32] Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33] And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34] 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, 35] and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.
36] And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37] having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (NKJV)
These verses have been used by some to promote communal living, whether voluntary or required, as in communism. We saw in Soviet Russia that communism doesn’t work, though there are increasing numbers, mostly younger people never exposed to the evils of that system, who want a socialist form of government. As for voluntary forms of community living, there is no particular Scripture forbidding it, but neither is there a Scripture requiring it. In the case in Acts, we will see that it didn’t work.
In Acts, the shared experiences of these people gave them a bond and a unity. Remember, it still hadn’t been all that long since Pentecost. Quite possibly, many of these had seen and heard the Lord Jesus and had witnessed the horror of His crucifixion. Some of them might even have been among the 500 who saw the resurrected Lord, 1 Corinthians 15:6.
Further, there is a bond in the Spirit that the world cannot duplicate. This bond has nothing to do with material things or ideas and philosophies put forth by the world. It has to do with the Lord Jesus, who He was and what He did. This is the bond these believers in Acts had.
This bond opened their hearts and their hands so that there was an open sharing of their possessions. No one said, “This is mine!” Though these words have been used to justify communism or other socialist ideas, nothing could be farther from the truth. In the first place, this was voluntary. No one was forced to do this. Second, there was no government involvement or intrusion. There was no outside compulsion for these believers. Nor did they require others than themselves to do this. And, it did not work, as we’ve said.
But it wasn’t just about “possessions.” With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, v. 33. As I write these words, it is Sunday, the day the early church rejoiced in the Resurrection. Perhaps there was also an anticipation that the Lord was going to return very soon. Perhaps this was part of what was in the mind of the early believers; the Lord was coming back and they wouldn’t need “things.” Their hope was in the next world, not this one, cf. Philippians 3:19-21.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I toured the mansion that had belonged to the owner of the Oliver Plow Co. In this day when too many people think that milk comes from the dairy section of the store and vegetables from the produce section, that may not mean much, but the Oliver Plow was a giant in farm implements in its day. Oliver was a competitor with John Deere, perhaps a more familiar name. Anyway, this house was ornate and beautiful and filled with treasures. It bore the marks and personality of the lady who had lived there until her late 90s. But nobody lived there anymore.
Our house is much more modest, and is not likely to be turned into a museum. But there is coming a day, perhaps not so far off, when a “for sale” sign will be out in the front yard, and someone else will sit in this room and look out the window at the cardinal, the blue jays, the red-headed woodpecker, and the robins, sparrows and squirrels who share the yard with us. Perhaps other children or grandchildren will run up and down the hill in back. I don’t know. We won’t live here anymore.
I don’t know where that lady is as I write about her. She’s been dead for 20 or more years. If the unbeliever and skeptic is right, she isn’t anywhere and her bodily remains have decayed into dust and bones. (If you have recently suffered a loss, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to add to your grief.)
For the believer, Scripture has a much brighter promise:
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens….For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord, 2 Corinthians 5:1, 4-8, emphasis added.
These early believers had a hope beyond this world and the grave. But they had something else as well, something I don’t think we value like we should in this day of “free will,” and “human potential.” Great grace was upon them all, v. 33. Without the grace of God, we’re just animated bodies, capable perhaps of doing great things, but still wrapped up in this world. Even if we believe in some sort of “higher power,” the most we’ll ever have is “religion.” Without the grace of God, the Bible is just another holy book and Christianity is just another world religion.
But the grace of God comes in with resurrecting and creating power, and, in some incomprehensible way we are made new. To one degree or another, we see that the Bible is truth, and this world is just a bus stop on the way to eternity.
The practical effect of all this to the early church was that there was not anyone among them who lacked, v. 34. Needs were met and there was no lack to any of them.
Sadly, that’s not the end of the story.