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The Apostles Distribute To Those In Need

Acts 4:32-37

Lesson audio


One of the most disturbing changes in American society is this: we have given over to the government the charity that belongs to the church. It is abundantly clear that those in need are to be cared for by the church. When the cold bureaucrat gives, it is simply money. When the church gives, it is help and comfort. Let us begin with the Scripture:

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles' feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.

(Act 4:32-37 NASB)


The measure of commitment

It is difficult for us to imagine a church in which no one claimed anything was his own, all is held in common. It certainly is not the model of the church today. We can learn something here.

  • Land, to the Jew, is sacred. God gave the land to him; it was to be restored in the year of Jubilee. It is a gift from God. So when Joseph sold that land, it represented a deep commitment for him.
  • More than that: the land was in Cyprus. The island was noted for its fertile, volcanic soil, so this land would have been an income producing piece of property. Joseph was giving up part of his retirement plan.
  • Note that he laid the money at the Apostles’ feet. The money was for God’s kingdom, and therefore started its work at the feet of those responsible for God’s kingdom. The spiritual directs the worldly.
Causes of commitment

Every baseball team manager has done it. You have a kid coming to the plate who hasn’t really mastered the art of hitting. The pitcher on the opposing team is wild, preferably inside. You pat the kid on the rump and say, “Take one for the team.” (It means to allow yourself to be hit by a pitch.) The result, usually, is a kid with a sore arm – on first base.

This has a wonderful effect on the unity of the team. When one guy gets hit, the team begins to talk about what “they” are going to do about it. Protocol says you plunk one of their guys, preferable in a situation where it has little potential for harm. The Christian sees the same effect when one of our number is suffering for the cause of Christ – which builds commitment to the church.

Another factor in building community of spirit is the work of the Holy Spirit. Christians are privileged to see the deep things of God. There are things we know and understand which are opaque to the outside world. Shared knowledge is a strong bond. Shared spirit is even more so.

But the real cause of community and commitment comes from our Lord. It is in the imitation of Christ that we pull together, for he commands us to unity. If we serve as He did, He will pull us together in Himself.

The effect of commitment

You can see here the results – in very pragmatic terms.

  • First is the care of the poor. We do this far too little today. How we would be blessed if we would but follow our Lord’s command in this! See how the early church thrived on it.
  • Next is the witness to the world. They will know that we are His disciples by the care we have for one another.[1]
  • From these will come the growth of the church – both in numbers and in spirit.

Belonging to each other

There is a gap….

Several years ago, Ray Stedman, the long time pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, had this to say about our unity:

Here is where the problem lies with many churches today. There is unity, there is a oneness of spirit, but there is no experience of it in the soul. It is quite possible to come to church and sit together in the pews, united in a physical presence with other Christians, to sing the same hymns and listen to the same message, and relate to God individually, but to have no sense of body life, no sense of belonging to one another. It is possible to come week after week, year after year, and never know the people with whom you worship. When that happens there is no unity in the soul. This is what our younger generation today, in desperation, is trying to tell us. "There is no soul in your services," they say to the church at large, "there is no sense of oneness. You don't belong to each other. You may belong to God, but you don't belong to each other." That is what is lacking today, and what the early church so wonderfully possessed.

Why do we do this?

  • One reason is that we have a fear of being judged. If our sins have caused or problems, we can certainly see that we might be judged. But even if this not something of sin, people will assume it must be some hidden sin (Job got this a lot). We’re a health club for saints hiding the hospital for sinners.
  • Another reason is that we have substituted activity for fellowship. There is nothing particularly wrong with the seniors taking a bus to Yosemite – unless that becomes the substitute for real fellowship.

The fellowship of the church is not found in her programs but in her people.

That this gap is wrong

It should hardly be necessary to state that this lack of belonging to each other is contrary to the will of God.

  • We are to be “members of one another.[2] We are to consider ourselves as part and parcel of each other’s lives.
  • We are united because we have “one Lord, one faith, one birth.”[3] We share the most precious message ever heard; it should change us.
  • It is not only our Lord’s command that we be one; it is His prayer.[4]
Our model is Christ

What should we do about it? We can learn from example:

  • Consider the servant heart of Jesus. By his very actions he taught that we should serve on another.
  • This produced the unity of the early church, as we see hear.
  • In addition to that, we have the community of prayer. It is very hard to pray for someone for a week and not find yourself doing something for them.

Causes and Cures


What causes this lack of fellowship?

  • One reason is the preaching of the evangelical church! We have preached so long that Jesus is a “personal savior” that we now picture ourselves have a one to one relationship with Him. We neither need nor care for anyone else if we have Him. But He is Lord as well as Savior, and he commands our unity.[5]
  • In former times, a lack of fellowship often came from heresies (the word in the original means a sect, not someone whose doctrine is wrong). This is seldom heard these days – because anyone who disagrees goes out and founds his own denomination
  • Today, the divisions are personal. Factions in the congregation center around people, not doctrines. I’m not sure that’s an improvement.

So what should we do about it?

  • May I commend to you the practice of hospitality? The early church knew the value of opening up the home to receive the body of Christ. Indeed, it is one way in which any Christian can build fellowship in the church. It is particularly suited to the rich; gracious entertaining can be both a virtue and a blessing.[6]
  • This may sound surprising to you: know divine grace when you get it. So often we will not give (which builds fellowship) because we think it’s really our money. Sometimes, you need to know who planted you in the land of milk and honey. If you see it as a gift (grace = charis, a gift) and know yourself to be blessed by divine grace, it’s a lot easier to part with it. Especially when you realize there is more where that came from.
  • Which leads us to sacrificial giving. I have given a little money and lots of blood to the Red Cross – and it is the latter which makes me a real supporter. When you sacrifice for the cause of Christ, it builds a sense of fellowship with those who are sacrificing with you. Any infantryman could tell you that.
Action items

So what should you do about it? The church is asking for a lot of money in their capital campaign now; how should you respond?

  • Don’t just sit on the fence. Make a decision. Make a prayerful, informed decision – and then carry it out. Woulda, coulda, shoulda just will not help.
  • For some of you, it will be appropriate to consider including the church in your will. Somebody’s gonna get your stuff after you die; why not put it to good use?

Permit me to introduce to you “the Lazarus principle.” The Rich Man had Lazarus at his gate every day, and did nothing. He might well have justified himself by saying that he could not solve world hunger. But God didn’t ask him to solve world hunger; he put one needy man in his path. His condemnation was based on how he ignored Lazarus. God does not expect you to brilliantly define an investment strategy for Christianity. He expects you to take action on the things He sets before you. The capital campaign is one such thing. Decide. Take action.

[1] John 13:35

[2] Romans 12:5

[3] Ephesians 4:1-6

[4] John 17:11

[5] One of the more interesting aspects of the current trend is the preaching that anything which would tend to unite the greatly divided church is from Satan, because there’s a one world church coming. So anyone who preaches unity in the church is obviously an antichrist and an agent of the devil.

[6] It’s really tough to be on non-speaking terms with someone and then have to ask them to pass the butter. David Wilkerson (Cross and the Switchblade) made good use of this technique in dealing with gang members.

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