Summary: God creates a love that spares nothing.
The meanings of “socialism” and “communism” have changed over time as various political tyrants and undemocratic governments have used the ideas to advance their own political power and fantasies. But for the sake of today’s passage and sermon, let’s use the most simple possible meaning, that which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels promoted in the late 1800s. Then the terms could be used more or less interchangeably to refer to a “society in which class differences had disappeared, people lived in harmony, and government was no longer needed.” (MSN Encarta Online Encyclopedia, 2007 ed., s.v. “Communism.”)
Today’s passage sounds like commUnism. It is different, however; so I have entitled the sermon, “CommOnism in the Church.” God does not show how an enlightened proletariat wrests control of business and wealth from the rich in order to fairly distribute it across society. Instead, God creates a church voluntarily disposing of their possessions, generously providing for those who lack. The Christians in Jerusalem held their goods “in common,” and no needy person lived among them. Let’s read about it in Acts 4. [Read Acts 4.32-37. Pray.]
A pastor had a farmer friend in his congregation and they were talking over the fence one day. The pastor asked the farmer, “Abe, if you had one hundred horses, would you give me fifty?” Abe said, “Certainly.”
The pastor asked, “If you had one hundred cows, would you give me fifty?” Abe said, “Yes.”
Then the pastor asked, “If you had two pigs, would you give me one?” Abe said, “Now cut that out, pastor; you know I have two pigs!” :)
Generosity sounds good in the abstract; many Christians picture themselves giving away half their lottery winnings. Fewer, it seems, can part with one pig.
An article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal (November 23, 2007) described the backlash many churches feel when teaching on tithing (giving 10% of one’s income): “Opponents of tithing say it is a misreading of the Bible, a practice created by man, not God. They say they should be free to donate whatever amount they choose, and they are arguing with pastors, writing letters and quitting congregations in protest.” But Steve Sorensen, director of pastoral ministries at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio was quoted as saying, “‘When you tithe, God makes promises to us, that he…is not going to let anything bad or destructive come about’…. For those who don’t tithe, he says the Lord ‘is not obligated to do those things for you.’”
I am not going to preach on tithing — this text does not address the topic and for many of us such a practice would fall far short of the pattern of generous giving to God’s work and God’s people described in the New Testament. I also hope to avoid any guilt feelings. Guilt-induced offerings deny the gospel of grace and deter generous giving. Instead, my goal is to discover the causes of the astonishing generosity we see in Acts 4.
Lucian lived between 120 and 200 AD. He was a Greek satirist and opponent of anything religious (which he grouped together as superstitions). Yet when he saw the generosity of the Christian church he wrote: “It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it in their heads that they are brothers.”
The cause of the difference which Lucian observed among the Christians was the presence of the Holy Spirit producing power in their witness. Our God is generous; and when we devote ourselves to him and he works among us, he makes us generous like himself. Then many see the works of the Lord and they want to know the Savior. To see that, first notice….
1. God’s Grace Produces Unity In Our Church (Acts 4.32a)
We know our proclivity to divide in all matters important, especially those related to religion. Therefore, if the Bible did not include this sentence, we would not believe it true, because we would think it impossible that thousands of Christians could agree — men and women of different ages, backgrounds and personalities, people who were opponents to one another a few months earlier, for they came from a wide variety of sects and religions.
But that was now all forgotten, and they are unanimous in their love for Jesus. And because they were united to the Lord, they were joined to one another in holy love. Such was the dying command of Christ to his disciples: “Love one another,” and one of his final prayers to the Father: “That they may be one, even as we are one.”
Jealousy in the church is not a sign of great grace. Envy over another’s gifts and ministry does not create a powerful witness. Looking out for number one produces no converts. A critical spirit impresses no one, either inside the congregation or outside. Bitterness and rivalry and insisting that we are right and get our way pleases only the enemy.