August 5, 2012

The Least of These VI: We Are The Vessels of God's Mercy

Part II: The Apostolic Church

We Are the Body of Christ

If Jesus had a heart for the poor, then it follows that His immediate disciples should also. As we have already begun to see in the portion of this paper dedicated the Jesus actions and reactions with the poor and downtrodden of society, there is a bleed-over of the Kingdom from Jesus directly into his immediate Apostles and disciples in Acts. We see immediately after Jesus’ ascension in Acts 2 that believers spontaneously, “selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” This is told to us in Scripture immediately after we are told of the Spirit descended on them at Pentecost. What we see therefore is a direct consequence or effect of the Spirit. What we see is the “advance” of the Kingdom into the early Church (Kistemaker, “Acts of the Apostles” 115).

It should also be not surprise that people indwelt by the Spirit of God would be in unity and part of this would be manifest in sharing with others. When joined in a community of mind in Christ believers dwelled in κοινωνία or fellowship. This is another key idea that underlies the Church and its modus operandi. Although the term koinonia/κοινωνία is to be understood as relational or relationships in a physical proximity to one another, the idea also extends to sharing of life in general and sharing of possessions or support contributed to for the benefit of others (Grimm, Thayer 852, Wiersbe 411). The compassion to share with another through mercy takes precedents over a personal possession of an item (Batey 30). One of the places the word κοινωνία is used in the New Testament that conjoins both ideas is in Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship [koinonia]…”

This directly precedes a statement that they were, “distributing proceeds” to those in need. We see immediate desire of the disciples to align with the behavior of Christ by teaching and fellowship/κοινωνία (i.e.: effects of His Spirit).

In Christian’s love for one another and in a compassion for the downtrodden, a general consensus or unity of mind appears to have formed among the followers of Christ. A program to provide for the poor arose out of love for those in society that had been subjugated or oppressed either deliberately or through negligence in and outside the Church. It was the outgrowth of love by individuals as their conscience or the Spirit gave impetus, not an end result of governmental aid based in political expedience. By selling off their goods (as Jesus had advocated to people like the Rich man) and giving to the needy they appear to have come to a new understanding of their place in the world, their relations with God and with one another. They appear to have come to a communal understanding of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom revolution Christ started had begun in force. What is interesting is the tense and context of the, “selling their possessions and belongings” in Acts 2. The word selling in Greek is ἐπίπρασκον/ epipraskon and it is in the imperfect tense. This means that the people liquidating their possessions to help the poor were doing so in a methodical or slow manner over time or “as needed”. This has to have meant they had every intention of divesting themselves completely over time if necessary. In essence they sold their goods in a premeditated manner, not all at once in a rash decision to later regret their actions. These are actions of individuals that have found comfort and conviction in the actions they were taking.

Community or Communal Goods in the Emerging Church

Another interesting note that should be mentioned about koinonia  /κοινωνία is the Lord’s Supper (agape meal) in 1 Corinthians 11. The rich believers had been eating the meal before the less affluent and the poor Christians. By the time the poor arrived there was little left over for those that arrived later. This was therefore causing division and disunity within the Body itself. Again, this disorder and disunity cannot be of the Spirit. Paul rebukes and makes certain qualifications for all to avoid this disunity and division and to establish a sense of equality among the believers. The rich had perverted the purpose of the koinonia/κοινωνία or sharing of the meal (Batey 32). What Paul is clearly trying to avoid (just as Jesus did) by rebukes and correcting of believer’s behaviors was bringing dishonor to God through believer’s partial actions. Sadly, it is the injustice to the poor or those less fortunate that are the victims in all this. If you are Christian and are humiliating those that have little of nothing, you are thereby bringing dishonor to God by showing no compassion or concern for those created in His image.

1 Corinthians 11:20-22“So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

Paul then goes on to say:

1 Corinthians 11:33-34 “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.”

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