Of Property and Charity

Of Property and Charity

Being immersed in our cultural heritage as we are, we often fail to appreciate just how many ideas which we take for granted are directly derived from biblical principles. Take for example, the idea of property rights: the idea that you have a right to own property and the right to use the property you own as you see fit. While many in our society simply take for granted that this is the way it should be, the concept is not one derived from nature nor universally agreed upon.

Property Rights? From where?

Property Rights? From where?

In the natural world, animals only control that which they are strong enough to possess. Might makes right, not ownership. In systems such as communism, you have no right to own anything individually, rather you only have that which others, typically the government, tells you that you are allowed to use. The very notion of private property is, for many, quite controversial and history is full of examples of cultures and peoples that don’t recognize the concept.

But the Bible speaks to property, and the doctrine of the Scriptures has helped inform and shape the manner in which our culture has come to understand it.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, the eighth commandment was, “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) The New Testament repeats this injunction against theft in several places, and Paul admonishes the Ephesian church, “Let him who stole, steal no longer, but rather work with his hands, that he might have something to give to him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28)

The carnal, animal behavior of taking whatever you are strong enough to take, is not a behavior God wants men to emulate. Such behavior is called theft, or stealing. The very concept of stealing as a sin denotes the counter concept that the thing being stolen rightfully belongs to another. Hence, the idea of private property.

The concept is further elaborated on in Acts 5, where Ananias and Saphira get in trouble for lying to God about money matters. Prior to Ananias being struck dead by God, Peter chastises him, saying concerning the land and money: “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?” (Acts 5:4a, NKJV) That is, Peter clearly lays down a principle that when a man has been given property by God, it belongs to them, and is under their control.

So, again, the whole concept of private property and property rights is one derived from Biblical concepts and Biblical passages. Which is an interesting sort of fact. However, the point we really want to make is this: with rights come responsibilities, and just as the rights are God given, so are the expectations of responsibility.

Notice again what Paul tells the Ephesian church: God wants men to do honest work for honest pay… so that they can then turn around and make the choice to help others with that which is under their control. God gives us property not merely for our own amusement and desires, but so as to allow us to learn the concept of generosity, another concept somewhat foreign to the carnal, animal nature of the world around us.

In the Old Testament, God heavily encouraged generosity, telling his people that they needed to be mindful of the poor, the foreigner, the widows, and the orphans (cf. Leviticus 19:10; Exodus 22:21-22). Likewise, in the New Testament, we are told that pure and undefiled religion before God must include caring for the widow and the fatherless. (James 1:27)

We read this reminder in the Bible: “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”  (1 Timothy 6:17-19; NKJV)

The early church was marked by their generous nature. As brothers and sisters had needs, others went and sold possessions and property to help those who were in need. (cf. Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37) Some have tried to equate this to communism, but it was no such thing. This was not a forced charity, rather it was something far more noble and selfless. It was the rational choice to take that which was in the complete control of the owner and use it entirely for the good of another without expectation of worldly compensation or reward. It was, in short, an act of love.

The Bible has quite a bit to say about generosity and charity. It is one of the traits that defines God, who sends gifts to all men (cf. Matthew 5:45) and it is a trait that God desires in His children. This is the real reason God gives us property. Not just so that we can take care of ourselves, but so that we can learn to give away that which we have for the good of others. Hopefully it’s a lesson we are all striving to learn to the fullest, knowing that by being ready to give, and willing to share, we are storing up for ourselves a greater treasure in heaven.

 

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Prophecies About the Holy Spirit

Prophecies About the Holy Spirit

Do you know how many Old Testament passages are quoted after the beginning of Acts 2 to explain the work of the Holy Spirit in the church?  One – Joel 2:28-32.

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Early Church is described by Joel 2.

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Early Church is described by Joel 2.

After Peter quotes Joel 2 in his sermon recorded in Acts 2, never again does a New Testament writer appeal to the Old Testament to explain the Holy Spirit’s work in the church.

In Joel 2 the outpouring of the Spirit is said to produce three works: 1) Prophecy; 2) Dreaming dreams; 3) Seeing visions.

These facts lead to three possible conclusions:

1 – The Work of the Holy Spirit After Acts 2 is Different than the Work Promised in Joel 2.

We know that cannot be entirely true, because all admit that the prophetic works of prophecy, dreams, and visions are present and discussed at length in the post-Acts 2 New Testament (1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4, etc.).

2 – The Work of the Holy Spirit is Additional to the Work Promised in Joel 2.

This would be the most common explanation in churches of Christ today.  There are some passages which are based on Joel 2 and there are other passages which describe the work of the Spirit beyond the prophetic actions of Joel 2 (Note: The older position of the “Measures of the Spirit” allowed for a spectrum of meanings within each text.  However, that position has largely fallen out of favor among younger preachers.).

The difficulty here is that six times the Spirit’s work is referred to as a “promised” work. Yet, other than Joel 2 (which is exclusively prophetic), no “promise” is ever provided to describe the Spirit’s ongoing work in the church.

3 – The Work of the Holy Spirit is the Fulfillment of Joel 2.

While not popular, this is the position that I believe to be the correct one. The simple reason that after Acts 2 the New Testament provides no other basis for the work of the Holy Spirit is that once Peter quoted that watershed promise, no other explanation was needed.  The promised outpouring of prophecy, dreams, and visions in Joel 2 was enough to encompass all the work the Spirit would provide the church.

If you will take the time, with an open-mind, to re-examine New Testament texts with the understanding that Joel 2 provides the foundation for each one, you will find a simple, explainable, concrete, consistent, and comforting work for the Spirit in the church.

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The Preacher? What About You?

The Preacher? What About You?

“We’re not growing as a church like we should!”

“It seems like we’re LOSING members instead of GAINING members!”

“Remember the good old days back in the 50’s/60’s/70’s/80’s when we were averaging 300-500 on Sundays?  Man, I wish we could be like that now…”

Have you been a part of this conversation in the church lobby or fellowship hall lately?  Have you heard talk like this from the pulpit lately?  Sat in on elders and deacons meetings in which these points were raised with concern?

It's time everyone remembered what God expects from his Children.

It’s time everyone remembered what God expects from his Children.

Has talk like this prompted you to look at the man in the pulpit and think, “It’s time to get a new preacher”?  I mean, if there’s a lack of growth in numbers in the church it’s obviously HIS fault alone, right?  After all, HE’S the evangelist of our congregation, right?  That’s what we PAY him to do!

Want to know what God thinks?

Here’s the Scripture of the Day:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?

And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?

And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Romans 10:13-14

Here’s the mistake we make.  We read passages like that, and automatically think of the man in the pulpit and the man in the pulpit alone.  After all, HE’S “the preacher,” not me.

But consider this…

…And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles…Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.

Acts 8:1, 4

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.

1 Thessalonians 1:8

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…

Matthew 28:19-20

…Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

Mark 16:15

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

In the Acts passage, who was going about preaching the Word?  The disciples who were scattered, which would be the entire Jerusalem church…except for the apostles (who, incidentally, probably would have filled the “pulpit preacher” positions there.)  NOTE:  THE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH WERE PREACHING, NOT JUST THOSE IN CHURCH OFFICE POSITIONS.

In the Thessalonians passage, who is Paul talking to?  Contextually, the entire church at Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1).  What was he commending them for?  Only the fact that God’s Word had sounded forth from them everywhere, so that he and his fellow missionaries didn’t need to do a thing in that region.  Do you think that would have happened if the only evangelizing was done by one or two men in that church?

In the Matthew and Mark passages, Jesus is giving that command to evangelize the entire world to his apostles, true…but notice Matthew 28:20, where he tells them to teach those whom they converted “to observe all that I have commanded you.”  Would that include the command he had just given them, the one about making disciples of all nations and proclaiming the gospel to all creation?  Hmm…

Look again at the 1 Peter passage.  He’s talking to all Christians in general (“To those who are elect” – 1:1).  He calls Christians God’s chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, and his own people…for what reason?  Why did God make us Christians?  “…that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  God made the man in your pulpit a Christian to proclaim his excellencies to others, yes…but that’s why he made you a Christian too.

Are you living up to your responsibility?  When was the last time you talked about the gospel of Christ with your next-door neighbor, your co-worker, your friend who’s an atheist or agnostic or Muslim?  When was the last time you invited someone to come to church with you?  When was the last time you initiated a discussion about the Bible with someone other than your preacher or a fellow Christian?

Church of Christ, go back and see what our brethren were doing in the “glory days” of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.  They were a lot more evangelistic than we are now.  And that’s why they were growing…because personal evangelism was and is a God-given responsibility that was accepted by each of them, from elders all the way down to new converts…not just something they “passed the buck” on to the man in the pulpit.

Any pulpit preacher worth his hire will be very evangelistic.  However, he’s just one man.  In all probability, he’s new to the area if you compare the amount of time he’s lived there to how long you’ve lived there.  For that reason you probably know more non-Christians in the community than he does, and know them better than he does too.  At the very least, you could be inviting them to come to worship with you and listen to his sermons.  You could introduce them to him, or he to them.  You could encourage both your preacher and your non-Christian friend to have Bible studies together.  Are you doing that?

And if you are a Christian like God wants you to be, you study God’s Word everyday (Ps. 1:1-3) and take advantage of every opportunity to come to church and listen attentively to the messages from God’s Word your preacher preaches (Heb. 10:24-25; Acts 17:11).  That means you are growing in your knowledge like God wants you to do (2 Pet. 1:5-8; 3:18).  That means that you yourself are equipped, perhaps more equipped than you realize, to initiate Bible studies and discussions about salvation with the non-Christians in your life.  Are you doing that?

You know what God tells pulpit preachers to do?  Not only preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:2), but also set the proper example to all other Christians…you (1 Tim. 4:12).  Here’s the thing, though.  Examples are useless if they are not followed.  Think about that.

Read that Romans passage above one more time…

Did you read it?  Okay.  Let me ask you this.

Do you want every person you know to be saved?

Because if they are going to be saved, someone is going to have to preach the gospel to them.  Someone is going to have to at the very least bring a knowledgeable, godly preacher into contact with them.

So, do you want them to be saved?  Do you?

Do you want your church to grow?  Do you?

Really…?

Okay, then…

What are YOU doing about it?

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