Big risks equal big rewardsPublished 1:30pm Saturday, October 19, 2013
by Brandon Robbins
I’ve always been amazed by a passage in the Bible from a book called, “The Acts of the Apostles.” It goes like this, “All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. There were no needy people among them because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.” (Acts 4:32, 34-35).
Can you believe this? These early followers of Jesus would come together and share every last penny they had. Every last penny! (We know this because there is actually a story that appears later in Acts in which God punishes a couple who holds back a portion of their possessions from the rest of the community). Faithful members of the early church are so trusting of one another and so reliant upon one another that they are willing to sacrifice their abundance to ensure that everyone has enough.
And what is the consequence of such trust and reliance? No one lacks for anything. No matter how poor they are, regardless of the mistakes of their past, by being part of this Christian community, they have exactly what they need.
I don’t know about you, but I have yet to see a church these days that can live up to this description. Clearly, this is what God desires for the church to be. Yet, somewhere in history – at least in America – we lost this. Why?
Perhaps, one reason could be that the people of the early church simply did this out of necessity. Christians were new, suspicious, and persecuted. Maybe people only relied upon one another this way because they had no other choice; they needed one another.
Another reason could be that communities were simply smaller in those days. People weren’t spread out like they are today. They lived in small pockets of big cities. It was more natural and convenient for them to rely upon one another.
Or maybe they were able to do this because they all already knew each other. Christianity usually spread through families and close-knit communities in the early days. So perhaps their trust in one another was established before their common faith in Jesus Christ, thus making it easier to follow such a command.
Honestly, any one of these explanations could be correct. And possibly all of them are – to some degree. But, personally, they don’t satisfy me. People live in each and every one of the conditions listed above today. Yet rarely do we ever see or hear of a community like the one described in Acts. So there must be a better answer. But what is it?
As I just mentioned, I think it could be a combination of all three. The truth is, being a Christian was much harder in the beginning days, right after Jesus’ death. People didn’t understand practices like eating the body and blood of a dead Jewish man (Communion), refusing to purchase meat sacrificed to Roman gods (a common practice of the day), or calling Jesus Lord instead of the emperor. Christians were considered odd. And as we still see today, people don’t like things that are odd. They fear them. They reject them. They repel them.
So to be Christian was to be repelled, ostracized by the community at large. Therefore, to choose to be a Christian was not a decision one would take lightly. The only reason you would ever choose to be Christian was because you knew that what Jesus was offering was so good, it was worth risking everything.
But today, we don’t need to do that. Being a Christian is rather easy – especially in the Bible Belt. We’ll never get fired for going to church. People won’t refuse to sell us food because we wear a cross necklace. The police won’t come knocking on our door because we read the Bible. The risk is rather low. But consequently, so is the reward.
In other words, most of us will never have to exercise true faith in Jesus, betting it all on him. And as a result, most of us will never experience the true blessings he has to offer.
We’ll never know the joy of relying upon God because we’ll never fully be willing to trust God with our families, or our futures, or our finances.
We’ll never experience the freedom of salvation, in this life or the next, because we don’t have enough faith to believe that God can conquer our addictions, remove our guilt or break our habits.
We’ll never feel the power of true community because we’ll never trust God’s guidance enough to sacrifice our abundance, submit our independence, or let others know our secrets.
Now, let me be honest, I struggle to exhibit such faith, just like you. My wife and I live alone in a parsonage (a house the church lets us live in) that has more space than we know what to do with right now. We too enjoy our privacy and independence. We don’t come anywhere close to looking like the Christian community in Acts.
But maybe there is still time. Maybe we just have to start out slow.
That’s why, at Courtland United Methodist Church, our church has begun something called Life Groups. They are groups that meet on Wednesday nights, twice a month, to build our relationships with each other and with Jesus. We begin with a potluck dinner. Then we have some time to just hang out and get to know each other. Finally, we end with a brief Bible study tied to a particular theme.
During October and November, the Life Groups will center on the television show “Duck Dynasty.” After dinner and socializing, we’ll watch an episode of the show from the current season and discuss how it relates to the Bible and our lives. I don’t imagine that by the end of the fall, we’ll all be throwing our possessions into a common pot. But it’s a start. It’s a chance to let down our guard, build relationships with one another, and form the trust and community that God calls us to in scripture. And that’s something.
So, may you also find a way to stretch your faith and trust in God. May you resist the temptation to play it safe, follow the norm, and reduce your risk. For only when you are ready to fully rely on Jesus will you fully experience his rewards.
BRANDON ROBBINS is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or firstname.lastname@example.org.