Acts 2:44-45 (All things in common)

“All things in common”

(Act 2:44-45 ESV) 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

According to Robert Wall, in the New Interpreters Bible Commentary, “all things in common” is a common phrase, borrowed from Greek philosophy, for a close friendship. They didn’t merely attend church together, they were such good friends that they shared everything.

Thus, the description in verse 45 isn’t communistic but simply the fact that those in need were well cared for, even at the cost of substantial sacrifice by those who had the ability to help. Luke isn’t advocating a new economic system so much as the realization of the ideals found in the Torah itself —

(Lev 19:10 ESV) 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.

(Lev 25:35-37 ESV) 35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.”

In fact, the Torah commands that land be restored to its original owner every 50 years, the year of Jubilee, making it impossible for a family to become landless. In effect, this was a requirement that land only be leased and never really sold, with the lease term never to go past the next Jubilee.

Moreover, every seventh (Sabbath) year, all debts were forgiven.

(Deu 15:1-2 ESV) “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. 2 And this is the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the LORD’s release has been proclaimed.”

The best analogy would be modern-day bankruptcy law. For an Israelite, his debts were automatically forgiven every seventh year, to prevent anyone from being forced into poverty — even slavery — by debt.

Thus, the deeper ideal found in the Torah is that the poor should be cared for, not taken advantage of, and not allowed to become permanently destitute.

The Prophets spoke of the Kingdom as a time when —

(Isa 25:4-5 ESV) 4 For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall, 5 like heat in a dry place. You subdue the noise of the foreigners; as heat by the shade of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is put down.

YouTube Preview Image

(Isa 29:18-19 ESV) 18 In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. 19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

(Isa 58:6-8 ESV) 6 “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? 8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.”

(Isa 61:1-3 ESV) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

(It’s just amazing that the phrase “Lord’s favor” or “acceptable to the Lord” also appears in Leviticus 23:11, describing the festival of first fruits, that is, Pentecost!)

In short, the Kingdom is supposed to bring in an age in which the poor are cared for by those with the means to do so. There are many passages in Luke in which Jesus picks up the same theme —

(Luk 6:20-21a ESV) 20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.”

(Luk 16:20 ESV) 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores …

(Luk 18:22-23 ESV) 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.”

(Luk 19:8-9 ESV) 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”

The passages could be greatly multiplied. The Kingdom is, among other things, a place where the poor are well cared for.

Now, this hardly indicates a welfare state in the modern sense. After all, the Torah requires the poor to glean the fields, that is, harvest the leftover fruit and grain. They received the harvest for free, but they had to work for their food. The wealthy were told to lend to the poor, understanding that they may not be paid back — but it was not a total gift. If they money could be repaid before the seventh year, it was to be repaid.

Just so, Paul commands that those who won’t work aren’t to eat. The poor that the text is concerned with aren’t the lazy. Sloth is repeatedly condemned by God.

(Pro 12:24 ESV) 24 The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor.

(Pro 12:27 ESV) 27 Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.

(Pro 19:15 ESV) 15 Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger.

(Mat 25:26 ESV) 6 “But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?”

But, obviously enough, not all who are poor are poor because of laziness. Indeed, to stereotype the poor as lazy is just looking for an excuse not to share. No, in the real world, there are plenty of truly poor people — and the duties of those within the Kingdom are plainly laid out.

And Luke records that those ideals were immediately realized! The true Kingdom was marked by honoring the ideals behind the Torah’s and the prophets’ commands. After all, if the poor had not been cared for, it wouldn’t be the Kingdom as promised by the authors of the Old Testament.

Questions:

* Is the modern church bound by these same principles? Must we have all things in common? Must we care for our poor?

* Does it bother you that the Torah commands that debts be forgiven every seven years? Does that change your view of the morality of bankruptcy?

* Should we follow the Torah’s command to lend to the poor?

* How do we keep charity to the poor from becoming an entitlement that encourages sloth?

* If the church were to honor the principles of this passage today, how would that change the reputation of the church?

* Would it encourage the poor to place membership just to get the charity? Would that be a problem?

* How could the church prudently manage finite resources to be sure that those truly in need are cared for?

* Should we give money to known frauds? What if we’re not sure? How can we know?

* Implicit in modern giving discussions is the assumption that we don’t really know the people we’re helping. What does that say about us?

* The church in Acts served its own members first. They didn’t have all things in common with the entire populace of Jerusalem. Does it bother us to prefer the poor who’ve been saved? Why do you suppose they took this approach?

* Should we do the same?

* Consider –

(Eph 4:28 ESV) Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

Compare this teaching to the modern notion of self-sufficiency. What the difference between Paul’s worldview and ours?

* How can we work with the poor so that they are no longer poor? Or is poverty incurable?

This entry was posted in Acts, Acts, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Acts 2:44-45 (All things in common)

  1. * How can we work with the poor so that they are no longer poor? Or is poverty incurable?
    The preacher says, “fame and fortune are a matter of luck and timing.”
    Jesus said, “The poor will always be with us”.

    The rain falls on the just and the unjust. The diligent and righteous have the advantage, but may still be challenged from time to time. Our current economy is that of a global problem. If I do not have enough work to sustain myself; it is not my problem. It is my responsibility to work all the more diligently to effect a change in my personal situation.

    The poor need to be cared for. We can not cure the problem. It is transitory. We can only take care of the immediate so much as it is within our ability. We also need to educate and disciple towards a greater integrity of stewardship. This integrity of stewardship education is probably one of the largest areas of an ignorance hole in the church teachings.

    We don’t live in an agrarian society. We live in a niche rural/metro society. I rely on others to provide for our needs in exchange for currency. We all rely on one another to bring to market what the others do not have the skills to do for themselves. When a particular thing is not longer valued enough; economics changes faster than a persons skills can change. We need to be a buffer for that change.

    Bottom line: Teach material stewardship in a practical way from the youth up. Encourage personal accountability and communal love. Provide the tools and resources for a help up when one is down.

  2. Charles McLean says:

    Acts 4:32-34 rounds out this particular facet of life in the Jerusalem CoC, but I won’t steal Jay’s upcoming thunder here. What does appear clear is that my patternist brothers have missed a spot. They insist that believers are not really believers when they don’t replicate the practices of the “early church”… except for this one. To dilute the Jerusalem CoC’s early communal (and this it certainly was) lifestyle down to “we help each other out when asked” or “we took up a special collection for Sister Sally last winter” is to stray from their own iron-clad doctrinal base in order to avoid changing their current lifestyles.

    To live communally is neither “right” nor “wrong” in general. But to ignore this fundamental general pattern, which was the earliest example of how the believers handled individual money, while sending people to hell on a shutter for breaking a presumed pattern by taking the Lord’s Supper on a Saturday is bald hypocrisy.

    I would also challenge the use of Jesus’ words as an excuse for keeping our cash to ourselves. When Jesus told us that the poor would always be with us, that was a general observation about people always being in need. He was not saying that we need not help them, only that there are other things which God calls us to do as well. This is different from saying, “Some people in your family are always going to be hungry, so don’t worry so much about it.” I think some brothers fear that if we began to really sacrificially help one another that they themselves would suffer and lose that which they worked so hard to accumulate. Or that the undeserving might wind up with their hard-earned cash.

    Or that the church would become so known for helping its poor members that we would attract all sorts of people who were simply seeking a handout and have no real interest in Jesus.

    This latter is a problem I would love to have to address in the real world. Please, Lord, grant us this problem!

  3. Jerry says:

    Quinten wrote:

    Bottom line: Teach material stewardship in a practical way from the youth up. Encourage personal accountability and communal love. Provide the tools and resources for a help up when one is down.

    Churches have not done a good job of teaching 100% stewardship – that is that all we have belongs to the Lord and we are His stewards. This is a concept that needs to be instilled from the cradle up.

    My son taught his daughter the danger of debt at an early age. She was saving to buy a particular doll – but wanted it NOW. He agreed to give her the money as a loan against her future allowance at so much a week. By the time the “debt” was paid, she hated debt! Did that translate into a giving heart? In her case, it did. Just after Thanksgiving, and just a few weeks before her 15th birthday, I was present when she handed over a $1,000 check of money she had raised toward some construction at an orphanage in Mexico. She raised the money by selling paintings she had done. (Bragging ended.)

    The point is that we are in a better position than government to teach people to manage their affairs – and to help them learn the skills needed to support themselves and to be able to give to others. This is not to say government should have no role in caring for the poor, but that we are in a better position to help people learn how to care for themselves than is government.

  4. Charles, I was not using it as an excuse, but rather, as a matter of fact.

    Jerry, thank you for your elaboration. I sometimes do not make myself clear in my brief statements. I do think that the gov. should not be in the benevolence business, but hey, that is politics. I do think that the church needs to get a serious grip on the subject so that our gov. does not need to help for lack of need.

  5. Price says:

    Presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently quoted some data he said was from the Brookings Institute that was actually from a book by Ron Haskins and Isabell Sawhill called “Creating an Opportunity Society.” In that book, the authors concluded that there were three things that had a dramatic impact on one’s ability to succeed in America… I would assume they might have an equal impact just about anywhere… They were….

    1. Finish a High School Education
    2. Marry before you have children
    3. Work Full time…somewhere

    If a person did all three the likelihood of living in poverty dropped to 2%…and the likelihood of living in a middle class environment was 74%

    The book of proverbs is complete with the idea of consequences of decisions…

    But, regardless of how they got there, I think we should give people a hand up… but fixing the problem is generally not solved with money… usually there is an underlying problem that needs to be adequately addressed before any long term impact can be realized. It’s hard to be compassionate with people who are determined to self-destruct and pay no attention to the principles of leading a successful life as outlined in the Bible… unless they are willing to change they won’t see any result from the assistance offered, no matter how many times it is made available… It almost becomes an enabling process… But, there are certainly some, if not many, who have been turned around in the right direction as the cost of significant personal effort… So, we just can’t give up on people until they finally give up on themselves…

  6. Charles McLean says:

    The most powerful way to teach giving and generosity is to do it ourselves. Our children are much more likely to think of self-sacrifice and giving as a normal part of their lives if that is what they see their parents doing. Predictably enough, if our children see all our efforts going to them and not to those outside our own circle, this will not encourage them to reach out beyond their own families. Serving our own families is important, but reaching out is important as well.

    Most of the generous people I know speak of their parents’ generous spirits, whether Mom and Dad were rich or poor. I have yet to find one who learned to be generous from a sermon or a book.

  7. Royce Ogle says:

    No person should claim to have restored NT Christianity who is stingy, either as an individual or as a congregation. Not helping the less fortunate is not an option for a Christ follower. However, we are to be wise in my view remembering that there is another truth that someone to lazy to work shouldn’t eat.

    I am convinced that God used catastrophes, especially Katrina and Rita, to get people on the front lines of serving hurting, needy people. The result was that thousands of volunteers found the joy of selfless serving and went back to their local churches and began service ministries in their communities.

    And as I wrote this comment, I remembered a principal in Scripture, sowing and reaping. I also am convinced that some people are poor as a result of being stingy with the little they have. “Give and it will be given to you….” is a promise for the wealthy and the poor.

    It is no small thing that one of the very first expressions of new found faith in Jesus was generosity. I fear that those who refuse to support widows and orphans are not acquainted with him.

  8. aBasnar says:

    That’s a wee bit idealistic:

    1. Finish a High School Education

    Hard to do when your help is needed to sustain your many siblings in an empoverished family.

    2. Marry before you have children

    Poverty often erodes morality – when this counsel comes it is often too late.

    3. Work Full time…somewhere

    There are areas even in the US where it is hard to get a full-time job that pays a full time wage. Many end up either as working poor or as emigrants, if they can save up enough to make the move.

    Just to say: I don’t believe it always works the way you sum it up. The missing point in this “ideal” is that the survey (as you quoted it) does not include environmental limitations that hinder us to (at least) fulfill point 1 and 3. Point 2, I admit, is mainly up to ourselves regardless of our situation (but also not always).

    I am glad to live in Austria that has a good social-welfare system opening more opportunities for more people (so they can live up to 1-2-3). But that’s due to the socialist influences, and the first Christian workers movements in the 19th century. In fact, the roots of communism are Christian – but they cut out God, so it ended in tyranny. The root of Capitalism is Protestantism, when Luther allowed/introduced taking interest on loaned money which strengthened the Protestant countries immensly. And Calvin’s OT morality (riches are a sign of blessing) added to the strange situation that Christians who profess God serve Mammon, while the communists who reject God (in reaction to materialistic/selfish Christianity) rediscovered (some essential parts of) Christian ethics.

    Alexander

  9. Price says:

    Alexander… Idealistic ?? Public education is free. The per enrage of kids having to drop out of school to support their families is almost zilch. Morality issues might be challenging. But nobody said being able to support your family is easy. Paul just said a person was worse than an unbeliever if he didn’t. This study just gave the common denominators of those less likely to be impoverished. It seems like a pretty low bar to me

  10. aBasnar says:

    It seems like a pretty low bar to me.

    You don’t seem to live in a neighborhood with a lot of poverty, Price. If you grow up in such a setting it is terribly hard to escape. And what I know from my visits in the US, work is scarce and terribly bad payed. Being Hispanic or Afro-American adds to the problems.

    What might be a good question is:
    a) Where are the poor in our churches?
    b) If none are there: Why?
    c) Will they stay poor when they join our congregation?

    Alexander

  11. Price says:

    Alexander…you are correct…I don’t live in an impoverished neighborhood..However, I’ve had the privilege to be involved with several homeless ministries. I have learned quite a bit from some of the people we’ve had the privilege of serving… It’s interesting that the people themselves have said all the things this study suggested but added a few more…like stay away from drugs… and bad company…so my experiences have confirmed what this study suggested but not trying to be dogmatic about it… was just sharing those results… As far as the church is concerned it seems to me to be sort of a 2-way street…Paul expected certain things from people in order to receive help…the concept of just giving to people who have the capacity to contribute something back but don’t was a foreign concept to Paul…

  12. Charles McLean says:

    “Poverty often erodes morality.” While there is some support for this, it’s more correlative than causal. During the Great Depression here, our crime rate did not rise, in fact, it fell. From current observation, one might as well theorize that declining morality erodes financial stability and advancement. That theory may be easier to demonstrate.

    Poverty might make a boy steal, but there is something more basic that makes him impregnate his girlfriend. Cutting class and dropping out are more connected to absent or disinvolved parents than poverty. Not many kids here are dropping out to support the family. Not in this generation. Some do drop out when they have kids.

    I do think we have something of a fatherlessness/immorality/poverty spiral at work, however.

  13. Norton says:

    We have an obligation and should want to help anyone who is literally starving, without shelter and clothes, or without proper medical care, no matter how they got in that situation. Should we be willing to give any and everyone enough to bring them to anything near our standard of living is another question. If we do have that obligation, then many in the slums today would have an obligation to give to one who lived with the standard of living I grew up in. I always considered myself country middle class, but by todays standards, we were in poverty.

  14. Andrew Riley says:

    Reading this and the readers responses I am reminded of why I no longer go to Church – I got sick of the hypocrisy and self serving rationalizations. Jesus said give ALL your possessions to the poor. Not just some. Nor did he say give it only to the poor who you deem worthy. On the contrary if someone is hungry you are supposed to feed them. Because that hungry person is Jesus. Maybe you can justify your selfishness and greed by telling yourself that you are holy and worthy and they are not. But this is not how Jesus will judge you. You twist his words and the Bible to justify your greed. You call the compassionate “Socialists” as a derogatory term. You lie about the early Christians who shared all wealth in common and cared for the poor. They did not wage wars or practice hatred. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality it was “not helping the poor and the needy”. Woe on to all of you. Your prayers go unheard. You will be judged for the gross inequality you have perpetrated and the wars you have supported. For he was hungry and you did not feed him.

Leave a Reply