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Sharing All Things
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 13, 2015
By Rev. Denise Walton
Lesson scripture: Acts 4:32-5:11
The Resurrected Christ and Power of the Holy Spirit
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power, the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.
Have you ever had the incredible opportunity to see someone grow up from childhood to mature, responsible, generous, and thoughtful adulthood? Sometimes a moment or event brings you to the realization that the person is no longer a child but has matured and grown in grace and love. If you can relate to the description above, then perhaps you can understand how I choose to approach this text. Empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling within, the beloved community of Acts 4 is growing in grace and love.
We are early in the biblical account as described by Luke in the book of Acts. We are still resting in the fourth chapter. However, we read Luke-Acts as one book and one continuous story. We have been privileged to walk in the story of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What then does the culmination of God’s love, the resurrected power of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit look like in community? What difference has the resurrection of Jesus made in the life and relational development of the community of believers?
Many scholars will debate today’s passage of scripture, Acts 4:32-5:11, as a concept or ideal but not a literal story detailing real events. While I understand there are many arguments for this approach to handle the text as identifying a principle not describing reality, I have chosen not to chase these theological rabbits and instead approach the text as a literal event that unified the church but was not perfect.
The Old Testament and Provisions
The beloved community of Israel was not unaware of the need to care for those who could not care for themselves. The Old Testament biblical provides at least five provisions designed within the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis-Deuteronomy) to help those who could not help themselves (poor, widowed, orphaned). Ronald Sider, “Just Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America,” describes these five provisions:
- The third year tithe was to go to the poor widows, orphans, and sojourners, as well as the Levites (Duet. 14:28-29).
- Laws concerning gleaning stipulated the corners of the grain fields and the sheaves/grapes that fell were to left for the poor, especially widows, orphans, and sojourners (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-21).
- Every seventh year, fields were to remain fallow, and the poor were allowed to reap the natural growth (Exod. 23:10-11).
- A zero-interest loan was available to the poor. If the balance of the loan was not repaid by the sabbatical year, it was forgiven (Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:25-38; Deut. 15:1-11).
- Israelites who became slaves to repay debts went free in the seventh year. Their temporary master was obligated to provide liberally, giving the former slaves cattle, grain, and wine so they could again earn their way (Duet. 15:12-18, Exod.21: 1-11).
With great power, the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in all of them that there were no needy persons among them (Acts 4:33-34a).
While the Old Testament provided the provision in the midst of suffering, the Holy Spirit has empowered the beloved community to care for the immediate needs of those among them.
Randy L. Maddox, in “Responsible Grace,” helps the reader understand grace from the perspective of John Wesley, founder of Methodism. “Wesley understood Grace as the Holy Spirit at work in our life, initiating and sustaining our recovery of Christ-likeness. God’s loving personal Presence in our lives. This grace inspires and enables but does not overpower us.”
Maddox offers a quote of John Wesley’s summary of his understanding of the Holy Spirit:
I believe the infinite and eternal Spirit of God, equal with the Father and Son, to be not only perfectly holy…but the immediate cause of all holiness in us: enlightening our understandings, rectifying our wills and affections, renewing our natures, uniting our persons to Christ, assuring us of the adoption of sons, leading us in our actions, purifying and sanctifying our souls and bodies to a full and eternal enjoyment of God.
Maddox further states, “Wesley understood grace to be responsible – it empowers our response but does not coerce that response. If God’s grace is a personal and co-operant merciful empowering, it is surely gradual. In this sense, Wesley talks about degrees of grace (Prevenient, Justifying and Sanctifying Grace).
Barnabas, Ananias, and Sapphira
This biblical account in today’s text offers two practical examples of positive and negative responsible grace. Barnabas sells his land and offers his proceeds for the common good. On the other hand, Ananias and Sapphira sell land but are not honest about the proceeds. The former is lifted up in scripture as an example of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of believers. The latter receives immediate loss of life as a result of dishonesty and selfish choices.
Reflect on the generous outpouring of love within the bellowed community to care for all. How might your response/church response be more like a legalistic approach or inspired by the Holy Spirit? Are there those among you in need? How might the beloved community offer grace to a dying and suffering world?
Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.