April 19, 2009
?Second Sunday After Easter
Acts 4:32-35

A good definition of grace is “treating others better than they deserve to be treated.” We talk about grace a lot, using expressions like, “Only by the grace of God did I find the strength to carry on after my wife died.” Or, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Grace is used in a lot of
different ways. There’s an interesting usage in this morning’s text. Luke writes, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” Just how did that grace manifest itself? The portrait of the early church that Luke paints in these verses is a description of God’s grace at work in a congregation.
After a prayer meeting in which the Holy Spirit comes with extraordinary power and the place is shaken, perspectives are different. The believers had a prayer meeting in which their total focus was on God. They realized who was the Creator and who was the creature. When we have a focus totally on God, our own agendas and our own ways of doing things don’t seem to matter as much.
The passage we look at this morning is a summary passage. The believers were of one heart and mind. We find an echo of what was said earlier in the end of chapter 2. The church was unified in heart and in mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions were their own. This was not some sort of imposed Marxist Utopian socialism. Rather, people loved in the best sense of that word. They esteemed others more highly than themselves; and, because of that, they were only too glad to give of themselves to meet the needs of those who were less fortunate. There is one difference between this passage and the summation at the end of chapter 2 that is significant.
In this text, Luke points out that the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. This is significant for a couple of reasons. They are speaking at exactly the point they had been ordered not to-the resurrection of the dead-but also it indicates that they were giving words to their witness. That’s a function of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In chapter 2, the emphasis is upon the signs and wonders that God was working through the apostles. I believe very strongly in lifestyle evangelism and in holistic evangelism as the most effective means of evangelism, but there comes a time when our witness must be verbalized. People were getting saved because they were not only being influenced toward Christ by the quality of their lives and because the church helped them with a need, but also because the apostles were telling them that it was only through the resurrected Christ that they could have any hope of eternal life.
In chapter 2, the summary statement speaks of the sale of possessions. Here the text speaks about the selling of houses and land. The money was given without agendas or strings attached. It was put at the apostles feet, and they distributed it as they saw fit.
In Acts 4:36 (not a part of the lectionary reading) Luke gives us an illustration of the type of giving he is talking about. I’ve heard people talk about who’s going to be the first person they look up when they get to Heaven. I’ve not thought a lot about that, but I know who I’d most like to have as a church member-Barnabas. His very name meant “encourager.”
Do you know who is the only person in the Scripture that is described as being “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith”? It was Barnabas. He took a field he owned, sold it and placed the money at the apostles’ feet. What would happen if someone in our church were to say, “I’ve had this piece of property, but I feel strongly led of the Lord to sell it and give the proceeds to help some of the families in our church that are having a rough time right now. God’s going to take care of me”?
It’s a dangerous thing to make a point and then to say, “I don’t really expect any of you to do that, but I’m not necessarily trying to say to you, ‘Sell all your possessions, divest yourself of your retirement nest-egg.’” There was a mindset in the early church represented by Barnabas’ action that said, “I’m going to look out for my brothers and sisters.” It was said of them, “Behold how they love one another!” Their love for one another and their example for us comes because of the grace of God that was upon them.

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