Sunday, February 17, 2019
Unstoppable: The Revolutionary Gospel
Part 6: “A Sharing Community”
One of the things we learn from children is their natural, inborn tendency toward selfishness.
From a baby’s perspective, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine, and whatever I want is mine.”
Often times a toy will go unplayed with for weeks, for months, even years. It will be so neglected, it is the loneliest toy in the world. But as soon as that toy is picked up by one child, for the child who owns it suddenly becomes the most coveted object in the world.
And we as adults do the same thing in more subtle ways. We protect our stuff. Nothing irritates us more than to find our things where they don’t belong, or to find one of our prize possessions in the hands of another. We hate it when something that is borrowed is not returned.
Even our acts of charity can in fact be motivated by self-interest.
ILL: There’s a story of a lady who answered the knock on her door to find a man with a sad expression.
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” he said, “but I’m collecting money for an unfortunate family in the neighborhood. The husband is out of work, the kids are hungry, the utilities will soon be cut off, and worse, they’re going to be kicked out of their apartment if they don’t pay the rent by this afternoon.”
"I’m so sorry, said the woman with great concern “I’ll be happy to help, but who are you?"
"I’m the landlord," he replied.
How much of our giving depends on our own personal happiness and comfort?
We are more than willing to give, just so long as it doesn’t affect our financial wellbeing.
We’re happy to serve, just so long as it doesn’t inconvenience our schedule.
We’re available to help, just so long as it doesn’t infringe on our recreational activities.
We live in a society that is obsessed with self-fulfillment and self-centeredness. And Christians often share that obsession, buying into this “me first” attitude.
Yet when we examine the book of Acts, we see in the Church, a community characterized by a giving and a self-sacrificial spirit.
We are continuing our study of Acts this morning. We have seen how the Church has been growing in extraordinary way. It is a thriving community, a vibrant community. We have seen how this Unstoppable Gospel is changing the world around them.
We have seen various reasons for this growth.
We saw that they had their priorities right. They focused on four key essentials (1) The apostles teaching; (2) Fellowship; (3) Breaking of Bread; and (4) Prayer. We call those four our commonality.
Last week we saw another characteristic of the Church, their extraordinary courage and boldness. Peter stood in front of the Sanhedrin and boldly proclaimed that Jesus, whom they crucified, was the Messiah.
This week we are going to see another key characteristic of the Church.
The Church was an incredibly giving body; a generous community that shared everything that God had given them.
In beginning of Acts 4, Peter and John have just been threatened and released. They return to the Church and the Church rejoices and prays, thanking God for the privilege of suffering for Jesus.
From external persecution Luke then turns to a picture of the inward life of the Church.
Let’s read the passage. Acts 4:32-37
1. A Sharing Community has a Generosity that is:
A Generous heart is united in heart and mind, v. 32
ILL: Navy—Project Planning—Precedence Diagram—Common Goal
We, the Church, are most successful, most generous, when we focus on our common goals, the purpose that we are here.
Look at vs. 32: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul.”
The expression “heart and mind” refers to the whole inner life of a human being. The mind, the will, the emotions, the passions. It points ultimately to all that we are; the things we live for.
The early believers had the same ultimate purpose in life. Paul says it so well in Philippians 1:27, he says, “Stand firm in one mind, contending together for the faith of the Gospel.”
We have a common goal. We will only develop a truly generous heart when we realize we are in this together, striving together for a common goal.
Notice how this unity is expressed. The rest of the verse 32: “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
When a group of people have a common purpose, all the resources they have are focused on the successful completion of that task.
This is what Paul meant by striving together for a common goal. It is amazing what we can do together as a Church, if we refuse to leave anyone behind. It is all a matter of perspective.
If I ask you, “What does it mean to win in life?” There are really only two ultimate answers.
One is for “me” to succeed. The other is for Christ and his Kingdom to succeed.
Let me ask you a question: What are you in it for? Are you trying to win? Or to glorify God?
The early Church knew that they could win only if they did it together. With everyone doing their part to make others succeed. Of course, a lot depended on their motivation. The same goes with us. Why are we playing the game? Let’s look at the motivation of the early Church.
b. A sharing community is motivated by the grace of God freely given to us in Jesus, v. 33
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
“Much grace was upon them.” What does that mean? The grace is the gift of God given to them through Jesus. So, this is a recognition of what Christ had accomplished for them. Of how much he sacrificed for us.
John 15:12 Jesus said, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
2 Cor. 8:9 Paul says it this way, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Have you ever become poor for someone else?
I’ve become poor by my own mistakes. Like when as a kid I blew my whole allowance on candy. Or when I’ve bought something stupid that I couldn’t afford, but though would make me happy.
But to become poor for someone else is a completely thing. The early church was a thriving, growing, vibrant community because they had learned the secret of self-sacrifice.
Look at verses 34-35 “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”
The Church revealed their generous heart not with words, but with concrete actions.
c. A generous heart gives concrete actions of self-sacrifice, vv. 34-37
1 John 3:18 “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
James 2:15-16 says it this way: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”
Saying, “Be warmed and filled” does no good unless it’s followed by actions.
ILL: There’s a Peanuts cartoon, where Snoopy is sitting out in the snow, and Linus and Charlie Brown are sitting at the window looking out. Linus says, “Boy Snoopy really looks cold.” Charlie Brown says, “He sure does. Maybe we better go out there.” So, they walk out there and each one pats Snoopy on the head and says, “Be warmed and filled.” Final scene Snoopy is still sitting out there freezing.
All those words, no concrete actions.
What are you willing to sacrifice to enable others to succeed? Is day to day giving of ourselves in sacrifice for others inviting to you? What does self-sacrifice mean in the context of FBCR?
Maybe giving some time to the food pantry. Maybe taking time to write a letter, send a card, make a phone call, or visiting someone who can’t get out.
Maybe it’s teaching a Sunday School class; helping out in the nursery, or at least asking if they need help, helping out with Children’s church.
Whatever it is, it means exercising your spiritual gift in this body. Doing your share to advance God’s kingdom in this place.
We sometimes avoid service because it doesn’t carry the kind of reward or praise that we want. But that’s what a sacrifice is; that’s what God did for us. Aren’t you glad God didn’t wait to receive praise before he sacrificed of us.
Paul says it so well in Rom. 5:6-10 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us...For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
Christ didn’t die for us so that we would turn around and praise him. He died for us just because he loved us. Often our sacrifices come with little or no thanks.
The early church was willing to get exhausted; to give up their time; to give up their resources, because they knew that it would produce a rich harvest.
ILL: The commentator Paul Harvey tells the story of Ray Blankenship.
One summer morning as Ray Blankenship was preparing his breakfast, he gazed out the window, and saw a small girl being swept along in the rain-flooded drainage ditch beside his Andover, Ohio, home.
Blankenship knew that farther downstream, the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath a road and then emptied into the main culvert. Ray dashed out the door and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the foundering child.
Then he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. Blankenship surfaced and was able to grab the child’s arm. They tumbled end over end. Within about three feet of the yawning culvert, Ray’s free hand felt something--possibly a rock-- protruding from one bank. He clung desperately, but the tremendous force of the water tried to tear him and the child away.
If I can just hang on until help comes," he thought. He did better than that. By the time fire-department rescuers arrived, Blankenship had pulled the girl to safety.
Both were treated for shock. On April 12, 1989, Ray Blankenship was awarded the Coast Guard’s Silver Lifesaving Medal. The award is fitting, for this selfless person was at even greater risk to himself than most people knew.
You see, Ray Blankenship can’t swim. (Paul Harvey, Los Angeles Times Syndicate)
What did it take to jump into that raging water, knowing you couldn’t swim? He was willing to risk it all.
How much are you willing to risk? How much are you willing to give up for others? How much will you sacrifice.
The early Church was willing to give up its property; to sell its possessions, to meet the needs of others.
But then they were just following the example of their Master, who gave up all.
Let me read 2 Corinthians 8:9 again, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
Let’s find our commonality with one another that is found in Christ. Let’s be of one heart and mind and be a sharing community that is motivated by His love and displayed in actions as well as words.