Summary: These verses are an encouragement to see how a Church can behave together when its members are committed to one another as fellow members of the body of Christ and to be generous with our possessions. But they’re also a warning not to hold back what we’ve
We’ve seen a fascinating thing in Australian politics in the past few weeks. John Howard has gone from being the man of steel to being more like a quick change artist. Suddenly he’s on the back foot trying to maintain his popularity against the threat of Mark Latham. And what was the issue that caused him to stumble? It wasn’t lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction. It wasn’t a rebound in public opinion on refugees. It wasn’t the crisis in our health system or access to tertiary education. No, it was politicians’ superannuation packages. It was the question of the haves and the have nots in our society; of wealth and poverty; of a sense of unfairness over incomes. So why does an issue like that cause such concern when our treatment of refugees or questions over misinformation about military intelligence or shortfalls in the provision of health and education don’t seem to make a difference? Well, let me suggest that it’s all to do with money. Money and its distribution is so often the touchstone of a society, the issue that sets people apart or that gets them excited.
And so it was in the early Church. As Luke continues with his description of the highlights of the early weeks of the Church this is something that stands out for him. So much so that he mentions it in his summary of the life of the church in chapter 2 and now in ch 4 he comes back to it with one particular example, followed, sadly, by its counterpoint; by a sobering reminder of how easily we can be corrupted by the love of money.
After Peter and John were released from prison, you’ll remember, the church joined together in prayer that the Holy Spirit would strengthen and empower them. And in response to that prayer they began to speak boldly. But the work of the Spirit doesn’t stop with words. Rather it flows into action. We read they were of one heart and mind. There was a fundamental solidarity of love among them that showed itself in the way they related to one another.
Now I was thinking about how this compares with our congregation. We’re probably not that different to them. You can imagine they would have had a fairly broad range of backgrounds and interests. Some of those differences may have cause a certain amount of strain between some of them. Certainly in ch 6 we discover a level of tension between the Greek and the Hebrew widows. So what does this mean here when we read that they were of one heart and soul? Does it mean they all had the same idea of what was the best way to do things; what was the right way to worship; what was the best way to pray; what style of music they should use in their worship?
No. Of course not. They were normal human beings. But they were human beings who were filled with the Holy Spirit, so they realised that the differences they had were secondary to the unity that came from being in Jesus Christ. Now I think this is a real challenge to us. We’re already a fairly diverse congregation and as we continue to grow there’s every chance we’ll continue to become more diverse. That means we’ll need to ask God to enable us to be of one heart and mind. To bear with one another even when others are annoyingly different from us.
But the challenge is even deeper than that, because it strikes at the Achilles heel of economics. Notice that their sense of solidarity led to a radical realignment of their attitude to each other and especially to their possessions. So we read they shared everything they had so there was no needy person among them.
Let me read you what one commentator has written about this behaviour: "We must have hearts that are harder than iron if we are not moved by the reading of this narrative. In those days the believers gave abundantly of what was their own; we in our day are content not just jealously to retain what we possess, but callously to rob others.... They sold their own possessions in those days; in our day it is the lust to purchase that reigns supreme. At that time love made each man’s own possessions common property for those in need; in our day such is the inhumanity of many, that they begrudge to the poor a common dwelling upon earth, the common use of water, air and sky." Does that sound contemporary? Well, do you know when it was written? It was written in 1552 by John Calvin (Calvin, The Acts of the Apostles, Vol I). Not much has changed has it? Except perhaps that our personal economic well being is even more important to us than ever.