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Acts 4:32-5:16 by Robert Dean
Dr. Dean referenced a YouTube-based video on economics in this class. You can view the video by clicking here.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:57 mins 9 secs

Personal Grace Orientation, Generosity: Not Socialism. Selected Verses. Acts 4:32-5:16

The passage that we get into in Acts 4:32 is a passage that speaks of the early believers in Jerusalem, many of them selling all of their lands, all of their houses, and taking that which they made from the sale of their property and gave it to the church to be distributed to each as anyone had need. This passage is often approached from the vantage point that this is some sort of approval by the Bible of socialism or some kind of social activity. So the opportunity has been taken to address this and show that the Bible is completely against anything related to socialism or communism. There are two major passages that are used for this to support this false idea, one coming from Acts chapter four and the other from Matthew chapter twenty-five.

Two books have been written that have been very influential at promoting a view of socialism among Christians. They are not the only ones but they are some of the most prominent ones. It has been very enlightening to discover the breadth and the depth of socialist thinking among mega-church evangelical leaders in the USA today, and this is what they are firmly committed to as well. It is not something that is very well known. They are right on board with the whole plan to end world hunger, end world poverty; yet it is not the mission of the church and it is not the mission of government, biblically.

The comment has been made: "Most serious is the unjust…" Key word. That is a value word, an ethics word. "… there is not a righteous division of the earth's food and resources." Well "righteous" means according to some standard, so whose standard is he talking about here? Is he talking about God's standard? According to this comment God must be unjust because God is the ultimate sovereign who oversees the distribution of agricultural fertility. So this must be God's fault. He is not saying that overtly but that certainly is the sub-text. Continuing, "Thirty per cent of the world's population lives in the developed countries but this minority of less than one third eats three quarters of the world's protein each year." But a lot of nations and cultures don't eat protein, you can't change them. And if you did they would have a lot of problems. "Less that six per cent of the world's population lives in the United States but we regularly demand about thirty-three per cent of most minerals and energy consumed every year." But what he doesn't take into account here is that it is the United States and the West that has developed the technology to give us all that we are consuming. If it weren't for the US and industrialized nations then these third world countries would never have any access to the technology in order to have any consumption of minerals, oil, energy, or anything else. The nations that have produced are the nations that have a right to enjoy the fruits of their production. That goes back to a foundation principle: If you work you have the right to the fruits of your labor.

There are cultures that ultimately are based on religious foundations—religious views of animals of the world, of work—that because of those distorted and perverted views have never produced and never will produce, and that is why they only consume a small amount. It's because they don't have the resources because they don't work, they don't produce; they don't develop technology to enjoy that in those countries. So socialists and others who try to put us on a guilt trip and say Americans consume too much, we are going to run out, and all of this other stuff, fail to ever mention the fact that we are simply consuming what we produce. We have every right to do that and, in fact, we should enjoy greatly and celebrate the consumption of what our culture has produced. It is the result of the hard work of our people. There is nothing ethically wrong with that unless you are operating on an anti-biblical ethic, an anti-biblical view of righteousness.

One passage that has almost always gone to support some from of Christian socialism, that we should be taking care of the poor, is found in Matthew chapter twenty-five. When we study the Bible it is always important to understand the context—text without a context leaves us with a con job. We have people who will go to the end of Matthew chapter 25 where there is the story of Jesus and the judgment of the nations, usually to verses such as verses 35ff.

Matthew 25:35 NASB "For I was hungry, and you gave Me {something} to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me {something} to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; [36] naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. [37] "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You {something} to drink? … [40] The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, {even} the least {of them,} you did it to Me.'"

The issue here is, what is this all about? Is Jesus laying down a principle that we should be feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and taking in any stranger off the street, clothing the poor? Is that what this is talking about, or is He talking about something else? The most important thing is context and the context for Matthew 25 actually begins in Matthew 24 where we find Jesus leaving the temple and is question by His disciples about all the beautiful buildings and architecture that Herod had developed for the renovation of the temple. And Jesus said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down." Then they ask when this will happen, and what would be the sign of His coming and the end of the age. They want to know what would happen prior to the coming of Christ. So Matthew chapter 24 is answering that question, and it moves into chapter 25 because the parables that Jesus begins to tell all relate to the future kingdom. Matthew 25:1 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins…" is talking about that future kingdom; v. 14 "For {it is} just like a man {about} to go on a journey…" All of this is talking about something in the future. Then in Matthew 25:31, our immediate context, and the first verse to set this up says, "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne." So this is when the Messiah who will come as a son of David to rule over Israel and their magnificent future kingdom. He says at that time there will be a judgment of the nations [Gentiles: individuals, not national entities]. 

Matthew 25:32 NASB "All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Then He establishes the basis for this judgment. This judgment has to do with the Gentiles who survive the Tribulation, not the end of time judgment at the great white throne, and not the judgment seat of Christ which takes place in relation to the church immediately after the Rapture. This is a judgment that comes immediately after the second coming when Jesus is judging the Gentiles who have survived Daniel's seventieth week or the Tribulation period.

Matthew 25:34 NASB "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [35] 'For I was hungry, and you gave Me {something} to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me {something} to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; [36] naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'" Who is the "I" here? He is not talking about Himself personally but that He represented a group of people. This becomes clear with the question: [37] "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You {something} to drink? [38] And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? [39] 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'"

Matthew 25:40 NASB "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, {even} the least {of them,} you did it to Me.'" Who are the brothers here? It is very clear that He is not talking about the entire human race, that is a concept that got read into this passage in the context of 19th century Protestant liberalism when one of the major ideas was that there is no exclusivity on salvation, everybody is going to go to heaven because God is the Father of everyone. But Scripture says that is not true, the New Testament does not teach the universal fatherhood of God. So the "brethren" here has a specific reference, and in Matthew "my brethren" refers either literally to Jesus physical brothers who were born to Mary and Joseph after He was born, or to the Jewish people. Here it is talking about how the Gentiles treated the Jewish people during the Tribulation period when the Antichrist and Satan are trying to destroy the Jewish people so that God cannot fulfil His promises to Israel.

So what Jesus is saying is that they are being evaluated at this judgment on the basis of whether they treated and dealt honourably with the Jewish people or not. The only way they would know that the Jewish people were still God's people is if they were believers and had learned this from the Word of God. There's an assumption here that only those who were blessing the Jews were those who were believers. Unbelievers would not do that, they would have no reason for it, and the anti-Semitism that becomes evident at the end of the Tribulation is worldwide. Every nation will be against Israel, and every person in every nation. Today we have very few nations who stand with Israel consistently. The United States is one of those nations. Why is it that the United States is historically supportive of the Jewish people? It was because in the colonial period and the influence coming out of England, even thought there was a very small group of Jews in the colonies it was freely open to Jewish immigration. Oliver Cromwell made it legal once again for Jews to return to England as a result of the influence of Puritan theology. This was in the 1650s. Why is Europe not pro-Israel? Because their whole theology is grounded in Germany and Lutheranism, which was replacement theology. In Holland it was Reformed theology, which is replacement theology. In France and Italy it was Roman Catholicism, which is replacement theology. So this replacement theology is really the seed bed wherein anti-Semitism can develop. Historically the United States has always supported a return of the Jews to their historic national homeland because that is what the Bible teaches.

If the Jewish people have do not have Israel to go to they have no safe home base and it is a tacit approval of a second holocaust. People today who are ignorant of the scholarly literature on the subject want to fight on this issue that anti-Israel isn't anti-Semitism, but if you believe that being anti-Israel isn't anti-Semitism you are fool, are historically ignorant, and are ignorant of international law. Yet we have politicians in this country running for president who believe this.

What this passage is dealing with is that in the Tribulation period Israel is going to come under attack from all of the nations in the entire world. Even the United States will be anti-Semitic by this time. Only Christians who become Christians during the Tribulation period are going to be pro-Jewish and protect the Jews. This is a passage that has nothing whatsoever to do with economics and socialism but has everything to do with protecting and providing security and protection for the Jewish people.

Conclusion: How did we get in this mess that we are in today? Because we are living in a nation today when a number of evangelical leaders—leaders in the entire mega-church movement and the emergent church movement—are socialist to their very core. They read each other's literature and they support each other, and they have as a theological foundation a lot of subterfuge and trickery: on the one hand they'll affirm the inerrancy of Scripture but on the other hand in practice they will reject it. They say they believe in free market economics but on the other hand they set forth social agendas that are perfectly parallel to UN's millennial goals to end hunger, end poverty and these kinds of things.

We got into this kind of a mess because of things that happened historically, starting in the late 1700s and even earlier. In understanding culture and history we always have to ask three questions. What does a group of people believe about authority? Who is the ultimate authority in upper truth? Is it God or is it man? Is it tradition, or is it some institution like a religious institution? Second question: What is their view of God? Do they have a small God who just sits out there and doesn't do a whole lot and human beings basically run the show? Do they have a view of God who is just a blown-up version of man? Or do they have a God who is part of creation? Do they have a pantheistic view of God? Is God an impersonal force? Or do we have a personal, infinite creator God who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? He is personal in that He interacts, communicates, has a relationship with individual persons, but at the same time He is an infinite God. The third question is on the view of man: Is man totally independent, totally autonomous of God? God has no controls whatsoever. Do we have a view of man where he is just a cosmic accident, which is what we have in Darwinism? Or is man a specifically designed creature in the image of God? Then we have to ask further questions: Is man basically good or basically evil? Basically evil doesn't mean he can't do good things or doesn't do good things but that the orientation of his soul is basically towards himself.

What happened historically is that western civilization moved out of the Protestant Reformation (1517-1650 approx.) and went into another period called the Enlightenment. In the Enlightenment the intellectuals in the western world rejected the Bible as the source of authority. Part of the problem was that before that in what they called the "Dark Ages" out of their arrogance they confused the Roman Catholic church who said they were teaching the Bible. But that wasn't what they were teaching. The Roman Catholic church had taken a lot of things in the Bible and had mixed it with Platonism and later Aristotelianism, and later on nominalism. So what was taught as absolute theological dogma by the Roman Catholic church was stuff that wasn't even in the Bible, it was a result of tradition. The authority was not God's Word, the Bible, it was their tradition. The Enlightenment put an emphasis on reason apart from God—we could ascertain all truth without God telling us anything. Ultimately they were beginning to reject the idea that there was a God who was really there. For them God was getting smaller until He was just an impersonal force and then nothing by the time of the late 19th century. At the same time their view of man was getting larger and larger and more capable, until into the late 19th century man is the definer of all truth.

Toward the end of the Enlightenment period—there were different forms of the Enlightenment—the was one form in Scotland called "Scottish common sense reality." It was heavily influenced by biblical truth; it was more biblical than it was rationalistic. One of its great lights was a man named Adam Smith who wrote a classic economic book that changed western civilization called "the Wealth of the Nations." It was published in 1776. That changed the west but by that time the Enlightenment is already beginning to get rejected by a lot of intellectuals, and with their shifting from the tight reason and logic of the Enlightenment, but because they had rejected God the only thing they had to go to once reason was rejected was emotion. So there was the rise of romanticism—a shift to emotion and subjectivism and to forms of mysticism and idealism.                    

Mysticism always goes hand in hand with idealism. This shapes the thinking in England. It shapes the background for Marx, for Darwin, for Herbert Spencer (the sort of father of sociology), for Freud and for economic thinking. Now they had completely slipped the anchor from the historic roots of Christianity and were just free-floating. Marx's ideas began to penetrate the west so that by the early twentieth century there was the rise of what is called modern progressivism, otherwise known as liberalism. Liberalism was the idea of being liberated from the restrictive authority of the church or tyranny, but by the early twentieth century this word changes its meaning so that liberalism became progressivism. And the idea of progressivism is that man is totally autonomous and basically good, which means he can create a perfect or utopian society and man can do that only under the guidance of an elite few.

These ideas began to be accepted more and more by the population in the west, and these include ideas such as when there are basic social problems it is not the private sector's responsibility to solve them, it is the public sector's responsibility to solve them, government's responsibility to solve them. So there is a shift away from the value of the individual and his responsibility to the corporate solution—the corporate solution in terms of government, the corporate solution in terms of the institutions. Therefore we are going to have a perfect peaceful earth and a utopia which is only going to come in if government does it.

There is the rise first in Europe, but now we (the US) want to be like Europe—an economy like Europe, a health system like Europe. What made the United States distinct from Europe was the emphasis on the individual, individual responsibility, individual potential. We are either going to emphasize the individual's right to shape his life or we are going to emphasize the security which is provided by the government. We are either going to have true freedom which is going to be a freedom of opportunity or we are going to have a freedom that is really a pseudo-freedom that is trying to guarantee equal results. We are either going to have equal opportunity or equal results; we cannot have both. When we move towards equal results so that everybody has the same thing what we have done is we have destroyed personal individual responsibility, personal individual freedom; we have completely violated all the initial principles that are laid down in the Word of God for a society and the result is going to be eventual collapse. When this collapses, of the generation that is around those who survive are only going to be those whose mind is fortified by the principles of the Word of God; because God has given us the only solution and that is in His Word.