Monday, November 5, 2018
Acts 4:32 – 37 32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. 36Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
In contrast to the philosophy of most Americans today, this passage of Scripture stands out as one of the most incredible statements of commitment to the Lord in the entire Bible. The church of Jesus Christ is brand new. It is not popular. Its members are being persecuted. It would be acceptable in our minds for the people to go into hiding and protect what they have. It would be expedient for them to keep quiet about their faith and resume a traditional social lifestyle. After all, one’s personal faith should not become a point of contention with culture, should it? Why should what we believe about God interfere with our social and economic pursuits? Why would anyone ever intentionally put themselves at risk of persecution or poverty?
We have a powerful propensity for the pursuit of worldly prosperity. We may make contributions to a good cause, but only to the extent that it is affordable and doesn’t interfere with our personal economic goals. What a huge dissimilarity exists between our attitudes today and the actions of the early church. While we pursue economic security through investments, the early church sacrificed their possessions to meet the immediate needs of people.
Now let me clarify – there is nothing wrong with being rich and secure, so long as we don’t put our trust in those riches to provide our security. Riches are a gift from God to be used for God’s purpose, not for self. We don’t have any indication that the people of the early church sold their only home or their only piece of land. In fact, the people who sold land and homes are described as having more than one (from time to time those who owned lands or houses). No one was asked to give up their only home. But those who had investments were not selfish with them and surrendered all their value to the Lord when it became necessary so that God’s purpose could be accomplished.
It is in this context that we are introduced to a man named Joseph, who had been given a new name by the Apostles. They determined that there was a characteristic of this man’s life that was worthy of recognition, and they gave him a name that described who he was. They called him Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. Barnabas modeled for us all how to encourage others by giving gifts to the Lord that will meet the needs of others.
Barnabas was a part of a Christian community that understood and accepted God’s purpose for them. They also understood the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish that purpose. The Holy Spirit gives power to God’s people to boldly testify to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The early church believed that their number one priority was to tell the world about Jesus and not back down for any reason. All the believers were one in heart and mind about this. They knew their purpose and they determined to accomplish it at all cost.
That meant social rejection and persecution. Many lost their jobs. Many were financially insecure. But none was in need. Isn’t that incredible? There were no needy people among them. Every time a need was realized, someone who had plenty gave up what they had worked so hard to achieve so that the body of Christ could be cared for.
Barnabas is singled out as the prime example of one of the people who used their resources in this way. The first thing we learn about encouragement is that it requires the use of everything we own. If we are not willing to give up what we have for the sake of someone who has less, then our words of faith and encouragement are of no value.
Listen to what James the brother of Jesus says. What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Listen also to the Apostle John. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
God places the highest priority on putting faith and love into action by encouraging others who are in need with sacrificial gifts of our resources.
I am proud to proclaim that there are many in my church who understand this, and we have been able to meet the needs of so many people because of the sacrificial gifts of these people. But there is so much more for that could be done if we truly had the attitude of the early church. Encouraging others begins with putting their needs ahead of our own personal financial goals and security. That is only possible if we truly trust God and believe that He will provide all our needs according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus. If we say we have faith in God, then let’s live like we do. Let’s pursue His purpose and use whatever we have for His glory, trusting Him to provide for all our needs as He uses us to provide encouragement to others. Maybe then the church will experience the power of God as it did in Acts, and we will see people saved from their sin and death.