Date: 20 Nov 2016
Text: Acts 2:42-47
Today is one of those days when I’m not altogether sure what to say! After all, what more can be said that hasn’t already been said about our annual toy service? I also worry that we seem to be in a period when I am constantly asking you to give: give more money, give more food, and now give more toys. The money is of course for the upkeep and day to day running of this church whilst all the food that we collect always goes to the BCM Resource Centre for them to distribute as needs arise. All the toys that we receive also go to a good cause since BCM, the initial recipient, wrap them and then pass them on to the more than 2000 children who they know would not normally receive anything at Christmas. Now we know that we all received the great gift of Jesus when He was born at a time that we recognise as Christmas; however, whilst the less well off and younger children may not necessarily know Jesus yet, they do know that they may not receive any toys on the big day as their family’s financial circumstances may dictate that they cannot be afforded.
It’s good that we are able to share what we have with those who are less fortunate. So, in order to try and highlight the need for, and the importance of, sharing, I want this morning to look at the words of Luke, John the Baptist and Paul. All three had something to say on this important aspect of Christian life and added together they paint an important picture and teach an important lesson.
Those of you who are parents and have more than one child may recall that during their early childhood there may well have been difficulty in persuading them to share their toys with their younger siblings. Squabbles may have abounded; there may have been tears and fighting; perhaps there was even biting, kicking and scratching! Such is life for a child with siblings who has yet to learn that it’s good to share. As we grow older though we do learn that we should be generous and share our relative wealth with those who are less fortunate.
Now, whilst sharing anything or everything isn’t mandatory for a Christian, it should be one of those things that comes naturally from our desire to both serve and obey Jesus Christ. For example, as he went about his ministry as the forerunner to Jesus, John the Baptist told people that if you have two shirts then you should give one to someone who doesn’t have one. His words appear in Luke 3:11, where he says, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, anyone who has food should do the same." Paul had similar views and his take on the issue was to tell us to “Share with the Lord's people who are in need” (Romans 12:13). Luke also has something to say and tells us of the believers in the early church who had “everything in common” (Acts 2:44). Those are all good examples for us to follow.
As I started to look at this subject a couple of weeks ago, I was interested to learn the meaning of the Greek word for share that Paul uses. The Greek verb to share is koinōneō which comes from koinōnokos which means generous. Now, as you know, as I’m not a Greek scholar, I wouldn’t ordinarily share the Greek with you. However, on this occasion I feel that it is important as the word for “share” is very close to a word used to describe the early church in Jerusalem when its members “had everything in common” (Acts 2:44); the word used there being koina.
Luke’s words in Acts 2:42-47 tell us a lot about the early church and the way that they behaved and worked together. When those early believers came to faith in Christ; they didn’t just let their faith stop there, they put it into action by helping one another. This fledgling church came together as a result of the events of the Day of Pentecost and Peter’s amazing sermon. Consequently, the membership of this early church reflected the different backgrounds of those present in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival meaning that the early membership was very eclectic and included people from a huge variety of cultures.
As we look at these verses in Acts 2:42-47 we see that when they came together as a new church they followed four particular aspects of Christian life. Firstly, they continued to follow the teaching that they had received from the Apostles. Secondly, they continued in fellowship together, sharing everything that they had. Next, they continued to break bread and drink wine together to remember the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross. And finally they prayed together. It is important to note that Luke makes it clear at the beginning of 2:46 that they met “every day”; theirs wasn’t a one day a week faith but rather a permanent state of being.
In 2:42 we read that, “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship...” and it is that thought of fellowship that stands out for me today. Luke goes on to tell us in 2:44, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Going back to the Greek, the word used for “fellowship” is koinonia, a word which carries with it the thought of communion, fellowship and participation. It also includes the thought of sharing. When you sit back and think about our faith in Jesus Christ you may come to the realisation that we share the same Saviour, the same guide and anchor for life, the same love for God and desire to worship Him, the same struggles and battles, the same victories when we overcome difficulties, and hopefully the same joy of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others.
Pentecost was a major festival and during such festivals it was the Jewish custom to provide hospitality to anyone who needed it; rich or poor, local or visiting. Everyone was received into a home and no one was allowed to charge for this generous hospitality. The new Christian fellowship that came into being after Pentecost took this amazing idea and made it into an everyday event rather just something done at the time of a festival. To them, it was all part of sharing.
As I mentioned earlier, the new church was made up of a wide variety of people from different cultures; with over 3000 initial members I should imagine that it was quite a strange and interesting mix. Some members were wealthy whilst some were undoubtedly poor and struggled to survive. Consequently all the believers were happy to help each other as and when necessary. As Luke tells us, “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (2:45). Don’t worry too much; they didn’t come to faith and then immediately sell all their possessions! Rather, whenever a need did arise, those who could help sold some possessions and gave the proceeds to the needy. These new Christians obviously felt that God meant more to them than their possessions! Now, please don’t run away with the idea that I’m suggesting we should give up all our worldly possessions because I’m not. What I am saying though is that if someone is in need then we should do our best to help them in any way that we are able; after all, that was the essence of this Acts 2 church.
I’m not convinced that these early Christians had an ulterior motive for doing all this other than to follow Jesus and share His love for them with as many as possible. There was however a perhaps unexpected benefit to what they were doing. Luke happily tells us in 2:47 the church was “enjoying the favour of all the people”. Not only that, but because so many were amazed at what the church was doing that, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (2:47b). I would assume that they didn’t come to faith simply because of the sharing attitude of the members of the church, but it would undoubtedly have had a major impact on them and been an influence.
John the Baptist
It wasn’t just the early church in Jerusalem that followed this idea of sharing everything. Earlier in time, in Luke 3, we can read about John the Baptist’s activities around the River Jordan. John had announced that he wasn’t the Messiah but merely the forerunner, and to confirm that he quoted from Isaiah 40:3-5 since he knew that he had come to “prepare the way for the Lord” and so he came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). John didn’t stop once people had been baptised since he continued to preach to the people and having heard him they asked, having been baptised, “What should we do then?” (Luke 3:10). John’s reply was very simple and straightforward; he told them, “...Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11). He also had some special comments for the tax collectors and for soldiers. He told the tax collectors to collect what they were owed, no more and no less; and he told the soldiers not to extort money and falsely accuse people. Although he may not have realised it, John was obviously establishing an early almost pre-Christian community that was anxious to follow his teaching. It’s worth noting that, as with Peter on the Day of Pentecost, John was preaching to a really mixed crowd, many of whom accepted what he was saying and were baptised. It really was a mixed crowd with many coming from Egypt where they lived as simple peasants with very little to their names. There were also of course those who weren’t so poor and who could afford to share what they had with those who had nothing.
We need to remember that God’s community is totally inclusive and takes no account of wealth, social class, age, gender or background.
Having spoken about Peter and John the Baptist, it is only right that I say a few words about Paul! Paul makes a brief mention of sharing in Romans 12 where he talks about “love in action”. He urges Christians to “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9), and after a few other comments suggests that we should “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need” (Romans 12:13). That seems clear to me although I would expand on Paul’s suggestion by adding that we should also share with those who aren’t yet Christians. There were many to whom Paul was writing who weren’t too well off whilst there were also those who were quite wealthy and Paul here urges the latter to help the former. In our society Christians up and down the land follow Paul’s edict but also add the not yet Christians to their list. In doing that they are definitely putting their faith into action.
Those who attended the Birmingham City Mission Golden Jubilee celebration may recall a video that was shown where a number of people praised BCM for their help over the years. Many of those people came to faith in Jesus Christ after that help had been given, surely a great example to us all.
Jesus shared His love with us by dying for us so it seems only right and proper that we should share His love with those around us and, if we have plenty, we should share with those who have little or nothing. As believers in Jesus Christ it is incumbent on us to care for other believers, and the not yet Christians, and share what we have with them. Because as Christians we are part of the body of Christ, we have been given many, many gifts. Just think about the love and hope that we receive in Jesus. We are able to come before Him with our prayers and when we do so we generally end up asking for something. Many of us pray for strength and patience as we face life’s daily battles, and God is always generous and helps us. When God answers such prayers; as He always does; what we receive can be looked upon as a gift from Him. Being able to come before God in prayer is in itself a gift, and as a result of Jesus dying on the cross we have no need for an intermediary, we have direct access to God and pray to Him without the need for a priest or a saint to pray on our behalf.
I have given just three examples of what Scripture has to say on the subject of sharing. We’ve looked at the affect that Peter’s words on the Day of Pentecost had on those who heard him. We have considered what John the Baptist told those he had baptised. And we have seen what Paul had to say to the Romans on the subject. All three urge us to share with one another just as Christ shares with us.
Christmas will soon be upon us and is a time of sharing. It is the time when love came down from heaven in the form of God’s Son, Jesus. In sending Jesus to be with us God was sharing His love for us by giving us the gift of His Son. What better way to share the love that God has for us than by sharing what we have with those who don’t have quite so much, whether they are Christians or not.
Thank you for your gifts this morning; I’m 100% confident that they will be appreciated and I’m also 100% confident that they will make a child somewhere very happy indeed.