There is probably more giving during the Christmas season than any other time of the year. Charities certainly bank on it. I can't believe how many paper sacks of junk mail I have to throw away. I had a stack this thick of mail that I was going through this past Wednesday, and probably 75-80% of it was solicitations. And have you ever noticed how everything is an emergency? 911 is long gone, but it was so successful in getting out the dollar that Republicans are still using it for fund raising and for support of their causes. Hurricane Katrina drew lots of money because of the attacks of nature upon an unsuspecting public. The Republicans get out the money by showing the horrendous attacks of the Democrats on our liberties, and the Democrats do the same to the Republicans. And the third parties do the same with both. Christian social groups keep describing the same attacks of the ACLU to drum up support. And the ACLU talks about the threat to our liberties that the Christian right presents. Isn't that right? Any time it gets to the cartoon strips you know that you have a longstanding trend. Glenn gave me a cartoon yesterday from one of my favorite strips (Calvin & Hobbes) that has Calvin excitedly telling Hobbes, "I'm writing a fund-raising letter. The secret to getting donations is to depict everyone who disagrees with you as the enemy. Then you explain how they're systematically working to destroy everything you hold dear. It's a war of values! Rational discussion is hopeless! Compromise is unthinkable! Our only hope is well-funded antagonism, so we need your money to keep up the fight!" Hobbes says, "How cynically unconstructive." And Calvin says, "Enmity sells."
Well, obviously it doesn't sell hugely because the American public still doesn't give a ton of money. It just seems that they are transferring their giving from one charity to another. And I think that part of the problem is that guilt manipulation only works for a short while. Despite numerous disasters that charities could use to pull at heart strings, last week's statistics posted by Christianity Today show that giving is still (percentage wise) at an all time low in America. It just gets shifted from one charity to another. The average Protestant gives 2.6% of his income, down from 3.3% during the Great Depression. Happily, evangelicals are the ones who have raised the figure up to 2.6% because on average they give 400% more money per individual than the average of all other church goers. But even evangelicals aren't giving anywhere near the tithe. Polls indicate that 12% of the evangelicals have not given one single dollar to the church in the last year. One large study (by Ronsvalle) estimated that if the church began to tithe or give 10% of their income to the church, an additional 139 billion dollars would be available for ministry. That's an incredible figure.
That's one of the things that I appreciate about our church. Everyone tithes. Some give above and beyond the tithe. But I want to talk today about a kind of giving and sharing that goes beyond the ordinary. You rarely find this kind of giving in wealthy nations. Instead, you find it among the Dalits of India and among the poverty stricken peasants of China. In China there was an old man plowing his small field with a crude instrument drawn by an ox and a boy. And when he was questioned about why the boy was pulling the plow, the man said that the boy was so moved by the needs within the church that he asked his father, "Why can't we sell one of our oxen, and I will pull the yoke of the ox that we sell." The boy was not driven by guilt. He was excited to be able to contribute to the kingdom by donating his energies. That was all that he had to give. There was something about his giving that was infectious, and that made others want to give. There was something about his giving that showed the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a very attractive thing. And today I would like to talk about the subject of Kingdom Giving. Not giving out of guilt; not giving because it is expected, but something that goes beyond, no matter how little or how much is given.
Unfortunately there are two kinds of counterfeits of Kingdom giving that rob Christians of this joy and that tear the heart out of kingdom giving. Though these substitutes at first seem radical, and some people think these two counterfeits are the ideal, they actually make a person settle for something far less than what God desires. The first counterfeit is called asceticism and the second is called socialism, and in its more radical form – communism. There aren't nearly as many ascetics in America as there are socialists. But I have run across enough people who feel guilty about enjoying the good things of life, that I thought I needed to at least address this counterfeit for a few minutes.
One Christian that I met when I was in College believed that it was sinful to drive a new car off the lot. His ideal was to get one ten years old. And I wondered "If that is sinful, why stop there? Why not sell your ten year old car and walk?" He also thought that it was sinful to eat meat. And I asked "Why?" He said, because so many people in other countries can't afford meat. He was a man driven by guilt, and he denied himself many comforts of life so that he could become more holy. Well let me set that to rest once and for all. In Colossians 2:20-23, Paul described this ascetic philosophy of avoiding beautiful things, tasty things, and comfortable things (the touch not, taste not, handle not philosophy) and said that though they "have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, …"[they] "are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh." He said that asceticism was of no value for holiness. The Christian is actually robbed when he denies himself in this way. Asceticism is defined in the dictionary as "the religious doctrine that one can reach a higher spiritual state by rigorous self-discipline and self-denial." Ascetics will appeal to this passage and say that it clearly teaches that everything above bare subsistence need should be sold and given away. So I want to analyze the passage and show why ascetics are robbing themselves with their asceticism.
What This Is Not (Do not settle for these substandard and worldly substitutes for Biblical giving.)
This is not asceticism
Asceticism treats material things as bad, this treats material things as good, and as worthy of God and of His kingdom ("had all things" – v. 32; "they distributed to each" – v. 35; "laid it at the apostles feet" – v. 37)
My first point is that asceticism treats material things as bad. They say that God is only interested in blessing us with spiritual blessings, not with physical. But you know what? Even they cannot get away from the physical, no matter how hard they try. They are living in physical bodies, have to eat at least some physical food. No matter how shabby their house is, it is physical. And if their theory were correct, it would mean that so long as you don't enjoy the physical, it ain't sin. But I want you to notice in verse 32 that it was tangible "things" that they had in common. And they possessed the things, they weren't trying to get rid of them. They distributed very physical things like money and food in verse 35. They laid very physical things like money at the apostles feet, and the apostles saw these things as a good gift to God, not as something to be despised. You can't have it both ways. If it is sinful, you can't use it at all. But the ascetics do want to eat something. They do want to have some place to sleep, and some vehicle to ride in. 3 John 2 is God's wish that we would prosper in all things and be in health even as our soul prospers. Both spiritual and physical prospering. This passage is not against that at all.
Asceticism fails to share (because they have nothing to share), whereas these saints delighted in sharing ("all things in common" – v. 32; "distributed to each as anyone had need" – v. 35). Though asceticism is self-sacrificing in one sense, in another sense, it is selfish in the same way that suicide is selfish.
Second, asceticism fails to share with others. This is a point that would be very easy to miss. Because they feel such guilt over having things, they end up having nothing to share with those who are poor. Instead, they become a liability that others now have to help. But if everyone was an ascetic, there would be no one to help anyone when emergencies came up. In complete contrast, there were plenty of saints here who were wealthy enough that they were in a position to share and to distribute. And so, even though asceticism is self-sacrificing in one sense, in another sense it selfish in that it fails to think of the liability they are when they deliberately and irresponsibly fail to lay up for the future.. They are not thinking of others. They are only thinking of themselves.
Asceticism is within the power of an unbeliever to achieve, whereas this shows the kingdom actions of "those who believed" (v. 32) and "great grace was upon them all" (v. 33).
Thirdly, asceticism requires no grace. There have been many religions and even many non-religious people who have been ascetics for one reason or another. But these are the kingdom actions of believers. And verse 33 says that "great grace was upon them all." The kind of giving that is demonstrated in this passage demonstrates the super-abundant giving of God's grace. And you will be seeing why soon.
The motive for Asceticism is usually guilt whereas the motive for these disciples was love ("were of one heart and one soul" – v. 32; "great grace was upon them all" – v. 33).
A fourth problem with asceticism is that it operates from the wrong motive. Almost all ascetics are motivated by guilt. If you offered them a lovely banana split, they might feel guilty. And if they didn't feel guilty over that, there would be some point at which they would feel guilty. There is not a trace of this guilt motivation in this passage. None.
Ascetics tend to be isolationists, whereas these saints were committed to each other (vv. 32,34-37).
Fifth, ascetics tend to be isolationists. In fact, in the early years of the church they would leave the world and go into a monastery, and some would go off into the desert and be hermits all by themselves. They hoped that by leaving society that would not be afflicted with temptations. And they found that the temptations just followed them in their mind. In contrast, these saints have not bailed out of city. Nor have they isolated themselves from the church. They are obviously committed to each other and love each other. Veres 32 says that they were of one heart and one soul.
Ascetics abandon the stewardship trust that God has given to them, whereas these saints were stewards of material things par excellence (v. 32c)
A sixth problem with asceticism is that it abandons the responsibility to be stewards of God's creation. God gave this whole planet to Adam and Eve. That's a lot of material. And God expected them to make good use of it and to cause it to grow and to flourish. In contrast, ascetics make their focus to be owning and enjoying as little as possible. They want to be stewards of as little as possible. The problem with that is that they still treat themselves as owners of something, however small it may be. But verse 32 says, "neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own…" When the need came, they were ready to do with their goods as God called because they were already treating it all as God's. Ultimately, ascetics are not good stewards. These Christians were being stewards par excellence. They saw everything as being a stewardship trust.
Asceticism often leads a person to be so impoverished that he cannot help others, whereas these people had discretionary assets saved up that could be used during emergencies, and continued to have discretionary assets after this chapter (5:4; 12:12; etc).
Lastly, asceticism often leads a person to be so impoverished that he cannot help others. In contrast, we will see that there are Christians in this passage who have discretionary assets saved up, and the same people have houses and lands in later passages. In other words, they have more than they need, so that they can handle emergencies when they arise. And ascetics object by saying, "No. Read verse 34. It says, "Nor was there anyone among them who lacked, for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold…" They got rid of everything." Actually, that is not true. The Greek word for "sold" shows that it was an ongoing process – they kept selling. Otherwise you have a contradiction in Acts because chapter 5 shows some who had more property to sell after chapter 5. Likewise, in chapter 12:12 Mary, the mother of Mark, had a large house. She was one of the ones in this passage who had a house. There are others who had houses who used them to have church meetings. And scholars demonstrate that some of the apostles continued to have assets and wealth by which they funded their mission trips later in the book.
Ascetics are not even in a position to be able to joyfully give as these Christians did.
This is not communism
Communism/Socialism forces people to "share" (if you can call it that), whereas this was voluntary (v. 32; 5:4).
Nor is communism any better. I have a commentary that calls this Christian socialism. Naves Topical Bible lists this under the heading, "Communism." And there are numerous Liberation Theologians and other Marxists who have tried to use this chapter to demonstrate communism. In chapter 2 I hinted at some of the reasons why what was seen there could not be either communism or socialism. But let me delve into this a little more deeply. I think in examining what the early church was not, it will help us to more fully appreciate the depth of grace involved in this beautiful passage. And it is a beautiful passage. I hope by the time I am done with it this morning you will grow to love what it teaches.
First, both communism and socialism force people to share. Is that not right? What happens if you refuse to pay your taxes? You get fined, and eventually go to jail. I always get a kick out of the IRS statements on their publications that taxes are voluntary contributions. Rep. Charles Rangel, who was on the House Ways and Means Committees probably had a sense of humor when he said: "What makes the voluntary system work is the fear of sanctions and penalties." If the sanctions and penalties automatically apply if you don't volunteer, it's not voluntary, is it? That's why Judge Learned Hand said taxes "are forced extractions, not voluntary contributions." In contrast, there was no penalty for failure to give in this chapter. It was truly voluntary. And people might respond, "Well, what about Ananias and Saphira? They were struck down for cheating on their taxes weren't they?" And the answer is "no." Look at chapter 5 and verses 3-4. "But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?" [Keep reading. Keep reading] "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?" In other words, Ananias was judged for lying, not for failing to contribute. The money was his to keep or give as he chose. But if he promised God $100 and only delivered $50, he was guilty of both lying and stealing. A promise is a contract and he broke his contract with God.
Communism/Socialism uses a tax, whereas these people used private charity.
Second, communism and socialism uses a tax to pay for needs, whereas these people used private charity. You cannot equate the two.
Communism/Socialism makes the state the vehicle for charity, whereas here it was private charity through the church (vv. 35-37)
Third, communism and socialism makes the state the vehicle for charity, whereas in chapter 4, it was the church, and even there, it was private charity through the church. The church helped to organize the ministry, but the church did not tax the people. Now there was a tax to support the pastoral ministries but that's not what is being talked about here. They were voluntarycontributions. And if you fail to see this, you will fail to see why there was such joy – as we will notice at the end of this lesson.
Communism/Socialism makes radical "sharing" a permanent solution, whereas Acts indicates that this was a situation that only lasted for a short time until the problem was solved.
Fourth, in both communism and socialism, this distribution of wealth to help the poor is treated as a permanent solution, whereas Acts indicates that this was a situation that only lasted for a short time until the problem was solved.
Communism believes that the state owns all property, whereas this assumes private property: you cannot "sell" what is not yours (v. 34), nor can you give what is not yours (vv. 34-37). Notice especially the words of Peter in Acts 5:4.
Fifth, communism believes that the state should own all property and that all private property should be abolished. In fact, Karl Marx said that this was at the heart of communism. He said, (and I quote) "The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property." Well, the sentence I read from Acts 5:4 shows that Peter believed in private property. That statement is the antithesis of communism. Notice that the church did not confiscate property and did not sell the property. It was the Christians who did so. You can't sell (verse 34) what you don't own. You can't give (verses 34-37) what you don't own. And Peter makes it quite clear that before Ananias pledged the money to God, it was his own to do with as he pleased. But once he pledged it, it belonged to God and to keep it back was theft. And private property continued to exist throughout the book of Acts. This strikes right at the heart of communism.
In Communism, the State doesn't liquidate property in order to give it to others. The state keeps all property. In contrast, the saints in Acts transfer property from one private person to another private person.
Point 6 – in communism the state doesn't liquidate property in order to give it to others. I wish they would liquidate so-called government property because they should not be in the business of owning huge tracts of land. But they don't. They want to own it all. They keep the property, whereas here the saints sell property from one private person to another private person. That's capitalism. Quite different from communism.
Communism/Socialism seeks to provide varying degrees of "cradle to grave" care and services, whereas this distribution was to provide for basic needs ("to each as anyone had need" – v. 35).
7 – communism and socialism both seek to provide varying degrees of cradle to grave service that go way beyond basic needs. For example, they provide retirement, health care, child care services, legal services, farming subsidies, business bailouts, student loans, and now a prescription card, etc., etc. This passage does not even remotely talk about such extensively kept people. Verse 35 makes it clear that the only things that were being distributed were "to each as anyone had need." It's basic needs, not the envious wants of our society that is being talked about.
Communism seeks to level the economic differences between people (largely because of envy, not because of need). But the New Testament church has never had a leveling of differences between the rich (1 Tim. 6:17; James 1:10) and the poor (Matt. 26:11; Rom. 15:26). Indeed, in this passage it implies the continuing existence of those who have no needs and those whose needs are being met. Believers continued to own houses and land that not all could afford (12:12), and thus the imperfect tense in verse 34 indicates an ongoing process of selling as need arose.. Therefore, where communism believes in an equality of all things (though some are more equal than others), Christianity believes in an equality in the area of necessities.
And I've already hinted at point 8 – that Christianity sought to equalize in the area of needs such as food, but has never sought to equalize salaries or equalize property or any other aspect. In fact, Christianity expects that there will always be differences. In Matthew 26:51 Jesus defended the use of the extremely expensive perfume that Mary poured out, saying, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always." The disciples were acting like socialists. "This needs to be sold and given to the poor!" And Christ disagrees by saying that He had no problem with economic differences or with enjoying the good things of life. There were obviously poor people in the church who could not even remotely afford the kind of large house that Mary had in Acts 12:12. Later in the epistles Paul speaks of the rich and the poor in the church. And so, where communism tries to equalize or level all economic differences (at least in theory), this was seeking to make sure that all equally had the necessities for survival. There is quite a difference. I am much more likely to sell something I have and give to a poor brother who has no food, than I am to sell my stereo so that he can go to movies or go out to the restaurant. There are people on welfare who can afford ESPN. Biblically that's not right.
Communism/Socialism is a form of theft, whereas this is a form of giving ("the things he possessed" were given as no longer "his own" – v 32; "sold…brought…laid" vv. 34-35)
Quickly (number 9), communism and socialism are a form of theft, whereas this was a form of giving. Verse 32 makes it clear that they truly possessed the things being given. Verses 34-35 indicate that the individuals sold things, brought them and laid them at the apostles' feet. Nothing is being taken from one individual and given to another at the threat of jail. It is given, not taken.
In communism/socialism, most of the "contributions" to the poor never reach the poor (they are eaten up by bureaucracies) whereas 100% of this money reached the poor.
Ten, communism and socialism are notorious for waste. Most of the so-called tax contributions collected for welfare never reach the poor that they are supposedly helping. For example, only 10¢ of every dollar earmarked for Indian Reservations ever reaches the Indians. 90% is eaten up on the way by the massive bureaucracy of the BIA. It's just the nature of socialism. In contrast, verses 34-35 make clear that everything that was sold and contributed for needs actually went to meet those needs. It was efficient distribution of money.
Communism/Socialism makes central government the ideal form of distribution of wealth whereas Chrsitianity makes local distribution (with accountability) the ideal.
And point 11 tells us why. Christianity makes local distribution of charity the ideal because those who are closer to the need can distribute it, and because there is much more accountability when you know the ones to whom you are giving money. In contrast, communism and socialism make a central civil government the ideal vehicle for distribution of wealth.
On almost every level this passage is different than communism on the one hand or asceticism on the other.
And so, having cleared away what it is not, I want to end by showing what an amazing picture of the Biblical ideal for giving that this is. This will be seven more evidences that the church was experiencing something far more beautiful than anything the world can come up with.
What This Is (A picture of people with a Barnabas heart)
A powerful evidence of the filling of the Spirit (v. 31)
First of all, it was a powerful evidence of the filling of the Spirit. Verse 32 is a direct result of verse 31: "And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness." Verse 32 was not evidence of Machiavellian pastors who had become expert at fund raising. It was not evidence that the leaders knew how to twist people's arms and squeeze money out of them. No. It was the spontaneous expression of hearts that were moved by the Holy Spirit and that were in tune with His leading. This giving was not evidence of people who were trying to gain God's favor by asceticism. Instead, it flowed from a people who already felt God's favor upon them. And when we are shaken in extraordinary ways by the Spirit, we will respond in extraordinary ways, just like that boy in China responded by being willing to pull the plow so that the ox could be sold to meet needs in the body. I don't think that any amount of guilt could have gotten that boy to do that. It took the Holy Spirit. And let me tell you – your giving is a big measure of where your heart is. Christ said, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matt. 6:21). And if your heart has been filled by the Holy Spirit, it will be reflected in the mundane things of life. But the main thing that I wanted to point out under point A is that true Kingdom giving flows out of Holy Spirit filling, not out of human motivations.
A powerful testimony to the church's love ("were of one heart and one soul - v. 32a)
But verse 32 also indicates that this was a powerful testimony to the church's love. "Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul." That is a Greek expression showing deep friendship, love and commitment. A similar secular Greek expression for two very close friends was "one soul residing in two bodies." They were of one soul. David, Jonathan's suls were knit in Jeremiah 32:39. God says that He will give them one heart and one way and Deuteronomy 6:5 calls us to love God with all our heart, soul and strength. God wants us to be of one heart and soul with Him. And I that is true, then we will be of one heart and one soul with each other. If verse 31 is true, and the Spirit has filled us and knit our hearts to Him, then our hearts will also be knit to the brethren. 1 John 3:17 says, "whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" Our love for God, God's love for us, and our love for the brethren is manifested visibly in the way we care for each other. And so once again, giving is not an expression of guilt, but an expression of love. A church that cares for its members is a powerful testimony of it's love. In fact, this was not even mandated in the Old Testament. They had charity laws that were mandated. And if you want to live just purely in terms of the legal requirements, those are still pretty hefty. But this goes way beyond what was required. Who could require of you to liquidate properties you had saved up in order to fund a ministry? No one. But love could draw such a person to do so.
A powerful proof that they were indeed stewards – they had already given up everything to God, and therefore found it easy to part with things when need arose (v. 32b with Mark 10:29-31)
Point C: It was a powerful proof that they were indeed stewards. Look at the second half of verse 32: "neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own…" Turn with me to Mark 10 and I think you will see why. In this passage the new ruler thought that he had kept all God's commandments. So Christ threw him a curve to show where his eart was at. Christ had asked the rich young ruler to sell everything that he had, give it to the poor and to come and follow him. And verse 22 says, "But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." The problem was not with his possessions, but with the fact that he had made idols of his possessions. If it came to a choice between following Jesus and following his possessions, he would be sad to have to leave Jesus, but it was clear that his possession came first at this point. He trusted in them. And Jesus said in verse 23:
How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then ca be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible." Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You." So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time – houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Christ was saying that we must give up every last thing that we possess to Him, and from that time on He will be the determiner of how those things should be used and handled. And if He calls us to give away a car for a needy family, then we need to make sure that we have followed Peter's choice rather than the rich young ruler's choice. It's not a matter of outgiving God. You can never outgive God. He delights in giving more and more to those who give. I have a brother who gives and gives and gives sacrificially, and the Lord just seems to give back to Him that much more. He puts Himself last and God puts Him first. So point C says that this is a powerful proof that they were indeed stewards – that they had already given up everything to God, and therefore found it easy to part with things when need arose (v. 32b with Mark 10:29-31
A clear demonstration of the power of the Gospel (v. 33)
But this kind of a steward's heart is itself an evidence of their prior experience of Gospel grace (point D). What Jesus had said was impossible apart from grace in Mark 10, this chapter shows was going on in every believer's life. As verse 33 says, it was "great grace." Verse 33: "And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all." Luke is not changing the subject. He is not saying something totally out of context of the surrounding verses. He is saying that this kingdom giving was evidence that the Gospel was powerfully going forth, that converts were truly converted, and that great grace was upon them. Nothing but God's grace could have done this. But as Jesus said in Mark 10, "with God, all things are possible." For people to be selling lands and houses and to give away all of the proceeds is a clear demonstration of power of God's grace.
But the main thing that I am wanting you to see is that this is evidence of the supernatural character of this giving. It flows from the filling of the Spirit; it's a powerful testimony to the churches love; it shows forth hearts that have given up all to God, and now handle all things with stewards hearts; it shows the presence of great grace.
A visible demonstration of body life (v. 34) and the work of the church (v. 35)
Point E: this shows a visible demonstration of how body life works in the church. Verse 34: "Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need." One African commentary that I own on Acts says, "The unconverted cannot understand such self-sacrificing… generosity (their cheap imitation of this is forced sharing, i.e., communism)." I like that. He said, "The unconverted cannot understand such self-sacrificing… generosity (their cheap imitation of this is forced sharing, i.e., communism)." Though 1 Timothy indicates that sharing is inseperable from the Christian life, and though 2 Corinthians 8 urges Christians to enter into the joy of this sharing, it is not something that can be forced as the world forces so-called generosity. Paul said, "I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others." Giving is a test of how much we really sense our connection within the body of Christ. If your toe hurts, you care for it, don't you? If you are bumped on the head, you rub your head and try to avoid hitting it again. Every part of the body feels and responds to the other parts. And so it should be within the church. We can't make it happen, but it is a test of the degree to which we have experienced God's grace, entered into the fellowship of the Spirit and experienced the previous points we have looked at over the past three weeks.
By the way, laying the money at the feet of the apostles' not only showed submission to authority, but it showed how important mercy ministries was to the life of the church. Later we are going to be having a lot to say about mercy ministries in the book of Acts. Paul said, "Do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith."
A highly honored ministry of mercy within the church (vv. 36-37
Point F: Luke gives Barnabas as an example of a person who excelled in this area of giving. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. Barnabas stood out as a man who had kingdom giving in his blood. And in every generation God has raised up similar examples of kingdom giving to be a model to others. The president of the Maclellan foundation, Hugh Maclellan Jr., was content to tithe for a long time. But eventually God moved Hugh and his wife, Nancy, to do more. They set as their goal to give away a minimum of 70% of their personal income every year.
In a speech this year he said, "For us, that's not sacrificial in any way. Any middle-class Christian giving 10 percent to his church is more sacrificial than we are. Nevertheless, giving that 70 percent broke the power of money in our lives." I thought that was an interesting statement: "… it broke the power of money in our lives." Most people think that money doesn't have power in their lives, but the real test comes when Christ calls for a major sacrifice on behalf of a kingdom need. The first time that God does that to a person often sets up a struggle of trust: God or money. But once a person gets past that, it becomes easier and easier, and it becomes more and more joyful to give.
Now you might wonder why Luke gave a rich man as an example of sacrificial giving rather than a poor person like the story of the young boy that I used at the beginning of the sermon. Why would he do that? And I think it is because it becomes harder and harder to give sacrificially the richer people become. It's an amazing phenomenon. Remember, Christ Himself said how difficult it is for rich people to sacrificially give. It was precisely because the rich young ruler was trusting in riches that Christ sought to destroy his idol. When Bruce Larson was a pastor in Seattle, he had a wealth man come into his office one day and say, "You've been talking a lot about tithing. I'm definitely listening and growing as a Chrsitian, but Bruce, I make a ton of money. I can't possibly tithe. That would be a huge chunk of cash." And Bruce asked him if he wanted to pray about it. The man agreed and opened with a loud prayer asking God's guidance in the matter. Bruce prayed next and said, "God, help my dear brother here earn less money this coming year so that he can afford to tithe." And many people have testified of this. It becomes harder to give, the richer people become. It really is an awesome testimony when a wealth person like Colgate gives away 50% of his income every year. It really is an awesome testimony to God's grace when a wealthy person like MacLellan gives away 70% every year. I have no trouble in understanding why Luke highlighted Barnabas as an example of why God's grace was resting richly upon them.
This gave evidence that these saints were indeed experiencing the fellowship of giving by God's grace ("in common" of verse 32 is the base Greek word for koinonia or fellowship)
Now remember that we saw that all of this flows from the fellowship of the Spirit. We have talked so far of how the Spirit ushers us into a fellowship of sufferings and a fellowship of prayer. And we saw last week that the prayer itself assumed eight other areas in which Christians share in each other's lives. Well, this passage shows one more: the fellowship of giving. Notice the last phrase in verse 32: "but they had all things in common." This is point G. Some people assume that having all things in common meant that everything went into a common pot and that nobody had private property; that this was an example of early communalism. But several commentaries have pointed out that such an interpretation is impossible because it would contradict the very context of private ownership that we have already looked at in the first half of the sermon, it would contradict chapter 5 where Peter explicitly says that people didn't own everything in common, but that private property continued as a normal function of Christianity, it would contradict later passages which speak of privately owned homes and wealthy Christians.
Common goes way beyond that. The word common actually means "fellowship." It's koina, an abbreviation of the word koinonia, or fellowship. So you could translate this that they had all things in fellowship. What does that mean? Well, it means the same thing that all of the other fellowships meant. Think of the fellowship of suffering. When we suffer, Christ suffers. Matthew 25 says that when we give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of these your brethren – which is a reference to little children, you are giving a cup of cold water to Jesus, because Jesus is in fellowship with them.
And this is where Kingdom giving gets really, really exciting. Who wouldn't count it a real privilege to have Jesus over for lunch when He was here on earth? I think we would love to do so. Well you can do it every day by having other believers over for lunch. Who wouldn't count it a privelege to give finances to fund one of Jesus' missionary trips? Well, you can do it by giving to a missions organization or to a church. But we are not just in fellowship with Jesus. We are in fellowship with each other because of Jesus, which means that when I give money to Peter Hammond, I am treated by Jesus as if I was walking up those mountains of Sudan with a backpack on my back, and that I was preaching to those pastors while the bombs were falling around them, and that I will be rewarded in heaven for his strenuous labors. And if you think that is impossible, let me read to you Matthew 10:41-42. Jesus said,
Matthew 10:41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward.
Matthew 10:42 And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.
Well, suddenly Kingdom giving takes on a whole new excitement that no pagan can appreciate. Why do we entertain believers as generously as we would entertain Jesus? Because we know that Jesus is there. He is receiving the entertainment from us. Furthermore, by blessing you, we share in what good you offer up to God and we share in any rewards that God may grant to you. Do you think that we are doing this with a total spirit of altruism? No. God has given to us a hunger to bless missionaries and pastors because by doing so we share with Christ and we share with them and they share with us and Christ shares with us. We feel robbed when we want to give finances to a missionary or to a poor brother and he does not want to receive it. By giving to that poor brother we would have had another opportunity to give to Christ. It makes giving take on a whole new dimension.
OK - Now the secret is out and you will know why we enjoy ministry even when it is painful and sacrificial. Every sacrifice we make on behalf of the brethren is a sharing in their rewards. Think of it as a spiritual profit sharing project. I cannot imagine women who get more rewards in heaven for the hospitality that they do than my wife Kathy and Julie Nolte. But take heart: you too can get those same rewards when you come along side of my wife and help out like Audrie Collen and Cheryl Polksi and several others have done. And in doing so, you are not robbing Kathy of her rewards. Instead, you are given some of the same rewards because you share with her a koinonia of giving. I cannot think of a group of people in this church that works harder at ministry than the music team that spends hours of practice midweek, then comes Sunday morning at 7:30 to set up chairs and equipment, then practices again, then leads the worship, and all without a whole lot of fanfare, recognition or praise. They are laying up treasures in heaven. And when some of you come early to help them out, you are sharing with them in the labor and will share with them in the rewards. When you children help Dr. Bear set up the tract table week after week, you are helping a busy man who has donated many hours to the church, and you children will share in his rewards. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. The sacrifices of communism and asceticism seem like worthless garbage when compared with the privelege of kingdom giving. Giving out of guilt robs you of true fellowship. Grudging giving because some leader knows how to wring blood out of turnip is no fun. In 2 Corinthians 9:7 Paul calls us not to give grudgingly "for God loves a cheerful giver." The Greek for cheerful is i˚laro\n, which Strong's says applies to gaiety or even hilarity. Nothing short of joyful, eager giving glorifies God because nothing short of that shows an awareness of our fellowship in the Spirit, fellowship in Christ and fellowship in each other as we give. It is a true sharing in each other's ministry.
Now perhaps you can understand why poor Ethiopian Christians would feel so disappointed if you refused to eat with them their last piece of food. I saw the same in India and in China. You feel guilty being offered this hospitality because you see how little they have. Yet these brothers are so eager to give, that to fail to receive is to rob them. They have been captured by Kingdom Giving. Next time God prompts you to give to the poor, or to give to a mission organization, or to give to a needy brother, or to extend hospitality, don't resist that gentle nudge. Embrace it wholeheartedly and you will not only experience with Hugh MacLellan how the power of money and things has been broken in your life, but you will start entering more and more into the joy of cheerful giving. May each one of us here be men and women and children like Barnabas – a man who was free from the love of money and knew the fellowship of giving. He was a man who so overflowed with joy in his giving that he was known as the son of consolation. May that be true of us. Amen.