Last week I was able to deliver the sermon at my church. Here are the notes that were the basis of the message.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. Psalm 19: 14
In today’s message we will be exploring some weighty issues in the New Testament. I am trying to distill a complex issue into a single sermon. My purpose is to help you understand the larger context of the verses in Acts chapter 4.
Throughout history, many have used these verses as the basis for various novel interpretations of ecclesiastical and social structures. In the past this was a formative text to various monastic movements and how they modeled communities of faith. This verse was important to the Pilgrims as the original basis of their social and economic structure. In more recent times both theological and political liberals have used the passage as a proof text for Marxism and Socialism. All have missed the larger context of the passage. Today, I will try to make the case for the larger context of the passage.
Acts 4: 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. 34There 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.
Acts 4: 32-37 introduces a unity of heart and soul within the Church of Jerusalem. Additionally, the needs of each were met by the others. Many sold their property and gave to other believers. Joses who is also called Barnabas is cited as an example in his contribution to the Church. Later he becomes an ally and companion to the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys. The generosity of Barnabas is contrasted with the selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira in the verses that follow.
Acts 5: 1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, 2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? 4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold , was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
• These events were at the church in Jerusalem; Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter.
• There is no parallel account of property in common, only in Jerusalem
• The text of these passages makes plain that selling all and giving to the Apostles was not required but was a gift.
To understand, we need to look at other New Testament passages to build a case for a larger context.
Point 1 Why hold things in common? Monks, Pilgrims & Marxists
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” Karl Marx 1875
Marxism is antithetical to Scripture; especially as taught in the Old Testament. It is directly contradictory to the Ten Commandments. If everything belongs to the State; your wife, children, house, oxen (job) and ass (transportation) do also. The State usurps both the family and the Church and becomes “god” to the masses.
President Gerald R. Ford, said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have,” August 12, 1974
Clearly the passage in Acts has no concord with Marxists.
Limbaugh Quote See, I Told You So p 70 – 71 (reordered to make my point stronger.)
“The original contract the Pilgrims had entered into with their merchant-sponsors in London called for everything they produced to go into a common store, and each member was entitled to one common share. All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belonged to the community as well.”
“William Bradford, who had become the new governor of the colony, recognized that this form of collectivism was as costly and destructive to the Pilgrims as that first harsh winter, which had taken so many lives.”
Bradford wrote of the experiment, “For this community [so far as it was] was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense…that was thought injustice.”
Seeing the failure of collectivism, “He decided to take bold action. Bradford assigned a plot of land to each family to work and manage, thus turning loose the power of the market place.”
Following Acts 4 didn’t work so well for the Puritan, a people that tried to base their whole society on the Bible and not the laws of men.
Monks—poverty and celibacy
Monks link poverty with celibacy. Since at least the fifth century, Christian orders have frequently encouraged communal living and vows of both celibacy and poverty. Proof texts for this lifestyle will often cite acts 4 and 1 Corinthians chapter 7 which reads in part:
25Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to befaithful.26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. 27 Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife.28But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. 29But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
Paul’s words in Corinthians seem contradictory to his instruction in other epistles. Bishops should be the husband of one wife, etc. Families were created by God. Men and women were supposed to marry and within that context have children. Genesis taught this and Jesus reaffirmed it. His first miracle was at a wedding. Is there really an inconsistency or is there some provisional instruction being given for a specific reason?
I think the monks were right to link Acts 4 with this passage in Corinthian but they too missed the larger context. To understand the passage in Acts chapter 4, the context of the situation of the early church needs to be understood. We need to walk in the shoes of people living during that time.
Point 2 Coming Judgment—Prophecies of Jesus
Jesus—the heir to David—is prophet priest and king. Few talk about Jesus’ prophetic office because they think the prophecies speak of unknowable events for sometime in the future. What prophecies am I referring to?
A good starting point is by going back to Matthew chapter 24.
“1And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to shew him the buildings of the temple.2And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down .”
Jesus then talks for two chapters about the coming of the day of the Lord.
I know many of you lived through Hal Lindsey and The Late Great Planet Earth so it may surprise you to know that the biblical phrase “the day of the Lord” has nothing to do with Lindsey’s description of the “end times”.
The phrase “the day of the Lord” speaks of the impending judgment of God. It appears 29 times in the King James Bible; mostly in the Old Testament. The warnings of judgment are in connection to the fall of Judah, Assyria and Israel which culminates in the Babylonian captivity, the first coming of Jesus and yes on a few occasions, the end of the age.
We could spend the next few weeks going through the proof texts for the fact that a judgment was coming upon Israel. Jesus told us that it would happen. Just to make his point, Jesus promised that this generation would not pass away until all these things were fulfilled. The promise that the current generation would see the judgment is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
It is indisputable that the New Testament teaches that judgment was coming upon Israel. The apostles were responsible to insure that the Church was to ready. In fact, the New Testament is full of instruction for preparation of the coming judgment.
If you look at many passages in the New Testament with this idea in mind then perhaps you will see their context in a different light. Verses concerning the coming judgment can be divided into preparation and action. Our passages in Acts and Corinthians are clearly about preparing for the judgment. Why should believers hold onto their real estate and personal property when judgment was imminent? They also knew the instruction to be ready to flee when they saw the warning sign. It is also the lesson of the parable of the ten virgins and other parables to be ready.
The instruction to flee is recorded in all three of the synaptic gospels.
Matthew 24: 15 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand) 16Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: 17Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house:18Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. 19And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days! 20But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day:
Luke 21: 20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh .21Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out ; and let not them that are in the countries enter there into. 22For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.
Mark 13: 14But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains: 15And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein, to take anything out of his house: 16And let him that is in the field not turn back again for to take up his garment.
Look at 1 Corinthians Chapter 7 again.
26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
29But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;
31And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
Paul warns three times in this passage that change is coming shortly.
Given the scriptures above as well as others that could be brought into this discussion I think a case can be made that provisional rules were in place because of the coming judgment. In a nutshell, believers should prepare for the judgment and flee when they saw the sign.
Point 3 Israel Destroyed
Many Christians were persecuted and martyred in the final decades of Israel but there is no record of any Christians dying in the siege and destruction of Israel in 70 AD.
Josephus, the Jewish historian, was an eye witness to the systematic destruction of Israel by the Roman armies. He documents the famine, pestilence, war, and death experienced by the Jews. Over one million people died in the siege of Jerusalem and one hundred thousand were sold as slaves.
Flavius Josephus War of the Jews Book 7 Chapter 1
1. NOW as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done,) Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side. This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.
Matthew 24: 2 ”And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down .” Forty years after he spoke the words, Jesus’ prophecy was literally fulfilled. His Church not only survived but thrived.
There are a good number of prophetic statements in Christ’s teaching regarding Jerusalem’s demise (e.g., Matt. 21:33-46; 22:1-14; 23:31-38; 24: 1-34). Somewhat later in Acts 2: 16ff. the Pentecostal tongues event in Jerusalem was pointed to as a harbinger of “the day of the Lord” that was coming. Tongues-speaking was a warning sign to Peter’s hearers of the necessity of their being “saved from this perverse generation” (Acts 2:40) before the “great and glorious day of the Lord” (Acts 2:20).6 In Acts 2:43E. and Acts 4:32ff. a strong case can be made showing that there was a practical motive to the Jerusalem church’s selling of their property and sharing of the profits. 7 Such action was not commanded them, nor was it practiced elsewhere. This selling of property and distributing of the profits seems to have been related to the impending destruction of the city prophesied by Jesus. The Jerusalem holocaust was coming in that generation and would render the land valueless. 1 Thessalonians 2:16 speaks of the Jews who “always fill up the measure of their sins” and upon whom “the wrath has come . . . to the utmost. ” Hebrews 12:18-29 contrasts Judaism and its fulfillment, Christianity, and notes that there is an approaching “shaking” of the old order coming. There are many other Scriptural indications that point to something dramatic and earth-shaking that was coming upon the world and that would be felt in reverberations even beyond Judea.8
Thus, Revelation 7 is strongly indicative of a pre-fall Judea. After the Jewish War “Palestine was proclaimed a Roman province, and a great part of the land became the personal property of the emperor. But the country was in ruins, its once flourishing towns and villages almost without inhabitants, dogs and jackals prowling through the devastated streets and houses. In Jerusalem, a million people are reported to have perished, with a hundred thousand taken captive to glut the slave markets of the empire.
Kenneth L Gentry, Jr. Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation 1989.
Our lesson today affirms that Jesus is prophet, priest and king. Christ is ruling the kingdoms of men for his own purposes. Not only did he give his life for his bride the Church but he nourishes and protects his people. Our text today is not only an admonition to love each other but a reminder that Christ is at work to guide and nourish his folk, even thru the tumult of perilous times.