If we see something once we’re tempted to write it off as a fluke or coincidence. But for the second time Luke shows us what church life was like. In ch2 we saw it had certain rhythms; commitment to sharing life together and joy in following Jesus. Here in Acts 4 we see those same rhythms in a much larger group, over 5,000, but still marked by sharing life together and joyfully living with Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
The church is a place where the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work (4:31) enabling them to speak the word of God boldly. God’s word is at work by the Spirit and the consequences of that are seen in (32)“All the believers were one in heart and mind.” God’s word and the Spirit are transforming them, uniting them together, their differences overcome by the gospel of grace. “No-one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” Their unity isn’t just words or an idea, they don’t just talk about it, but they are transformed by it. The church is marked by open handed living in a tight-fisted world. They don’t view what they have as their stuff, individually won to be hoarded but given by God to be shared.
How on earth do they maintain that attitude in a world that is all about self? (33)The Apostles keep preaching Jesus and God’s grace is at work among them. They aren’t just nice giving people they are transformed by the gospel. Grace is the key, the fact that God in love has given the most precious thing he had, his Son, to die for us when we deserved only his anger and that through Jesus he gives us forgiveness, his perfect standing with God, new life in a new community by the Spirit, and himself. The gospel fuels their giving not guilt. And the result of grace at work in them powerfully is “there was no needy person among them.”
The church was composed of wealthy and poor, but grace has so gripped them that no-one views their stuff as their stuff. They view and use it as God’s way of providing for his people through them.
There are no needy in the church because there are no greedy in the church. They don’t think individualistically about money or things. Can we say that? We, I, need to run a check for the virus of individualism in the way I think about stuff.
I don’t know if you’ve ever come across the toddler rules of possession:
1. If I like it, it's mine
2. If it's in my hand, it's mine
3. If I can take it from you, it's mine
4. If I had it a little while ago, it's mine
5. If it's mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way
6. If we are doing or building something together, all the pieces are mine
7. If it just looks like mine, it's mine
8. If I saw it first, it's mine
9. If you are playing with something and put it down, it automatically becomes mine
10. If it’s broken, it’s yours
They’re not just toddler rules are they. It’s how we tend to think; ‘My car’, ‘my money’, ‘my phone’… The virus of the individual combined with the idol of stuff. God gives us good things to enjoy and thank him for but we tend to make those good things our ultimate things and forget God gave them to us. We forget that God’s provision for others flows through the bank accounts and possessions of his people.
Look at the counter cultural living of a people gripped by grace(34-37). They don’t just give spare change, they give at sacrificial cost to themselves to meet others needs. Why give through the church? To stop a sense of patronage developing, of I owe him or her. God’s grace in Jesus causes generosity to overflow as we rub it into our lives because grace is all about God’s generosity to us. Barnabas is an example, selling a field and giving the money so that through the church God provides for his people and there are no greedy and no needy. Giving away is the antidote to greed. There is a link between our understanding of grace and our wallets and bank accounts.
We need to ask the question does our attitude to money and things reflect the ‘mine’ of society or the gospel of grace? Are we tight-fisted or open handed? Has the gospel penetrated to my view of self, worth, money and possessions? If it hasn’t we haven’t yet understood grace, we haven’t understood God.
Because this isn’t a one off. In Deuteronomy 15:4, Israel are about to enter the Promised Land and God says: “However, there need by no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, he will richly bless you…” God’s vision for his people in his place has always been a generosity that results in their being no poor among them. There’s enough in the land for all. In other parts of the law God provides ways for this to become a reality as he tells the wealthy to provide for the poor, and giving to the temple provides too. And throughout the Old Testament one of God’s greatest charges against his people is greed, that they individually hoard wealth ignoring the needy. But the church in Acts fulfils God’s vision for his people because God has put his law on their hearts by the Spirit.
That’s the call for God’s people. Our unity in the gospel means we compassionately care for one another, it transforms our thinking so that it isn’t “our” stuff, it’s God’s means of meeting others needs. What about for us as a church? Do we give to church? Has the gospel of grace impacted our bank balance and removed the virus of self when it comes to stuff? Is God’s grace so at work among us that we’re giving so the church can meet need?
Or has the individual mentality choked off our generosity? I can’t afford to give because of… Notice(34) that it’s not spare income they’re giving away. They sell off land or houses. Grace means they sell non-necessities to meet needs. What’s the equivalent? It might mean cancelling the Sky contract so we can give £20, £40 or £60 a month, or cutting down our mobile phone contract, or gym membership, or spending on gadgets, or Christmas. It might mean reducing our savings so that we can meet the needs of others.
Individualism shows itself in our attitude to money and stuff, the antidote is the gospel that unites and provides. That changes our hearts and liberates us from accumulative greed to meeting others need.
Can you imagine the effect of such a community on those watching on? In Acts people come to faith because of the witness of the church. Satan can imagine the impact of such a community, how counter cultural it would be, how attractive others would find it. And so having failed with a full frontal assault on the church Satan tries a sleeper cell approach.