A Church That Acts – Agents of Change

 

Today we continue with our journey through the book of Acts. Remember, our objective here is to rediscover the origins, history, divine influences and governing principles which drove the first century church and followers of Jesus through the centuries to follow in order to discover some practical lessons which are relevant to our walk of faith today.

Last time we looked at the Apostle Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost and pointed out that he went out on a limb to declare Christ as the resurrected Messiah and Savior. Explicit in his message was his assertion that the Jews and Romans has conspired in the death of Jesus, but that God had raised Him from the dead. He concluded with an appeal for all to embrace the risen Lord for the salvation of their sins.

The final verses of Acts 2 summarize the change in the lives of those who accepted Christ as their savior; their passion, zeal, generosity and care for others.

Let’s pick up in Acts, chapter 2, verse 42.

Luke 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.
45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Again, notice the passion and generosity of these early converts. They were devoted, they spent time together, they acted with unselfish motives, they were joyful, they were well thought of and their numbers continued to increase. All of this was a direct result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the transforming power of the Spirit in their hearts.

These early followers of Jesus were deeply and powerfully committed to His teachings. In fact, if we are not careful, we might conclude that their example is the model for the church throughout the ages. However, we will discover that even these contemporaries of Jesus and those who accepted their testimony and were added to this movement did not sustain the momentum of this initial spiritual surge.

So let’s step back for a moment and reexamine the situation.

First we read that they were devoted to the apostle’s teachings; spending time together and praying together. Again, they were passionate and selflessly generous. Miracles were happening among them and they were amazed by the great and present power of God’s Spirit working among them.

This is the way it’s always going to be!!!

Next we read that they came together and had all things common. They sold their property and possessions and shared the proceeds with anyone having a need.

Do these actions remind you of any present day doctrine?

Socialism?  By definition, socialism is a system in which there is no private property.

So, we might conclude: Jesus was a socialist!

But was He? Is that actually what Jesus taught?

Well, sure! Jesus said if someone wants your shirt, you should give him your coat as well. Doesn’t that mean we should share everything we have with everyone else?

Let’s see about that. 

The context for the shirt and coat example has to do with disarming those who want to get even with us; to drain the evil energy from the situation. Here’s the passage from Matthew, chapter 5.

Matthew 5:38-42
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Jesus is teaching us that we live by a different code; we are governed by different principles than those who are evil. But he doesn’t teach us to have everything in common. In fact, he concludes this instruction with the charge that we are not to turn away from the one who wants to borrow from us. Doesn’t that suggest that we have ownership; that we possess that which is loaned; that we expect that which is loaned to be returned?

Socialism discards the notion of personal ownership in favor of the collective ownership model. And this “ideal” model for managing everybody’s stuff has been attempted over and over throughout history, with a virtually universal failure rate.

Why is that?

The problem is that the ideal of socialism assumes that somewhere there is an entity, be it a person or a governing body, which operates with absolute purity of motive. But that entity simply does not exist.

The Apostle Paul who penned nearly two thirds of our New Testament scriptures, an exemplary model of a Christ follower after his conversion as best we can tell, declared,

“What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me from this body which is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)

Let’s conclude, then, that the actions of those in the earliest days of the church were not wrong, but neither were they the absolute model for the church going forward. They were motivated, quite purely, by their devotion to the teachings of Jesus and their passion to do good works. But they were also men and women who were potentially fallible and even corruptible. Jesus didn’t instruct them to do what they did; nor do I suspect did the Apostles. They acted of their own pure motives. What they did was right for them, but not necessarily the model for the body of Christ through the ages.

Here’s the relevant teaching of Jesus along these lines; “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus’ great command does not specify how we are to live this out; it places the responsibility for following Jesus upon us as we seek Him and surrender to His Holy Spirit. For the early followers of Jesus it looked a lot like socialism. For others it looks somewhat differently. The real issue is that every Christ follower must be governed by the Spirit of God as we allow Him, as best we are able, to direct our lives.

Finally, we read that they spent time together, eating, fellowshipping and serving one another with sincerity.

Listen, the joy, passion and freedom we feel when we realize that our sins are forgiven and God has accepted us as His dear children is indescribable. We want to go out and change the world…and we should want to do that…and we should make every effort to do that. But the purity and perfection of that moment of conversion doesn’t always erase every habit and tendency from our old life. In fact, we will spend most of our lives trying to grow into the mature follower of Jesus we imagined we were in that moment of transformation.

I’m not suggesting something life changing and pivotal does not happen when we accept Christ, I’m simply pointing out that our path of obedience may differ from the path of someone else. One may be called to lay down his life for Jesus, while another may be called to serve God’s Kingdom in another way.

Both, I would submit, are acceptable to God.

Each of us should remember that as much as we may believe our motives to be absolutely pure; they are not. Our humanity resists the purest of motives. That is why we need the ongoing presence and power of the Holy Spirit to govern and direct our lives.

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