As I write the Church remembers St. Barnabas – referred to by St Luke as a “son of encouragement.”
background is as simple as it is challenging. We’re told that a
quickly established practise in the early church, with no welfare state
in sight, was to sell their goods and possessions and lay the proceeds
at the apostles’ feet for distribution to those who had need. We are
not told what kind of need, or indeed, whether that need was the outcome
of irresponsible behaviour. Quite simply, where they saw need they
wished to alleviate it and that process of alleviation meant personal
Indeed, we’re told that “No-one claimed that any of his
possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had.” This
is a commitment to communal living which modern life has largely
squeezed out. Those who are called to the religious life experience the
joys and struggles of communal living and there is one church in
Bristol that has around 130 people living in community.
something very challenging about this, but there is also something very
different than the way believers think today. Of course we have a
taxation system that funds a welfare state; the early believers paid tax
to the Roman Government which didn’t have anything that could be
described as a welfare state, but they took on the additional
responsibility of caring for those who had need.
Quietly I smile
to myself when this political party or that claims to be the creators of
social care and social action. Christians have been at the heart of
this for centuries!
In the light of the recent General election,
it is worth noting that the Bible doesn’t have a huge amount to say
about Christian Citizenship. The weight of New Testament evidence would
call on Christians to support the ruling authorities unless those
authorities ask something of Christians that on the basis of our beliefs
we could not agree to. So, when the ruling authorities banned the
preaching of the good news about Jesus, Peter replied, “Judge for
yourselves whether it is right in God’s eyes to obey you (the ruling
authority) or God?” (Acts 4:19)
In the book of Jeremiah we read
these amazing words, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent
you into exile, and pray to theLord on its behalf, for in its welfare
you will find your welfare.” Jeremiah 29:7. Surely, this is a
forerunner of Paul’s words in Acts 20:35 “In all this I have given you
an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the
words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to
give than to receive.”
Clearly when we exercise our vote we should
be thinking about the welfare of the city (Greek ‘polis’ from which our
word ‘politics’ derives) and err on the side of gracious generosity.
But this isn’t just about a way of voting, it’s about a way of life.
We’re told in Acts 4 that the ‘much grace was upon them all.’ (v33)
old ethics teacher used to insist that Christian ethics are the ethics
of response. Until we understand the grace of God described by Paul in
these terms “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.” (2 Corinthians 8:9), we will
struggle to be gracious to those in need. Graciousness never makes
excuses for ungraciousness.
When we seek the welfare of others,
Jeremiah tells us, we shall find our welfare. Personal sacrifice in
giving will bring a sense of blessing that I believe nothing else will
bring to us.
Lord, let your grace fall afresh on me that I might be gracious to those in need. Amen