sharing. The result? Filled with the Spirit, we too are unified, magnified, and multiplied. Filled with the Spirit, we are like Christ Himself Who made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the needy around Him: He gave of Himself, His life, and His blood.
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