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Our gracious heavenly Father, we ask now for Your blessing as we come to Your Word, that I might decrease and Christ would increase, that You would give us ears to hear that we might listen attentively and learn, and that by Your grace we would be changed and transformed as Your disciples. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Our text this morning is Acts chapter 4, verses 32 through 37. We are taking these several months to hit some of the highlights in the book of Acts, and we come this morning to the end of chapter 4, beginning at verse 32.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
I have been here two and a quarter years and I don’t think I have properly preached a sermon on giving. Until now. When I was, oh, a young man lo these many years ago, and had my first real job out of seminary, where I had a paycheck and I think I was making $40,000 which seemed to be just as rich as kings, and we had a small, little house. It was just the two of us and it was plenty. But for the very first time, really had to think about how do we approach money. Now my parents, having grown up in the church with good Christian parents, were very adamant from a young age that we had to tithe, so back then when we got $2 for mowing the lawn, you better put 20¢ in, or when we would baby-sit and we would get paid $2 an hour, I can promise if I paid you $2 an hour to baby-sit for us you would be calling the authorities [laughter]. That’s what we got, $2. And you might make a grand total of $10 for some very long evening. You would put $1. My parents instructed us well in tithing.
But then when I had a read job, so called, and I was preaching from time to time, I really had to think through, well, what, what does this look, because when you are very poor, that is to say when you’re a college student and then a seminary student and you really have nothing, it’s easy to be quite dramatic about your stance toward money and possessions.
I forget which author said for years he thought he was very generous, and it turned out he had just been very poor. [laughter]
But what do I really think about this?
And then, when I had two years later a senior pastor job and was making even a little bit more money than that and had a house that was almost 2000 square feet and we felt with just one kid almost felt guilty for it. I took for those first two or three years in ministry, there was probably nothing that I read about or studied more and just had books and books and books, on how to think about wealth and possessions. Because I wanted to be obedient. I often felt guilty. When I look back now and think I had much less then than I have now, and I wanted to be faithful, and I wanted to be generous, and I wanted to instruct people well, and also did not want to lay down a burden that was not really there, so it was a mess of ideas.
And you can read books, Christian books, that will make you feel quite content to have whatever you have, maybe even feel particularly blessed. Lots of books, not necessarily in our tradition, that would tell you that you’re rich precisely because God is blessing you and if you just gave a little more to the church, you would become even more rich. And then there are books that will make you feel quite awful for having a TV or two or three or a car, let alone a cottage or anything else, and every kind of book in between.
When I was reading all those books, I came across this quotation which I’ve used many times. It’s attributed to G. K. Chesterton, though when I looked back this week I couldn’t find where he actually said it, so somebody said this, whether it was him or not. It sounds like Chesterton: “It may be possible to have a good debate over whether or not Jesus believed in fairies. It is a tantalizing question. Alas, it is impossible to have any sort of debate over whether or not Jesus believed that rich people were in big trouble. There is too much evidence on the subject and it is overwhelming.
So whether that’s Chesterton or someone else, is it true that Jesus believed that rich people are in big trouble?
Well, you certainly could make the case for that. But, you could also make the case that the Bible believes that rich people also have big opportunities. The New Testament does have, as we’ll see, many hard things to say for the rich. But, it is not necessarily anti-rich. What it is is emphatically anti status quo when it comes to the way we view money and possessions.
Anyone who has studied the Gospels knows that Luke’s Gospel uses the harshest language toward the rich, and it also includes the most about our obligation to the poor. For example, in Luke’s version of the beatitudes, Jesus not only pronounces a blessing on the poor, He pronounces curses on the rich. “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry,” Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel.
Of the four Gospel writers, Luke has the most to say about wealth and poverty. He chooses his material. He’s not making up stories, but he takes all of these stories and traditions and organizes them in such a way that his audience would understand that how you handle your money is central to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It’s an obvious emphasis. And with that emphasis in Luke, it’s easy to make Luke and the Jesus that Luke writes about, into an anti-affluent crusader. “Woe to the rich,” Jesus says, and we want to take that at face value.
Many Christians will therefore immediately conclude that Luke is the place to go when they want to make “prophetic pronouncements” against, say, materialism, or income disparity, or the wealth of the Western world, or inequality. And those prophetic words are sometimes necessary. They do not, however, do complete justice to Luke’s aims and appeals.
We make a profound mistake if we think of Luke as an evangelist against the rich, when he is an evangelist to the rich. This is actually something that I’ve been thinking about for seven years and never got around to really fleshing it out until this week, so you’re getting it fresh, or half-baked, you can decide afterward. But I’ve had on my list—I keep a little list of things I want to write a blog on, I want to think… And at the top of there has been Luke, the evangelist of the rich. And I had a file and I, and I, surprising I could go back and find it and it was from 2012 and it was the beginning of a sermon or a talk or an article that I never finished, but had begun to outline, Luke, the evangelist of the rich.
Well, what do I mean by that? Well, we must keep in mind two things: First, Luke was almost certainly in both Luke and Acts, and I promise we’ll come to Acts 4, eventually, Luke was almost certainly writing to the rich. So who is Luke addressed to? You see it in Luke 1, verse 3, and then you see it in Acts 1:1: “O, Theophilus.”
Well, we don’t know all that much about Theophilus, but we can piece a few things together. Luke gives Theophilus the title “most excellent Theophilus.” It’s not sort of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure most excellent, this is rather the same honorific given to the Roman magistrate Felix, Acts 23:26, and Festus, Acts 26:25. So those high ranking Roman officials are called “Excellency” or “Most Excellent,” and so Theophilus is given the same title. Most scholars, therefore, conclude that Theophilus was some kind of Roman official, some person of high social standing, who was likely recently converted, almost converted, and in need of firm grounding in the faith.
So these two books, yes, Luke would have understood they would be read by a wide audience, but he was first of all writing them to this man, Theophilus, who almost certainly was, in the context of the day, rich.
Here’s the second thing to keep in mind… Did we not pay our light bills? [laughter] Speaking of rich. We’ll figure it out.
Second, Luke was most likely well-off himself. This occasional traveler with Paul was known as “the beloved physician,” Colossians 4:14, not a meager profession now nor was it in the ancient world. Moreover, Luke shows evidence in his writings of being a well-educated, well-traveled, well-connected, a cosmopolitan Gentile convert, and most likely a person of some means who is able to perhaps on his own dime support and travel with Paul.
So, Luke was not a poor man writing to poor people, so together they can denounce the rich. It’s much closer to the truth to say Luke was a rich man writing to another rich man and people like him in order to show how rich people can truly follow Jesus.
Now this thesis may sound strange, even jarring, but when we look closer at the Gospel of Luke and at Acts, remember he wrote both, we see several instances, unique to Luke, of rich people doing one of two things: Either using their money well to the glory of God, or proving to use it poorly. We have in Luke and Acts a surprising number of warnings and rebukes to the rich and a surprising number of examples of wealthy people who demonstrate what it really looks like to be a genuine follower of Christ.
So I want you to have your Bibles open. If you don’t have a Bible, grab the pew Bible in front of you. Some of you have it on your device – it might be easier to actually have it, we’re going to do an old-fashioned Bible study here, I promise we’ll get to Acts chapter 4, but I want you to be able to follow along, maybe take some notes, as we try to explain the rich and the poor in Luke and in Acts, because what you’re going to see is that more than any other biblical writer, Luke wants you to see both of these things: The rich getting it dead wrong, and the rich getting it right, which is why I say Luke is an evangelist to the rich. He’s showing to Theophilus: “Okay, don’t be like these rich people, but here’s some rich people who got it right.”
So let’s start in Luke, Luke chapter 1. We read in Mary’s famous Magnificat about the great reversal that is coming when the poor will be exalted, the rich will be cast down. Look at Luke 1:53: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” Or just above in verse 52: “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones; He has exalted those of humble estate.” Mary sings of this great reversal. Jesus will say that later in the beatitudes: Blessed are you if you’re poor because you’re gonna be rich later; woe to the rich who have it satisfied now because they will have it taken away later. So there’s a warning here. It’s a message to those who are on the top now, and it’s a word of encouragement to those who feel themselves on the bottom.
Now, we’ll see in just a moment what exactly Luke may mean by “rich” and “poor.”
Turn to chapter 3. John the Baptist explains that repentance is directly tied to what you do with your money. Verse 10: “And the crowds asked Him, ‘What then shall we do?’ and He answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, whoever has food is to do likewise.’ Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to Him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And He said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’ Soldiers also asked Him, ‘And what shall we do?’ And He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.'”
Now, remember these were some of the most despicable jobs as the Jews considered them. Tax collectors and Roman soldiers. And notice, Jesus did not say, “Well, if you’re truly repentant, you’re going to quit being a tax collector, because godly people don’t deal with money. Godly people don’t work in the financial industry.” God’s going to destroy Charlotte, in other words. That’s not what He says. Nor does He say, “You’re a Roman soldier? No, godly people can’t be soldiers. Godly people can’t use weapons. Godly people can’t use force to defend themselves or their country. No, He says you can be soldier, but here’s how you do it. And in each instance, it has everything to do with how you handle your money. To truly repent and be My follower means you have a new attitude toward money.
Now turn to chapter 4. We see Jesus preaching in His hometown of Nazareth. He reads from Isaiah 61, if you turn the page, and He claims to be the spirit-anointed prophet sent to preach good news to the poor. You see that in verse 18, to preach good news to the poor.
So who are the poor? Well, what follows is really important because Jesus shows us that the poor is more than an economic term for Jesus. Now, it’s not completely devoid of that. There’s a reason He refers to the poor rather than the rich because it generally is the poor who recognize their need and approach God with prayers and petitions, where the rich more likely to be satisfied and feel secure.
But it’s not first of all for Jesus an economic term. How do we know that? Are you just saying that, Kevin, because you have a nice house and a middle class life and you want the Scriptures to say what you want it to say? No, I’m looking at Jesus’ own examples.
So, later in chapter 4, He gives two examples of those to whom the good news was preached. One example, verses 25 and 26, is the widow of Zarephath. She was helped, she was the poor to whom good news came. She was materially poor, economically destitute. But then look in verse 27, the second example He gives, is the leper who was healed in Elisha’s day, Naaman, the Syrian general. He would have been materially rich. He was a general in the army for the leading super power of the day. so we have two examples of the “poor.” One was materially poor, one would have been materially rich, but Jesus can refer to both of them as the poor to whom good news had been preached because they both demonstrate humility. The widow who knows that she needs help from the prophet if she’s going to live, and Naaman who finally humbles himself, he seeks out Elisha’s help, and he dips himself the meager little Jordan River, even though they got more impressive rivers back in Syria, he says okay, I’ll do it seven times. They are examples of the humble poor. What Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, the poor in spirit.
In chapter 5, verse 27, Jesus calls a tax collector named Levi to follow Him, and when Levi followed Him, he leaves everything behind, and then in verse 29 he throws a big party. So he is a man of some means, to throw a great feast in his house, and he brings in a lot of riff-raff, tax collectors and others reclining at table. Of course, the Pharisees are upset with Jesus and Jesus says “look, it’s the sinners that need a savior.”
Go over to chapter 8, verses 2 and 3. We see a number of rich women serving as patrons for Jesus’ ministry. Verse 2: “and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, call Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manger, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”
I don’t know how these women had money, inheritance, a deceased husband, just a wealthy household… But they are wealthy women and they are supporting Jesus out of their means.
Of course, you turn the page to chapter 10, we have the good Samaritan who crosses the road to help a man in need. We have chapter 12, we meet the rich fool who lives only for himself. So here’s, this is unique to Luke’s Gospel, I think in part because Luke wants Theophilus to see the example do not be like this guy. The parable of the rich fool, verse 15 of chapter 12: “He said to them take care and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” and He tells a parable about this rich man who thinks that he has everything and he says the purpose of life is to eat, drink, and be merry, life is about bonuses and vacations and second homes and European trips and football and tailgating… That’s what life is about.
Jesus says, in the parable verse 20, “But God said to him, ‘Fool, this night your soul is required of you and the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” You think that you are so self-secured, you’re gonna die. Maybe tonight, rich fool. And then who gets it all?
I’ve said before the lien that you’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul, and a friend sent me a picture of that actually had a hearse with a U-Haul behind it, it said “a million sermon illustrations ruined.” It’s true. But that was a mistake, whoever was pulling that U-Haul behind the hearse. You cannot take it with you, that’s why Jesus calls him a rich fool.
But, turn to chapter 14. Jesus then uses the description of wealth and prosperity as an image of the good life that is to come, so in chapter 14 the kingdom is compared to a wedding feast, or a parable of a great banquet, but then in chapter 15 we see the prodigal son who wastes his inheritance on wild living only to come to his senses when he is poor and destitute and humbled.
In chapter 16, we have an example of a rich man who uses his wealth wisely, and example of a rich man who uses his wealth poorly. First, we have the parable of the dishonest manager. And we get hung up on that—why is Jesus using this bad example for a good example, but just set that aside. The point that Jesus is trying to make is clear enough: If worldly people are smart with their money to try to line their own pockets, shouldn’t you heavenly people be smart with your money so that you can line heavenly pockets?
Look at verse 8: “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
There when He says “unrighteous wealth,” or mammon, He’s not so much thinking of wealth that you’ve stolen from others or gotten unrighteously, but He’s comparing it to heavenly reward. He’s saying you should use earthly riches to accomplish heavenly good. Use your unrighteous wealth, that is your earthly stuff, to provide for eternal dwellings. In other words, there should be some people in heaven who got there because of you being smart with your money. Being smart with your money to make money and to pour your money in to heavenly cause, the church or school or mission organizations or missionaries, so that you shrewdly use your wealth so that people hear the Gospel and are in heaven because you used Uncle Sam’s money that he gave to you in retirement. Or you used the money you got from Wells Fargo or Bank of America, you used it wisely and therefore people are in heaven. That’s the good example.
Then, turn the page, the bad example, the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man lives in self-satisfied luxury, ignoring the needs right in front of him, and he ends up tormented in the flames of judgment because he was self-secure, he was self-satisfied, cared nothing for the needs of the poor.
Now the book ends with another positive example in chapter 23. We mentioned it in one of our songs. He was buried in Joseph’s tomb, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council, we’re told a good and righteous man. In chapter 23, verse 50: “He had not consented to their decision and action to kill Jesus; he was looking for the kingdom and he went to Pilate and he asked for the body of Jesus.” And this was to fulfill, remember the prophecy in Isaiah 53, “The suffering servant would be buried with a rich man in his death.”
So do you see what Luke is doing in his Gospel? From the first to the last. And this is just a brief overview of the items that are unique to Luke’s Gospel about wealth and poverty. Yes, in Luke you find some of the harshest language toward the rich. But you also find in Luke some of the brightest examples, whether it’s the women who are supporting Jesus or it’s the shrewd manager or it’s Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy man who stood up for what was right and went to bury Jesus in his death.
Turn over now to Acts. Just like in Luke, in Acts we see both kinds of examples. We see the worst that rich people can be, and we see how rich people can inherit the kingdom and live out the reality of the kingdom. So we’ve already seen in chapter 2 and then in our text this morning chapter 4, the believers in the early Church had everything in common. So you see that in verse 32 of chapter 4, the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul and no one said that any of the things belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
Now at first glance, and people will say this rather sloppily, “well, the early Church practiced communism.” Some have tried to use the text in that way. They even think it reminiscent of the Marxist slogan: “From each according to his ability to each according to his need.” And if you just quickly glance through it can look like that’s what’s happening. In fact, later in Acts 11 we read “so the disciples determined everyone according to his ability to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.” So it almost sounds like the Marxists got this slogan from the book of Acts.
But there are two realities that make this sharing in the early church very different from communism.
First, they did not abolish private property. You notice that language in verse 32: No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own. So they did belong to them, we’re not talking about divesting themselves so that now there’s communal ownership, but rather such a spirit of generosity that though it belonged to them, they were willing to share it with others.
We see also, in verse 37, and we’ll come back to Barnabas in a moment: “He sold a field that belonged to him.” It was his private property. He owned it. Even more clearly, in chapter 5, verse 4, Ananias and Sapphira, who lie about what they give. Verse 4 says “while it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” So there’s no hint there that this is socialism or communism, that the State controls the means of production or that the State owns it. No, clearly, they owned their land, they were free to do with it what they want, and even when they sold it, they did not have to give all of the proceeds to the Church.
So, we do not have here any sort of communism. It is rather a spirit of generosity.
Second, we see that the selling and the distribution of their possessions was not by force or coercion, it was free and voluntary. So the Church did not force them to do this, the State did not force them to do this. They, prompted by the Spirit, Barnabas was, wanted to divest himself of a piece of property that he could give and support the needs of the Church.
So that phrase, “everything in common,” was not a technical phrase that they all had common ownership, but rather was describing the radical generosity that existed in the early Church. This was to fulfill the ideal of the Promised Land.
See, there’s all sorts of theology that we don’t have time to get into that the ideal of the Promised Land, which was a kind of version of the Garden of Eden, which is a kind of foretaste of the heaven to come, was meant to be realized in the Church. Not a utopian vision of the State or of society, those with utopian visions of society end up usually doing the most harm to society, but rather something of a utopian vision of the Church. That is, the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 15:4 – this is about the Promised Land: “There will be no poor among you, for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess.”
So this idealized Promised Land, and the kingdom that is to come, one sign of that kingdom breaking in is that within the body of Christ everyone’s needs are taken care of. Radical generosity is a little bit of heaven on earth, a sign that God’s heavenly rule has broken in here on earth and it manifests itself in the Church.
Now real quickly, chapter 8. Just turn a few pages. We see Simon, who’s trying to buy the power of the Spirit with money, in verses 14 through 24, and Peter says “may your silver perish with you.” You can’t buy the gifts of God’s grace.
If you know Church history, you know that during the Middle Ages and up to the time of the Reformation, there was something called Simony, which comes from the name of this man Simon. Simony was the purchasing of church offices, that if I give you enough money, I can purchase a bishopric, or if I give you enough money I can have some lower level office in the church, and the Reformers rejected that and denounced that as an abuse, that no one should be able to buy their way into church office. It was called Simony.
Chapter 9, Dorcas is said to be full of good works, and acts of charity.
Chapter 16, Lydia. She was likely a wealthy woman. Look in verses 11 through 15. What was her trade? It says that she was a seller of purple clothing. That may not mean much to you, but purple was the color of royalty. It required expensive ointments and dyeing from exquisite and rare plants, and so to be a seller of purple good was high-end retail clothing at the time.
I would filter through and give you an example of what that is, but I’m not sure what it is today, but it’s something, it’s, it’s very nice clothing.
So she is dealing in high-end clothing, and she has a house, which is no small thing in that day, to which she can host Paul and his companions. So Lydia is likely well-off.
The next story is of a rich person who doesn’t understand the grace of God’s kingdom. Because the next rich person we see is the owner, or the owners of the slave girl who is there to make money for her owners by fortune telling. You see that in verses 16 and following. And Paul then delivers her from that spirit that had inhabited her and then the owners get upset because their gravy train’s about to fall off the tracks. “Hey, that, that demon that she had was what enabled her to tell people’s fortunes and enabled us to get rich.”
So then, verse 19, “her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas, dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.” So they used their connections, they bring them before the rulers, they beat them up, the rulers order them to be stripped and to be beaten with rods.
Chapter 17. We are told, in verses 4, and verse 12, many leading women of the city believed. These would have been elite women, wealthy women of the city.
In chapter 19 we see that many people were converted in Ephesus and they began divulging their pagan practices, and so they ended up burning their magic books, and it says the value came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.
Look at chapter 19, verse 19: “And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together, burned them in the sight of all. They counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand piece of silver.”
So they renounced their former vocation, a lucrative practice it seems, and they come to Christ.
Well, then, right after that, verse 21 and following, we have the negative example with a riot in Ephesus. Remember, there’s a silversmith named Demetrius, and we read that he has quite a good business because he makes gods and goddesses. It’s a town that is built on the idolatry of Artemis of the Ephesians. And he makes little trinkets at the store and he, you know, makes the little gold medallions and makes the little statues that you can put in your home. So here comes this guy, he is going to really cut down on their business. Someone coming in and preaching against abortion and the Planned Parenthood is going to go out of business, and they get upset. And they get upset with Paul, and they cause a riot. He is ruining our livelihood because he’s preaching against these idols and that’s how we make our money.
So we have a positive and a negative example. In fact, just step back for both of these books, have you noticed that we have a number of these pairs next to each other: Rich person getting it right, rich person getting it wrong; someone whose attitude toward money is transformed and it shows in their life, and someone who holds up their wealth as an idol.
Luke 16: Shrewd manager, good example; Lazarus and the rich man, bad example.
Or what we just saw in Acts 16: Lydia, rich person who gets it; the rich owners of the slave girl, rich people who don’t get it.
Acts 19. We have those who go and quit their magic arts and burn their books at the cost of fifty thousand pieces of silver, rich people who get it; then you have Demetrius and the riot in Ephesus, rich people who don’t get it.
So these pairs. I think very deliberately Luke is trying to put them together to say which one are you going to be.
And I’ve skipped over, you’re very smart people so you’re saying “Pastor, you’ve skipped over the two most obvious pairs.” Well, if you’re saying that, you’re right. The two most obvious pairs together. Go… One in Luke, one in Acts. So, promise, we’re almost done.
Go to Luke chapter 18. Just, just to whet your appetite, I skipped over the two most famous good guy rich/bad guy rich pair. Here’s the one in Luke. It begins at verse 18, the rich ruler. Of course, he comes to Jesus, “I’ve kept the commandments since I was young.” Jesus quotes to him the second table of the law, but conveniently Jesus leaves out one of the commandments from the second table of the law, “do not covet.” So the rich man says “oh, yeah, I don’t murder, I don’t steal, I don’t commit adultery, check, check, check, check.. I am livin’ it. I’m obedient. Sign me up for the kingdom.”
But Jesus says “there’s one commandment I haven’t mentioned, and I’m not going to mention it outright, but I’m gonna get right to your heart and say if you want to be in the kingdom, you lack one thing. You have to sell all that you have and give it to the poor.” Verse 22.
And then verse 23, “When he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.” He thought “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that. I’m not gonna get rid of my stuff. I’m rich.”
And then, this is a deliberate set up for chapter 19, “‘How difficult it is for those of who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ And those who heard it said, ‘Who can be saved?'”
Understand, they’re thinking if anyone’s saved, it’s rich people. Because the best people in the Old Testament tended to be rich people. Abraham, he was rich. Job, he was rich. David, Solomon, they were rich. They thought riches was a sign of blessing. If rich people can’t be saved, who can be saved?
And Jesus flips it and He says “no, no, no… There’s a big danger if you’re rich.”
Well, here’s the answer, though. Verse 27: “‘What is impossible with man is possible with God.'” So Luke, as he writes the story, is leaving it hanging out there, okay, now this rich man wasn’t saved, but with God it is possible for rich people to be saved. The camel can get through the eye of a needle.
Which brings us to chapter 19, which is where we have the story of who? Zacchaeus. You know him as a wee little man and a wee little man was he, but he was a rich man. He was a tax collector. Very deliberately after chapter 18 with what story, the rich ruler, he doesn’t get it, we have Zacchaeus, he does get it.
Verse 8: “Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it four-fold.'” Because that’s what the Old Testament law called for, that if you defrauded someone, you restored it four-fold.
Now, notice He told the rich young ruler give it all away, because Jesus was trying to get at his heart. Zacchaeus does not give it all away, he says I’ll do half and I’ll restore four-fold if I cheated anyone, and what does Jesus say to him? “Today salvation has come to this house.”
Zacchaeus, you didn’t pray the sinner’s prayer. You didn’t ask Jesus into his heart. Well, Jesus is here, Zacchaeus is here, it’s hard to think how He’s getting into his heart. No, but he demonstrated a transformed attitude toward his money, and in that moment Jesus said “you’re saved. If that’s how you have changed with your money, the rich young ruler didn’t get it. You got it.”
And then, here we’ll land, on our text, the other pair, very deliberately, is Acts 4 and Acts 5. You have Barnabas, at the end of chapter 4, a native of Cyprus, a Levite. He was likely part of the upper class. He was a landowner. Scholars estimate that only the upper 5 to 7% in Judea owned any land, so right there he is rich. He’s a rich member of the elites and he models here Christian generosity. We don’t know if he had one field or ten fields, but he sells a field. He brings the money to the apostles for them to distribute. Interesting that Luke doesn’t mind telling us in this instance who gave the gift. Maybe it was already obvious everyone knew the story, but sometimes it is appropriate. Not to give to be known, but sometimes you point out, just like you might share a testimony of evangelism, a testimony of prayer, we need to do a better job of sharing testimonies of giving. Not to elevate rich people – Jesus elevate the widow who gave her last two mites. But here it’s Barnabas. Here’s an example, Luke is saying, here’s an example of someone whose attitude towards money has been transformed. You know Barnabas. He’s in the top 5%, and he gave generously. Good example.
Chapter 5 – bad example. Ananias and Sapphira do the very same thing. They’re, they’re probably thinking “Barnabas, man, he’s got a lot of good press out of that. This was good for his business. This helped his LinkedIn page. This is really helpful. Maybe we can do this. We can divest ourselves of something.” And so they sold a property, but they kept back some for themselves. Now, it’s very clear in verse 4, there was nothing wrong that they kept back some for themselves. They could have sold the property for $100,000 and given $50 or given $10 or $80… It was up to them.
But they lied about it. They wanted to look more impressive. “So, we, we’re just like Barnabas. We sold our property. All of it we’ve given to you to distribute to the poor. No, no, no… It’s the least we could do.” When they’ve pocketed some for themselves, and to show you how seriously God treats their lying and their greed, He kills them both.
So we have two rich people. Two pairs. Barnabas, and then Ananias and Sapphira. Again, to demonstrate to the Church and to us, Luke is an evangelist to.the.rich.
Okay. I promised we are almost done, and we are. Here’s what I need you to know: You’re rich. I’m rich. You are. Most of us, even by American standards, all of us by global standards, the median household income globally is less than $10,000. In the United States, the median household income $60,000. Mecklenburg County, $65,000. The top 10% in the United States have a median, or have a household income, top 10%, over $100,000. If your combined household income is or was before retirement, over $100,000, you are in the top 10%. If it’s over $166,000, you are of the top 5%. You may not feel rich, you may be able to drive to other parts of south Charlotte and see and say “well, no, those are the real rich people,” but objectively, objectively, we are some of the richest people in a rich city in the richest country in the richest century the world has ever known. Those are facts.
What will we do as rich people?
Number one – Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You cannot have two masters. You must serve one, not the other.
Number two – Repent. Repent and make amends. If you’ve cheated anyone, if you’ve gotten to where you are by stepping on people, you repent and you make amends with those that you’ve harmed.
Number three – Put Jesus before your profit. If it costs you all your magic books, put Jesus before your profit.
Number four – Be generous. Be generous toward the poor, be generous to support the work of the ministry, be generous to support the Church.
Number five – Don’t try to manipulate your way to God, lying, putting on a show, trying to seem more impressive than you are. Be shrewd, but don’t be power hungry.
Number six – If you have wealth, do not trust in it. No problem with banks, no problem with financial planning, plenty of proverbs about storing up. As long as you realize there is no security in earthly wealth. Do not expect it to last. The fool was the rich fool because he thought “I’m rich, I’m all set.” That is not where true security lies.
And number seven – Demonstrate humility. Humility toward the poor, humility before God. Maybe you worked hard, maybe you got a lucky break. However you have what you have, it is by the grace of God. To whom much is given, much is required. It is grace that has given us what we have, and it is grace that will work in your heart to be generous with all that you have.
Here’s the summary from 1 Timothy 6. I close with this: “As for the rich in this present age [people like you, people like me], charge them not to be haughty nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves is a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.”
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, you do not mean to make us miserable. You mean to make us happy, to give us life that is truly life and there are so many here who are generous, have been generous. We rejoice in a good year with our budget, in a great act of giving for Faith Promise. There are many generous people here. And there are likely some miserly ones, too, and we pray that you would be working in all of our hearts, that we would be rich in the things that truly matter, and we would be generous, we would be grace-filled people, eager to share, because You have shared Your very best with us in Your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.