And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:44–45, ESV).
One characteristic of God’s family is an inherent willingness to give. The believers in the early church “had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). This isn’t a misprint in the Bible; in fact, Acts 4:32 describes the same phenomenon: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.”
When some people read this description of the early church, they start squirming and chafing and looking for an exit, because they think it sounds like Communism. And this passage has been twisted into some abused teaching about communal living. The idea that we are compelled to liquidate our assets, bring the money to church, heap it in the center aisle, and come take a share when we need something is false. God’s desire for His church doesn’t bear the faintest resemblance to Communism, and this passage does not teach communal living.
But it has often been dismissed because it sounds extreme, and the biblical principle has been ignored. Consider what this passage is really teaching: The common need comes before the individual need. In other words, what we as a family of believers need comes before what we as individuals need.
Do you have a list of needs? Perhaps it’s not a written list but a mental one: buying an end table for the living room, taking a family vacation to Florida, lending some money to your brother-in-law who’s going through a rough patch. It’s common, normal, and wise to have a financial plan for your future purchases.
The local church has a list of financial priorities too. This passage teaches that when the two lists converge, if everything can’t be done, then we as individuals should let our individual wants go undone so our corporate goals can be accomplished together.
This passage does not teach us to sell everything and put it into a common pot. In fact, Acts 2:46 describes that the believers gathered “in their homes” (ESV), suggesting the believers still owned houses. This passage doesn’t paint a romantic notion that we’ll eradicate poverty in our generation—Jesus told us in John 12:8, “For the poor you always have with you” (ESV). It also doesn’t teach that the poor are the only or highest priority for the church. Many people in this Acts 2 community of believers weren’t poor; they just weren’t in their hometowns and needed a place to stay.
This passage does teach the common need before the individual need. In the local church, we bring what God has given us individually and we invest it together.
How does that truth sit with you? As you read those words, are you nodding yes, yes and feeling a surge of desire to give? Or do you feel a chafing, a tightening of your grip on “your” money? A characteristic of a child of God is an inherent, growing willingness to give—and help meet the needs of other believers He has placed in your life.
Father God, I’m Yours, and all I have is Yours. Forgive me for my stinginess, for my false notions of ownership—as if it’s “my” stuff, “my” money. I don’t want to bring You my leftovers; I want to give You my first and best. Please grow in me the inherent willingness to give. Help me to embrace Your vision of the local church as the transforming body of Christ in this world and to invest my resources there. Help me trust that You will be pleased, and multiply my little into much for Your kingdom, Your glory, and my good. In the name of Jesus, who gave His all for us, amen.