Commonism In The Church
Acts 4:32-4:37 The meanings of “socialism” and “communism” have changed over time as various political tyrants and undemocratic governments have used the ideas to advance their own political power and fantasies. But for today let’s use the simplest possible meaning which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels promoted in the late 1800s. According to the online encyclopaedia, Encarta, the terms could be used more or less interchangeably to refer to a, quote “society in which class differences had disappeared, people lived in harmony, and government was no longer needed.” Unquote.
Today’s passage may sound like communism but it is quite different, so this sermon is entitled, “Commonism in the Church.” God does not show how an enlightened proletariat wrests control of business and wealth from the rich in order to fairly distribute it across society. Instead, God creates a church voluntarily disposing of their possessions, generously providing for those who lack. The Christians in Jerusalem held their goods “in common,” and no needy person lived among them.
Introduction A minister was talking one day to a farmer in his congregation. The minister asked the farmer, “Fred, if you had one hundred horses, would you give me fifty?” Fred said, “Certainly.” The minister asked, “If you had one hundred cows, would you give me fifty?” Fred said, “Yes.” Then the minister asked, “If you had two pigs, would you give me one?” Fred said, “Now that’s enough minister; you know I have two pigs!” 🙂
Generosity sounds good in the abstract; many Christians picture themselves giving away half their lottery winnings; the reality is often quite different.
Lucian was a Greek satirist who lived between 120 and 200 AD. He was an opponent of anything religious (which he grouped together as superstitions). Yet when he saw the generosity of the Christian church he wrote: “It is incredible to see the fervour with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it in their heads that they are brothers.” The cause of the difference which Lucian observed among the Christians was the presence of the Holy Spirit producing power in their witness. Our God is generous; and when we devote ourselves to him and he works among us, he makes us generous like himself.
The passage we heard today speaks first of all of Unity In the Church (Acts 4.32a) These early Christians understood that it was no longer “I” but “we”.
C. S. Lewis, a number of years ago, wrote a novel entitled “The Screwtape Letters.” In it, he imagined Screwtape as being the Devil, & his nephew, Wormwood, as the little demon who had been assigned the responsibility of recruiting members for the Kingdom of Hell.
In one chapter, Screwtape is talking to Wormwood. He says, “You will find that the church is fertile soil. One of the best places to find recruits for Hell is in the church.”
Now here is his advice to Wormwood. “Keep them bickering over programs, procedures, money, organization, personal hurts, misgivings. Keep them bickering. Whatever you do, don’t let them see the banners wave, because if they ever see the banners wave, we’ve lost them forever.”
C. S. Lewis says, “The secret to carrying out the great commission is that when our vision is fixed on Jesus, & we are so caught up in Him, we won’t have time to bicker. We won’t have time to worry about our little hurts. When we are caught up in carrying His banner to a lost & dying world then the church will march forward in triumph once again.”
. We know our tendency to be divided in all matters important, especially those related to religion. So it is hard to believe that these Christians could agree — men and women of different ages, backgrounds and personalities, people who were opponents to one another a few months earlier, for they came from a wide variety of sects and religions. But that was now all forgotten, and they are unanimous in their love for Jesus. And because they were united in this, they were joined in love to one another. Such was the dying command of Christ to his disciples: “Love one another.” Jealousy in the church is not a sign of great grace. Envy over another’s gifts and ministry does not create a powerful witness. Looking out for number one produces no converts. A critical spirit impresses no one, either inside the congregation or outside. Bitterness and rivalry and insisting that we are right and getting our way pleases only the enemy. Verse 31 of Acts 4 indicates they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. As a result (verse 32), they were of one heart and soul. They loved one another, and love enabled them to count others of greater worth than themselves; love caused them to overlook any number of faults. Aesop tells of three bulls for a long time pastured together. A lion lay in ambush hoping to make them his prey, but he was afraid to attack while they kept together. So the lion whispered in the hearing of first one and then the others that the others were keeping secrets and making plans that did not include him. Eventually the bulls separated from one another and the lion feasted on them one by one at his leisure. “United we stand” is not merely a slogan; it is a Biblical principle illustrated well by Aesop. Parents know the extent of personal sacrifice they would endure to make sure their children do not suffer hunger and want. I dare say that many (maybe all of you) would sell house and car, land and property, if it were necessary to provide for your children. You love them. They are yours and you are theirs. Problems do not prevent outrageous acts of generosity, for they are your beloved family. What did Lucian say of the Christians he met? “Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it in their heads that they are brothers.” This pagan understood well that family love united the Christians in heart and soul.
The second point today is that of Generosity In Giving (Acts 4.32b, 34-37) There are those in some churches who imagine that true faith is shown ONLY by commitment to the Scriptures. For example, many Christians speak in glowing terms of the pulpit ministry of Charles Spurgeon, while far fewer are thrilled by his work with orphanages. Spurgeon had always devoted large sums of money to the alms-houses. But his biographer writes: “At one Monday evening prayer meeting, which in his day were phenomenal, he said, ‘We are a large church, and should be doing more for the Lord in this great city. I want us to ask Him to send us some new work; and if we need money to carry it on, let us pray that the means may also be sent.’ Soon afterward Mrs. Hillyard, a clergyman’s widow, determined to devote her money to the service of God. She saw an article in The Sword and Trowel advocating the establishment of schools where ‘all that we believe and hold dear shall be taught to the children of our poorer adherents.’ Upon reading this she wrote to Mr. Spurgeon, telling him of her desire to establish an orphanage where boys would be trained in simple Gospel principles. Mr. Spurgeon and Mr. William Higgs made an appointment, and when they called at her modest home they feared that there had been some mistake. So they began the interview by saying that they had called about the £200 she had mentioned in her letter. “Did I write £200?” exclaimed the lady. “I meant £20,000.” “Oh yes,” said Mr. Spurgeon, “you did put down £20,000, but I thought perhaps there was a naught (zero) or two too many.” According to John Stott, here in Acts “Luke…is concerned to show that the fullness of the Spirit is manifest in deed as well as word, service as well as witness, love for the family [of believers] as well as testimony to the world”
Notice the characteristics of these believers in the passage. * First, sense their attitude. This is not communism, for no one took from them what was theirs. It was “common-ism,” so deep was the love that they felt that every possession was made available to help their brothers and sisters. * Second, see their action. They refused to speak of this love without visible generosity. Faith without works is dead; love without generosity is hatred. John Calvin: “Surely we ought to observe the same order, first loving one another with a sincere heart, and thereafter our love showing itself in its application to others. For even external beneficence, if it comes not from the heart, is of no value in the sight of God. We boast in vain of proper affections, unless the evidence of them is seen in outward performance…. And now, we must have hearts that are harder than iron if we are not moved by this narrative. In those days the believers gave abundantly of what was their own; we in our day are content jealously to retain what we possess…. They set forth their own possessions with simplicity and faithfulness; we devise a thousand cunning devices whereby we may acquire everything for ourselves by hook or by crook. They laid down at the apostles’ feet; we do not fear, with sacrilegious boldness, to convert to our own use what was offered to God. They sold their own possessions in those days; in our day it is the lust to purchase that reigns supreme. At that time love made each man’s own possessions common property for those in need; in our day such in the inhumanity of many, that they begrudge to the poor a common dwelling on earth, the common use of water, air and sky. These things then are written for our shame and reproach.” No one in Acts 4 was required to practice common-ism – they just did.
So firstly there is unity in the church, then generosity in giving, and as a result there is:
Greatness In their Witness (Acts 4.33) John Calvin observes that the New Testament Christians “were well liked because they were generous.” There is some debate over whether the “great grace [that] was upon them all” refers to God’s grace or the people’s favour. The Greek word for grace can refer either to a blessing from God or the acceptance of people. Whichever meaning is intended, both are clearly true. God’s favour was with them — they witnessed with power, they preached with boldness, they prayed with visible demonstrations of the presence of the Spirit, and they cared passionately for their fellow believers.
4. Conclusion Fred Mueller once asked a godly and generous businessman in London for a donation for a charitable project. Little was expected because the businessman had recently sustained a heavy loss from the wreck of some of his ships. To the amazement of those involved with the charity, he gave about ten times as much as expected. When asked how he was able to give so much in light of his business difficulties the businessman replied, “It is quite true, I have sustained heavy loss by these vessels being wrecked, but that is the very reason why I give you so much; for I must make better use than ever of my stewardship lest it should be entirely taken from me.”
And finally, Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, was once invited by a wealthy man to come to preach in a certain country church, to help the membership raise funds to pay off a debt. The man told Spurgeon he was free to use his country house, his town house, or his seaside home. Spurgeon wrote back and said, “Sell one of the places and pay the debt yourself.”
To God the Father,
God the Son
And God the Holy Spirit
Be glory and praise, now and forever. Amen.