Acts 4:32-37 ( click here for audio)
We are learning much from the early church. We are learning something about the character of a True Church. What does the True Church look like? We find it here in the Book of Acts. The True Church is not the perfect church. The people of that early church were not perfect. The Apostles and pastors who led the early church were not perfect. However, the early church served with great passion the perfect Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They were constant in prayer; devoted to doctrine; reverent in worship; bold in witnessing; sacrificial in giving; different in backgrounds; but united together in the gospel of Christ.
One thing that is clearly seen today as a contrast to the early church is the current trend of drifting away from doctrine, and the simplicity of the gospel of Christ. Even Charles Spurgeon who preached over 100 years ago said this:
“A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats..” Charles Spurgeon
Some people think we need a funny gospel. Some suggest we need a more intelligent gospel.
Spurgeon went on to say this – “ God be thanked for the simplicity of the gospel. The longer I live, the more I bless God that we have not received a classical gospel, nor a mathematical gospel, nor a metaphysical gospel; it is not a gospel confined to scholars and men of genius, but a poor man s gospel, a ploughman's gospel; for that is the kind of gospel which we can live upon and die upon.”
Notice this about the early church - look at v.33
And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
As I was studying this last section in Acts 4, I couldn’t get my mind off of the phrase “and great grace was upon them all” ESV same words in KJV and NKJV
abundant grace was upon them all. (NASB)
G R E A T G R A C E was on them all
It needs an explanation.
1. The Explanation of Great Grace
It’s impossible to do Bible study and not run into the word “grace”. You can see the letters of Paul how the introduction is similar. He begins his letters with the words “grace to you” and the other word that follows is “peace”.
Eph 1:2 Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 1:7 Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace is God’s favor toward the unworthy! That’s the entire human race. It’s favor that’s unmerited. To understand “grace” we have to understand who we were outside of Christ. Apart from the gracious work of Christ in our hearts we were hopelessly lost.
Being lost means we were unable and unwilling to come to Christ. We were enemies of God and deserving of judgment in hell. All our attempts to justify ourselves were inadequate. We were spiritually empty, blind, unclean and dead in our trespasses and sins.
But then came grace. God extended his favor toward us. We are saved by grace.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: (EPH. 2:8)
GRACE is a gift. It’s not a loan. It’s not something you earn. It’s not earned by the keeping of laws, or a set of rules. It’s a FREE GIFT.
“The gift of salvation costs us sinners nothing. But the price of such an extravagant gift came at a great cost for our Lord Jesus, who died in our place.”
Romans 3:24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
We are SAVED by the Grace of God. God’s GREAT GRACE gives us other benefits.
There are times we grieve, we feel pain in our hearts. We are Comforted by the Grace of God.
There are times we are weak in our spirit. We are Strengthened by the Grace of God.
There are times we are downcast, down in the dumps. We are Encouraged by the Grace of God.
There is an abundant Grace for every need in life. God’s throne is called the “throne of grace.”
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
We are given a measure of God’s grace for the purpose to minister and to be used for God’s glory.
As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 1Peter 4:10
The best way to “explain” grace, or “define” grace is to see how it works. See it in action.
2. The Evidence of Great Grace
You can tell when the “Grace of God” is present. It is the working of the Holy Spirit. Notice in v.31 “And when they had prayed, the place……filled with the Holy Spirit….”
What we see - power of God - shakes the place where they met.
v.33 calls it “great power” and “great grace”
This is not the product of man. This is the working of the Holy Spirit. You can’t see the Spirit, but you can tell when the Spirit is at work. You can see the manifestation of God’s grace at work in the church. One evidence of “great grace” is the presence of unity.
(a) There was unity - READ v.32
They were of one heart and soul, or mind. They were united together for the proclamation of the gospel. Remember there were 3000 saved and baptized on the day of Pentecost. By the time we get to chapter 4:4 the number is 5000 men saved…. One bible scholar believes the number could have been close to 20,000 if you include the probability that each of the men were married and their women were saved as well. Regardless, it’s a lot of people. Imagine the organization involved to get thousands and thousands of people baptized. It required being of one heart and soul. And remember many of the Jewish people came from other parts of the country. They came to celebrate Pentecost. And many of them became followers of Christ after Pentecost.
9 Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judaea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia,
10 Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes,
11 Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.
1. To have a great number of believers “united” with one heart and soul is truly a work of GREAT GRACE.
2. To have a great number of believers from different cultures, speaking different languages, of different nationalities to come under one roof and be of “one heart and soul” is definitely a work of GREAT GRACE.
3. To have a great number of believers with various different backgrounds to depend upon each other because they left their homes and sources of income to be a part of the Jerusalem church is another indicator of GREAT GRACE.
NOTICE: v.32 no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
And v.34 there was not a needy person among them…
To be so organized, so generous, so giving ---required the UNITY of the Spirit.
Ephesians 4:3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
Dr. Vance Havner said, we are not to be wired together by organization, frozen together by formalism, rusted together by tradition, but melted together by one Spirit.
(b) Sound biblical teaching - v.33
We’ve already read in v.31 “they continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
Now in v.33 “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.”
What did they teach? “the word of God” and they did this with boldness. They did not proclaim God’s Word with their opinions, …with own ideas, NOT “dress up” their Gospel proclamation with decorations of the flesh to MAKE IT APPEALING….. NO…they preached and taught the unadulterated, pure WORD OF GOD without FEAR or FAVOR. It was with Holy Spirit boldness..
What did they teach? “their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus….” The Apostles did not present information they heard about, or they read about…. No! this was their testimony to what they had experienced. If we may borrow what Peter said in v.20 “for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”
With GREAT POWER the Apostle gave their testimony…
GREAT GRACE was upon them all-- why? Because they (all the believers) were devoted to the Apostle’s Doctrine. (Acts 2:42) the Apostle’s testimony became the Apostle’s doctrine..
It’s the GOSPEL --- it’s the resurrection of the Lord Jesus….and that means there was a crucifixion…there was a death….a payment for sins…. (death = burial = resurrection)
What is the Gospel? hear the Apostle Paul explain it’s meaning… 1Cor. 15:1-8
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
God gives “GRACE” on that which He approves! He gives His blessing on that which He honors!
God honors His Truth! His Gospel! His Holy Word!
THE EVIDENCE OF GREAT GRACE IS THE PRESENCE OF UNITY PLUS SOUND BIBLICAL TEACHING.
Let’s put that together and we have - “unity in God’s Truth” “unity in God’s Truth”
Let’s add another component: Unity in God’s Truth producing “generous giving”.
(c) The evidence of generous giving – READ vv.34-35
People become generous when the grace of God was at work in their lives. .
Notice to what extent they gave. V.34 “for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold v.35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet,
This is extravagant giving. Taking the proceeds of what land and houses were sold for and given to meet the needs of people in the church.
Why was there great needs? Remember - with the birth of the church—the people stayed in Jerusalem. There was no church back home. This was the only church for now. Being away from home they were cut off from their regular source of income. Also, coming to Christ meant losing their jobs. They were excommunicated from Jewish life. They were totally dependent upon the Lord and each other.
There was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit; a great outpouring of God’s Grace; which produced a great outpouring of generosity. The generous giving of these Christians was such that according to v.34 There was not a needy person among them…the affluent Christians saw to it that people did NOT go without food, clothes, and a place to sleep.
They sold their houses and lands and brought the proceeds of the sale = apostle’s feet
The money would be in a money bag, and they dropped it at the apostle’s feet.
They entrusted the money to the APOSTLE’s…. they had trust in the Apostles to see to it that the needs of others would be taken care of.
This is anonymous giving so that it collectively comes from the church.
v.35 It was distributed to each as any had need. This is how it worked. “as any had need” The need for food; the need for shelter; the need for medical attention; the need for shoes, clothes, The Jerusalem church faced much persecution in those days. THEY WERE IN GREAT NEED. When there’s great needs, there’s great grace! God gives it through His people. God will also give a leader to be the example for others to follow in the manner of giving.
A Leader emerged as a source of great help and encouragement = Barnabas (Read vv.36-37)
Barnabas - real name - Joseph, the apostles gave him a nickname - Barnabas which means “son of encouragement” He was always finding ways to be an encouragement for those who struggle in the early church. He was very generous. He was a Levite. That means he was a priest. Levites were not known for having a lot of property. On top of that He was from Cyprus. It’s not clear if he sold land in Cyprus, or if he sold land that he owned near Jerusalem. Barnabas was indeed very resourceful. His ability to provide funds proved to be very encouraging.
We will hear more about Barnabas in our study of Acts. The gospel will spread to a place called Antioch a distance over 300 miles from Jerusalem. Many will come to Christ in Antioch and it gets the attention of the church in Jerusalem.
21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose
BARNABAS saw the grace of God….he saw evidence of God at work.
Antioch was blessed with the GRACE of GOD….a great work was started. Barnabas was truly an Encourager!
24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
But Antioch could RETURN the FAVOR…..God will use the new church at ANTIOCH to bless the church in Jerusalem.
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
3. The Experience of Great Grace v. 33
How can you experience GREAT GRACE? (read v.33)
You can’t manufacture it. you can’t buy it in a store. You can’t order it online.
GRACE comes from God’s storehouse. It comes from the “throne of grace”.
1. It requires humility and prayer. The early church was constantly coming together to pray.
We may be praying for one thing, but God will give us what we need. Take the example of Paul who prayed for a “thorn in the flesh” to be removed.
7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
There was the danger of Paul becoming proud because of what he had experienced.
James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
2. Stay with the Gospel of Christ - v.33 “the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all”
Stay with the Message of the Cross - that’s what God will bless, and honor!
The Apostle’s did NOT waver from it.
That’s our only HOPE. We are saved by Christ.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)
Justified by his grace… Our trust is NOT in ourselves….It’s in God’s Grace!
3. Trust in God’s Amazing Great Grace
Spurgeon speaks of the power of God’s Grace -
The bridge of grace will bear your weight, brother. Thousands of big sinners have gone across that bridge, yea, tens of thousands have gone over it. Some have been the chief of sinners and some have come at the very last of their days but the arch has never yielded beneath their weight. I will go with them trusting to the same support. It will bear me over as it has for them. --Charles Spurgeon
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see. ~ John Newton
John Piper exhorts us to trust the grace of God.
That's my plea to you. (he says) Trust the grace of God. Don't put your trust in yourself. Don't put your trust in money. Don't put your trust in the government. Don't put your trust in the church. Don't put your trust in your job. Put your trust in the grace of God. And then hang in there. Don't let anybody trick you out of the greatest gift in the world—living in the joy and power of the grace of God. (John Piper)
We come to the Lord’s Table - We trust in His saving grace! We trust in His blood, not our own.
We trust in His Work at Calvary, not our own work.
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2Cor. 8:9)