13. Church Members having all Things in Common (Acts 4:32-37)
32 The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. 34 For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need. 36 Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of Encouragement), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, 37 having a field, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Luke, the evangelist, following Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, gave us a close view of how the early church held all things in common. Now, after the healing of the lame man and the apostles’ testimony before their rulers, he gives a favorable view of the internal life of the church. Not only were the apostles filled with the love of Christ, but all the believers were joined to one another in a visible and actual unity. When we reflect on this unity, several points become clear.
The mystery of the early church lay in the fact that its love was true, and not just a passing sentiment. It was a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Their faith in Christ united them in common design, and their prayer as a congregation brought them nearer and nearer to their Lord, the center of the church. Through prayer they grew to one heart and mind. Each felt the other’s need, and they bore both trouble and joy together. It was as if one member´s heart was beating in the other’s breast, and one member´s soul dwelt in the other’s body. Each one had his own personality, but each one also denied self. In this manner, each member of the church obtained one new, comprehensive, and common soul, which became the soul of the local church.
Brotherhood in Christianity is a great mystery. It does not end with possessions and expenditures, but is practically realized in many situations. No one waits for the other’s help, for each one gives support quickly to his needy brother. Giving was a pleasure, and they regarded the love of money as a disgrace. No one worked for himself alone, but served others with his gifts, money, and possessions. The Lord delivered the believers from stinginess, envy, the love of money, and a reliance on personal property. Luke, the evangelist, informed us in his gospel, more than all the other evangelists, how Jesus warned of the danger of the love of money. He testified joyfully that neither the love of money nor an attitude of selfish possession prevailed in the early church. All things were held in common with their brothers.
They all expected Christ’s imminent coming, and sanctified themselves to receive Him. In their great expectation the apostles testified with power and great joy that Jesus was living, present, and carrying out His salvation. Their faith in the living Christ was their power, for by faith they had risen with him from the dead. They testified to the life of God that was dwelling in them. They did not preach an empty doctrine, but a great and active power.
Their Lord confirmed their testimony, and made His grace abound toward those who acknowledged His name. His power was at work, manifesting itself through their abilities and giftings. A spirit of sacrifice and love filled those who were open to Him. Luke twice mentioned the word “great” in his description of the power and grace that was indwelling the believers. We do not often read about this word in the gospel, save where there is fullness and overflowing of the Lord’s gifts. Hence, we recognize the mystery of the effectual testimony of the apostles, and the harmony existing in the church life.
In this voluntary, spiritual socialism there remained no needy, poor, destitute, disturbed, despised, or unqualified person left over. They all experienced joyous, quick assistance, accompanied with prayer and the power of the living God. Sufferings and troubles were overcome by the power of prayer in the church. Disagreements were borne with gratitude and praise. A heavenly tact dwelt on earth through the Holy Spirit. The apostles did not found a charity for the thousands of needy in their nation, but confined their charities to their church members. They felt that they were members of one family, and therefore, did not allow trouble to crop up among themselves.
These brothers in Christ knew their home was in heaven. They did not call what they had their own, for they had willingly forsaken all for God. They knew that God, the Creator, was the Possessor of everything. The Holy Spirit, and not money, reigned over the church. By this principle, we find the believers of Jewish origin being greatly delivered from the love of mammon, in accordance with Christ’s statement: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mt. 6:24)
The church did not waste the money given to it. Money received from property was placed at the disposal of the apostles. They had forsaken all for Jesus, and were following him steadfastly in poverty. The church members were all certain that none of the apostles would use even a small amount of the money for their own benefit. Moreover, the Holy Spirit did not allow a hair of injustice to happen. He was guiding them altogether to glory.
The number of church members at that time had grown larger. It became necessary for the apostles to sit on a higher place in order to speak to the audience or to see one another. Following the teaching and preaching, contributions were placed on the ground by the apostles’ feet. They were offered with thankfulness for God’s gifts to everyone. Dear believer, to what extent do you thank God?
The apostles did not heap up the money in order to secure the future of the church. They distributed the donations immediately. The fund was overflowing and empty at the same time, just as Peter had said: “Silver and gold I do not have.” In this manner they were giving to the needy at all times, keeping in mind that the Lord had not put the money into their hands just for it to accumulate, but for immediate assistance to those in need.
Luke tells us something of particular interest about Barnabas, whose name appears several times in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles (9:27; 11:22-30; 13:1-2; 14:12-28; 15:2). He was the “son of consolation”, which is the original meaning of the word “son of encouragement”. He was filled with the divine Comforter and Helper, the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift he could patiently encourage people to serve the Lord. This son of consolation was a Levite from the island of Cyprus. He or his father had bought an expensive field in Jerusalem as a burial property in expectation of the coming of the promised Christ. They desired to meet with Him at the first moment, as some other non-Christian Jews did in their extreme godliness. Barnabas knew the true Christ, and had His Holy Spirit in him as a guarantee of the glory to come. He became free of Jewish customs, and sold this expensive field. This selling amounted to a rejection of remaining Jewish residues, and was a testimony of expectation that Jesus Christ is coming soon. This stranger did not hold back any part of his money investment in the Holy City as life insurance for his sojourn on earth. He brought the entire price of his field and laid it, silently and humbly, on the ground at the apostles’ feet.
PRAYER: O Lord, Your love is wider than the heavens, and Your truth changes selfish hearts. Accept my money, and strengthen my faith in Your imminent coming, so that I may help whoever I find in trouble, that no one may remain needy in Your church.
- Which one of the characteristics of early Christian fellowship do you consider to be the most important to carry out in your life?