The In-Between Years - Part 23
Series: The In-Between Years
January 17, 2021
The In-Between Years — Part 23
I remember watching the Fellowship of the Ring movie by Peter Jackson, the first in the LOTR trilogy. It was three hours plus and so packed full of action and story after it was over I wondered to myself, did I watch just one movie?
Acts 3-4 is like that. It’s so full of action and story you have a hard time believing it’s just two chapters in Luke’s second volume. It started with Peter and John healing a man born lame in the temple court. Then them being taken before the council of religious rulers for healing a man lame from birth. Then Peter preaching a powerful message proclaiming Jesus. Then the council commanding them not to preach Jesus’ name, the first instance of persecution. Then Peter and John saying nope. Then them praying for boldness to preach even harder.
Finally, today after a break from this series, we return to our Acts study where we’ll finish chapter 4 with another snapshot of the early church, like the one we saw in…
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42–47 (ESV)
Don’t take these lightly. We need to let them convict and encourage us. Convict us in how it should be and encourage us in how it can be. Probably right now in our country more than ever, at a time it seems the church has lost its way.
So here’s the second snapshot. It’s very similar to the first.
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 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 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:32–37 (ESV)
Man. This is so rich. We could draw many truths from this text but for today…
First, we note their incredible UNITY.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul…” v. 32a
These days heart and soul has to do with love ballads and romantic movies. It describes idyllic relationships between couples: two people joined together heart and soul so much so they are almost one person. Two people who desperately love each other. Two people who want what’s best for each other, who put the other first to a fault.
Heart and soul is also a modern idiom expressing the idea of giving oneself over wholly and completely to something, putting all the effort you can put into something, investing the whole of one's obsession and energy (Source: theidioms.com).
All those things convey the idea except here it’s a characteristic of a group, a community of people bound together through Christ. Have you ever thought about church like that? A group of people so unified, so bound together, they are of one heart and soul?
Paul called the Christians in Philippi to live like this…
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:1–4 (ESV)
And to the Christians in Ephesus…
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— Ephesians 4:1–4 (ESV)
Even our church, as healthy and unified as it is, falls short here. Luke’s snapshot convicts us in how it should be. It also encourages us in how it can be. We should pray for that.
What comes next flows out of what we see before it. With their incredible unity of heart and soul comes unrestrained GENEROSITY
“and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” v. 32b
Over and over the Bible teaches us that the true test of where we are spiritually, the true test of where our loyalties lie, a trusty indicator of our righteousness, is found in what we do with our possessions. This was a major theme of Jesus’ teachings. You don’t have to search very hard to find it.
Perhaps the most striking is
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Matthew 6:19–21, 24 (ESV)
And then there’s this meeting between Jesus and a rich man in what can only be described as an illustration of Matt 6:24…
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:17–22 (ESV)
Jesus wasn’t trying to get this wealthy young man to support his ministry. He was trying to show him where his affections were focused, that he didn’t understand what Jesus was really offering with eternal life, that he couldn’t serve two masters. And this does not, as some fear, promote the need for giving up all your possessions to be saved. One commentator points out that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son but said wait don’t do that when he began to obey and most likely Jesus would have done the same with this man’s money.
Having money isn’t the problem, it’s having you is.
Which brings us to the early church in our snapshot. Their unrestrained generosity wasn’t something they were compelled to do. It wasn’t a way for them to be religious. It was the natural outflow of their love for Jesus and each other.
If I love my children with all my heart and soul, and because of that giving them what I have is privilege, a joy. Nothing makes me any happier than to give what I have to my children and now to my grandchild.
Even our church, as healthy and unified as it is, falls short here also. Again Luke’s snapshot convicts us in how it should be. It also encourages us in how it can be. We should pray for that.
Next we find their unshakeable TESTIMONY to a risen Jesus
33 “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”
This is super important. Way more important than we might think at first glance. You’ve probably heard me say — very recently even — how for years I thought the gospel, the point of the Bible, was to get people saved so they could go to heaven when they died. And how the goal and mission of many churches is to take as many people to heaven as they can. And how it sounds so spot on.
But in the last few years, God has shown me how that misses the mark of the grander, more glorious, bigger picture of what he’s up to seen here. The early church, the first disciples pictured in this snapshot were about giving testimony to the Lord’s resurrection.
Their whole way of thinking, living, and breathing looked forward to the day Jesus would return to raise them up in their new resurrection bodies, redeem the earth, and set up his new kingdom where heaven and earth would be one again.
This wasn’t something they hoped for one day; it was something that influenced how they lived in that moment. They were citizens of a coming kingdom, a kingdom ruled by King Jesus, so they were compelled to live like citizens of that kingdom in the here and now.
This idea is the heart of this series: The In-Between Years, a look at the church in the book of Acts. We see very clearly that the early church was not just about getting saved so they could go to heaven when they died, just passively biding the time in between Jesus’ first coming and second. They were about actively influencing each other and the world around them for Christ, they were about working to make this world like it’s going to be one day, a world where injustice and racism and poverty and suffering are no more. Something marked by the coming resurrection.
And if you have that coming eternal kingdom to look forward to — with all its treasures and blessings — what need do you have to call anything your own in this world? See how it connects?
One scholar writes…
What you do with money and possessions declares loudly what sort of a community you are, and the statement made by the early church’s practice was clear and definite. No wonder they were able to give such powerful testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. They were demonstrating that it was a reality in ways that many Christians today, who often sadly balk at even giving a tithe of their income to the church, can only dream of.
Even our church, as healthy and unified as it is, falls short giving testimony to a rise Lord like that. And again Luke’s snapshot convicts us in how it should be. It also encourages us in how it can be. We should pray for that.
Back to verse 33, “and great grace was upon them all.” The word for grace found many times throughout the NT is charis. One Bible scholar “understands charis [here] in a threefold way: the favor of the people, God’s grace, and the effect of the Holy Spirit.”
When Jesus’ followers live in unity, practice generosity, and are led to give testimony to a risen Lord, an atmosphere of grace, of favor, comes upon them and everyone around them. That grace is within and without. It’s so powerfully energized by the Spirit, it can transform people, cultures, and countries.
And that’s exactly what happened. Christians, for the first few hundred years especially, turned the world upside down. Christianity spread throughout the pagan Roman Empire like wildfire. All because of how they lived in unity, practiced generosity, and gave testimony to a risen Lord.
Tim Keller gives two striking examples of how this happened…
In the year AD 252 there was a tremendous plague in the city of Carthage. One of the more interesting stories to come down to us from that day was that in Carthage during that plague, the healthy people were leaving the city in droves. They had to get out because of the threat of contamination and losing everything they had. In the middle of that panic, the great Christian leader Cyprian drew together all of the Christians in the center of that town.
That town had persecuted and hurt the Christians. Cyprian said, “If we’re going to do what Jesus did, who though he was rich became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich, then I call you now to fan out through this town and give both personal and financial aid and care and comfort to all according to their need. Not whether they’re Christians or not. Not even whether they are your enemies or not. We’re called here to follow what our Master did.” It’s a fascinating story. They would not abandon the city in the midst of the plague…
One of the early Roman emperors, Julian, who tried to stem the tide of Christianity and revive the pagan religion, couldn’t do it. In his disgust he wrote one of his friends to talk about why the Christians were succeeding and why they were spreading.
He says in a letter that has come down to us, “Their success lies in their charity to all. They take care of not only their own poor but ours as well.” …proof positive that one of the main things (there were others I’m sure) that differentiated Christians from everybody else was the way in which they used and their attitude toward their money.
It was one of the main things that gave the Christians success in a world that really looked at them as very, very odd and strange. It was one of the things that gave them their power. It was one of the things that befuddled the world and changed their attitude toward them. How are we doing on that? The question that comes up, of course, is (as we will continually ask ourselves) … Why were Christians so different?… The answer is an experience of God’s grace.
Conclusion: I said we were going to finish out the chapter. So let’s close with the final verses where we see that grace, that favor demonstrated in a big way…
34 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 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:34–37 (ESV)
This spirit of unrestrained generosity and grace impacted a man of some means name Joseph, who come to bear the nickname of his fellow Christians, Barnabas. He sold some of his property to support the ministry of the church in Jerusalem. I wish that was the end of the story but it isn’t. We will see the first indication that the church wasn’t perfect next time. That too will be convicting and encouraging.
As we close, I have a question for you. Have you ever experienced God’s grace? God wants to include you in his kingdom plans. He wants you to be part of his forever family. He wants to save you not just so you can go to heaven when you die, but so you can know his love and mercy right now, so you can influence this world for him, and have purpose and meaning.
They way you get in on that is very simple.
13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)
You can do that while I pray.
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