Summary: The spontaneous voluntary sharing of the early church.
GRACE TO GIVE
The first reference to the voluntary sharing of the early church occurs soon after Pentecost, when the believers in the Jerusalem church (3,120 members plus daily additions) were said to be ‘together, and had all things in common, sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among them all, as anyone had need’ (Acts 2:44-45).
The second reference follows the addition of another 5,000 members (Acts 4:4), and another infilling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31). So, we are not looking at the formation of an early monastery, far less at a commune or kibbutz in any modern sense of the word, but rather at a spontaneous response by new believers immediately following a time of revival.
1. We are told, first, that “the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). They were ‘brethren together’ (Psalm 133:1); ‘of one accord’ (Acts 2:46). Those who are born of the Spirit of God are all members of the same covenant family, all have but one God and Father, and one Lord (Jesus) - and are all called upon to ‘bear one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:2-6).
2. Next, we are told that “neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common” (Acts 4:32) … “Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-45).
For example, Barnabas sold his land and contributed the money from the sale to the church. He was under no compulsion to do so, but he felt it was part of his stewardship to serve Christ in this way (Acts 4:36-37). Sometimes God calls us out of our own comfort zone to serve Him!
Similarly, Ananias and Sapphira contracted to bring the whole proceeds from a sale of their goods as a gift to the church but brought trouble upon themselves when they failed to deliver the full amount. They were under no compulsion to do so: thus Peter could say to Ananias, ‘While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?’ (Acts 5:4).
Yet it is not the sin of misappropriation or embezzlement which is emphasised here, but the sin of hypocrisy, and of lying to the Holy Ghost. It is bad enough for us to withhold from the poor, but to pretend all the while that we are actually giving to them is reprehensible. By doing so we do not lie to men, but to God.
As a result of the severity of God’s sentence against Ananias and Sapphira, the fear of God fell upon and surrounded the Christian community (Acts 5:11). More believers were added to their number (Acts 5:14). Unbelievers, on the other hand, dared not try to join the church, but were awestruck into keeping their distance (Acts 5:13)!
3. Finally, we are told that - in the time of this caring, sharing, community - “with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).
There are two observations here: first, the power for the apostles’ witness to the resurrection, and then the grace that was upon the whole community.
Now, one of the marks of apostleship is an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8-9). One of the qualifications of Judas' replacement was that he should be one of those who had accompanied the disciples from the very beginning of Jesus' ministry right through to the ascension. He was also to be a witness with them to the resurrection, so it was imperative that he should have seen the risen Lord (Acts 1:21-22).
But the power for that witness was not to be found when the apostles were quivering fearfully ‘behind closed doors’ (John 20:19), but only with the appearing of the resurrected Lord Jesus, and the later empowering of the Holy Ghost - and only as He gave them utterance (Acts 2:4). Who else could have turned Peter from a disclaimer into a proclaimer; and Jesus’ followers from runaways into willing messengers?
“And great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33) includes all those who were members of the church at that time. Grace is not earned - at least, not by its recipients: it is spelled out in the acronym, God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. So, the willing giving of the community was not rewarded by grace but was itself a spontaneous result of grace.
May God give us grace to do as grace-full people will do. And to His name be all the praise, and all the glory. Amen.