Sermon Series- The Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years
Let’s make some applications
First, there is no application I can give to bring about being “one heart and soul.” However, we are being “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:29). God is shaping us into the moral image of Jesus. He is giving us a heart a like His. The apostle Paul also says that “we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16b). If we think about it for a minute, sanctification is God producing in us one heart and one soul through the person of the Holy Spirit.
If we are to have “one heart and soul” we must yield to the Spirit’s inner work. Let us give ourselves to the cultivation of the work of the Holy Spirit by prayerfully reading the Word of God and prayerfully seeking the Father’s face through the Gospel. Let us come “with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord” so that we may be “transformed into the same image (Christ’s) from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Let Christ fulfill the Law for you and come openly to the Father, boldly in faith, nothing between you and God, and adore Him. The way is open, and God welcomes you into His Presence. Do not neglect such a gift.
Second, I want to point out something I noticed years ago while preaching through the book of Malachi. In Malachi’s time, the Church was a mess. People were offering second-hand sacrifices (gimpy lambs). The priests were corrupt. They taught lies and took bribes. Divorce was rampant. Marriage outside the faith was a severe problem. The poor were being taken advantage of by the elites. After all the accusations we read this in chapter 3, “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” (Malachi 3:7) I think that we will find the answer to this question interesting. God’s response to Israel’s question, “‘How shall we return?” is as follows:
8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Eliminate need? Sound familiar?) 11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
“‘How shall we return?” His answer is simple, give generously, give fully. Isn’t it interesting that when the Gospel came, and the first Church was formed, they became so generous that they ceased to think in terms of mine and yours? Not that they didn’t own it, but they were open-handed with their whole lives. They wipe out “need” in their midst just as God promises to do in Malachi 3:10. Barnabas’ introduction is in the act of giving. When the first conflict within the Church comes, it comes because they have so much giving they can enroll widows for a stipend. Have you ever even heard of a church having enough funds to do that? The only new officer in the New Testament, the deacon, has to be minted because the apostles cannot oversee the giving and the receiving. There’s too much of it. They need assistants to help manage it all. The early Church in the New Testament is marked by giving because repentance, returning to God, is characterized by giving. It is the path of return.
Do you feel wayward from the Lord? Do you feel like many secret sins or pet sins are overwhelming you? Do you start at dealing with one only to get overtaken by another, leading to a feedback loop of defeat? I expect that is how the people of Israel felt in Malachi. God was reading them the riot act, and they agreed, but it seemed overwhelming. ‘How shall we return?’ We probably should read it with exasperation in our voice.
We’ve seen the two not-so-secret ingredients to growth in the Christian faith in back-to-back weeks. Last week we saw the church go to the Lord in prayer and pray for boldness and the presence of God so that they might be faithful in preaching the Word. Prayer in faith is the first not-so-secret ingredient of Christian growth. This week we see the second. It is giving in faith, which means giving fully and freely and cheerfully. Until we are willing to part with our resources, until we are willing to offer a sacrifice to God, until we make giving a part of our walk with the Lord or return to it again, we will never, I repeat, never grow in the Lord in the way that we should. Jesus tells us,
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Giving reveals whether or not we indeed are “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Giving reveals where our heart is because it reveals our focus. What we focus on fills our minds and directs our bodies. Look at where Jesus positions, “The eye is the lamp of the body.” He’s not talking about how much time we spend staring at our iPhones. He’s talking about whether or not we are focused on the Kingdom of God. Giving reveals who the master is. Is the master The Master? or Money? Repentance starts with giving because the Holy Spirit lovingly opens our hands to our brothers and sisters. He produces a people that feel responsible for maintaining the worship of God and each other. He remembers the poor too.
If you have been trying to return to the Lord and have been rebuffed at every door, it is likely because you are trying to walk through the wrong one. The door of return has a sign over it that says, “give here.” To be clear, I don’t want your money, and God doesn’t need it. Giving, like prayer, is for you. God wants you to see that He is a God that provides for His people and can be trusted. Giving is the step that shows trust more than any other. I want for you what Paul wanted for the Philippian Church: “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:18) Worship involves sacrifice. Bringing cattle was an expensive endeavor in the Old Testament. “God owns a cattle on a thousand hills,” (Psalm 50:10) always has. David understood that sacrifice was not what God but for us. God didn’t truly desire the blood of bulls and goats. In his most known penitential Psalm, David sang, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:16-17) Sacrifice has never been about bulls and goats. It has always been about faith and repentance described here as being broken and contrite.
The church will again, “with great power,” give “their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:33) when we take the path of Gospel generosity. If we desire to see “great grace” on us “all,” then we must return by the sacrifice of giving. Jesus’ one sacrifice sanctifies our gifts and turns them into fragrant offerings. We cannot honestly say that we have offered ourselves as living sacrifices to God if we offer none of our possessions to God. We cannot give all to Jesus while giving none to Jesus.
Look for our new blog series, “Finding and Losing Our Life for Jesus’ Sake” to start tomorrow 9/6/22!
Blessings and may God be with you!