Acts 4:32-37 – Applying Acts (Part 3)

In Acts 4:32-37 we have a description of the early community of believers in Jerusalem.  A text such as this provides a good opportunity to stop and think about how we ought to apply the book of Acts today.

Sometimes this group is described as living as communists since they “live in common” and seem to have re-distributed wealth.  Many traditional dispensationalists have therefore concluded that the future Kingdom will be some sort of socialist paradise with no private property, etc.  Try as I might, I cannot find this elsewhere in scripture nor am I communist who needs to find biblical support for by economic theory!  Virtually everyone who treats this text finds some way to avoid the “living in common” aspect of Acts 4.  Is this the right way to approach the text?  I think the economic reading of the text might obscure the real point.

There is no question that the early church sought to meet the needs of their community and the needs of the larger society as well.  Arnold (Acts, 34) points out that in Judea there was a famine which threatened the Christians who remained in Jerusalem.  In Rome some Christians had their property seized, including Aquila and Priscilla.  Even in the days of Justin Martyr Christians were interested in sharing possessions for the common good: “We who valued above all things the acquisition of wealth and possessions, now bring what we have to a common stock, and communicate to every one in need” (Apology 1.14:2-3).  There were Christians in Rome who sold themselves into slavery so that they could provide for the needs of the poor in the church.

The big question is therefore: How do we apply the descriptions of the earliest Christian communities to the present Christian church?  Or perhaps, should we even try to apply these things to our church? Perhaps there is more going on here than Luke giving us a model for all churches at all times.  While I really am impressed with the recent emphasis on simplicity, I find the sort of “health and wealth” gospel which infests the American church like a disease a dangerous and idolatrous idea.

The community described in Acts 4:32-37 is a new, idealized Israel.   That the eschatological community should be characterized by unity of mind is no surprise, Jer 32:39 describes unity as a distinguishing characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the New Covenant.  It is possible that the unity of “one mind” is a subtle allusion to 1 Chron 12:38-39, a text which describes the beginning of the Davidic kingdom.  In this passage the who nation is of “one mind” to make David king, as demonstrated in their eating and drinking together for three days with David.  The time is also described as a period of “joy in Israel.”  The initial coronation of David as king over all Israel includes Jews  from “far away,” celebration through meals, and great joy.

What concerns me here is drawing ethical implications from this text.  Luke is not presenting the Jerusalem community as an ideal which must be followed, but rather as a community which was uniquely powered by the Holy Spirit. What would our churches look like if they were characterized by unity such as this?  What matters is not a collective community garden or sharing of money with poorer members, but that all members of the community have the same interests and goals; they are wholeheartedly yielded to the Holy Spirit.

That sort of unity would revolutionize the church.

7 thoughts on “Acts 4:32-37 – Applying Acts (Part 3)

  1. However hard the church tries to emphasize the unity of the Holy Spirit in the church, peoples’ ideals are a hinderance. While this thought is beautiful and there is no doubt in my mind that this is the type of unity presented by Luke, it seems that our lax society needs awakening. One of the most prominent reasons that the early church here was so “on fire for Christ” (classic) was that they had just realized their heart-piercing wrongdoing of crucifying their Messiah. A revelation of such gravity would cause anyone to try to repay the wrong that they had done. This obviously led to passion for the church and people in the church, but may have become superficial and routine after a while. I’m not saying that the church was falsely genuine, but that apathy could have crept in as easily as it does today.

    But how do we fight this apathy? Perhaps the same way that the early church began to be passionate: continually remember the death of our savior. As Romans 12:1 says, “…by the mercies of God… present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (also classic), which alludes to the completely selfless mercy that Jesus showed to us. In the light of God’s mercy, we cannot help but become aware of our apathy and become sensitive to others’ needs.

  2. I do think that it is very interesting how the church is described and how people react to it. I believe that it is, just as you said P. Long, the church working together in unification. “All the believers were one in heart and mind…they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32) If everyone is acting out the gifts and abilities God has given them, and they are using them to help others, to further the church and its goal, then everyone will be “one in heart and mind” and they will be “sharing everything they have”–using their strengths to help those who are weak. It is not telling us that we all need to reorganize our church to mirror that of Acts 4:32-37, but that everyone do what they are able and to use their gifts to further the goal that the church, as a whole, has. The things listed in this passage are important and I feel that it is something the people of the church should strive to attain, but I think if churches thought they had to be exactly like what is describe, it would become too legalistic and not something they wanted to do to bring glory to God. When everyone is on the same page and working together, a whole lot more can get done, and get done more efficiently, than if everyone were going their separate ways “fending for themselves.”

  3. To answer your question in paragraph 3 P Long, In the early Christian communities, it shows that no one claimed items as their own, (Acts 4:32-35) back then they did not have many possessions, well not nearly as many as we do today. But the amount of possessions has nothing to do with our attitudes. I feel as if our attitudes have changed immensely sense the time of the early church. Now a day we worship differently, speak differently, think differently and treat each other differently. I feel we have lost some of the valuable lesions God was trying to teach us from this passage of scripture. I think we should try to apply the way they lived to our lives, and to our churches, we should share everything we have with each other. There was a time in my life; where I did not know it, but all I had was my church family. My family was going through a very rough time and my church members pulled together, supported my family in prayer, with food, money, clothing, schooling and anything else they could. That was just a taste of what the early church was like, and I think it is so sad that we let ourselves get so caught up in the “look” of a Christian instead of the REAL Christian.

  4. Once again, to not be repetitive on every post of mine, this conversation has to return to the topic of the heart. No matter what deeds we do, or what things we try to accomplish, it all goes back to the heart of intentions. I like what Joe had to say about focusing on the cross and sacrifice of Christ. When we, as a body, focus on the sacrifice of Christ it changes our perspectives on possessions and the purpose of the body of Christ. The purpose is to serve, minister, and share the Gospel message of Christ. One way to do that is through sharing possessions and caring for those who have needs. Yes, it may not look exactly like sharing “everything we have” with everyone else, but it gets to the heart of focusing on others. A pastor I heard once said that the early church may have looked at possessions as on wheels. Yes, it’s mine, but if my neighbor needs it, then I give it to them. This has been a great reminder for me as I look at the church body around me. Not only with my possessions, but with my time, energy, and love as well.

  5. I believe you said it the best at the end of this post. It’s not that we are to sell everything and make sure everyone is equal in money and everything (although we should give to our less economically standing brothers). But, it’s that we should all have the same level of goals and we should all be working toasted those goals. One of their goals was having everyone taken care of and selling their property for the bettering and reach of the word. That was a different time so they had different goals. Now we have goals as a community of believers, but I think that we have to figure out what those goals are.

  6. Well, we all seem to agree that the church is not as unified in purpose as we believe it should be, but I am not sure the purpose of this passage is solely to emphasize the early church’s unity of purpose. I am not a student of Greek, and I don’t have a concordance available to me at the present to make sure that this passage reads like I think it reads, but in English, it seems very clear to me that Luke is describing two separate but related characteristics of the early church. First, in verse 32, it says that they were of one mind and they had everything in common. Luke hasn’t said anything about possessions yet, and he won’t for two more verses. What they all had in common at this point is purpose. They were of one mind. They had a common mind (attitude, outlook, purpose). PLong, in an effort to move away from the economics of the passage and more to the point of the passage, may merely emphasized a different point of the passage. I believe the economics of the passage to be very important. I believe it is important because Luke mentions it separately from his mentioning their unity in purpose. In verses 34 & 35 then, he says that they all sold what they had and gave it to the church to distribute. I see no reason to shy away from this, because this doesn’t really seem that much like communism to me. This is men who have much, acknowledging that they do not need all that they have, and so they voluntarily give it up to be redistributed. Socialism is when the government forces people to do that. No one is forcing these people to do this. In the next chapter Ananias and Sapphira are killed for their deceitful giving. And Peter tells Ananias essentially that his property was his own. So why should he pretend to be giving all of it when he was giving only part? I believe that ideally, the Church should look more like both verse 32 and verses 34-35.

  7. I liked when you, P Long, said, “I find the sort of “health and wealth” gospel which infests the American church like a disease a dangerous and idolatrous idea.” I definitely think that the whole prosperity movement or whatever it is called is ridiculous. Sure God blesses us and can bless us with material or monetary gifts, but if we are really seeking Him we should not have the strong desire to have “stuff.” I love that the believers in Acts 4 are living communally and definitely think that is a much better idea than amassing wealth beyond belief and keeping it all to myself because “God is blessing me with it.” I feel like I could be doing a lot more personally with my posessions. Even though I am a poor college student, I can help others by giving them my time or maybe some clothes. I would definitely say that giving what you have (no matter how little) is way better than doing nothing at all or hording everything you own.

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