Share and Share Alike–sermon text version

I suppose most of my recurring nightmares are school-related:

  • screamSkipping Class All Semester Nightmare in which I find I don’t know any of the subject matter–even where the final exam is being held, which in my nightmare is always RIGHT NOW.
  • Then there’s the Procrastination Nightmare with a whole bunch of assignments announced the first day of class on a clearly written syllabus…assignments which I didn’t end up starting until 15 minutes before the assignment is due.
  • The Passing Note Nightmare which involves my getting caught by the teacher who reads some content in my note that is totally tabloid in nature and humiliating in every way known to man, and then says, “Should we share this with the rest of the class?”
  • And finally The Chewing a Piece of Gum in Class Nightmare and having the teacher ask if I’d brought enough to share and then being chewed out publically for disobeying school rules which always seemed to be “Bring enough gum for everyone!”  Humiliating to show up in class with a single pack of Wrigley’s and being more than a dozen sticks short.

Given these recurring nightmares, you’d think that I was probably a really poor student.  Given these nightmares still occurring decades after the fact, you’d think it had really happened and I was traumatized by it.  But no.  I always liked school.

And what you’re probably really wondering about right now is what on earth it has to do with Acts 4:32-37.  I’d say, “Nothing, just a cheap attention getting ploy,” except that it ironically applies.  The applications are parallel:

  1. Don’t skip the education.
  2. Don’t procrastinate thinking there’s always time later to do things.
  3. Share only what is good.
  4. And follow the rules for sharing:  Share and Share alike!

In the book of Acts today, we see a church actively engaged in the fellowship of believers as a function of their Christian education.  It means these believers know what the Word says, they act on it, they share what they’ve learned, and they share in actions, too.  They do it willingly. Share and Share alike!

We’re ust coming off Christmas and all the gift giving.  Heading to the year-end close for tax donations.  And I didn’t want to close the year with what we’re talking about next week, a counterexample to this week’s sharing and giving.  Although next week, it will be “Happy New Year, Ananias and Sapphira are dead.”

Many preachers hate talking about money, but Jesus talked about it a lot…and not just on some “Stewardship Sunday.”

Stewardship is more than just money.  It’s a whole life deal and foundational to the early church.  As the church is getting launched, there are rules of the road and principles to live by.  In our passage today, we see the idea presented, reiterated, and displayed in a personal example of a man named Barnabas.  It isn’t the first time we’ve seen it.  Bill Slater preached on it as New Life Leads to New Living.  And if Luke points it out a second time, we’re wise to pay attention.

Let’s recap where we are:  The believers had just seen Peter and John and maybe even the formerly crippled guy who used to beg at the gate called Beautiful be thrown in jail.  They got scolded, prohibited from evangelizing, and were released with the idea they should never do that again.  Their worst nightmare.

So they get out, they pray, they praise God, and then ask Him to empower them do it some more…even more boldly next time.  The persecution of the church begins and it’s going to be very important during the infancy of the church that people understand how the church works.  It works by share and share alike.

That’s a summary of the Great Commission:

Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jesus gets all authority in heaven and shares it with believers in the form of His teachings and His commission to spread His good news!  The Father shared with Jesus.  Jesus shared with us.  Our job is to share alike.  To pass it along to others.

As I read these verses from our passage today, beginning in Acts 4:32, I want for you to listen to the unity going on.  The sharing. The commonality.

Acts 4:32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

All the believers, one heart, one mind.  No one claimed possession as greed, but as something worth sharing with everyone.  Share and Share alike!

What we’re about to delve into is one of the most misunderstood passages of Scripture, a conservative theologian’s nightmare, and it’s where my school examples will help inform the distinction between social engineering and Christian living.  This passage has sometimes been called “Christian communism,” but it’s totally different!  It’s not social engineering.  It’s Christian living.  And they are as different as night and day.

In our passage, v 32 is a first description showing that people learned what Jesus said and they put it into practice.  Every moment was a time to learn and apply.  They didn’t skip class, they didn’t procrastinate.  They learned and applied it NOW.  They understood that every moment is exam time.  Every moment will be a test of what you’ve learned and who you love.  What’s the result?

33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

New Life Leads to New Living.  It witnesses!  When we do what Jesus says, His grace will flow from Him, to us, and out to others.  These disciples in the early church knew it all began with witness and it flowed as grace from Jesus to us to others.  Share and share alike.  It witnesses more and there’s power for the church in that.

oreo christianThe other bookend description in v 34 says basically the same thing as v 32, both of which serve to highlight the stuff in the middle.  Kind of like an Oreo.  The cookies are there to support the filling.  Not the other way around.  What’s the good stuff in the middle?  It’s verse 33.  Acts 4:33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

Here begins the other cookie: 34 There were no needy persons among them.

When we know and we share, no one is need.  Not all of us are in the giving category.  God has made some of us in the dependent-upon-others category so that grace might be upon all of us.  If we get plugged up by someone not sharing what God gave them specifically to share, it becomes an abscess in the church and the infection takes hold and robs us of power.   We’ll see next week what God thinks of that.  Verse 34 continues

For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them,

It’s important to take a bit of a time out to mention that we do not see a problem with ownership or ownership rights.  It says from time to time, no indication of by compulsion.  Ownership was viewed with a clear understanding of where belongings come from in the first place.   Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  When we view all belongings as originating with God, by His grace, we will be more likely to hold them loosely.

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.

Isn’t this beautiful?!  People, totally free to own and sell, they were totally free to give away as well.

It was an outflow of being of one heart and one mind.  The Church is one body.  No stomach would withhold nourishment from the arms, eyes, and lungs.  One body! So people brought money that they didn’t worship… to the One True God whom they did worship.  Not worshiping money.  Worshiping God.  Of course, God puts people in positions of authority to be able to act on His behalf.  That’s what pastors and stewards are supposed to do.  The apostles too.  The Bible calls them Overseers because God is a God of order.

In God’s economy, we learn to be charitable by having someone to be charitable toward.  Let me say that again.

We learn to be charitable by having someone to be charitable toward.  If there is no recipient, there is no giving.

heart handsAnd by seeing someone’s needs being met, it reinforces the desire to do what one can.  That’s why some receive God’s grace directly in the form of ownership and material blessing, and others receive God’s grace indirectly as those who have learned what it means to be Christian live out the Great Commission and share everything with others.  Share and share alike!

I have had instances in my life in which a need comes to my attention, maybe even a Christian friend is in need.  (Like in our passage, which importantly refers to people in the Church!)  Maybe I could make a car payment for someone so their car didn’t get repossessed or help with a mortgage payment or bring someone’s account from below zero to help them survive until the next paycheck without a bank overdraft charge.  I say I…but truly I can only be a time steward.  Financially, in our family, it’s we.  Warren is our check-writer and oversees the whole gamut of stewardship even back at our church in IL.  Seeing how help—in a very tangible and clear way—meets a specific need–makes the act of helping even more rewarding.  It doesn’t go into a black hole somewhere.  Rather, it is visible in the life of someone in the Church.  It produces fruit.  It produces grace.

Charity has, in our modern age, received a bad name.  As we’ve shifted from the Church and their ministries doing redistribution of God’s grace (share and share alike)…to a current system of various entities with political priorities doing the redistribution, God’s economy has become profoundly warped.

    1. Ownership gets replaced with greed on one hand, and adverse possession on the other where belongings get taken from one and given to another without the consent, will, or joy of the one whose property rights were violated.  God gets completely removed from this whole equation!  And you know what?  All the joy of personally, materially helping someone and being encouraged by it… gets diluted until it’s really not visible at all.
    2. God’s economy also gets warped when selling freely gets replaced by compulsory taxation.  By ripping the freedom out of the giving, you know what?  All that’s left quite often is a bitter resentment of someone else deciding for you when you want to do what you are called by God to do.
    3. God’s economy gets warped when charity and sharing that once characterized the early church got stripped of its grace and now receiving charity is considered to be bad.  Too insulting, embarrassing, or humiliating.  So we’ve replaced “the needy” with “the entitled.”  We’ve swapped the word charity for someone else telling us what is “doing our fair share.”  We call grace recipients, otherwise known as the needy, “clients” as if what’s important is the transaction, not the grace!  We’ve replaced gift and giving, with obligation and expectation.  We’ve replaced alms with taxes.  It’s all in the same category: graceless giving, graceless receiving.  But what did our passage say happens in the important middle of the cookie?  33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

Charity witnesses.

Charity is the Church’s powerful testimony.

Charity brings about grace and more grace.  Share and Share alike!

But today, what do many people see?  A Church that has either dropped the ball on charity, or a Church that has willingly forsaken its witness by giving their God-given function over to the government.

People ought to see what is happening inside the Church –a whole lotta grace goin’ on— so that they will want to be part of the learning, the sharing, and the grace that form God’s economy.  But if they don’t see grace as share and share alike, we lose our witness and we miss the important stuff at the center of our scripture, witness and grace!

It’s a lesson we don’t want to skip.  We’ve heard it in principle.  God shows it to us in action.  36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Do you see how we’ve moved from a principle to an example?  From time to time, some people did sell what they owned and they brought the proceeds to the Church to minister to the needy…and one of those people was Encouragement’s son, named Barnabas (Son of Encouragement).  He did exactly what some others did, too…from time to time…as God blessed and inspired them to do.

We all need encouragers and living examples in our lives.  Barnabas was a great one.  He helps us to see the joys and encouragement of such living so that we might share and share alike.  Barnabas was a Levite (part of the religious order) and he was from Cyprus which will become important as the missionary journeys outlined in Acts unfold.  But for now, the best thing to note about Barnabas was that he was an encourager, a role model, and people noticed his setting an example for others and the positive recognition he likely received—Scripture even remembers Barnabas by name.  As a good and faithful steward of God’s material blessings.

heap of coins close upLet’s take a time out to revisit my school nightmares and tie it to the outcome of stripping the grace out of charity.  I wanted to apply it to something about which many of us can relate because money is a really uncomfortable subject for many people.  Jesus, however, talked about money even more than He talked about hell, the devil, or sex.  Money was a big deal to Jesus because it has the terrible potential to confuse the gift with the Giver, the blessing with the Blesser, and money forms even today the most seductive and insidious idol of this world’s economy.  It sneaks up on us and draws us away from worshiping the One True God whose economy runs–not on money–but on grace.

So my nightmares show that we cannot skip classes on Christian living, avoid the final exam, and still get a passing grade in the class.  We’ll know the material if we learn it and apply it day by day, and from time to time.  Charity is something we need to always be on the lookout to provide as God enables us…and not always in the form of money.  It can be acts of service or a million other things.  But the bottom line is that the answer to the Skipping Class Nightmare is to learn the material.

Second, we cannot procrastinate to the very last moment before our death before deciding to be charitably minded and still experience the fullness of Grace.  Share and share alike needs to be now, not later.  It needs to be a reflection of unity.

Third, share and share alike doesn’t look like my Passing Note Nightmare of a teacher grabbing a note I’m passing in private and the teacher sharing the contents with the entire class.  Wrong as passing a note was, yet, it wouldn’t have been the teacher’s news to share.  Possessions that God has shared with you aren’t someone else’s to share with anyone.  We do not take and redistribute.  We are to share and share alike as God leads us.

Which brings me to the fourth, Not Enough Gum for Everyone Nightmare.  This Scripture doesn’t say that Barnabas sold all of his fields and became one of the needy dependent upon others.  Dependency is not the goal!  Grace is!  Not one of us has the resources to meet every need that exists.  God, instead, gives both blessing and responsibility to share His grace with others…in the perfect amounts as a body of believers.  Grace doesn’t always take the form of money.  Knowledge and witness never get exhausted.  Possessions, on the other hand, require stewardship.  God can always outdo us in giving, but He also wants us to be wise and to use resources where they will do the most good, exactly as He calls us to use them.  What matters is that we’re of one heart and one mind of honoring God.  Our hearts and motivations need to be right.  That’s where a third party can never discern for you or me where we ought to give…what is our fair share.  We don’t give to placate others and cannot judge them.  We give to bless others with the grace of God.  Share and share alike!

In God’s economy, the time is NOW to know and learn what it means to live as one heart and one mind.  There’s time NOW to do acts of charity for the blessing of others.  We share with others flowing out of Christian unity …all the while remembering that we are only redistributing God’s grace as share and share alike!

Acts 4:33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on December 31, 2014

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