TEXT: Acts 2:42-47; Matthew 25:37-40; Luke 22:14-18
How do you care for people in need? How do WE care for people in need?
That’s the question we are going to look at today, based on several scripture passages rooted in the teaching and actions of Jesus. This is part of our focusing on our core values of GROW, SERVE, STEWARD, and CARE. Today’s focus in on the CARE part, though it has overlap with how we STEWARD our time and resources as well.
Our starting place is Acts 2, a passage known for its description of the early church. It gives us a glimpse into the core values of those first Christians. They devoted themselves to teaching and fellowship, to breaking bread and prayer. They worshiped together and shared what they had generously. In the midst of that description we read our focal verse for today (v.45): “They began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
Now before you start squirming too much, I’m not going to ask you to sell your house. Nor do I think this is a mandate for a kind of Christian socialism. What it DOES clearly describe is a notable level of generosity motivated by care for those in need. What I want to talk about today is generous care and why and how that might be a significant value for us.
Healthy Spiritual Community (Acts 2:42-47)
Acts 2 is a standout chapter for a number of reasons. It describes the earliest Christian community, which we naturally would be interested in as descendants of that community. It forms out of Pentecost, out of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the lives and practices of the first followers of Christ. It describes a number of practices of the first Christians, which we at least need to understand if not emulate.
Having said that, we do need to be aware of cultural differences and distinctives. That first community was still trying to understand their relationship to Judaism, and you read of their daily visits to the Temple. They were still living in 1st century Roman-occupied Jerusalem. They were just beginning to understand what Jesus meant when he sent them to Jerusalem, Judea, and the ends of the earth in his last words to them in Acts 1. As relates to their sharing, we’d need to distinguish between faith-based sharing of resources and political movements.
And it wouldn’t be too long until even those early Christians started manifesting human problems, conflicts, and divisions. So just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean it is to be duplicated in every detail.
But, there are clear practices I’ve already named that paint a picture of a healthy spiritual community. As described starting in verse 42, they devoted themselves to teaching and fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer. Those are core practices that we still do today. They worshiped together. We still do that today. In vv. 46-47 there is a joy in gathering and the Lord was blessing and growing their community. We will focus a bit on that last part next week.
All that is to say that our focal point today – the caring and sharing in verse 45 – does not happen in a vacuum or as a standalone ministry. It happens in the context of that teaching, praying, worshiping, and joyful fellowship. In a word or three, I’d describe it as “healthy spiritual community.” That’s one reason we don’t just have one core value, but have four. That spiritual growth and maturity we read about last week involves the whole Body of Christ, each of us and the multiple ways a body develops and grows.
So as we talk more about generous care, if you find yourself wondering how to cultivate such generosity or compassion, recognize that it’s not just a switch you turn on, but part of the interconnected health that comes from regular worship, prayer, and gathering together, all in obedience to Christ.
To Jesus: the Least of These (Matthew 25:37-40)
Acts 2 only describes the caring ministry of the early church. I want to look at two places in scripture where this kind of value is taught. Both come from Jesus himself.
The first, in Matthew 25, is commonly known as the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Jesus is describing right behavior in terms of compassion towards those who are in need. Sound familiar? He names several different kinds of need: being hungry, thirsty, a stranger, in need of clothes, sick, in prison. As many lists in scripture, it is not meant to be comprehensive, but representative – in this case, of human need.
This parable has two gut punches. For one, righteousness is not defined in terms of beliefs or even religious rituals, but in terms of showing compassion. The parable is also not trying to give a complete explanation of salvation. Rather, it is describing the kind of actions, the kind of HEART the Father desires. It’s very much in line with Old Testament scripture like Micah 6:8, “He has told you what is good, what the Lord requires: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” For the Pharisees and their rigid and scrupulous attention to the letter of the Law, Jesus is teaching about the greater importance of keeping and living the Spirit of the Law, which is compassion rooted in God’s HESED-compassion.
The second gut punch, or at least surprise, is that Jesus says that to the extent that we show generous care to those in need, we show it to Him. To be honest, I am not even sure how that works, but it’s powerful, isn’t it? We don’t show compassion to win points with God, but as a reflection of God’s own heart of compassion, and our actions are as unto God Himself.
That reframes my hesitancy and annoyance toward the guy begging for food or money at the intersection of Providence and 51 when I go get lunch at Chic-Fil-A. He is nonetheless made in the image of God and when I see him, Jesus teaches me to see him with eyes of compassion.
From Jesus: The Shared Cup (Luke 22:17)
There was another time Jesus talked about generous care through sharing. I would not have made this link except I did a word study on the word ‘share’ in Acts 2. I wanted to understand a bit more of what it meant that the early believers were “sharing with all as anyone might have need.” What I found was interesting!
The word ‘share’ used there is pretty rare in the Bible. And it has a range of uses. The only other place that really had a similar usage to Acts was in Luke 22 (notable because Luke wrote Luke and Acts, so his using this word in both places carries some extra weight). Luke 22 is Luke’s account of the Passover Meal with Jesus and the disciples, the one in which he instituted the Lord’s Supper which we observe at our communion table.
In verse 17, he takes the cup of wine and says, “Take this and SHARE it among yourselves.” That’s the same word used for SHARING with those in need in Acts 2:47. Why do I mention this? I do so because Jesus is modeling and commanding his followers to share what they have been given. What had they been given here? It represented God’s merciful deliverance and salvation. The Passover meal recalled God’s merciful deliverance out of slavery in Egypt. And the Last Supper explained god’s merciful deliverance from sin and death through Christ.
Maybe it’s a stretch, but I hear Jesus reminding his followers that they have been shown God’s generous compassion and they are to show that same generous compassion to others. The next time Luke uses that word it is to describe the first generation of disciples or Christians showing God’s generous compassion to those in need around them.
When the disciple John tells the story of this same night, he makes the same point from the foot-washing that we recall on Maundy Thursday. Serving his disciples by washing their feet, Jesus says, “If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you…. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13:14-15,17)
As Christians we show generous care because God has shown it to us, because Jesus taught us to do so, and because the Holy Spirit cultivates godly compassion as it works within us!
I want to end by taking a moment to think with you about need. The passages we’ve looked at cover a pretty wide range of situations already. Acts describes the kind of need that financial resources might address. After all, folks were selling or sharing property and possessions to address the need. In his parable Jesus lists a number of human needs, though I already noted it is not a comprehensive list: being hungry, thirsty, a stranger, in need of clothes, sick, in prison. At the Last Supper and foot-washing Jesus teaches by example that we are to show mercy and render service to others.
What else and who else do you encounter in a given week?
People who are out of work or can’t make ends meet?
People who need basic necessities?
People who are struggling with sickness or chronic illness?
People who have experienced unfair treatment or setbacks in life?
People who are lonely, sad, angry, or afraid?
People who need forgiveness or to know about the mercy of God?
People who need a friend?
God has shown each of us generous mercy. The Spirit is at work cultivating the HESED-compassion of God within us if we are growing spiritually.
There is need all around us, though it can be overwhelming to see it all at once. What can I do?
Individually you don’t have to address all the needs of the world. But Jesus does seem to ask us to respond generously and compassionately to the person in front of us, or next door, or that God brings across our path.
And we have different resources. Some of us know someone who needs a friend and we can do that. Some of us have the opportunity to address something unfair or unjust that we’ve become aware of. Together we can and do pool financial resources through the church or the Deacon’s Timothy Fund to wisely help those with financial or material needs.
As a church, one of our core values is CARING generously as described in these scripture passages this morning. When you give to the church, volunteer with ministries, or simply live out your Christian calling, you are participating in this work that God desires of His people. I invite you to pray for wisdom, opportunity, and to find your place to plug into God’s ministry of CARING. Amen.
Some Music Used
- I Need Thee Every Hour
- Blest Be
- Come People of the Risen King
- Rick Bean, piano
- Shout for Joy (Bean) – GSPC Choir
- Lion of Judah
- Mighty to Save
- Prayer for Healing (Berry/ljames) – GSPC Choir
- I Then Shall Live