Privacy is valued highly in the Western world. This is seen in expressions like the fences we build around our yards, and the curtains that we install on our windows. We don’t like those who aren’t a part of us necessarily knowing what we are up to; not that we have anything to hide, but it just feels intrusive. This is generally true of most people, but not everyone! I worked with a friend for a few years who had a decorative concrete garden edging business. There is one job we did that I will never forget. We were working in the client’s front yard. That day the neighbour across the road was out front with small children and was yelling at them for an extended period of time! I felt so embarrassed for them! When we are raising our voice with our children we try not to do it in public, and even in the house we think to close the windows so the neighbours don’t overhear us!
This cultural value that we hold impacts our faith as well. We tend to view faith as a personal matter, and society asks us not to practice it in a public way so as not to make others feel uncomfortable or offend them. Last Sunday, in our series on Acts, we looked at Acts 2:42-47. In verses 46 and 47 it says: “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” For a community of faith to have favour with all people, and for unbelievers to become saved and be added to their number, they were clearly not living isolated and private. They had a visible, public faith! What we see in the early chapters of Acts is a new community of believers where the believers were together and yet remained within the wider society. This was in contrast to some Jewish sects of that time who fled society to live removed and withdrawn so as not to be tainted. Such a community was the Essenes who lived out in the wilderness at Qumran along the Dead Sea. We were privileged to visit this sight on our trip to Israel last September. Here are a few pictures:
Notice the desert surrounding the excavations. In contrast to the Essenes, the early Christians stayed in the cities and towns. They understood Jesus’ call on their lives to be witnesses. In praying for his disciples Jesus said, “I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:15). The words of Paul in 1 Cor.5:9-10 also come to mind for me: “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. 10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that”. Our temptation can be to cocoon and live a private, invisible faith. But that is not an obedient faith. To keep in step with King Jesus we need to follow him out into the broken world to find the lost. The King is about expanding his Kingdom!
There is also something interesting to note about Luke’s use of that word ‘favour’. As Luke set out in the opening chapter of Acts, the book is about Jesus and his continuing works and teachings through his disciples. In Luke’s gospel he uses this word of Jesus: “Jesus grew in favour with man and God” (Lk 2:52). The early church was looking like Jesus! As we dare to be on mission for Jesus, although we will likely experience some opposition, we will also come into favour with people who’s hearts are ripe for Kingdom harvest!