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Introduction to Personal Bible Study - Videos (2007)

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Friday, March 29, 2024

Is Acts 2 a Pattern for Today? How About the Red Letters?

Should we be looking to Acts Chapter 2 (or Acts Chapter 4) as an instructional guide for the Christian life in 2024? Are Christians to live communally is some sort of Socialist or Marxist paradigm? 

They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. Fear came to every soul. And many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common. They sold their property and goods and distributed them to all, according to their need. And continuing daily with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart...

-Acts 2:42-46

The note that they continued "daily... in the temple" should immediately clue us in that this is not soem of Bible command for all people of all ages. It wasn't even practiced by all believers in the Acts, as we shall see. I only note it here to suggest the idea that it is universally applicable should be questioned immediately. But we will ignore the Israeli temple attendance and focus on the communal livng.  

The communal practice in Acts 2 and 4 worked for Jewish believers living with the Apostles in Jerusalem, but it was not a "pattern" and certainly not a command. As we will see, Gentile believers didn't do this, nor did others outside of Jerusalem. 

And as with the attendance, daily, at the temple, we must also notice what these particular believers with the proceeds from the sale of their good. When we see this practice in action in Acts chapter 4, we see the proceeds being laid at the Apostles' feet. (This is, of course, impossible today despite charlatans claiming the title of Apostle.)

All the believers were of one heart and one soul, and no one said that what he possessed was his own. But to them all things were in common. With great power the apostles testified to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. There was no one among them who lacked, for all those who were owners of land or houses sold them, and brought the income from what was sold, and placed it at the apostles’ feet. And it was distributed to each according to his need.

-Acts 4:32-35

We should note there that when the "pattern" was violated, the death penalty was immediate. I don't see those claiming this for the "church" either selling all their goods or dropping dead for not bringing all the proceeds to the apostles (if that were even possible). As an aside (which we will address in our next study), Peter tells Ananias and Sapphira that they were under no obligation to sell their property OR to give all the proceeds to the Apostles. Both the home and the proceeds remained under their own "authority." For this study, we note it to show that communal living wasn't even a command in the Acts church.  

Now a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. He kept back part of the proceeds with his wife’s knowledge, and brought a part of it and placed it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to deceive the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, was it not your own? And when it was sold, was it not under your authority? Why have you conceived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to men, but to God.” On hearing these words, Ananias fell down and died. And great fear came on all those who heard these things. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

-Acts 5:1-6

The next problem in trying to maintain that communal living is some pattern for all believers of all ages everywhere is that Paul knows of no such pattern when he write to the Roman church (which was made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers). He has a very different command there (a "duty"), and that command was specific to Gentile believers. This is not mere "descriptive" of what they did, it was a "duty" to which they were bound (i.e. it was "prescriptive")

Greek: opheílō = duty = to be under obligation (ought, must, should) (Strong's #3784)

A definite patter of the Acts age is the distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Never in regard to the gift of Life (which had not changed since Adam), but in regard to practice, place, and expectations. 

But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their [Jews] spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them [Jews] in carnal things 

-Romans 15:25-27

The Gentiles still owned carnal things, thus making it possible to support the Jewish believers in Jerusalem to whom they were in debt spiritually. We don't make these distinctions today. And Paul did not ask the Roman Gentiles to sell all they had. These three verses are packed with Acts age truth

  • Not every believer sold all and lived communally
  • Gentiles were under obligation and positionally second to Jewish believers 

In first Corinthians there are references to eating at home (11:34) and asking one's husband while at home (14:35). This would be odd if it were a communal home. But even if that was the case, in the post Acts age we see even more individual references to the home.

But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them learn first to show piety at home and to repay their parents. For this is good and acceptable before God.

-1 Timothy 5:4

Likewise, older women should be reverent in behavior, and not be false accusers, not be enslaved to much wine, but teachers of good things, that they may teach the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, and to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored.

-Titus 2:3-5

And the only Apostle the Gentiles had was Paul. As such, the Gentiles would be selling all and laying the proceeds at Paul's feet. We never see this once in the Acts age or in the Post Acts age. Paul was not managing communes and collecting proceeds from land sales across the Roman Empire. In First Corinthians 11 Paul specifically refers to believers going back to their individual houses and individual families.

Do you not have houses [plural] to eat and to drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing?

Greek: oîkos = house, home - From G3624; properly residence (abstractly), but usually (concretely) an abode (literally or figuratively); by implication a family (especially domestics): - home, house (-hold).

That said, the idea used in Acts 2 and Acts 4 of sharing our assets with believers is admirable. If a believer has a large home and plot of land in the mountains, say, it would be a blessing for him to try and house and feed other believers there should the need arise. But there is no scriptural call or command for him to sell the property and lay the proceeds at anyone's feet.

We need to try to be consistent in our interpretation of scripture. We must discern between learning from actions and being expected to obey the commands of an age. Fact is, for those who claim the "red letters" and the words and commands of the Lord for themselves, they should have already sold everything, given to the poor, and should be waiting for the Lord to provide (after they quit their jobs).

Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor for your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouses nor barns. Yet God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds? Who of you by worrying can add one cubit to his height? If you then cannot do what is least, why are you anxious about the other things? “Consider how the lilies grow. They neither spin nor weave. Yet I say to you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? And do not seek what you will eat or what you will drink, nor be of an anxious mind. For the nations of the world [Gentiles] seek all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be given to you. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms. Provide yourselves purses that do not grow old, an unfailing treasure in the heavens, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

-Luke 12:22-34

We don't obey this command or follow these teachings because they are not for us. We cannot dismiss them as merely "descriptive" either. There is clear a prescribed action by the Lord to those of his "flock" (i.e. believers, disciples). The chosen apostles of the Lamb sold all ("Peter answered Him, See, we have left everything and followed You. What then shall we have?" -Matt 19). The "red letter" Christian must take this for himself as well.

These who are taught to sell their possessions are also instructed that, as they go from town to town, to stay in the houses of individual believers who obvious did not also sell everything nor did they leave their homes to follow the Lord. Only certain believers in that age "obeyed" the "red letters." Does that mean they were disobedient? Of course, not. Not all were instructed to sell all. The Lord commends some who would not sell their homes for housing the homeless apostles on their journey according to their calling in Matthew 10:5-10. This would seem odd if the commands of the red letters in Matthew were/are for all believers.

In whatever city or town you enter, inquire in it who is worthy. And live there until you leave. When you come into a house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you, nor hear your words, when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
-Matthew 10:11-14
None of this is for the current age, The Gospel of the Kingdom they were sent out to preach is not for this age. The Lord exclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom in Matthew 4 and Matthew 9. He didn't even reveal to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to die until Matthew 16 (and they don't want him to go!). Clearly, the gospel they were sent out to proclaim in Matthew 10 was not the gospel we preach which was given to us by the Apostle Paul.

Are there things we can learn and profit from here? Certainly. But we must learn to rightly divide the context (to whom, when, where, why, etc.). There are some who say Paul corrupted the gospel of the Kingdom. But to those who want to hold such a position, are you proclaiming the gospel of Matthew 4 and 9?

Late leftist Pastor, Tony Campolo, (who liked to yell at Christians for not accepting homosexuals and every cult member as fellow believers and claimed "the red letters" for himself and for us today), he who used the words of the Lord in the parable of the sheep and the goats (among other words) to yell at me for not turning Christianity into a social program, that Tony Campolo died with a net worth of $4 million. 

"Jesus said to His disciples, Truly, I say to you that it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

He neither sold all, as the red letters say, nor did he heed the warning about the wealthy not gaining easy access to heaven, as the red letters warn. Again, these passages are not for today nor to all believers of all ages, but if Campolo and the "Red Letter Christians" want me to take them seriously, they need to actually follow the red letters they claim I must follow.

If we're going to take some of the Lord's words as directly to us, we're going to have to explain why we don't take all, or why some and not all. If I have to visit the sick (the least of Tony Campolo's brethren in Matthew 25) to make God my debtor for eternity in heaven, why didn't Tony "Sell [his] possessions and give alms?" Because he liked to pick and choose what he would obey. Yes, that's my assessment, but what else can I conclude in light of "sell all" and the warning the "rich man" being red letters to a man worth millions as he preaches the red letters?

They must answer (as will ask more pointedly in our next study): 
  • what has changed?
  • why did it change?
  • when did it change? 

We do not follow Matthew 10 nor Matthew 19 nor Matthew 25 nor Mark 10 nor Luke 12 nor Acts 2 nor Acts 4 nor Acts 15 nor Acts 21 nor Acts 26 nor Acts 28 nor Romans... nor any of the Gospels or Acts or Acts-age epistles as directly to us. They are certainly for us, but not to us. Again: what has changed, why did it change, when did it change? 

No Red Letter Christian, nor any professed believer I know, is not headed to Jerusalem to the temple for the Passover sacrifice next month. Why not? It is a BIBLE COMMAND (prescribed) and the PATTERN is in the red letters!

Observe the month of Aviv and keep the Passover to the Lord your God, for in the month of Aviv the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt by night. Therefore, you must sacrifice the Passover to the Lord your God, from the flock or the herd, in the place where the Lord shall choose to place His name.

-Deuteronomy 16:1-2

This next is better because it several elements to it. This is after the instruction to "sell all" in Luke 12:

He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.’ ”

-Matthew 26:18

  • The Lord was keeping the Passover
  • They did not bring an animal for sacrifice to the priest in the temple
  • He was at someone's house that they had not sold 

How do we reconcile all these seeming discrepancies and inconsistencies? By recognizing that scripture does not always address all people of all ages. We ask: what has changed, why did it change, when did it change?  None of us today nor anyone else but the chosen twelve apostles would claim the following promise (at least I hope not):

Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

This is why we must practice the right division of the Word (2 Tim 2:15). We must recognize distinctions among the families of God and the commands and instructions and promises of God in scripture. The theological word for this "dispensationalism." Satan has done has his best to vilify this word. But not only is it God's way of interpreting His Word, it's a biblical word. We live in "the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to Paul for us Gentiles" (Ephesians 3:2). We live in the dispensation of the revelation given to Paul to fill-up [complete] the revelation of God (Ephesians 1:10, 25). 

There are no "prophets" today, no new "word from the Lord." 

If you choose to ignore the lines God has drawn in scripture, you will have either a shallow Christian understanding or a confused life of possible disobedience. If you claim the red letters, you must claim ALL the red letters. The only way to do that and not live in contradiction is to not look too deeply or to not take your own supposed convictions seriously.

Tony Campolo left $4,000,000 in net worth behind and a bunch of books and teachings yelling at me for not living up the red letters. He was a hypocritical and selective servant as are all who try to claim the Law, the Ten Commandments, the prophets, the Gospel accounts, or the Book of Acts and its epistles for themselves. 

This short study addressed the idea that the actions of the believers in Acts 2 and Acts 4 is God's expectation for this current age. We have seen that is clearly not the case. The idea is inconsistent with the actions of some believers in Book of Acts itself, the commands of the Lord in the Gospel accounts, and in the Acts Epistles. There is no Marxist command in the Acts and there is no Marxist pattern in the Acts.

There is another objection worth considering, however, which we briefly alluded to which  we will try to address next time. That objection is the interpretive guide which asks us to discern between the "descriptive" passages (those that simply tell us what is happening) and "prescriptive" passages (those with clear instructions or commands). 

In this study we looked at the clear prescriptive instructions of the Lord in the gospel accounts as well as in Paul's epistle to the Romans (the "duty" of Gentile believers to support Jewish believers in Jerusalem). But we will gladly address the legitimate claim that Acts 2 and Acts 4 are merely descriptive. But we won't stop there. In our quest to be CONSISTENT in our interpretation and application, we will expand our look at the Acts and beyond.