True Power and True Unity

32 The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. 34 For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need.  — Acts 4:32-35 (WEB)

[This is Henry.]

If you ask just about anyone involved in Christian ministry if they would like to do ministry with the same kind of power as the apostles have, they’ll say “Yes!”  If they believe it’s possible, that God will still perform miracles today, they’re likely to be praying for it.

But my question for all of us–and I’m definitely included–is whether we are willing to live and work like the apostles.  Well, am I?  Are you?

One of the great debates in Christianity today is whether tithing is a New Testament requirement.  Do Christians have to pay tithe?  Is it a legalistic requirement?  Perhaps if we don’t have to pay tithe, we could just keep the money and live a little better.  When moved by the Spirit we could give to a special offering or something like that.  Of course, it’s so hard to hear the Spirit telling us to give!

You may be interested to know that I don’t believe tithing is a New Testament command.  But before you either breathe a sigh of relief and start planning how to spend the extra 10% (or whatever you have called a “tithe”), or on the other hand try to run me out of the church, let me tell you that I believe “Is tithing a New Testament command?” is the wrong question.

We so often try to live our lives by reading the Bible to find out what specific things we should and shouldn’t do.  Then when we’re done finding these little commands and calculating our level of obedience to them, we figure we’re OK with the rest.  That’s legalism.

To illustrate what I mean let me use marriage.  We look at commands about what is right and wrong in terms of marital faithfulness, and we figure that if we are not breaking any of the rules, it’s OK.  “I haven’t had an affair,” says one partner, “So I’m a faithful spouse.”  Well, two cheers for you!  Do you think that means you’ll have a good marriage?

One of the things I know Jody likes is for me to bring her flowers.  Now there are a number of particulars that I’ve learned that makes this meaningful to both of us.  I don’t bring her the same kind of flowers each time.  These flowers are not for special occasions–other things happen then, though I might add flowers.  What I do is at uncertain intervals, not because I think she’s feeling particularly down, or because I need to apologize, but simply “because” I check for some unusual flower arrangements.  They don’t have to be expensive, just not usual.  A dozen red roses is not a good choice on a regular basis.  Of course, if I haven’t brought her any roses for some time, then they become unusual.  Those of you in love with your spouses will get the drift!

Now nowhere in my wedding vows does it say that I need to bring Jody flowers, nor when, nor what type, nor how I’m supposed to sneak them into the house so she suddenly sees them.  I could say, “That’s not a rule, so I’m not going to keep it.”  You go ahead and calculate what that might do to our marriage.

While my marriage vow contains some specific commands, such as “forsaking all others,” it also contains some ideals, such as “love and cherish.”  In pursuit of those ideals, I may find myself far outside the list of rules and regulations.

The Bible is much like those marriage vows.  It contains some laws, yes, though its actual laws are often narrow commands for specific times.  You have to think more deeply, and apply the principles behind those laws.  If that’s too hard, you’ll often find the principles expressed in the stories of people’s lives that are told in the Bible.

And getting back to the apostles, you don’t find Jesus, Peter, or Paul giving the minimum or just following the rules.  They’re going all out.  They’re heading for that ideal.  You know what?  The story tells us that when they went all out for God, God went all out with them.

If I were to look for a New Testament command indicating what the ideal was for Christian giving, I would look first at this verse above–Acts 4:32-35.  These believers didn’t ask whether 10% was required or if perhaps 5% or 8% would be OK.  They didn’t ask if the New Testament requirement might be a little more relaxed than the Old.  They went all out, and gave everything.

Now somebody’s certain to point out that Paul talks about giving freely:

Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. — 2 Corinthians 9:7 (WEB)

But you see, what these early believers freely gave was everything.  They were completely committed to the new kingdom.  They held nothing back.

You may point out Ananias and Sapphira to me.  But read Acts 5 again.  Their sin was not failing to give.  It was deception.  The compulsion was not that they had to give, but that they had to be truthful.  Peter actually points out (Acts 5:4) that the gift was their choice.

Now consider reading Acts 1-11 or so, and then read 1 & 2 Corinthians.  Which church do you think was doing the most ministry?  Which church do you think was best representing God’s power in the world?

The right question to ask about tithing is not “What am I required to do?”  Ask instead, “How committed to the kingdom am I?”  I strongly doubt that Acts 4 power will happen without Acts 4 commitment.

At the beginning I asked whether we were willing to live and work like the apostles.  But finally ask yourself this:  Are you willing to die like the apostles?  That’s for another day!

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