Acts 4:32-5:16 – A Christian Community

Acts 4:32-5:16 is a vivid 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 so that I need 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.

There is no call to sell our possessions and live “in common.”  The application is therefore rather general.  But people like Shane Claiborne (The Irresistible Revolution) would argue (passionately) that the earliest community of believers were putting into practice the ethics of Jesus (including economic ethics) by living as simply as possible. They did not build enormous churches and expensive structures – they simply met the needs of people. This is all true, of course, and that early community is important for how we might “do church” in a contemporary context. This earliest community is also very similar to the ideal Christian community Peter outlines in 1 Peter 3:8-12.

CommuneFrequently this text is invoked as a model for the church to follow today, with varying degrees of specific application.  For example, Allison A. Trites includes this text in her article on church growth (“Church Growth in the Book of Acts” Bibliotheca Sacra 145 [1988]).  The reason the apostolic church grew was because the church cared for the needs of the poor and treated hypocrisy as a serious offense (5:1-11).  The point is well made – the growing church cares about the needs of people as well as the preaching of the gospel.  But does this point really come from Acts 4:32-35?

There is no question the early church sought to meet the needs of their community and the needs of the larger society as well. 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).

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 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. I really am impressed with the recent emphasis on simplicity and I am by no means interested in any kind of “health and wealth” gospel – but I am also concerned with drawing ethical implications from this text.

30 thoughts on “Acts 4:32-5:16 – A Christian Community

  1. I think the way that we should draw from this passage is in the believers heart for others. These people gave everything they had for everyone to use but I do not think this is the important part of this passage. I think the fact that they were of “one heart and soul” and that nobody was needy. everyone gave of themselves to make sure that the needy had what they required for them to live. I do not think that selling everything you have and bringing it so it can be distributed evenly is something that we should do in our communities but I do think that the people that live in abundance should want to give a bit of what they have so that they can make other people who cannot provide for their needs or their families, a fruitful part of the community. Just like the poor women who gives a penny because that is what she could give. That is the perfect picture of the heart of this community

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  2. What I love about this title is how the passage lies with Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11). Ananias died because he only brought part of sold land which should have been used for the church. Sapphira dies by the same way—“conspiring and testing the Spirit of the Lord” (5:9). Keith and Krystin Getty’s song called “Simple Living” rings true with what a church, or simply put the follower of Christ, should model after: “How hard for those who are rich on earth/To gain the wealth of heaven.”

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  3. I think that it was great that the Christian communities were so concerned about the needs of others. Everyone would share what they had. I feel like in our society today, churches are also concerned about the needs of others but not to the extent that the Christians were during that time. Today, many churches have food pantries and also hold clothing drives for people in need. I do not think that we should sell everything we have in hopes of helping someone in need. There should be a balance. Choosing to live a lifestyle where all of your needs are being met but also making sure that you are not living over abundantly. The believers in Acts 4:32-37 were not selfish at all. They truly cared for others and their needs and in doing so; there were no needy people among them. I can only imagine what life would be like people lived just as the Christians communities did back then.

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  4. What we should draw from this passage is the community of the believers and how they took care of one another. To make sure everyone had food, clothing, and proper shelter, the believers sold everything that was not essential, such as land or houses, and gave the proceeds to the apostles. Through this, everyone was taken care of, “there was not a needy person among them” (4:34).
    I believe this is a model for us to follow today, to take care of our needy. No, I do not believe we should all sell our homes and everything we have to do so, but that they made sure everyone in their congregation had everything they needed, and that is something we should follow today. I know there are programs and things like welfare offered from the government to help, but from personal experience I can tell you that it takes a long time to receive that help. There is a lot of paperwork and steps one has to follow that takes a lot of time, and if the family does not have a church community or other family members to lean on for help, then by the time they receive the help from the government it could be too late. I propose that in our church communities we follow the example shown in Acts 4: 32-5:16, that those who are blessed to have extra things seek to help those who do not have even the necessities.

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  5. I was able to speak today on the topic of Christian Unity for another class. Although I spoke from Philippians 2:1-4, I shared about the Early Apostles as read in Acts 4:32-33. There is definitely a call nowadays to live simply (or minimalistic). Honestly, I like to pursue this mindset at times, chalking it up to becoming more hipster, however, this passage truly isn’t centering on living simply. The Apostles’ purpose at all times was to testify to the resurrection of Christ–it helps as well that the Apostles thought that Christ was coming back in their own lifetime–If I truly believed that I probably would do the same. However, it’s the Apostles’ mindset that is the real focus. They cared not about material goods or themselves, but loved outwardly, focusing on the needy. They were loving people to Christ by meeting their needs. In a way, the church today should embrace the living simply like the Apostles did, however, there is a danger in becoming consumed with having the “right” amount of material goods–soon we can become legalistic and forget the purpose in living more simply. This purpose is namely so that we have the necessary goods to bless those who are in need. Thus, while reading this passage, we should focus on the Apostles’ common mindset to promote Christ in all that they did. And truthfully we do not know when Jesus will return, so we too should have the urgency to reach people like the Apostles did.

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  6. I think that I would have to say that I agree with Tyler on some levels. When I read this passage, the idea of living in a Communist lifestyle never crossed my mind. Rather, I think that it is important to point to what you referenced later in your post Dr. Long. I think that the main idea of this passage is that we need to live simply or a minimalist lifestyle. For me, the idea of “living in common” means living simply. I know of a few people who, because of this passage, have decided to take a look at their things and start a cleanse of sorts where they only have 100 things total. I think that, though extreme, this idea is very biblical because of passages like the one in question. I also think that, as Tyler pointed out, it means being selfless and looking to the best interest of the community when it comes to your possessions and decisions. I think that it is really important, like Kim alluded to, to consider the fact that everything this passage may be saying, the disciples did. They lived in complete unity with one another and community was a big aspect of their ministry.

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  7. A few thoughts:

    (1) This passage describes an activity that is really not much different from what Paul urged the Corinthian church to practice: “For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”” (2 Cor. 8:13-15 ESV). That actually sounds very similar to having “all things in common” and “selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44). So the NT does urge behavior very similar to Acts 2 beyond that one instance. It is not correct to claim that this kind of radical sharing of possessions was a one-time occurrence found only among the early post-Pentecost Jerusalem believers.

    (2) In the similar passage in Acts 4, the behavior of selling possessions and distributing to the poor is described as being the result of God’s grace powerfully working among the believers. The NIV reflects this link (evident in the Greek) better than the ESV: “And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all THAT there were no needy persons among them. FOR from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales” (Acts 4:33-34). This suggest to me that if God’s grace is working powerfully among us today, there will be similar manifestations of selling unneeded property and distributing to those in need.

    (3) The phrase “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34) is sometimes seen as being an allusion to the OT law, which promised that if Israel was faithful, “there will… be no one in need among you, because the LORD is sure to bless you in the land” (Deut. 15:4; Witherington, Peterson, and Blomberg, for example, all cite this text). Blomberg (Neither Poverty Nor Riches) says “the church was committed to taking the principle of Deuteronomy 15:4 very seriously: ‘there should be no poor among you.'” If Luke intended this allusion, then it suggests, as Peterson says in a footnote, that this “passage might be regarded as having eschatological significance.” Peterson cites Seccombe (Possessions and the Poor in Luke-Acts): “Luke sees the church’s sharing fellowship as part of its present experience of salvation, and thus as a pattern of societal activity which is congruent with, and in some ways anticipates, the life of the age to come.” Peterson thus concludes, “It can scarcely be doubted that Luke wanted such extraordinary examples of Christian generosity and social concern to act as “an ideal and an incentive to those within and those entering the church” (again quoting Seccombe).

    (4) As Blomberg notes when commenting on the Acts 4 passage, “Interestingly, what does not appear in this paragraph is any statement of complete equality among believers. Presumably, there was quite a spectrum, ranging from those who still held property which they had not sold (cf. the reference to the home of John Mark in Acts 12:12) all the way to those who were still living at a very basic level” (Neither Poverty…). (By the way, Blomberg is well worth reading at length on the question of the relevance of this passage to us today; see pages 161-167.) If this is true, then those who claim that this passage describes something akin to Marxist-style communism are mistaken. Rather, it describes radical generosity of the kind affirmed multiple other places in the NT–as in, for example, the multiple places in Luke’s first volume where he records Jesus’ own teachings about selling possessions and giving to the poor. Jesus says that those who do so will have treasure in heaven and gain eternal life. The fact that the early Christians did so is thus affirmation that they truly do possess these saving blessings.

    I conclude from thoughts such as the above that the Acts 2 and 4 passages are both (a) describing a community of believers who are experiencing the promised eschatological blessings and thus proving that Jesus is indeed the Christ and also (b) recording an example for future generations of believers to imitate as they share in the same powerful grace of God. The two purposes are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually supporting.

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    • Absolutely, yes. Pretty soon we are going to need to band together and pool our God-given resources, as the enemy closes in.. Jesus has been calling those who would dare to call themselves followers of Him to live as He has called us to do. Nothing has changed from Acts 4:32. The two purposes as you say are “mutually supporting.” It haunts me night and day that we (who call ourselves His true followers,) are not really doing God’s will on this earth, by living with our nuclear families in community, with not one of us in lack. Bless you, I will pray for you as you continue to seek the Truth and reveal it to others. Pray for me too.

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  8. After reading this blog, I realized that serving the community and meeting the needs of others is a really important aspect of the church. I personally think that meeting the need of the community and sharing the gospel to the community should be the main focus of the church. However, nowadays there are churches that are concerned more about having the most members, or having the biggest facility, or having the most money, and so on. Serving the community and meeting their needs have become a lost aspect. When I look at my church back home, we try to serve our community faithfully. When thinking about serving the community I think about Matthew 25:35-36, it says “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.” Serving the community could be providing people with needs to survive or it could be something like encouragement. In Cahara’s post she said, “I think that it was great that the Christian communities were so concerned about the needs of others.” I agree with that. I feel that if every church had the mission to serve their community like it was done in Acts 4:32-5:16 then the world would be a lot different.

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  9. A community of believers should do everything within its power to help the people in it live in such a way as to avoid sin. They should be set apart, seeing as the Greek word for church, ekklesia, can be literally translated as “the called out.” Set apart from whom? The world. In a world that holds financial prosperity and personal happiness above all else, which could be argued for nearly every major civilization in history, a “set apart” group is one that values the well-being of others above his or her own. This could be done practically by sharing everything in community with one another. No one can boast of their great estate because it belongs to the community, and not just to them. I see incredible value in living this way as it puts your physical possessions in accordance with the commitment of your heart, to “in humility, consider others above yourself” (Phil. 2:3). I do not, however, see this as completely mandatory in order to live like Jesus.

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  10. I believe there is significance in how the believers shared their possessions. Acts 4:34 says “there was no needy person among them.” The apostles were able to live content lives. I think that whether the Lord blesses you with money or not you have responsibility to further his kingdom. I do not think because people are able to live simpler lives that makes them any better than Christian’s that do not give up all their possessions. I think it is very much an issue on how you use the resources God has given you by making mature decisions. In Acts 5:1-11 we read about Ananias and Sapphira they both were aware of the responsibility of withholding money from the apostles. In the case of this couple their decision on how to spend their money cost them their lives. The present church today has many more resources that the apostles did not have. There is a responsibility for us as believers to use what God has given us to honor him. I think it is important to remember Matthew 6:21 in this debate which says”where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” We need to be on the same page with God and have a heart for it similar to the way the apostles are described. We will never know the right way to use our possessions the only way to make mature decisions on how to spend the money God has blessed you with is to be in prayer and communication with him.

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  11. I just discovered a recent book that addresses the question of this post. The book is Exemplary Life: A Theology of Church Life in Acts, by Andy Chambers (B&H Academic, 2012). Here is the Amazon blurb:
    —–
    Exemplary Life articulates Luke’s vision for life together in a local church using key passages from Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; and 5:12-16 (known as “summary narratives”) as the starting point of reference. Although Luke is rightly acclaimed as the church’s first historian, he was a powerful writer and theologian as well. He also planted churches with Paul and had definite convictions about what life together in the church should look like. Yet, Luke’s theology of church life is underemphasized in modern scholarship, downplayed by issues rising from the historical-critical method.

    However, when the summary narratives are studied through the lens of narrative and rhetorical criticism, Luke’s strategy is unmistakable. Those passages cast a vision for life together in an exemplary church, drawn from the historical circumstances of the church in Jerusalem. These narratives also serve as a starting point for studying church life throughout Acts. When the church planting movements in Samaria, Antioch, Ephesus, and Troas are examined, we find echoes of the narratives almost constantly. These amplify and drive home Luke’s message in the summary narratives.

    Taking this path, twenty distinct characteristics of exemplary church life emerge. From repentance and Scriptural authority to praying together and earning the respect of neighbors, each one is thoughtfully presented here by author Andy Chambers to reassert Luke’s voice in 21st century conversations about the faithful formation of New Testament churches.
    ——
    Is anyone here familiar with this book? I just ordered it and look forward to reading it.

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    • Here is a link to the book:

      I ordered a used copy from Amazon today, and they were kind enough to send me a a kindle “sample” which includes the TOC and forward, and the first couple of pages in the introduction. Looks intriguing, thanks for the recommendation.

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    • Dear Dwight,
      I just came across this excellent discussion of the early church in Acts. My name is Andy Chambers, and I wrote Exemplary Life: A Theology of Church Life in Acts. I appreciate your insights into the early church’s attitude toward possessions above, and I would be grateful to hear any feedback you may have on my book.
      Blessings in Christ, Andy

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      • Thanks, Andy. I have your book on my shelf, and cracked it open for a quick scan when if first arrived. It looks very good. I do hope to read it, but it sounds like Phillip is getting to it before I am. I look forward to his review and will try to give you feedback as well once I’ve read it. Thanks so much for writing it!

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      • Oops. Just to be clear, gingrichdk is me, Dwight. (Click on my name here if you want to follow through to my blog to contact me.)

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  12. When reading Acts 4 of the description of how the Christian Community was doing life together, where everyone shared their possessions, sold to help the poor and made those who did not have anything a priority it immediately took me back to a missions trip I had a couple years ago. We went to bring food, clothing and school supplies to the indigenous tribes of Costa Rica. The culture of these tribes is one of family. Everyone knew everyone and looked out for each other. There was always a feel of acceptance and warmth among the people no matter if they were blood relatives or not. When I was reading the description in Acts about how the community of believers were treating each other my mind lead me to think of the time I spent serving these people and their response to accept and love all. Acts 4:32 really hit home in my heart: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” It blows me away to think of all the believers were one in heart and mind. Each of them had one goal in mind and that was serving the Lord, sharing with others and learning all they could. It makes me think what if the Christian community of the twenty first century were more like this? What if we focuses on others needs more that our own? What if we put into practice what these Christians from Acts 4 did? If we were I think there would be so much more growth and people would desire to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and there would be less conflict over things that truly do not matter. Dr. Long said it great when he states that this should be the model of the church that we should be striving to have, we must care for the needs of the broken and poor and not get so caught up in material things such as the structure or the building instead focus on changing people’s lives.

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    • Elenrae, Nice job. I like how you included a personal testimony. It is great that down in Costa Rica that everyone had an acceptance feel even if they were on different social levels, or one had more money than the other. It sounds like what many people in America should be doing more of, however, it seems harder to do that at times. I think that here in our own town, if we as one body and one mind did the things that the people in Acts did, there would be a lot less crime and prejudice, and a lot more love.

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  13. In response to the question, “How do we apply the descriptions of the earliest Christian communities to the present Christian church?”, I think Acts sets up a good description on what the Church should look like. Luke mentions in Acts that many people gave up all their possessions in order to help the poor (Acts 4:34). I do not think that every christian is called to do that however, some are. I think that it is every Christian’s call to not be stingy with our belongings but, to give to those in need if we are blessed with all our needs taken care of. I think there are churches out their that have strayed from the providing aspect to the widows, orphans, and the poor and have gotten caught up in the beautifying of a building. Having the best equipment, worship set and so on. I think it is important that Churches reflect back to Acts when the church merely gathered in houses because church is not just a place, but it is the gathering of the body of Christ. God is not just in Churches, or just in Jerusalem, but he is omnipotent, everywhere present. Jipp states “Throughout his speech, Stephen argues that God’s glory has never been bound to the land or the Temple” (2018, p. 71). I think it is important for Christians to be more about the people and their needs. It doesn’t necessarily need to be monetary, but providing a meal, or a warm jacket or resources is blessing a person.

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  14. The question that you posed here towards the end of this blog post is something that is really important to think about and quite honestly, should be highly considered within the present church today. What was originally sought after and what was originally created by god and Jesus for, has drastically changed into something totally different. I like the quote you used from Allison Trites article that she wrote based on church growth in the Book of Acts. She included a specific text from Acts in Chapter 5, stating that, “The reason the apostolic church grew was because the church cared for the needs of the poor and treated hypocrisy as a serious offense”. You also stated, (which I agree with), that “the growing church cares about the needs of people as well as preaching of the gospel.” It seems to me that the world that we live in and the current state of the church is all individualistic in the sense that the majority of people care only about themselves and making them seem bigger than anything and everyone. No one really cares about others like they used to back in the early church and its sad. I don’t really know specifically what this would look like, but still at the same time this is something that the church as a whole, needs to get back to doing. Honestly, thinking about it, we need to just do it and stop only caring about ourselves and our own image. We don’t need anything crazy or extravagant to make us look good. Heck, numbers in the church and in ministry are not all that important if you think about it. We need to care more for those in our community that need it the most and that are lost.

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  15. In our churches today, we talk a lot about community. Here, at my Christian University, the thing that brought me here was the “community.” The chapels, the happiness that was going on throughout. That was attractive to me. What made the community attractive to Christians in the earlier years of the Church? The article describes some of these times, as the people living in “common” One thing comes to mind is that people of this time lived for one purpose. Fighting for the Glory of God. As the article notes the words from Claiborne about believers living simply and putting practices of the ethics of Jesus into play, that’s one of the best things that we could possibly do. If our communities as Christians, specifically within the church, were to live simply, put God’s words into action and actually genuinely care our society would look different. I think of living simply, meaning to be content with what you have. Being content with your lifestyle then frees yourself up to tend for the care of other people within your communities. Which can lead to putting the practices of Jesus into play, then creating a healthier community.

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  16. Looking into the passage at first glance, a kind of social can be grasped if you are trying to apply this to church economics. People sell what they have, take the proceeds and give it away essentially. Houses, land and commodities are given to those in need. A significant point that is made about this frame work, is that it is not found elsewhere in scripture. Furthermore, we need to look at the purpose of the book of Acts. The book of Acts narrates the spreading of the gospel through the power of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit. With this knowledge we need to be carful not to automatically apply what is happening in Acts to today’s church. If we end up doing that, we then have to factor in why the church doesn’t practice healing, exorcisms, and speaking in other languages. Obviously these things are through the power of the spirit, but the point is that if you take this passage and apply it to how the church should function, then you need to be consistent through the entire book.
    There are implications that we are to look out for the poor and widowed. I do believe these to be relevant to the modern church. We ought to care for those who are poor, and widowed, how that system of care is established can vary. I strongly do not believe socialism was the answer for how this system should work. Commonsense says that it would not be sustainable for the church to function this way. Once you sell something and use its profit, its gone. To say that this is how the church should function is a wrong interpretation. However, we are called to take care of the poor and widowed as we read in the book of James.

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  17. The church today is in desperate need of community. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a more communistic outlook on it, but rather just Christians doing a better job at being there for each other with the goal of forwarding the Gospel, glorifying God, and keeping each other accountable with their walk with Christ. There’s much division in the church over differing opinions on various topics. While it is important to have proper and sound theology and understanding of the Word, people tend to forget what it’s all really about and turn things upside-down to advance their own agendas. Because of much of the division in the church today, we often separate ourselves from being in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We were made to be in fellowship with our fellow man and God (1 Corinthians 1:9; Genesis 2:18). The early church was a fantastic example of Christians living in fellowship with one another by living in common. What we should take away from them is the sheer love they had for Christ and each other, and if we live out that love properly and actively apply it, good community within the church should follow suit. With how massive the church is today, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to live in common (considering the worldwide spread). But rather, we should look at the early Christians’ the selflessness that they put forth and apply it to the church today.

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  18. I think this passage is a good representation of how the Christian community and the church family should be to an extent. I do not think that we need to turn in all of the money that we have and all of our wealth should be split up, but if there is a need we should be there for our brothers and sisters in Christ. In the passage it says there was not a needy person among them.. And proceeds were laid at the apostle’s feet and it was distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:34-35).
    I also think we can take these principles and apply it beyond just the Christian community and Church community, but to the whole world. Many people are less fortunate than us and we should give the extra that we have to the people that really need it. Anything that we have is not because of us, but it is what God has blessed us with. We cannot be greedy with what we have, especially when we are blessed with an abundance of wealth. We are all God’s creation and we need to show the love of God to other people we come in contact with and share what we have.

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  19. The early church had the mindset of being driven to follow Christ lifestyle literal and figuratively. As the modern church now lives in the means of comfort and in the sense that they don’t trust God to meet their wants and needs, thus they model a lifestyle that meets their needs before others. I’m not saying as you plainly describe it as a communistic approach or a life of poverty. The Bible states, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard or someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” (NIV, Matthew 19:23). The reason that the earliest church grew and met the needs of those who they served and cared for was that they saw the danger that wealth can have. The understood that they could only serve one master Christ or wealth, not both. Thus, they lived a humble, selfless life that sought God in all aspects of life, while the rich sought for their own gain. The church of today has lost its sight of living for God and modeling a heart that expresses dependence on God not others, beauty, wealth or possessions. When God is the primary focus and when we ask God for our needs, not wants to be met and are faithful to him he’ll come and give us what we need regardless if that is something different than what we sought. Overall to combine the intentionality and we began to consider that the hypocrisy spoken is not something to brush to the side, along with this combination of the church today with its trained professional teachers to present the Word of God biblically. We begin to reach and become, one church and one body of believers.

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