Living Members: Sharing

LM ppt background

Reading: Acts 2:44-45; Acts 4:32-37

So we have all seen those before and after diet ads. They show a picture of people like “Fred” [not his real name] before he started Weight Watchers. And then there’s a second picture taken after he’s been on the program. The change is unmistakable. In 12 months Fred lost 50kg. He’s a changed man!

biggest loser

Most people’s experience with diet, however, tends to be more like this:

robert-lost-his-glasses

In only two weeks Robert lost his glasses..

Experts are saying that crash diets do not lead to permanent change, so their suggestion is don’t throw out your old wardrobe just yet…

Moving on from diets, let’s talk church: does being part of a church change people? I read some research from George Barna this week which said that 46% of people say their lives had not changed as a result of being part of a church. Would that statistic be reflected in this church, do you think? That around half of us would say our lives have not changed as a result of being part of a church? That would be a very disturbing reality, wouldn’t it?

And it seems a picture very different to what we have in Acts 2:

Sharing…

 “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44–45, NIV)

This thought is extended in Acts 4:

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” (Acts 4:32–35, NIV)

Here’s the question: What is happening in this church that moves them to such compassionate sharing? We probably wouldn’t pick it up, but that little phrase ‘there were no needy persons among them’ would have been immediately recognised by the people Luke first wrote to. At this stage, all of them were people who identified as Jews, most of them well versed in the OT Scriptures. Many of them would have memorised at least the first five books of the Old Testament, some of them, even more than that. And a few of them would have know the entire Old Testament by heart. Their minds would have immediately gone to Deuteronomy 15, where the Lord gave commands about using wealth and freeing people in debt. As the Lord outlined how Israel was to live as people before the watching world, he said

“However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,” (Deuteronomy 15:4, NIV)

In these few phrases in Acts 2:44, and Acts 4:34, God is telling this brand new church something very important: they are now His new people, the new Jerusalem, the new Israel, God’s new community.

That phrase “There were no needy persons among them” was a clear signal that God was living in them. Taken along with the outpouring of the Spirit into the church at Pentecost, it showed they were the temple of his Holy Spirit. It showed the Risen Christ had poured his new life into them! And they would never be the same.

God is telling this brand new church something very important: they are now His new people, the new Jerusalem, the new Israel, God’s new community

And because Christ’s new life was in them, those who had been drawn into Christ’s church considered it unthinkable that rich and poor could exist in the same community. See, when God is present in people, his compassion overflows into their lives, and from their lives into the lives of others. Through his Spirit Christ is living in these people, and has formed them into His Body. He is living in them corporately as the church, and living in them individually as his followers. They are an entirely new community, a new reality, a new spiritual entity.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said

Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual and not a human reality … which comes from the natural urges, powers, and capacities of the human spirit.
[Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.21]

The church is not a human organisation, and what we see in Acts 2 & 4 is not typical human behaviour. Christ lives in the church, and his life is poured into this community by his spirit.

This sharing did not come about because they knew one another, because they’d grown up together, or because they were great friends. We saw earlier in Acts 2 this church had grown rapidly: 3000 people had been added in one day. People from all over the known world. So this church would have included some wealthy people, business people, farmers, freedmen, servants and slaves. It was an incredibly diverse community!

But look at what happens:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44–45, NIV)

Now, this is not the enforced abolition of private property. We know this because many of these people still lived in their own home, we see that in v.46. We see in Acts 12 that people some time later also owned homes. We see in 1 Corinthians 1 how as the church spread into areas like Corinth, that people are still holding meetings in their own homes. People’s homes, in fact, were the primary meeting places for the church as it spread and grew. So, private property was retained, and used to bless the church.

So, this is not totalitarianism. Rather, this is spirit filled transformation of people and their community. These people have had their lives changed by Jesus, transformed by Christ. So the sharing is voluntary. And we can tell by the way the original sentences are structured that it was a regular practice, and it was directed toward poverty and need.

“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:45, NIV)

See, these Christians had made a very conscious decision to use their money and wealth to show the grace of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. And all it took for this to happen, it seems, was for someone to have a genuine need. Followers of Jesus would volunteer cash, or goods that could be sold, or shared, so the needs of that person to be met.

Of course, there is a caveat: this is not about throwing good money after bad, or rewarding poor choices. God does not want his people to sell their stuff so someone can use the money to support their substance abuse, or their gambling habit. Substance abuse and gambling are destructive behaviours. This sort of sharing would have been applied in a way that the restoration of the Kingdom, the values of heaven, would have been brought to expression. Both giver and receiver come under the same transformation.

It is an incredibly attractive picture, isn’t it?

Here’s the question: Would a church like this be a church you would like to be part of?

Materialism

Maybe you’d want to be part of that kind of community. At least on the receiving end. But would you want to be one of the givers? Would you be prepared to share something of your wealth or your assets to assist the genuinely needy?

I think this is a challenge for us, because we place so much emphasis on our possessions. Our struggle is not that our goods are bad. It’s more that it’s so easy to make them gods.

Tim Keller reminds us:

Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things

If we make good things ultimate things, they become our idols. They take the centre of our lives. They occupy our vision, they determine our gals and values. But when Jesus is Lord of your life, he occupies that place and hold those prerogatives. He is Lord of all, and as Lord of all he intends to cast every idol out.

Jesus in your heart changes how you use what is in your hands. When Jesus is your God, he’ll change how you see your goods.

This becomes more complicated the wealthier our society becomes. Go back generations, and there was less focus on what people had, because so few people had disposable wealth. Today in Australia, we are more wealthy than most of the world, and yet it’s hard for us to contemplate this kind of sharing. It shouldn’t be, really, because whether now, or 200 years ago, or 2000 years ago, Christians have always said that Jesus is their rock.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

Christians have always said that their only comfort in life and in death, is not in what they own, but in that they are not their own, but belong, in body and soul, in life and in death, to the faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.

IMG_0285

Because Christ holds me securely, I can hold other things loosely. Because I am treasured by Christ, I can treasure another reality:

““Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19–21, NIV)

Our treasure is heaven: that is, bringing God’s reality to expression in our lives. Our treasure is to live put that reality that we are seated in the heavenliness with Christ even now (see Colossians 3:1-4). We are living the life of our new citizenship in heaven.

Because Christ holds me securely, I can hold other things loosely

And look at these Christians! This sharing is a clear indicator that they are doing just that!

Gospel Transformation

See, something has happened and it has changed these people forever. And the thing that has happened is this: Jesus Christ is risen, and he is living in these people. That’s what Paul says in Romans 4:

“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4, NIV)

That’s what has happened! They have been made alive forever in the resurrection of Christ! They have been drawn into his new community, into his church! They are his new people. In that sense the change that Jesus is working in them is already becoming visible. Jesus is living in them through his spirit, and he is changing they way they lived, and the values by which they lived their lives.

Think of it this way:

Imagine you had a rich uncle. You were his favourite niece or nephew. Imagine you uncle has died, and you’ve just had news that he’s left several million dollars to you in his will. And you will receive that inheritance in 3 months time. October 19, 2015. Do you think your life would be any different? Of course it would! Even though the inheritance had not been fully received, you’d start to make some changes immediately: you would tell people your good news, and the reality of that good news would change your disposition and your behaviour! How could it not do so?

See, this is what we mean when we say we are living a new life. Something has happened: we have the life of Christ! We have been given an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade! And while we don’t have its total consummation, the fact that we have this inheritance makes a difference today, in the here and now.

These people did not have its total consummation: but Christ living in them changed how they lived to such an extent that they used their possessions to bring him glory and to help the needy. They did this knowing not only that something had happened, but that something else was yet to happen. Christ would return, and bring the new heavens and the new earth. And until that happened, their calling was to live the values of that coming existence in their here and now.

It may be true that we lose out on something of the power of Christ’s new life because we do not intentionally live in his changed reality. Because we live like we do not have the inheritance he has given.

R Kent Hughes says

So many people never know the joys of Christian fellowship because they have never learned to give themselves away.

With this in mind, it’s not hard to see how sharing like this is one of the most powerful evidences of the presence of the Holy Spirit. That’s exactly what we read in Acts 4

“…God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them…” (Acts 4:33–34, NIV)

…so powerfully at work in them… – it’s not just a rhetorical expression. It’s the new life of Jesus Christ coming powerfully to expression!

I am incredibly challenged by this. I don’t think I am that driven by possessions. Just don’t ask me if you can borrow one of my bass guitars… Then again, if there was a real need, would I have the desire to put one or two on eBay and give the proceeds toward that need?

I started today by referring to research which said 46% of people were unchanged by being members of a church. Do you think people in the Acts 2 church would have said that? Far from it.

Do you think you would say that if such grace, such spirit power were flowing through you? Far from it.

The reality is, we all want to be this kind of church. We all want to be living members of precisely this kind of community.

Now, I do not know your need, or the extent of your wealth. But perhaps this message is challenging you to step up: “God has blessed be richly, I have some some money, and if there’s ever some genuine need, let me know…” Or maybe you’re being challenged from the other side of the ledger:  “I am so on the breadline, I have been through this awful financial catastrophe, and I don’t know what to do…’

Come, let us pray about it, let’s work this out like God’s people should. Jesus says: it’s time for us to reorient our approach to wealth and material possessions. And if we do, through the grace of Jesus, in the power of his Spirit, our lives will change, our church will change, and our sharing will bring powerful witness to the Christ, who changes everything.

[download sermon audio here, or via iTunes Podcast]

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