“Am I my brother’s keeper?” With that one question, Cain’s rebellion displayed how far sin could take men in one generation. Adam and Eve had rebelled against God, and the curse of sin entered into the world. Just a short time later, for the first time in human history, one man kills another man.
This is what sin does. Sin drives man to love himself to care for himself while he ignores the needs and concerns of others. Cain’s dad did the same thing. When Adam recognized that he was guilty before God, the very first thing he did was blame his wife, Eve, for everything. This has been the human condition since sin entered into the world.
God knew this was a major problem when He gave the law, the Pentateuch, to His chosen people. God was calling this group of people to be a community. They were to treat each other justly and take care of their brothers and sisters who were struggling. Leviticus 25 gives us a glimpse into the heart that God wanted His people to have for the poor. Take time to read this chapter of Scripture. God was concerned that His chosen people would love their brothers more than they loved their pocketbook.
But Israel did not obey God. The rich Israelites began to love their possessions more than God and more than their people. By the time we get to the ministry of the prophets, God is announcing judgment on the nation of Israel for their oppression of the weak and the poor. This is what sin does. Sin causes men to dehumanize other humans and to deify man-made objects. To put it another way, sin divorces human beings from one another and marries human beings to their stuff. The result is horrific. In reality, this is the story of human history. Jesus was born, He lived and He died in a world like this.
The ministry of Jesus is very telling. There are two themes that pop up over and over again. First, Jesus is constantly telling the people, you need to love God and each other. The two things that sinful human beings don’t want to do. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). This is what God created people to do.
God says you must love me and love each other. This is about the affections of your heart. Our heart needs to be affectionate (drawn to or concerned with) God and others. The second thing that Jesus says is: Don’t love your money or your stuff. Jesus speaks to this constantly in His earthly ministry. “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” “Don’t worry about money,” “You can’t serve both God and money,” “Give your money to the needy.” Jesus said all of these things, but it wasn’t happening. The religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, were “lovers of money.” (Luke 16:14). Here is what Jesus wants His people to do, “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” (Luke 12:32-34) But no one could do it.
Here’s the question: What can take people who love their stuff and their money more than anything else and turn them into God loving, people-loving, not anxious, joyful, exuberant givers? Only one thing can do that: The Gospel of Jesus Christ. We read the fulfillment of Jesus’ command in Luke 12 in Luke’s record of the birth of the church in Acts 4. In Acts 2, Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, God pours out his Spirit, three thousand people are born again, and the era of the CHURCH begins. The disciples continued to preach the gospel throughout Jerusalem and eventually Peter and John are arrested and told that they must quit preaching in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the first taste of persecution. The church gathers together and prays to God for boldness. “Lord look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness…” (Acts 4:29) They weren’t praying for safety, they were praying for boldness. The Spirit of God had changed their priorities. They loved God more than they loved themselves.
We see further evidence of this reality in verse 32. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and one soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Notice the effect of the Holy Spirit on the lives of these Christians. First, the people were bound together by the Spirit. They were of one heart and one soul. They were unified, living in community, loving and serving one another. This was God’s intent. Simultaneously, the Spirit was loosening the grip that their personal possessions had on them. “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own.” The Spirit was breaking them free from the grip of wealth and possessions and binding the people of the church to one another.
As we are changed by God to love him and love others, our love for wealth and possessions diminishes. Loving money and possessions will drive us away from loving God and loving people. Jesus told us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Has God’s Spirit caused our hearts to be drawn to himself and to his people? Then, that is where our treasure will be as well.
The church is in desperate need of more meaningful fellowship and community. Christians pursuing more money and more stuff is one of the greatest obstacles to this goal. We need to be honest enough to recognize a glaring reality: The pursuit of selfish pleasure and interest will disable meaningful fellowship in the church.
As believers, we need to take time to evaluate the direction of our lives. Are we allowing the pursuit of personal pleasure and wealth to suffocate and diminish our fellowship with Christ and His body, the Church? If so, we must repent, give ourselves away, and serve the body. The church must be of one mind, with one purpose, the spread of the Kingdom of God. May God give us grace to do it to the glory of His Name.