Real Community

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. [1]

Years ago in the early Seventies I was part of the phenomenon known as the “Jesus People.”  For four years, I was involved in a sub-culture group of the “Jesus People” who practiced community living.  Only unlike the story from our text today, it wasn’t voluntary to sell your possessions.  In order to join the group, it was mandatory.  The results were disastrous.  Because of the compulsory nature of our selling all that we had, there were many hard feelings of resentment of the people who had sold all they had and given it to the leaders of the group.  The leader ended up taking the money from the proceeds and either bought more equipment with it or used it for himself to eat sumptuously while the rest of the people in the group ate pumpkin for two weeks at a time or turnips as a steady diet for two or three days in a row.

Meanwhile, I noticed that most of the people in the group who would get packages from home with gifts and goodies were hiding those things and began to hoard these things so they could eat a snack in the night when nobody was looking.  Of course this wasn’t too surprising, since our diet was shall we say lacking in substance?

The point is this:  This is what happens when a spontaneous idea, born out of a genuine heart for other people in the community becomes compulsory and mandated by the leaders in a group.  As we shall see in looking more deeply at our text, this was not a great hippie experiment in socialism that the early church was involved in.  It was something they did at the beginning of the churches’ existence out of the great grace that was bestowed upon them to do so for a higher purpose.

According to J.B. Polhill, “The voluntary and temporary nature of the Christian practice is evidenced by the consistent use of the iterative imperfect tense throughout vv. 34b–35. This is how they “used to” do it. They “would sell” their property and bring it to the apostles as needs arose.”[2]  We also, never see this practice mentioned again either in Acts or the rest of the New Testament.

What we can learn from this stellar example of Christian love is that as the church is filled with compassion and sees many people added to the church daily, in the excitement of what God through his Holy Spirit is doing can cause us to give generously from the heart, so that the body of Christ is strengthened and no one is left lacking.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ac 4:32–35). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Polhill, J. B. (1995). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 153). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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