Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fulfilling the Law: Acts 2:44-47 & Acts 4:32-36 Are Not Temporary

Illustration by Judith Clingan
"When Jesus said, 'The poor you will have with you always,' He was quoting Deuteronomy 15:11, but he expected his disciples and us to think about the whole passage."

Ben Irwin continues his insight into interpreting Jesus' quote of Deu. 15:11:

"When Jesus said that there would always be poor people in the land, it was a concession to Israel's likely failure to obey the law requiring them to protect its most vulnerable citizens. Sure enough, that's pretty much how the story plays out in the rest of the Old Testament."

"There would always be poor people because Israel would not prove as generous as they were meant to be. There would always be poor people because Israel would not cancel everyone's debts like they were supposed to."

"Deuteronomy 15 commanded ancient Israel to cancel each others debt every seven years. Interesting to note that no distinction was made between responsible and irresponsible debt; no matter how people fell into financial distress, they were to be given a clean slate every seven years."

"The passage ends with the statement quoted by Jesus centuries later: there will always be poor people among you. Which is precisely why laws protecting the poor were needed in the first place: 'There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.'"

"What's more, to the writer of Deuteronomy 15, persistent poverty was anything but acceptable. Back up a few verses, to Deuteronomy 15:4-5:
There need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands...."
Perpetual Indebtedness is slavery. God forbids it because He wants all people to be free. When people pay their debts off and debtors forgive, then God's will is being obeyed:

"If the Son sets you free, then you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).

"The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives" (Psalm 37:21).

"We have found that with our program, it takes the average family about 7 years to become debt free..."--Dave Ramsey (paraphrased).

God commanded debts to be paid, but also forgiven every 7 seven years and for all land to be returned to each tribe every 70 years. Israel went into captivity because their manipulation and greed caused them to disobey the Law.

Christians in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35 "fulfilled the Law" (Matt. 5:17-20).

This was not some "temporary time period that we are not to worry about today..."

Christians were actually doing what God wanted them to do, and it was not communism. It was freely understanding and obeying divine wisdom instead of exalting and submitting to the "authority" of men.
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet." (Acts 4:32-36).
We would do better to listen to Dave Ramsey and to read The Huffington Post than to listen to most of our "gospel preachers."

What a shame...
"All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:44-47).
All Christians are responsible for interpreting and applying the Scriptures properly.

God has not given this responsibility to elders alone and it is unwise to support a system that does (see Acts 20:28-32).

Who is teaching us? To whom are we submitting?
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Acts 2:44-47 & Acts 4:32-36 show the Law was "fulfilled" not "abolished."

We need further study and to be taught how the Two Covenants of God relate--not how they are "separate."

Central Banks and Central Governments (Temple Treasury & Sanhedrin, The Fed & Washington, D.C.) in Jesus' day and ours are playing out the same human behaviors we read about in the Bible that Jesus contended with.

Church Treasuries and oligarchical control of them through private meetings and giving up power over our money for others to decide for us is not what Joseph the Levite did above, nor the Antiochian Christians (Acts 11:27-30), nor did the Corinthians (1 Cor. 16:1-4). The apostles and elders were servants distributing the money to the needy.

If we are able only to interpret the Bible from what we see around us (WYSIATI), then let's start where we are and see then that elders are "representatives of the people" who are to obey the wishes of the people. Elders are servants--not rulers or lawmakers. They lead us by mature example in serving others and in judiciary decisions made by the entire body of Christ through consensus--not oligarchy (see Acts 15:1-22).

Christ has "all authority" (Matt. 28:18) to legislate. We as "His body with one spirit" judge and make decisions based on Christ's law in our communities and assemblies. Elders naturally lead in that but they are not rulers.

First century Christians collected privately, stewarded their own money, and gave for the purpose of helping the poor. When they "laid it at the apostles and elders' feet" they distributed it for the purpose it was given. They were servant-examples for all to imitate (1 Pet. 5:1-7).

What do we purpose our collections for?

Is that why the US Government is doing our work? Are we imitating them?

Are Churches simply religious versions of the State?


NOTE: I had this material posted on my FB for "only me" to see for a few days now, but was motivated to publish this blog post based on my friend Ben Putnam's comment:
When Jesus said the poor will always be with you, he was referencing Deuteronomy 15:11, which is in a section about sharing your wealth with your brother who is with you in the land. Jesus is agreeing that the community of Israel should do this.

Acts 4:34 is echoing Deuteronomy 15:4, which is from this same section of Deuteronomy. The people in Acts 4 saw themselves as living within the story of the long-awaited return from exile (through the messiah) and—like another group which had formed in the wilderness around the "Teacher of Righteousness" had done several years prior—they sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to anyone among them who had a need. They lived in a (true) community and shared their wealth with their needy brother with them—and probably cancelled debts every seven years too, like it says in Deuteronomy 15.
Thanks Ben!

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