Faith in Action
It has been said: Preach the Gospel; if necessary use words.” This is one of those statements that are pretty self-explanatory. There is all too often a wide gulf between what we preach and what we do. We find preachers and teachers who can explain the text in an orthodox matter, and then think that the work is done. We can then sing our song of commitment like “I have Decided to follow Jesus” and then rush out the doors to get to the restaurant before the Baptists do. Whereas I do feel that it is absolutely necessars to use words when we preach the gospel because people need to know what we believe and what we should be doing, I must say that any sermon is incomplete until faith is put into action. What does “faith in action look like?” Fortunately we have the acts of the early church recorded for us in Scripture alongside the words and deeds of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the gospels. In fact we have the words and actions of God in all of Scripture which is given to us for our teaching. So if we want to see what we ought to be doing today and why, we need only look at Scripture. Today we will be examining a few verse from the book of Acts in the fourth chapter, verses 32-35.Please open your bibles here and let us examine the passage.
This passage comes from the life of the early church, not long after Pentecost. We celebrate Pentecost as the day the Holy Spirit came down to empower the church in its mandate to continue what Jesus began to do and to teach (Acts 1:1). The life of the early church was a time of great joy and excitement. We had just heard of a lame man who had never walked be instantly healed in front of the beautiful gate. What power was demonstrated through the apostles by the means of the Holy Spirit. Miracles such as these certified that the message the apostles brought concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. If we only could have miracles such as these in our church today, it seems, our task of bringing people to Christ would seem so much easier.
We also read that not all responded well to the healing of this man. Peter and John were arrested along with the lame man and threatened not to preach and teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John refused to heed the warning and preached Jesus all the more boldly and got arrested again. This time they were beaten and warned again. Only the intervention of the angel in prison and the Lord’s using Gamaliel saved them. But this bold witness to the resurrection also certified the truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. One must never underestimate the power of suffering. This is faith in action.
But we might say that today, at least here in America, we aren’t suffering for our faith – at least not yet. And although I do believe that God performs miracles today, these are rare, and much of what we see that appears to be such are counterfeit. The devil through his agents has done all that he can to destroy the witness of genuine miracles though a legion of fake ones. But Jesus consistently upheld that His teaching and preaching were more important than his miracles. The world sough signs and miracles from Him to prove that He was the Messiah. But He would have none of this. Nevertheless, He did perform miracles, signs, and wonders anyway at His bidding and not that of the Scribes, Pharisees, Herod, or the Sadducees. He worked signs and wonders through His apostles according to His will. And He is free today to do such, if He wills. But we must be careful not to build our faith on such, but rather upon the Word, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit which confirms the Word.
In today’s passage, we read of another way the church witnessed to the power of God and the truth of the gospel. This is a means which is not limited in time or to a special occasion. The truth of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is to be demonstrated in the life of the church. We see how this was done in this passage. First of all, it say the large multitude of believers were of one heart and soul. They demonstrated the truth of the gospel in their unity. At this point, the believers were Jews and Jewish converts. The Gentiles had yet to hear the gospel. It would seem easier to unite people of a common race and religion that to unite people from different cultures and times. But this was no easy task. The Jews were broken up into all kinds of sub groups and sects. There were Pharisees who believed in the resurrection of the dead and Sadducees who staunchly denied it. The Pharisees held that the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets were authoritative Scripture; the Sadducees only held to the Torah. The Pharisees were influenced by Persian culture and Sadducees, the Greek. The Pharisees emphasized the written Word and the synagogue, the Sadducees the Tempe cult. They were as divided as night and day, and Paul used this fact to separate them into fighting each other when he stood before the Sanhedrin. When you add other groups like the Dead Sea Community and Hellenistic Judaism, we can see how shallow their unity was.
The early church would soon be forced to lay aside any idea that their unity was based upon their common Jewish heritage, as soon, the gospel would be preached to Gentiles as well. So the unity described here had to be something entirely other than common earthly bonds. They were a community knit together by the power of the Holy Spirit and their common testimony concerning Jesus of Nazareth. This is what must unite God’s church and not ethnicity, or common socio-economic status. Just think the powerful testimony that would arise in the church at Antioch. Here Greeks and Jews worshipped Christ together even though there cultural backgrounds were totally at odds with each other. The Jews called Greeks “dogs,” and the Greeks called the Jews “barbarians.” In this church worshiped masters and slaves, rich and poor, male and female, moral people and ex-cons. This is the model for every church which calls itself after Jesus Christ.
In this text, we notice many verbs which are in the imperfect tense in Greek. The Greek has a simple past tense called the Aorist which simply states that an action happened. The imperfect past indicates a habitual practice of the church. The church’s response was not a one-time response to a need like a drive to provide relief to victims of a storm. The church today is good at these one-time events. But the life of the church is to continually reflect the truth of the gospel over the long haul. The text tells us that the apostles had great power in their witness of the resurrection of Jesus and that there was abundance of grace upon all. Was this a result of some new great miracle, as we define miracle? No, the real miracle here is that the believers were so united, that the need of one was the need of all. The abundance of one was the abundance of all. People were liquidating their land, houses and personal possessions to give relief to the poor. Truly, the book of Deuteronomy states that there would be no poor among his people. This was being demonstrated by the practice in the early church.
We must notice that all of this sharing was voluntary as well as selfless. This text has been used as a proof text for socialism and the forced redistribution of goods. What a travesty this has been because it cheapens the voluntary sacrifice these brethren made for each other. It is said that God loves a cheerful giver. No one forced anyone to surrender their goods as is clearly demonstrated by Peter in the next chapter in dealing with Ananias and his wife. The proper example of giving was seen instead by Barnabas at the end of chapter 4. He freely sold a field and brought all before the apostles’ feet as many other nameless brethren had done. It is not to gain the applause of people, but out of the love of god and His people that giving is to be done. It is no testimony at all to the power of God if the Apostles had used force of arms or other means of manipulation to extract money from the more wealthy to help the poor. The Socialists are also wrong in that they are trending more and more to be Atheists. They want to make this work without God which is total impossibility.
As far as capitalism is concerned, the bible does not forbid commerce. But what good is it to gain great wealth for one’s self and not have a liberal heart which freely gives to those in need? How does this demonstrate what we see here in the early church? So before one goes off on the good of capitalism, whatever that may be, this warning needs to be given. Tight-fisted capitalism is evil in the face of God also as it does not reflect the heart of God who gives so liberally, even to those who hate Him.
So today we must ask ourselves here in America who are Christians: “How are we reflecting this model in our churches today.” Are we preaching and singing one thing, and doing the opposite? Is God pleased with our service. I would think if He were, there would be great power in the church today. There would be powerful witness to the resurrection of Christ in the life of the church. There would be great grace flowing from her to a hurt, rebellious and dying world. There would be people added daily to the church. There might even be true miracles in the church. But if our churches are divided by race, riches, and culture, then what are we preaching? Should we expect great power in a church such as this? It seems to me that wen need to seriously reconsider who we are as a church. Another word for reconsider is “repent.” Do we really want a powerful spirit-filled and led church, or are we happy just to be a fading mirage of what the church once was.