The People who shared everything - a story from: Acts 2:44,45; 4:32-5:11; 6:1-7; 9:32-43; 11:27-30
Object Lesson: The importance of giving and sharing what we have with those in need.
Teaching method: Participation story
This lesson will be taught using a "game". Your teaching will be accomplished through the class facing situations and solving problems themselves using your input in relating the situations to events in Acts and to Scripture principles in regard to money and stewardship. The following study will give you some resources.
There was an upper class minority who lived in great luxury. Their money was usually not the fruit of their labor, coming from taxation and exploitation of the lower classes. The Lower classes were made up of tradesmen who catered to the "tourists", and provided the needed industries. Bazaars and shops abounded to cater to all. Large numbers of livestock that were brought in for the temple sacrifices. Food had to be brought in. There was a constant flow of caravans up to Jerusalem.
Begging was concentrated around the Temple premises. Since the giving of "alms" was considered a pious activity, begging was so lucrative that there were "fakes". These professionals had to compete with the truely destitute.
In the larger situation of the Roman Empire, the economic situation was similar concentrations of great wealth for a few, widespread pverty for the rest. Six out of seven people in the Roman world were slaves. Depending upon the owner, a slave's lot could be comfortable or utterly miserable. Runaways were a problem, and would usually try to hide out in the crowds of the citys.
Into this situation, the local church was born. It's members were drawn from all the strata of society. Some were wealthy like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimethea, but many were poor, right off the streets. And all were discovering they were brothers in Christ, called to love one another and share each others' burdens.
Some of these believers presented special problems to the church. There were many who had been beggars, thieves, prostitutes, idolmakers, etc. Jesus came to those needing a "physician"; to sinners. Certainly many believers in the early church had sources of income that were contrary to the stated will of God. Some had provided for themselves through sinful means - theft, prostitution, idolatry, drug and alcohol abuse for personal gain. They could not continue deriving their lively hood from such. They would need to see the need and change occupations, and support until they were self-supporting.
It was especially hard for women and the elderly. Apparently relief efforts for the widows led to dissention in the church. The first deacons were entrusted with the task of ministering to the Hebrew and Gentile widows, administering funds, and dealing with accuscations of inequitable treatment and partiality.
Jeremias suggests that if the daily fellowship meals were patterned after the Jewish custom, then the poor and widows would receive additional food for the next day to take home with them.
Some were unable to provide for themselves due to physical or mental impairment just like today. In a society will little to offer them they had to resort to begging. While some we know were miraculously healed, these were exceptions. The church had to carry on the work of Jesus who showed so much compassion for the weak and infirm.
And how was the church to carry on its pastoral and evangelistic ministry. Traditionally Rabbi's had trades and were self-supporting. But we have strong evidence that while Paul and others were partitially self supporting, yet "the laborer was to have his share of the harvest", and the teacher-preacher was due his reward as well.
"They met regularly in the temple precincts for public worship and public witness, while they took their fellowship meals in each other's homes. The community was organized along the lines of the voluntary type of association called a haburah, a central feature of which was the communal meal. Within the community there was a spirit of rejoicing and generosity, outside they enjoyed great popular goodwill. " F. F. Bruce, New International Commentary on Acts, p. 81.
Read Acts 4:32-37. Again notice how freely they shared, but note too the unity that was essential for these arrangements to work. How striking the testimony of vs 34 - there was no one needy among them!. As the church had need, "from time to time", (On such occaisions a collection apparently was taken) those who owned property would sell it to assist the body. It was not a "communist" system - where all private property was abolished. They retained ownership, and gave as they felt led of the Spirit. Clearly though, the wealthy saw their bounty as God's provision for the needy.
The Apostles appear to be the ones who distributed the donations to the needy. With time, this task became such a drain on their ministry of prayer and teaching that the deacons were chosen. See below. Here we are first introduced to Barnabas the "son of encouragement", who sold a field he owned and gave it to the church. More on him in lesson 5.
Read Acts 5:1-11. What did Ananias and Sapphira attempt to do? Why?
In contrast to the preceding passage, we come to a shocking event. We learn that the new Christian society was far from perfect. The sinful deceit by which Ananias and Sapphira attempted to represent a portion of the proceeds of their sale of property as if it were the whole is the key to understanding these events. Ananias had not been forced to sell anything, or was he complelled to give all the proceeds to the church. But seeking to enhance their reputation (pride and envy), while at the same time deliberately lying to the church and greedily holding back a portion for themselves, they "tested" the Holy Spirit's forbearance of their sin. And the wages of sin was death.
What was the impact of the death of Ananias and Sapphira on the believers? 2 Tim 2:19. Interestingly enough, verse 11 is the first occurance of the word "church" in Acts.
Read Acts 6:1-7. What problems were developing between the Greek Jews and the Hebrews? What was the Apostles' solution? What kind of men did they chose? Is there any significance to the fact that the seven all have "Greek" names? Apparently there was a "hellenistic" or "Greek" fellowship that made up a part of the church in Jerusalem. Tensions between the Hebrews (or Judean Christians) and these Greeks had been building up and reached their climax over accusations of favoritism. Significantly, it would be through these men and their flock that the Gospel would be carried untimately to the Gentiles. The next several chapters of Acts tell us of the work of Stephen (who was martyred defending the faith) and Philip (who had a significant ministry as an evangelist).
The Word "deacon" means "to serve". They were not called to be waiters, but ordained "servants" administering the funds (the "tables") of the church in matters of mercy, requiring impeccable reputations, spiritual insight and wisdom.
Read Acts 9:31-43. What kinds of things has Peter been doing? How has he been supported? Where is Lydda and Joppa? Who was Talitha? What were some of the ministries this woman carried on? What miracle took place here. What is the connection between acts of mercy and fruitful witness?
Read Acts 11:27-30. A Church has been started in Antioch. It was here that the believers were first called "Christians". It was here that believers started witnessing to Gentiles. Barnabas and Saul (Paul) pastored this church. And offering was taken up for the churches in Judea. The Judean Christians would suffer severe hardship in a famine. What was the extent of the Famine? (It happened in the reign of Claudius between 41-54 AD). What were the principles governing this relief offering? (Vs. 29.) How was it sent? (Vs 20.) Paul and Barnabas visited Jerusalem in 46 AD, and theis was probably the visit refered to in Gal 2:1-10. What was the chief concern of James, Peter and John for Paul's ministry. In Acts 20-21, Paul brought another offering to Jerusalem. In 2 Cor 8 & 9 Paul gave instructions concerning it.
Read James 1:9-11; 27; 2:5-7; 14-18; 3:13-4:10; 5:1-6. How are James' words appropriate to the early church in Jerusalem? What does he say to the rich? To the poor? Concerning those in need?
The attitude we have towards our wealth is an important measure of our faith. We are stewards. What we have actually belongs to God and is to be used for His glory. A part of what we have (the Tithe see 1 Cor 16:1,2 - proportional to our income, set aside on the Lord's Day) belongs to God's people. The love of Money, greed, selfishness are all sins. Godliness is measured in part by contentment. (1 Tim 6:3-10; Phil 4:10-13). 1 Tim 6:17-19 commands the rich to put their hope in God, not their money and to be rich in good deeds and generous in sharing.
And our goal is to have something to give. Gal 6:9-10. We are to be cheerful givers. 2 Cor 9:6-13. And Generous too (2 Cor 9:6). We ought to make good on our promises and commitments, as the Lord enables us. (2 Cor 8:8-12). We share one another's needs. Certainly we have much more than money we can give, there are numerous works of service and love we can give. (Romans 12:7-8,13.)
Paul presents to us the Biblical principle of equality. (2 Cor 8:13-15). (God doesn't promise us as individuals equality in provision, but He does promise that our needs would be met. Sometimes this is through our labor, sometimes through the abundance of others, and sometimes through God's special provisions.) The church is encouraged to support their pastors providing for those who are ministering to them and in their behalf. (Gal 6:6; Titus 3:13,14.)
God's Guide through the Money Jungle or How to Manage Your Money, Larry Burkett, Christian Financial Concepts are two excellent study guides on the Bible's teaching on money and managing personal finances.
Also look at the Biblical Blueprint series published by the Institute of Christian Economics, Tyler, Texas: Honest Money by Gary North and In the Shadow of Plenty by George Grant.
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