They Had All Things in Common

Acts 2:44 – And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

Acts 2 gives us an account of the beginnings of the church, God’s kingdom as prophesied for thousands of years. At the end of chapter 2, we see this new church gathering together, praying together and worshipping together. Then we see them freely and gladly sharing their possessions with one another.

They had “all things in common,” Luke wrote.

I want to consider this phrase and connect it to other things that are said in this context in Acts 2. They certainly had a mindset that all things they owned were to be shared with their brothers and sisters. But where did that mindset come from? What brought such an attitude in people that led them to freely and gladly share anything they had with the others?

Because they had all things in common! Let’s look at the context around that phrase to see that this new congregation shared more than possessions.

They Had All Things in Common.

  • They had in common their brokenness before God (Acts 2:36). Each one of them had crucified the Savior and Messiah. The sin, guilt and shame before a holy and just God was shared by each person.
  • They had a common need for a Savior (Acts 2:37). They all were cut to the heart. Each one of them recognized the need for salvation and turned to Jesus. Every person in this group knew that Jesus was the only way.
  • They had a common entry into the kingdom (Acts 2:38,41). Each one had gladly received the word, repented of his or her sins, and was baptized into Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of those sins. Young or old, rich or poor, male or female, they had all obeyed the same gospel.
  • They had a common practice (Acts 2:42). This new congregation of saved people “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Each person in this group had committed to doing it God’s way. He or she had also committed to be with those who were like-minded. They spent time together and prayed together. They sang together and took the Lord’s Supper together. As a group they committed to following the apostles’ teaching because it came straight from their Savior, Jesus Christ. An intimacy developed in this group, didn’t it?
  • They had a common attitude (Acts 2:46). Collectively, this group was glad and generous in their hearts. Each person stood in awe of the power of God as it was displayed through the miraculous working of the apostles (Acts 2:43). As a church their hearts were full of praise for God (Acts 2:47).

So, why did the church lovingly and willingly share possessions with each other? Because they shared the same heart. They truly had all things in common.

Euodia and Syntyche, Part 3

Today is the final part of the series on Euodia and Syntyche. Here are the links for first two articles.

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:1-4).

Help these women who labored with me in the gospel. Euodia and Syntyche were women of the best intentions, and they had servant hearts. The church at Philippi began with strong women (Acts 16:11-15). Of course, by the time of the writing of this epistle, Philippi had elders and deacons, but they still had strong women. These women aren’t to just fade away into inactivity because they now had elders and deacons. Paul tells the congregation to help these women in their work as they are fellowshipping in the gospel. Whatever these two sisters were doing, whatever work they were involved in, Paul tells the brothers and sisters to be an encouragement and support to them in their work for Christ.

The kingdom needs strong, servant-hearted women. Strong-minded is not to be confused with always going around giving people a piece of your mind. Nor does it mean being stubborn and unwilling to consider other viewpoints. However, we must not also confuse “meek and quiet” and “submissive” (1 Peter 3) with being a doormat that sits still and never uses the talents, voice and strengths God gave to the woman. This balance comes when we become “one mind” in Jesus. Our strengths, our talents are tempered and guided by the love and humility of Jesus.

God’s work, not mine. Paul’s letter to the Philippians often mentioned joy and rejoicing, but that is not what the letter to the Philippians is primarily about. He often used words like “mindset” and “mind” in this letter, but Paul was trying to get at more than the power of positive thinking.

If you go through this short letter, and underline or highlight all the times Paul says Lord, God, Jesus, Christ, or Savior then you will begin to understand the theme of Philippians. Why did Paul endure such cruel suffering and harsh treatment? Because it is all about Jesus (Philippians 1:21,29-30; 3:10). Why did Jesus leave heaven’s glory to die on the cross? Because it was God’s work and God’s glory that would be accomplished (Philippians 2:4-11). Why did Timothy put his own interests aside and sincerely care for the brethren? Because Timothy sought the things of the Lord Jesus, not his own things (Philippians 2:19-21). Why did Epaphroditus come close to death? Because he did everything “for the work of Christ…not regarding his own life” (Philippians 2:30). Why did Paul want to stay on earth and help Christians when he would much rather die and be with Jesus? Because he was all about serving Jesus and doing His work for His people (Philippians 1:19-26).

It is God’s work that He begun in the Philippian disciples, and it is God that continued to work in them and through them (Philippians 1:6; 2:13). Paul considered himself just an instrument in the hands of the Great Physician. Euodia and Syntyche needed to be reminded of this valuable principle. It is not our ministry, nor is it our church. The money isn’t ours. Those Bible classes are not our Bible classes. It is not our worship service. Those people being taught are not our people. It’s all about Jesus. This is His work. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10).

My mother, Linda, shared with me some very simple yet powerful words as I began my first full-time preaching position in Columbus, Ohio. She said with tear-dimmed eyes, “Remember who your Master is.” How right she was. Once we fully grasp that, and once we as individual Christians own that concept, then we can begin to view ourselves as merely instruments and servants of the Master. We see the value in others walking along with us as partners, sharing in the work together, side by side. We stop looking for ways to get the credit for teaching someone or having the best ideas, and we look to lift up other brethren and point out their great worth and their ways of contributing to the family and body of Christ. We will listen to other ideas and consider other ways of doing things instead of saying “This is the way we’ve always done such and such.”

Being of one mind. This means we are focused on the same purpose. We have the same Lord and we belong to the same team. Our goals and purposes are the same. We have the same enemy and we are on the same side in the conflict against the Devil. Look for the word “same” in the letter to the Philippians – it is very instructive.

This requires listening to each other. Being of one mind requires valuing other’s input. That means I have to stop and consider the feelings of others. We have to take the foot off the accelerator sometimes and remember that the task is not as important as our relationships with each other.

If we accomplished the job, but we hurt people and alienated them along the way, then was it worth it? Of course not. If we finished the task, but did it alone when it would have been better to join with others, then we missed the greater purpose. If we finished the task, but stepped all over another brother or sister’s feelings, then what did we really accomplish? God doesn’t want individuals living to themselves. He wants a body. He wants a family.

Let us be of one mind, serving together side by side for Jesus, as Paul encouraged these two sisters in Philippi to remember.

Euodia and Syntyche, Part 2

Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Philippians 4:1-4).

We continue where we left off yesterday in discussing Euodia and Syntyche from the book of Philippians.

Synergy.

Euodia and Syntyche were called “fellow workers” by Paul. He used the Greek word sunergos, which simply means to work together. This word is the basis for our English word synergy, which means “the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects” (thefreedictionary.com). Many good brothers and sisters in Christ were called fellow workers by Paul – Paul did not spread the gospel to the whole world by himself. There were many selfless servants of Jesus Christ who risked their necks, sacrificed their lives and material goods, and devoted themselves to the high purpose and calling of living and sharing the good news of Jesus. Synergy. Many souls joined their energy, resources and talents together so that through their cooperation, the combined efforts resulted in a greater harvest of souls. “Each part doing its share” (Eph. 4:16).

These ladies were strong-minded workers determined to work as hard as they could for Jesus and for Paul. They are going to heaven – their names are in the Book of Life. Paul tells the congregation to assist these two sisters in their work. It tells you a lot about these two women, doesn’t it?  They wanted to do great things for Jesus, and they were working tirelessly in their work. However, Paul is telling them that doing great things for Jesus is not enough. They must be united as a team, joined together with one mind, as they served the Lord Jesus.

In the same way we considered Priscilla and Aquila’s “synergy” for Jesus, we must also consider the way brothers and sisters work for Jesus. Way too often we work as individuals doing our own thing, going our own way, focused on our “ministry,” but we are not together in spirit.  As long as I work on my task for the Lord and you work on yours, we do just fine, but what happens when we cross paths? When you and I are working on the same task, then your strong opinions cross my strong opinions, and then what? What happens when you don’t teach a class the way I think you should? What happens when we don’t agree on which Bible curriculum we should use for the kids’ classes? How do we handle our disagreements on how to raise our kids, how to educate and discipline them? We both have ideas for how the classrooms should be decorated and furnished, now what?

When we worked independently and left each other alone, everything was great, right? Wrong! It was not okay, because Christ did not save us and leave us to be individuals operating independently. He placed us within a body, both in a universal and a local sense. All Christians everywhere in the world are part of one body of which Christ is the head (Ephesians 1:21-22), but Christians are to work together locally with Christians, assembling as one body and one family to worship, to build each other up, to reach out to save souls, etc. Paul tells the local body of believers in Philippi to be of the same mind, just like a body with hands, feet, eyes and ears working for the same purpose (1 Corinthians 12:11-27).  Euodia and Syntyche were not doing that, even though as individuals they were doing good works for the Lord. My brother, Mark, has said that a “pile of body parts doesn’t make a body.”

Paul doesn’t have to correct their servant attitude, he doesn’t have to tell them to get busy for Jesus, but he has to exhort them apparently to stop butting heads, forsake the opinionated junk, and work together for Jesus as a unit. We must be reminded of the words of God through Amos when He asked, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3).

When you have two very strong people with strong minds and strong wills laboring for God, they sometimes will lock horns because of various differences. As that happens, everyone else is affected because we are a body and family and the true work of God is side-tracked. However, when those strong-minded brothers and sisters put aside their differences and humble themselves and submit their minds to the real work of Christ, it is a powerful and unstoppable force for good. The church at Philippi was doing great things for Jesus and Paul, but they will be even greater when they work as one mind, in harmony of spirit.

More to come tomorrow, Lord willing.

Shepherds Feed Sheep, Not Themselves Alone

 

We will continue our discussion about shepherding and the importance of knowing what it means to shepherd God’s flock, understand what we can be doing as we mature in the faith to be prepared for this role, and work with each other help each other grow towards this “good work”.

Yesterday I referenced 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 as where we can go in God’s word to see what His qualifications are for shepherds (and deacons). In my mind, we can take these qualifications and work them backwards to determine what we should be doing throughout our lives so that we will be qualified when called. That said, we can also look at God’s word and find out what NOT to do and learn the same important lessons. That is what we will do starting in the beginning of Ezekiel 34. We are only going to look at the first few verses this week and will find God’s rebuke of the shepherds of Israel. But you can (and should) read the entire chapter and will find God talking about how He will shepherd and what we find there looks just like Jesus’ words in John 10 when He talks about being the Good Shepherd.

In Ezekiel 34:2-3, we read: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.

God gives us visual language so that we can understand but what God is talking about is a spiritual matter. God’s shepherds must be concerned with the maturity and spirituality of others. Though we can get caught up in the material things of this world in such a way that we do not take care of the more important spiritual matters, the soul of a person is what matters in the end. As men, we have to ensure we are in fellowship with God and our own soul is being strengthened. This will allow us to strengthen others to the point we can make it our mission to love, feed, and nourish the souls of others as we grow and mature in the faith.

So what can we do if we aren’t shepherds but a member of the flock? Good grief, tons! But today I will just give you a couple things to think and pray about in your own walk and things we can be looking out for in encouraging and helping other brothers and young men.

First, build relationships with others in the flock. Really get to know others. Make that important to you and position yourself to have a spiritual impact in another’s life. You can do this by ensuring you are present when the flock meets or making it a point to get together with others in different settings. The bottom line is to get together and make it your job to do the inviting and always try to say yes when invited.

Second, speak and speak God’s word. Participate in bible discussions, be thoughtful, share your thoughts, demonstrate your heart. This will edify others and will also provide opportunity to grow as you might need another’s guidance or help but how will they know if you don’t have a relationship or trust and/or you don’t speak. Be thoughtful, be about God’s word, be about edifying others and using your words not to defend your position but to build up another and make them feel safe.

God says of His shepherds: And I will give you shepherds according to My heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. (Jeremiah 3:15)

Make it your mission to learn God’s word, build relationships so you know what is really going on in other’s lives, consider God’s word in the context of your relationship and speak His word into other’s lives for their edification through knowledge and understanding and God’s love demonstrated.

Energized

“…that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.”  (Philemon 6)

Paul prays that the fellowship (partnership, communion, sharing) of Philemon’s faith may become “effective.”  The Greek word for effective is “energes”.  Literally it means “energized” or “full-of-energy”.  The idea is that Paul is praying that their partnership of faith will be energized in order to produce results.  As we consider our fellowship in our local churches, isn’t that what we want…results?

How, according to Paul, is this going to be accomplished?  He says, “through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you”.  It seems that Paul wants Philemon to recognize every good thing that is in him, to be aware of who he is and what he has in Christ.  The knowledge of what is in us will produce an effective fellowship, it will get results.

I don’t know exactly what Paul was thinking when he wrote this but it immediately made me think of Ephesians chapter one, where Paul discusses all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ.

1:4 – “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless”

1:5 – “He predestined us to adoption as sons”

1:7 – “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses”

1:9 – “He made known to us the mystery of His will”

1:11 – “also we have obtained an inheritance”

1:13 – “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise”

How do I look at myself?  Maybe I feel unworthy and full of shame, thinking I can’t possibly be useful in His kingdom.  Maybe I’m focused on all of my failures and I feel weak and beyond help.  Maybe I look at all my accomplishments and feel a sense of pride, putting myself above those around me.  Maybe I look down on those brothers that seem to struggle with the same sin over and over and over.

Paul says I’m chosen.  He says I’ve been adopted as a son of God.  I have been redeemed, I have been forgiven, and I have an inheritance.  And as I look around at my brothers, I should see men just like me.  Men who have been chosen and adopted and redeemed and forgiven.  These are the good things that are in us.  Meditate on these things, dwell on these things, and internalize these things.  As we begin to view ourselves and our brothers in this light, this knowledge will cause our fellowship to be energized, to produce results, for Christ’s sake.

See to it

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
(Hebrews 12:15)

See to it. There are things that require our attention. The toilet is leaking at the base, I need to “see to it” and fix the problem. You realized someone stole your debit card information and is spending your money, and you “see to it.” You instantly know the seriousness and urgency.

The Hebrew writer tells us to “see to it” that no one fails to obtain the grace of God. Christians can and do fall away. Our hearts can be hardened, calloused over by the sin in which we are living. We can lose our confidence and joy and consider throwing in the towel. That’s why all Christians need to be on the lookout for each other, because those very things are going on in the brethren around you. Whether it is happening to you right now or not doesn’t matter, it is happening to someone around you. See to it.

Reach out to them today with encouragement. Say a prayer with them over the phone. Remind them with verses from God’s word about the presence and grace of God. Take them out for coffee. Sit with them. Listen. Be compassionate. Realize that they are at war and Satan is having a heyday with them. See to it that you be God’s instrument to bring a little comfort, relief and hope to their hurting hearts.

We do have incredible power and influence when we walk along with God to encourage our brethren. It makes a huge difference, don’t believe otherwise.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
(Hebrews 10:24)

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
(Hebrews 3:12-14)

What We Share Together

We are getting ready to begin a study on Hebrews at our congregation. Many of the posts over the next several weeks will probably reference Hebrews in some way. Great encouragement in that book to consider Jesus, don’t give up, and consider one another.

Today are some bullet points below to look at what we share. I just noticed how many references there are in Hebrews to sharing and being partakers in some very special things. Please take time to meditate and pray about what we share together in Jesus Christ. It is just amazing. We are immensely blessed.

  • Jesus shared in flesh and blood to become our merciful and faithful High priest, and also to be called our Brother (Hebrews 2:11-15).
  • Sharing in a heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1).
  • Sharing in Christ (Hebrews 3:13-14).
  • Sharing in an eternal rest, a homeland, an inheritance, a heavenly city (Hebrews 4:1,3,9; 10:34).
  • Sharing in the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 6:4).
  • Sharing/becoming companions together in suffering for Christ (Hebrews 10:32-34; 11:25).
  • Sharing in God’s discipline/training (Hebrews 12:8), and through that we share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).
  • Sharing what we have with each other (Hebrews 13:3,16).

As Christians, we have the most important things in common. Hopefully this changes our perspective of how we see each other and appreciate each other. Let’s fight even harder to draw closer to our brothers and sisters in Christ…we need each other!

A Story on Perspective

Take a minute and read and consider this story.

People were sitting quietly. Some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed. The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

  “It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?’”

  “The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’

  Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm (heart) shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘You’re wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.”   (Stephen Covey)

Now consider the Holy Spirit’s words in (Galatians 6:1-5).

1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.

 What did you think of in this exercise? What comes to my mind is the importance of knowing and participating in the lives of those I love…especially the brethren. If I know them and participate in their lives, I will understand better their circumstances. If I better understand their circumstances, I will have more patience with what I might be observing in their lives and seek out opportunities to help rather than chastise or be annoyed. If I seek out opportunities to help, those I love will be lifted up and God will be gloried and the law of Christ is fulfilled…and His law is love.

We all have spiritual and physical burdens to carry but God has given us one another to be a helper to each other and sometimes that “one thing” we carry for another is just enough. Meditate on this today. Pray God would turn your eyes and heart to other’s lives. Have the courage to love them.

Nehemiah 3

Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was a monumental task. The fact that they did it in 52 days just blows the mind. Considering all the obstacles they had to overcome takes it to a level that clearly demonstrates God’s hand was in this good work.

And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.
(Nehemiah 2:18)

I encourage you today to read Nehemiah chapter 3. Sometimes chapters like this can be skimmed through because at first or second glance it seems like just a factual list of the workers, what they did, and where they worked.  But that very list is what is so amazing.

But read the chapter carefully and think about a few things:

  1. The high priest rose up, with his brothers – The first verse shows that the spiritual leaders of Jerusalem took the lead. They were priests, but their hands were dirty and their knuckles got scraped and bloody. If you want to be a leader in God’s good work, you have to lead by example and get your hands dirty, too.
  2. Next to him, next to them, after him – Phrases like these are repeated often in Nehemiah 3. The work on the wall was divided into 42 sections. But each group worked on their section as part of the greater purpose/project. They were not working independently. Also notice that they did not finish one section before moving on to another. Each section was being worked on simultaneously (Nehemiah 4:6), thus closing the gaps.
  3. But their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord (vs. 5). Not everyone put their hands to this good work. Don’t expect 100% participation.
  4. Opposite their house, beside their house – Nehemiah stationed people in areas where there would be the highest motivation to do the best work. Folks were building / repairing the walls and gates nearest their houses (vs. 10,23,29-30). If you know this section of wall is directly connected to the survival and safety of your own family you are going to give it your all!
  5. Rulers, priests, perfumers, merchants, goldsmiths – Another point to make here is that the people working on this were not experienced wall building contractors. I’m sure some of these men had hands that were meant for inside work, and they initially had a lot of blisters and used muscles they never even knew they had! But they all put their shoulders to the work on the wall, whether they were a noble or a servant, male or female, merchant, goldsmith or perfumer. This is a clear picture of the church, guys (Ephesians 4:15-16)!
  6. With his daughters – This was a family project. Shallum was there working with his daughters (vs. 12).
  7. People from outside the city, like from Jericho (Neh. 3:2), and from Gibeon and Mizpah (vs. 5,7) and Tekoa (11 miles from Jerusalem, vs. 5,27) worked on the wall. Think of the influence God’s good work has on those around us.
  8. Repair, rebuild – The word “built” is used 6 times in chapter 3 and means “rebuilt.” The word “repair” is used 35 times and means to “make strong and firm” (compare Ezekiel 13:1-16; 22:28). They were sorting through the rubble and using the stones around them to help repair and rebuild.
  9. Tekoites – In verse 5 we find the men of Tekoa working on one section, and in verse 27 they worked on “another section.” Think about it…when they finished with “their” section, they did not walk away, they moved on to “another section.” Great principle for us to remember. Keep working in God’s work, you are never finished, just re-positioned.
  10. Zealously, carefully – Verse 20 in the NASB says Baruch “zealously” repaired the wall, while the NKJV says he “carefully” did it. Either way, you can see the spirit of the men and women working on the wall. They cared. This was not just a job, this was God’s work, and it directly affected their family, their city, their Jewish brethren. And most of all it was done for God’s glory.

I will finish with a quote from D.L. Moody:

“A great many people have got a false idea about the church. They have got an idea that the church is a place to rest in…to get into a nicely cushioned pew, and contribute to the charities, listen to the minister, and do their share to keep the church out of bankruptcy, is all they want.  The idea of work for them—actual work in the church—never enters their minds.”