Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Christians Really Are Really Generous (A Theme from Acts)

Scripture: Acts 2.42-47; 4.32-37; 5.1-11; 6.1-7; 11.27-30
Translation: 2.42And they were focusing on the teaching of the Apostles and to sharing, to the breaking of bread and to prayers. 43And fear was coming into every soul, and many omens and signs were happening through the Apostles. 44And all the people who were believing were at the same place and they were holding absolutely everything as shared. 45And they were selling their property and possessions and distributing them to all the people as much as anyone would have a need. 46And daily they were focusing their time in the Temple with a shared impulse, and they were breaking bread house-by-house, they were sharing food with heartfelt celebration and simplicity [lit. celebration and sincerity of heart], 47praising God and having generosity towards/before/with all the people. And the Lord was adding those who were being saved daily at the same place.
4.32And the heart and soul of the huge group of people who believed was one. And not even one was saying that any of the possessions belonging to him were his. Rather absolutely everything was shared for them. 33And with great power the Apostles were giving out the eye-witness-testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace/generosity was on all of them. 34You see, there was not even any poor person among them, because all the people who really were owners of pieces-of-land and houses, after selling [them], were bringing the prices of the things being sold 35and putting them at the feet of the Apostles. And they were giving out to each person as much as someone was having need of. 36And Joseph, the one nicknamed Barnabas by the Apostles (which is translated “son of encouragement”), a Levite, someone born on Cyprus, 37sold a field that really did belong to him [and] brought the money and put it before the feet of the Apostles. 5.1And some guy with the name Ananias with Sapphire his wife sold a piece of property. 2And he [secretly] kept back some of the money paid for himself, and his wife was in on it. And after bring a part [of it], he put before the feet of the Apostles. 3And Peter said, “Ananias, why did Satan fill your heart, such that you lied to the Holy Spirit and kept back [some] from the money paid for the land? 4Didn’t it stay yours and wasn’t what was sold really in your power? Why is it that you put this action in your heart? You didn’t lie to humans, but to God!” 5And when Ananias heard theses words, he fell down and breathed out for the last time. And a great fear came on all those who heard. 6And young men got up and gathered him up and took [him] out and buried [him]. 7And it happened after an interval of three hours that also his wife, who didn’t know what had happened came in. 8And Peter responded to her, “Tell me if you were paid this much for the land?” and she said, “Yes, that much.” 9And Peter [said] to her, “Why is it that lying to the Spirit of the Lord was agreed by you? Look, the feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door and they will carry you out!” 10And she fell immediately before his feet and breathed out for the last time. and the young men came in and found her dead. And they brought her outside and buried [her] with her husband. 11And a great fear came on the whole church and on all those who were hearing these things.
6.1And in those days when the followers were multiplying, grumbling of the Hellenists came against the Hebrews, because their widows were being looked over in the daily serving. 2And the Twelve summoned the huge group of disciples and said, “It is not pleasing that we should be neglecting the message of God to serve tables. 3But, brothers, examine 7 men from yourselves who are attested , full of the Spirit and wisdom, who we will appoint over this need. 4And we will dedicate ourselves to prayer and to the serving of the message.” 5And what was said was pleasing to the whole group. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philipp and Prochoros and Nicanoras and Timon and Parmenas and Nicolaos, a proselyte from Antioch, who they stood before the Apostles. And praying, they put their hands on them. 7And the message of God grew and the number of followers in Jerusalem multiplied greatly, and a huge crowd of priests obeyed the faith.
11.27And in those days, prophets came down from Jerusalem into Antioch. 28And one of them with the name Agabos got up and signaled by the Spirit that a great famine was about to be over the whole known-world, which happened during Claudius. 29And from the followers, just as anyone had plenty for themselves, each of them determined to send to the brothers living in Judea for sake of serving. 30Which they also did by sending [it] to the elders through the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

1.      Structures
a.       Acts 2.42-47
b.      Acts 4.32-5.11
                                                              i.      Summary: General State of the Church: Generosity
                                                            ii.      Transition: Barnabas is introduced and used as a positive example of Generosity
                                                          iii.      Ananias and Sapphire
1.      Intro: the sell land and hide some of the money
2.      Ananias lies and dies
3.      Result: fear came over all who heard
4.      Sapphire lies and dies
5.      Result: fear came on the church and all who heard
c.       Acts 6.1-7
                                                              i.      Problem: Widows neglected
                                                            ii.      Solution: Appoint Godly men
                                                          iii.      Resolution: Godly men appointed
                                                          iv.      Result: the church grew like crazy, even priests got saved
d.      Acts 11.27-30
                                                              i.      Setting: Prophets come to Antioch
                                                            ii.      Issue: Agabus prophesies a famine
                                                          iii.      Response: the Church gives money to the Jerusalem church to help with the famine
2.      Themes
a.       Generosity
b.      Grace
c.       Holy Spirit
d.      Unity
e.       Growth
f.       Sincerity
g.      Sharing the message of Jesus boldly
3.      Doctrines
a.       Christians are really generous naturally.
b.      The Holy Spirit empowers Christian generosity to a crazy level.
c.       There are consequences for sins sometimes
d.      Trustworthy men should handle the money
1.      Generosity is a natural impulse for Christians. it just is. For Christians the question is not can I be stingy or do I need to be generous, but how generous can I be.
2.      This generosity is crazy. They sold their stuff for the sake of their Christian family. They sold houses and land so that their brothers and sisters could have enough to live off of. Even crazier, 4.34 said that there were no poor people among them, because people were so generous that no one was in need. This means that Mr. Levinson sold his condo in Bermuda so that the Goldberg family wouldn’t get evicted and starve. This means Mrs. Clark gave some of her social security check to the church, so that Ms. Aemilius would have a dowry for marriage. It would mean today that some gipsanim would sell his 68 Camero so that someone from a poor family could go to college. It would mean someone lets me live in their house with them for little rent, because I can’t afford it. And actually someone does do that.
3.      There is a profound danger however that our generosity if it becomes the norm could tempt some of us to be generous for the wrong reasons. One of the craziest elements of Christian generosity, of how these early Christians used money, is that were generous with the proper motives, with pure hearts. They were generous because they wanted to be generous. They were generous because they actually loved one another and because they actually loved God and they were all about living out the Gospel! Ananias and Sapphire died, not just because they lied, because surely someone somewhere in the church had lied before this. No, they died, 1) because of Who they lied to; but also I think 2) because of what they lied about, and in so doing they violated not just the trust of the whole community, but they provided a strong temptation for people to let their generosity be corroded by the prospect of personal gain. The problem was that they wanted to be generous enough to be thought of as generous. But the problem is that in so doing they overturned generosity. If they had been honest and given part of the money there wouldn’t have been a problem But they wanted to be thought of as good and superspiritual. They wanted people to believe their hypocrisy. And the truth is that doing the right thing can quickly be compromised with wrong motives. And there is a temptation to be Godly not because we love God and our fellow believers and even non-believers, but because we want people to think of us a certain way. Which means that then what we do is not really generosity or goodness, it is simply a tool of social manipulation. Let’s say someone comes and they are a really good drummer, and so they ask to join the praise team and we all are thankful that God sent us a drummer and that he has lots of talent. But while on the outside this person talks about how he is doing it for the Lord, out of a desire to worship God, on the inside he is only doing it for the attention—not because he loves God, or loves us, or even loves expressing his gifting, but simply because he loves the attention. Is he being generous with his talent, or is his using his talent to manipulate us into gratitude and attention-giving to him? Or what if a poor person joins our youth group, and we know that they are really poor, and they sacrifice and give us a great gift of an amazing new speaker system. But what if that person has made such a generous gift, not to be generous but to thought of as a generous person? What if on the other hand, a rich person gets saved and joins our group, and this person as tons of money, but chooses to sell a jersey he had signed by Michael Jordan and give the money to fund all our missions trips for the next 10 years. But no one knew about his amazing generosity but me and the elders and deacons who handle the money. Was he generous? Yes, I think so.
4.      Look at how natural the responses are of all the Christians. they see a need, and the people who can provide abundantly. And we are going to see next week even more clearly that this was not just something rich people did, but even the poor sacrificed to be generous.
5.      Bluntly put, being a faithful Christian will probably cost you something, not just in terms of identity, destiny, autonomy, and other things like that, but also it will likely cost you money. And if you are not willing to part with money, there is something seriously lacking in your Christian growth and development. Because the natural impulse of Holy Spirit-filled Christians is to really be really generous.
6.      Being generous was so key to the church that when a problem came up where some people were not being treated as generously as they should have been, the Apostles have the church appoint 7 Godly men to make sure the whole church is benefiting from the generosity of the church.
7.      Ok fine, but sharing everything sounds a bit like Communism. Well ok fine, if you think so, there are some distinctions, such as the Church is a Spiritual entity that exists beyond geopolitical boundaries, where as the government is a state. Also, the sharing is pretty clearly in the Bible, so if you don’t like it because of Marx, I would suggest you get over your predisposed opposition, since just because someone you don’t like also suggested something similar, that doesn’t mean you should get rid of all ideas that are in anyway similar. Moreover, if anyone stole from anyone Marx clearly stole concepts from the Bible than visa versa. On top of this, this crazy kind of generosity was natural for the Christians, they couldn’t have stopped if they had wanted to, so perhaps the better question is how much do we love our money that we have such a strong opposition to crazy generosity? Also, the money was being handled by Godly men, rather than the Communist Godless men. The money was not be redistributed based on merit, but based on needs.
8.      A further implication of the general tenor of the stories in Acts seems to be that this crazy generosity drew many non-Christians to trust in Jesus and become Christians, at least when it was coupled with the bold witness of the message about Jesus. So, one reason our church has not been growing, among others is that we are NOT known for our generosity, nor are we really focused on bringing the Gospel to our friends and coworkers and whoever. Look, Christians who act like Christians are incredibly compelling. Our love for God and especially for one another is what hooks people. But our love has to be being lived out clearly and be matched with the gutsy sharing of the Good News about Jesus with the people we know and meet.
9.      Questions:
a.       How can you be generous if you don’t have any money?
b.      How generous are you personally? And how generous are we as a community? Scale of 1-10. What makes you say that? Be specific J
c.       What is keeping us individually and us as a community from embodying the generosity of God in our world like the early church did in theirs?

d.      What would it look like for us to be really generous personally, as a group, as a church, as part of the Universal Church (all true Christians and churches everywhere)? How crazy generous are we willing to be?

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