About three months ago now (time does fly!), the Supreme Court issued a decision that left many Christians mourning and feeling like the wind had just been knocked out of them. So I thought now might be a good time to remind my brothers and sisters that no matter what laws the government may pass, our great privilege remains the same and will never change.
Our privilege—our great privilege—is to continue enjoying the fellowship we have with each other and with God through Christ Jesus our Lord. Personally, I think one of the most beautiful descriptions the Bible offers on this unity is found in Psalm 133:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
This Psalm was composed by David; considering what I remember of his life as recorded in the Bible, I’m not certain he ever actually got to experience this level of unity. What I do know, however, is that he believed God. Furthermore, since all kings were commanded to write the law for themselves (Deuteronomy 17:18-19), I know he would have written and thereby remembered Deuteronomy 28—God’s huge list of blessings he would give his people if they would love him and keep all his commands. Even if he never experienced this level of unity or the blessing it would bring, he certainly understood enough to pen some beautiful language. Comparing it to the precious oil running down Aaron’s beard declares this level of unity can only come from God because he was the one who gave Israel the Torah and provided them the means to maintain peace with each other and between themselves and him. Calling it “like the dew of Hermon” was stating that it would lead to God’s blessing: peace and abundance, for dew in Israel plays a huge role in watering the crops.
Sadly, we all know from Israel’s history that they rarely, if ever, knew this level of unity or blessing. Thankfully, this did not catch God unaware; rather, it led to his promise of the New Covenant. The results of the New Covenant can be found beautifully described in Acts 2 and Acts 4:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awee came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
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.
When I read these passages, I see both the American church’s potential and the obstacle to our obtaining that potential.
Our potential is once again seeing God move in absolutely incredible ways in our midst. Imagine what it would be like to have incredible awe fall upon us as it did upon them. Imagine what it would be like to see the Spirit move among us in miraculous ways just as he did among them. And imagine finally what it would be like to see people saved daily rather than sporadically.
But, as I said, I also believe these passages expose our greatest obstacle to actually seeing God move like this again: our possessions. When I as studying these passages for this particular blog post, I couldn’t help noticing both passages record the believers’ incredible generosity. Acts 4:32, for instance, tells us none of the early believers considered their possessions to actually be their possessions; instead, they had everything in common. Acts 2:45 and Acts 4:34 both tell us those with lands and houses were selling them and bringing the money to the apostles so that it could then be distributed to the needy.
I’ll be honest: I think this level of generosity is one the American Church has largely forgotten. Most American Christians, myself included, could easily go to the bank and get some cash from an ATM or write a check to someone in need. But what if we were challenged to do for the needy today what the early church did for them joyfully then: what if we were challenged to sell one of our vehicles . . . or our flat screen TV . . . or give up cable TV, Internet, or our smartphones? Would we rise to the occasion?
I remember some years back, I bought the first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation off ebay for $20/season. Just a short while later, I was challenged by the Spirit to sell them on ebay and give the money to the church. It only took me 6 months to obey this command—6 months too long! I also remember many years before this incident a Sunday School session in which a needy family was brought up—again. They’d expressed several needs to the church by now, and some of the church wondered aloud whether they’d been to any government offices to get aid through there. That was the question asked. Not “What can we still sell that we haven’t yet sold.” I was much younger then, and too naïve to realize what was going on, but I was essentially witnessing the church say their money, possessions, and ultimately comfort were more valuable to them than Jesus’ kingdom. I suspect things haven’t changed much—especially as opportunities for material consumption have only increased since then. Shame on us as Christians if we allow the government to replace God’s glory with its own!
I fear this is an area where we’ve allowed the enemy to deceive us. Jesus himself taught that those who proved themselves faithful with a little would be entrusted with more (Matthew 25:23), so it’s very easy for us to tell ourselves that we have what we have because God has blessed us for our faithfulness. But we need to look at some other exhortations from Scripture to prevent ourselves from falling into the trap of believing God will never ask us to give up those little blessings for the sake of advancing his kingdom and enjoying more fully our ultimate blessing—Him. For instance, 1 Corinthians 4:2 tells us “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” 1 Timothy 6:17 – 19 says that we are to take the wealth we have and use it for good works, thereby keeping ourselves from putting our trust in the uncertainty of riches while also laying up riches for the future so that we are truly able to take hold of life. Finally, 2 Corinthians 8:3 tells us the churches of Macedonia gave to Paul beyond their means out of desire rather than obligation.
So what are we to do? I think we need to start asking God to help us truly love one another as Jesus first loved us—sacrificially. There’s a very popular song used on Sunday mornings with the lyrics, “We welcome you here Lord Jesus.” The question is . . . does Jesus truly feel welcome at our gatherings, or does he instead feel that we honor him with our lips while keeping our goods and hearts far from him?
I think this is something we really need to ponder.