Acts 4:32-37 (ESV) 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 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 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
This passage of Scripture is, perhaps, the most threatening in the whole of the New Testament. Over the years, I have heard innumerable Pastors and Evangelists manipulate or even desecrate God’s message contained in these few verses. And I understand why. They appear to fly in the face of Capitalism and they most certainly cut the legs out from under any leader in God’s kingdom that has set their heart upon constructing a magnificent edifice (building).
I’ve been praying to understand what God is doing in the world today and I think I see three things. I’ll save the best for last.
Christians were first, and horribly, targeted for persecution as a group by the emperor Nero in 64 AD. A colossal fire broke out at Rome, and destroyed much of the city. Rumours abounded that Nero himself was responsible. He certainly took advantage of the resulting devastation of the city, building a lavish private palace on part of the site of the fire.From a BBC article by Dr Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe titled Christianity and the Roman Empire
Perhaps to divert attention from the rumours, Nero ordered that Christians should be rounded up and killed. Some were torn apart by dogs, others burnt alive as human torches. Over the next hundred years or so, Christians were sporadically persecuted. It was not until the mid-third century that emperors initiated intensive persecutions.
Note that the date is 64 AD. This persecution occurred after Acts, chapter four. What God did for the early Church, He has repeatedly done for the Church down through the ages. He gives times of rest and refreshing and then He leads the Church into battles where many die a martyr’s death – the greatest growth is during the battles.
Therefore, my first point is that God gave the Western Church a respite but we turned it into a lifestyle.
No doubt, for the early Church, it was from the wealth of the members selling their possessions that funding for the great dispersement provided. This dispersement was triggered by the stoning of Stephen. We find this in Acts 8:1, And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
There are no times when we can be cruise-control Christians. If God is building the Church’s wealth then a battle is just around the corner.
Throughout all of the history of Adam, God has used peculiarity (i.e. set-apart) to draw the attention of God’s elect to Himself. God’s people have prepared for a flood when none was visible, prepared for a baby when age cried “Impossible!”, birthed a nation from a baby floating in the Nile, trusted God when surrounded and vastly outnumbered by their enemy. Yes, I have Scripture for this and it’s best seen in the KJV, 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (emphasis added)
God’s people don’t try to be peculiar, it’s just what happens when we follow God. Peculiar doesn’t mean crazy. As I wrote, it means “set-apart” but being set-apart often makes a person seem peculiar. A good example of peculiar was “Mr. Rogers” on PBS. As an ordained Presbyterian minister, he was certainly peculiar within the staff of PBS. Fred Rogers is quoted as saying,
“I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen.” My guess is that we have rarely, if ever, taken a job because we thought we could turn the employer from bad to good.
We, as true believers, are peculiar people. That is God’s way. People living in the world must notice us, and notice that there is something different, a good difference, between the children of God and the children of the world. As true believers, we quickly surrender our possessions, surrender our rights, surrender our lives, to demonstrate the character of Jesus to people who remain under God’s curse.
A missionary once told me that every missionary had to able to do any one of five things at a moment’s notice: 1) preach 2) pray 3) teach 4) sing 5) die. We all should hold our lives as a gift of service to Jesus our Savior.
However, for decades now, while we’ve been living the lifestyle of Christianity, we have continually moved the Church closer and closer to the world. We justified these actions as attempts to remain relevant in a changing world.
It is Christ Jesus who makes His Church relevant; it’s never within our ability to accomplish this.
God Stopped the Whole World
Never in my lifetime has the whole world stopped. Until now, the closest it came was in 1969 when Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon. If you are old enough to remember that then you remember how TV networks cut to locations all across the globe, showing people gathered around TV sets, all gobsmacked.
Well, this pandemic is more profound than Neil’s history-making step. Trust me on this, God did this out of His great love. You may ask, “How could God allow this to happen to good people?” The answer is simple and painful; there are no good people. And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)
God stopped the world so we all would consider what life is about. For His Church, we face profound changes, not in the Gospel but in our lifestyle. Comfortable Christianity is not God’s intent. Jesus said, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)
Yes, we are told by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.” We are to have this goal but we are also told to “take up our cross” and told by the Apostle Peter that we are a peculiar people. These messages are from the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit. These messages do not conflict. We are not faced with a dichotomy. So, what does God want from us?
What does Obedience Look Like?
What Jesus said to His disciples is that He wants us to be obedient, and if we are, then our joy will be full. (John 15:9-11) So, obedience is not something we can choose. Our decision is to either be a Christian, or not. Choosing not to obey is choosing not to love Jesus. (John 14:15)
I’ve written a lot of words to lead us to the following thoughts, and they are:
- God has prospered the members of Western churches for one hundred years. And countless churches own behemoth buildings that, overnight, have been rendered useless. This is not a mistake, rather it is God’s “bank account.”
- God’s blessing of an accumulation of wealth has not been for “us” to look like the world. That wealth is not ours.
- God’s people do not overcome the world by being a twin of the world. “And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” (Revelation 12:11)
No revival, no world movement by God, can start or continue without the Holy Spirit moving and igniting souls. When we are full to overflowing of the Spirit within us then the oil of God’s anointing splashes into the fire of the Holy Spirit and we burst forth with power, testifying to the world the things of God.
What will the Church look like, now that we’re in a post mega-church building era? Perhaps, in cities, we will be those peculiar people that sold our cars and gave the money to churches in Syria and Egypt.
Perhaps we will now flood mass transit systems – and the world will take notice. Perhaps, in the new world, the Church will unwaveringly speak what we know as true even if our testimony costs us our homes, our liberty, or even our lives. Perhaps, we, as God’s children, will choose Truth over political correctness, and not allow God’s Truth to be bridled by godless people.
Brave New World
I don’t know what this new world holds of us. I don’t know if we have the will to rise to the occasion of becoming peculiar to our family, our friends, our workmates, our employers, our community, our country. Will we be a “Fred Rogers?” Will we carry Jesus into places we hate? I just don’t know. However, I do know that God is watching to see how we respond to this brave new world.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
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