Imagine that we had word of a fabulous inheritance worth tens of billions. How would we look upon the things we now own? Would we see our furniture, cars, homes as just so much junk in comparison? Would we hang on to them? Would we perhaps begin giving them away, knowing that what we are about to receive is so much more valuable? Would we begin looking at family and friends being so much more worth than any of the things that we own? Would we think of ways that we could give back to our communities? Could that be the attitude that early Christians had as described in Acts 4:32-35? Could it be that when we clearly see the fabulous inheritance that we will have in God’s kingdom for eternity, that the things of earth grow strangely dim?
Many Christians criticize moral failings of the world, but never mention greed? Are we just like the world when it comes to greed? Is a litmus test the early church? Does our approach to material wealth resemble anything the Bible says, or does it more closely resemble the world? Do we still associate greed with hellfire or do we pride ourselves on the size of our bank accounts? Do we excuse greed by hiding behind the constitution and capitalist ideals? Do we ignore any and all passages of the Bible which teach us to the contrary and label anyone who dares threaten our materialism as either Communist or Socialist when in reality it is nothing more than true Christianity? Can we imagine a world like the early church (Acts 4:32-35) where there was not a needy person among them?
Early Christians lived a very different way of life. Acts 4:32-35 does not describe Communism. That was godless, government theft of property. This is extreme generosity of heart. These Christians were generous with their possessions. That is offensive to our modern ears. Preachers of a false Gospel and our politicians promise us more things, not less. This passage does not present a bunch of rules, but an example. The old covenant gave us many rules. The new only demands love. There is one mandate: love. The Holy Spirit gently leads our hearts if we let him, not a set of do’s and don’ts. One thing unites the world across political ideals in America, China, Russia and Europe: predatory greed. We are called to turn from the world’s way. Our mandate is: love thy neighbor. How will we choose to?
A family had lost everything. They used to own a family farm, but due to punishing taxation by the Romans, they had to sell everything just to pay the taxes demanded by the occupying army. Without land to grow food, they eventually ended up in destitute circumstances, without a home and without produce. Some family members were able to get occasional work to put food on the table, but their circumstances were dire. Thankfully, they had recently converted to the Way as Christianity was then called, and this new community was a loving one such as no family member had ever experienced. Some of the wealthier followers of the Way had sold lands or houses to provide for the needs of the community (Acts 4:32-35). They did this voluntarily because of the love of Christ swelling in their hearts.
Some say that we are a Christian nation. Contrast our national treatment of the poor with the attitude described in Acts 4:32-35. As much as we like to think so, ours is not a land where wealth is shared. Our great grandparents would be ashamed of us. They grew up in an era when it was contemptible to be greedy and selfish. Does Jesus give us any excuse to be greedy in life and hoard? Does Jesus give us an excuse to ignore our individual God-given responsibility towards the needy in our land? Does Jesus give politicians any excuse to ignore our collective Christian responsibility and vote against legislation that would help the poor? We excuse our greed by calling it capitalism and contrast it with communism, but that is a false dichotomy. There is a third alternative, Christianity.
What is Acts 4:32-35 and what is it not? 1) It is not atheistic Communism with government confiscation of private property. Here church members shared. 2) This is descriptive. That means this describes a unique circumstance and the church’s loving response. 3) This is not prescriptive. It does not give any mandate for us that we also sell everything. It was entirely voluntary. 4) Generosity is a mandate but the manner in which we are generous varies greatly. 5) Liquidating assets is a short term solution. Where we have a longer horizon, longer term financial devices such as annuities can be a larger gift to the needs of a church community. 6) The modern church is sadly not of “one heart and one soul”. 7) This is an example of a loving community where nobody lacked for any necessity.
The theme of I John is assurance of salvation (1 John 5:13). What is true Christianity? True Christianity is that human beings can have fellowship with God. The apostles examined the risen Word of life with their own hands. Christians walk in the light which exposes their sins. They are not defensive, but confess sin. Confess? The prefix con means with and fess means to admit. We could say that we fess up agreeing with God’s opinion of our sins. We admit with God that we did wrong. We do not hide our sins in darkness, but bring them into the light of truth. 1 John 1:8 says that if we say that we HAVE no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. How can we be cleansed? The blood of Jesus cleanses us.
God’s forgiveness should change the way we look at people. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. 1 John 1 teaches that if we walk in the light we fellowship with one another, not avoid one another. Why do we criticize others for sins or mere differences of opinion? Political correctness demands that everyone has the same opinion, instead of free speech and respect for differences. Do we criticize or show respect? Do we seriously think someone of a different opinion is not worth having as a friend? Would we seriously disown a son or daughter over a difference of opinion? Do we value good relationships with all people? Are we keenly aware of our own moral failings? Are we really in a position to judge another sinner? How important is a peaceful, loving church to us?
In 1 John 1:9 we are told that If we confess our sins, he will forgive us and cleanse us. He loves us and offers us forgiveness. Who is this God who offers sinful humanity forgiveness? John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Some rejected his baptism. They rejected God’s purpose for them (Luke 7:30). Jesus teaches us to forgive as God has forgiven us. Forgiveness is God’s gift even to our enemies. What is forgiveness? In Greek it means to let go and to pardon. Why do we find it hard to forgive? Forgiveness is about restoring lost relationships. It is an unearned and undeserved gift. Who do we find it difficult to forgive? God still provides us and our enemies food, clothing and rain. He gladly covers our sins and forgets them.