“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.” (Acts 4:32, AV)
In the world today, we see many who are in need. We also have these in the church. In most churches there is something called the benevolent fund. It is a fund designed to meet the needs of the needy in the congregation. As a pastor, I often saw parishioners meeting the needs of others in a way that was above and beyond the use of the benevolent fund. One would give another a car or pay off an overdue bill. They might provide groceries. While sometimes we might see this type of benevolence outside the church body, there is something that makes the church absolutely unique in this area of benevolence. We see that in this passage.
The early church community was quite different from our local culture and sadly, many local church communities today. The biblical community in the Book of Acts experienced a level of unity not seen in today’s culture. The Holy Spirit established true and powerful unity of all believers. Paul wrote of this saying, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13, AV).
This joining of believers into one body, the church, is what makes the church unique from any other institution in the world. Each believer is perfectly united with every other believer into one body. This reality drove the early church to consider their possessions as not their own. They understood that all they had was from God and that they were stewards of their possessions and not owners of them. Thus, they understood that it was their responsibility to glorify God through proper stewardship.
The unity they had also broke down barriers that had formerly separated them. Formerly, there was a separation of the Jew from the Gentile, a cultural and prejudicial divide. Yet, the Holy Spirit destroyed the wall of separation and joined these former opposites to have genuine love for one another. The result was that as they viewed themselves as one body, the body of Christ, everything they had was to be used to benefit the whole body. When there was a need in the body, they would use the possessions they had to meet that need.
There are a couple things to understand in this. First, this was a voluntary act of the believers, driven by the Holy Spirit. It was not a legalistic church program. The church did not order anyone to sell his or her possessions and give it to the church.
Second, this was not communal living, but rather community living. They did not sell everything, put it into one pot and then live in a commune or communal arrangement. It was community living where each member considered the needs of the others and used what they had to strengthen the whole.
God has designed the church as a community of people, united by the Holy Spirit. His plan is for the church to experience true biblical community living. Part of this is caring for the needs of others, which involves a proper perspective on possessions. The overriding principle that makes the church dynamic is unity, that of being of “one heart and soul.” While, the Lord has established this in the hearts of believers, they will only experience this when they draw close to each other. This means going beyond the Sunday morning casual greeting. It means having real meaningful connections with others in the body of Christ.