Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Luke On My Mind #5

Practicing the kingdom of God entails fellowship with the poor. Jesus came to announce “good news” (gospel) to the poor and to liberate the poor from their oppression. He came to sustain the needy and supply their needs.

Acts 2:42 characterizes the early church as devoting themselves to “fellowship” (koinonia). This term can have a wide range of meaning, but in this concern I think it has a fairly narrow concern. Acts 2:42 enumerates the kingdom habits of the church in Jerusalem, and Acts 2:43-47 narrates their practice of them. Luke’s language directly connects 2:42 and 2:44—the church engaged in fellowship (koinonia) as they held all things in common (koina). Their commonality (fellowship) exhibited itself when they sold their possessions and gave to everyone who had need (2:45). Their fellowship was sharing their possessions with each other.

Clearly this was a habit of the Jerusalem church. Luke summarizes the fellowship of the church when he writes that there were no needy among them (Acts 4:35) because people, including Barnabas, sold land and possessions in order to meet the needs of the poor in the church. This ministry continued daily in the church as the widows were fed (Acts 6:1).

At this point I can almost hear myself saying, “Well, those where special circumstances and selling our possessions is a rather rare and unique event in the life of the church. We do not find ourselves in their situation any longer. Selling your possessions is a good thing if you are able and want to do so, but it is a higher calling to which we are not all called. After all, the Rich Young Ruler was told to sell his possessions as a test and it is not the call of Jesus to all of us.”

But if we believe that the early church is simply imitating Jesus, and that their “fellowship” was the continuation of the ministry of Jesus, perhaps we ought to think a bit more carefully about this model in Acts 2-6. Indeed, we need to see how it is rooted in the ministry of Jesus himself.

For the moment I will call attention to one salient feature of Jesus’ teaching in Luke and come back to this point in another post.

There is a line that is practically forgotten in Luke’s account of Jesus “don’t worry” sermon in Luke 12—part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. We all recognize that we should not worry about our food and clothing just like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air don’t worry. That is difficult enough to obey, but Jesus says more. We also recognize that we should seek the kingdom of God and that just as God has given us the kingdom, he will give us all that we need. That is difficult enough to practice, but Jesus says more…in Luke.

Indeed, the Gospel of Luke contains a sentence that is not in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a sentence that I wish were not there. I want to relativize it, manipulate it, contextualize it, minimize it….I want to do everything I can with it except obey it.

Jesus says—not to the Rich Young Ruler, but to the same disciples (all his disciples) to whom he says “don’t worry,”—he says….”sell your possession and give to the poor (Luke 12:32).

When I read that the early church in Jerusalem was selling their possessions and sharing with the poor (fellowship), and that this was habit (they were devoted to it) of early Christians, I am challenged to think that just perhaps Jesus was serious about “selling our possessions and giving to the poor.”

In our materialistic American culture, it is a hard saying and it may the place where we fail to follow Jesus more than any other.

More on this theme later....

6 Comments:

At 10:41 PM, Blogger K. Rex Butts said...

I serve in a church located in a section of Memphis that is poor and is home to a lot of minority imigrants. Because of some things which have happened, I preached last Sunday on our responsibility as disciples to the needy. My text was Matt. 25.31-46 (The Sheep and the Goats), which I intended to show just how serious Jesus was with regards to his disciples carrying on his ministry to the needy (who are often the poor and marginalized).

For the most part I received a lot of positive feedback for challenging the church. But I received on apparent negative comment and it came anonymously in the form of an article written by a "legalistic" Christian who prooftexts both the Old Testament and the New Testament to argue that Christians should engage in benevolent ministry to only those who have been found to be "worthy recipients." That is right, he actually used to word "worthy" and even placed it in bold letters.

Needless to say, I was infuriated that someone could suggest such a judicial practice on our part. It bothers me even further that (in light of Matt. 25) some Christians can believe they are among the redeemed because they have adhered to certain church doctrines while completely ignoring the poor.

But the mor I thought about the lack of grace being immplied by a practice of benevolence to only the "worthy", it hit me. Maybe our failure in ministring to the poor (mine included) reflects the degree to which we understand or lack understanding on the doctrine of grace.

Maybe we all need to reflect more on how unworthy we stand before God yet have been the recipients of his abundantly flowing benevolence time and time again.

----

Here is a link to the article I made reference too: http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/read/misdirected_benevolence

 
At 10:42 PM, Blogger K. Rex Butts said...

The ling was cutt off. Here it is: http://www.christiancourier.com/articles/read/misdirected_benevolence

 
At 10:18 AM, Blogger Dr Mike said...

I am making a couple of points here not to be argumentative or contrary, but simply because I think they need to be made. So, although such things are impossible not to take personally, I intend no malice.

First, I wonder if you are practicing this or just writing about it? Many things we do not really understand until we undertake them: only then do we find if we are correct in our interpretations and conclusions or not.

Second, and more importantly, is Peter's statement in Ac 5. This is the same church at the same time, "simply imitating Jesus" (as you say). Yet Peter says to Ananias, who was guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit about the price of some land he sold,

"While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?"

It would appear that selling one's possessions was voluntary and not required. Paul repeats the principle when he says in 2 Co 9.6-7,

"Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Two additonal tidbits and then I'll quit. (1) If Jesus lived by this principle consistently, then why was there any money in His own discipleship account that Judas could steal? (Jn 12.6). (2) Speaking of Judas, he seemed to give all that he had when he "donated" thirty pieces of silver to the sanctuary of the temple (Mt 27.5). Granted, we don't know that that was all Judas had, but it was still a tidy sum. Was he, too, following Christ's example?

We need to be careful not to elevate to the status of command that which God means to be voluntary and a true manifestation of the heart of His child. If one is able to do what you have addressed, praise God! If not, praise God just the same!

 
At 10:39 AM, Blogger Dr Mike said...

Krex:

Is this the article you are talking about and trying to link to?

Misdirected Benevolence

If not, then just give the basic site and then name of the article. Blogger has a nasty habit of cutting things off (circumcising links?).

FYI, the code for imbedding links is < a href="#" > (name of the link)< /a>, (where # is the URL) without any spaces before or following the < or > symbols. So a link to your site would look like this:

Rex at < a href="http://rexeffect.blogspot.com/" >rexeffect< /a > is a good man.

Take out the spaces between < and "a", the last " and >, and on both sides of "/a" and it becomes:

Rex at rexeffect is a good man.

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger Doug Floyd said...

Your post makes me think of a delightful, thought-provoking passage I read jsut this morning from Frank Laubach:

"...the rich man has the most wonderful opportunity of paying a sacrfice which will cut his heart almost out. If he seeks the place where his wealth is needed most, then throws all he has into that cause and then throws himself into that cause with his money, as Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do, his money at that moment will be transmuted into the golden threads of heaven. Maybe there is another way, but to me there seems only a blank wall for wealthy men save through the doorway I have entered, a sacrifice that hurts and hurts and behind Calvary--God!"
from Letters by a Modern Mystic, Frank Laubach

 
At 7:38 AM, Blogger John Mark Hicks said...

"Sell your possessions and give to the poor."

Luke 12:33

To whom was this spoken? To his disciples (to the same ones he said "seek the kingdom of God"), not the Rich Young Ruler.

Is this a command? Looks that way to me.

What does it mean? I'm struggling to understand it.

Do I practice it? Sometimes, but given what I have in my possession and the needs around me, I don't practice it enough. I want my brothers and sisters to challenge me--call me to discipleship and force me to think about my own practices and habits.

So what do I do with it? I seek God's mercy, yearn to implement that command in my life, make steps in my life toward implementation, call for a community to think with me about it, and ask the community to practice it with me.

"But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs...Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."

1 Timothy 6:8-10, 17-18

 

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