"But what I have I give you"

A sermon based on Acts 3:1-6.

Bertram L. Melbourne, PhD, is professor of New Testament language and literature, Howard University School of Divinity, Washington, District of Columbia, United States.

I once took a group of campers to the beach, and we saw a coconut floating in the water. We retrieved and opened it—only to discover that it was just husk, without a shell or fruit inside. How disappointed we were; it promised much, but delivered nothing.

Could some ministers be like that coconut? Full of promise but, ultimately, turning out empty? Could they be professing a lot but have nothing to back up that profession?

Let us look at one account from the early New Testament church that guides us to see if we are living up to the potential the Lord has placed in us.

No silver and gold

The story is found in Acts 3. Peter and John—fresh from the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit—are changed men, no longer fearful and timid. They now boldly proclaim the gospel, even publicly accusing their leaders of killing Jesus, the Son of God and the Messiah. Their focus? To advance God’s kingdom, and no human power seems able to deter them.

As Peter and John walk, they see a disabled man, a beggar who had been born lame and daily plied his sorry trade at the temple gate. Persons on their way to the temple to pray and/or offer gifts were usually generous, particularly because almsgiving was a central part of their religion.1 They saw generosity as a way to earn favor with God. In their theology, they believed that one’s good deeds had to outweigh one’s bad deeds in order to be saved.

The sight of the approaching worshipers may have elicited from the beggar the usual, “Alms for the poor! Alms for the poor!” His cry caught the apostles’ attention and gave them the opportunity to witness in the name of their beloved Lord and Master.

Note Peter’s discernment. Many needy people were at the temple gate. That Peter replied to this beggar implies he had spiritual discernment. Ellen White says this man had “long desired to see Jesus that he might be healed.”2 He missed Jesus, but now, instead, was face-to-face with a representative of Jesus.

The beggar, his situation, and the opening allowed Peter a great chance to witness. Unlike those who dismissed or ignored the beggar, Peter and John looked straight at the lame man. They had compassion for him and directed him to look at them. This is significant. For God to act for us, our gaze must be fixed on Him or on His servants—not on our cares or fears. Paul’s point is relevant—“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).3 Peter’s words raised the man’s expectations. He was sure something good was about to happen. Peter’s next words, however, “ ‘Silver or gold I do not have’ ” (Acts 3:6) must have greatly disappointed him and lowered his expectations.

Nevertheless, Peter didn’t stop there. He continued, “ ‘[B]ut what I have I give you’ ” (v. 6). With confidence and courage and conviction, Peter witnessed, not only to this man, but to all who were watching. “But what I have I give you”—words that show hope, faith, and confidence. Peter knew what he had to give, and he willingly, and without hesitation, gave it.

Notice, too, that Peter gave the man, not what he thought he wanted, but what he really needed. He needed healing for his body and salvation for his soul. Money could provide neither; healing and salvation are, instead, gifts of the resurrected Lord. Peter and John met his need, not his apparent wants.

In the name of Jesus

Peter and John recalled Jesus’ words, “ ‘According to your faith will it be done to you’ ” (Matt. 9:29), and “ ‘I will do whatever you ask in my name’ ” (John 14:13). All they had was faith in Jesus and His ability to help. That was enough and they acted on it, not to glorify themselves but to glorify God. They, therefore, said, “ ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk’ ” (Acts 3:6).

Notice, Peter didn’t say, “In the name of the church, walk!” He didn’t heal the paralytic in his own name. The paralytic was healed in the name and power of Jesus.

Taking the man by the right hand, Peter helped him up as his feet and ankles became strong. This man, who had never walked from birth, sprang to his feet and wasn’t only walking, but was jumping and praising God. And all because two disciples willingly used such as they had.

What it means to us

How do we apply this story to ourselves today? The lame man expected something from Peter and John, and they did not disappoint him. They had something to give, and they gave it. The result was the healing of the man, a witness to Jesus’ name and power, conflict with the authorities, and ultimately—the salvation of individuals.

Peter and John used the faith they had. So should we. People expect ministry from ministers, and we shouldn’t disappoint them. What do you have? We all have something to give, don’t we? We all have at least one talent and that one talent we can invest in God’s kingdom.

We need to be willing to invest our gifts for eternity and eternal rewards—the greatest being the reward of seeing souls in the kingdom who are there through our diligent efforts.

What do you have? Samson had a donkey’s jawbone. David had a sling and a willing heart. Naaman’s maid used her faith and voice to tell of Israel’s prophet who could cure leprosy. The widow had only a small jar of oil. Dorcas had a needle, and she used it with dexterity to advance the kingdom. The widow had her mite that she didn’t withhold but invested in the kingdom.

Yes, the lesson from the story should be the words of Peter, “But what I have I give you.” You can’t give what you don’t have.

We need to determine just what we have been given by the Lord, and then we should use it for His glory.

Talent on loan from God

The world expects something from Christians; God expects Christians to have something to give for He gave us a mission to fulfill. Matthew 25 gives fascinating insight on Jesus’ perspective on these things. The parable of the talents says God entrusts each of us with something that we must invest for Him. The parable of the sheep and the goats lists deeds of justice and acts of mercy as the things for which we will or will not be rewarded. Visiting the sick, giving food and shelter to the homeless, visiting those in prison, and other such acts of social justice are crucial to the Christian walk. Those who do these things will be more than fulfilling their calling in Christ.

We need to do more in these areas as Christians generally and ministers particularly. Our voices must be heard for justice and in defense of truth. For instance, we must speak out on issues relating to HIV/AIDS. We must stand against child labor by not buying products made by exploited children. We must support causes defending the defenseless, the exploited, and those on the margins. We must give voice to the voiceless, clothing to the naked, shelter to the homeless, and food to the hungry.

Yet the greatest motivation to use such as we have for God is the realization that God gave Heaven’s best for our salvation. Jesus, God’s best, gave His life for us. There’s no greater gift. No talent should be withheld from use for such a God.

Peter and John gave what they had—look at the result. Imagine if we were to give of what we have. The question we need to ask is, What do we have?

1. Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 126ff; see also William
Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles, rev. ed. The Daily Study
Bible Series
(Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press,
1975), 32.

2. Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA:
Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 57.

3. All scripture references are from the New International
Version of the Bible.

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Bertram L. Melbourne, PhD, is professor of New Testament language and literature, Howard University School of Divinity, Washington, District of Columbia, United States.

December 2009

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