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
It is a remarkable feature of the early church as noted in the records noted by the doctor Luke.
The community was known for giving, sharing and meeting the needs of the saints. Just to be clear, the reference to saints is not a special demarcation for Christians who have ticked certain boxes and selected by a council of venerable old men. Saints were believers. Saints are believers. As long as they were a part of those who had expereinced the shift that came about through faith in Jesus they were a part of the community and as long as they were a part of the community it was the norm to ensure the real needs were met within the community.
When they followed Jesus’ instruction to ask for their daily bread, that was not an individualistic thing. That was about the community. Sure that bread was about feeding on the word of God and being nourished siritually. It was just as much about the physical food that the family would need if they were struggling. It was the clothing they would need if adverse conditions called for it. The community would be mindful of each other and have a lifestyle of care, consideration, sharing and distribution in effect.
Contribute to the needs of the saintsRomans 12:13
It was the norm marked in various episodes of life in the early church. It is no surprise then that this is an aspect that Paul remarks on as a quality not just of the true Christian, but of the truly Christian community. It did not require anything contrived and convoluted. It required that brotherly love that kept in touch with those in the family and where a need was discerned the resources would be on hand from within the community to meet that need.
Reading of these scenarios appears somewhat alien to some believers today. What kind of community would have that degree of insight and concern about each member within it? Surely some would fall through cracks. Surely some would be inclined to keep themselves to themselves and suffer in silence. Surely we can only afford to make token efforts to that en when there are other pressing priorities to consider like paying the guy who does the preaching and keeping the building going and other important overheads for the running of the organisaion. Surely that means that although we can offer some help, we just cannot stretch resources that far. Surely.
Yet as Paul highlights the mark of the true follower of Jesus, it is not about prioritising a position’s pay-check or the upkeep of a building. It’s not about the subscription to that service or the fee for that other service. It’s about looking at the members of the community and doing what it takes to ensure their needs are met.
This is not the responsibility of an individual with a certain title. This is the heart’s cry of the community as a whole. The Spirit of a generous God liberates people to give generously knowing that whatever they gave would be meeting needs, Living by this indwelling Spirit could not lead to bowels of compassion being closed.
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.Acts 4:32
This is where those stories are shared of numerous occasions when people were down to their last morsel and other saints swooped in to ensure their cupboards were sufficiently supplied. Where people who had lost their jobs and income were supported financially, physically and emotionally as well as spiritually. Not just ensuring that there is food on the table, but the means by which income can be generated to ensure food is kept on the table is made available.
A family faced a bereavement, the community were right there not just for consolation and condolences but actively and practically supporting the needs for the suitable departure of the deceased. A single parent is not burdened in the raising of the children, because the community comes alongside to support wherever needed.
These stories gather in number and momentum as believers cherish the responsibility they have to be their brother’s keeper. These stories become the norm as we recognise that the process of being transformed by the renewing of our mind enables us to be aligned with God’s perfect will. That will reflects His character of faithfulness and compassion. Such a character that left one psalmist recalling how they had been young and now were old and had never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging bread. That kind of character of God understandably becomes a notable quality of those who are part of His family.
Whatever the myriad of reasons that can be offered about why that might not be someone’s experience today, it is more often than not linked to a failure in appreciating this quality of God. The same God who we call to be a provider also equips and enables us to support us even as He gives us privileges like a job in which we earn income. The same God who we declare to be a giving God gives us enough to be able to see what’s going on in our family of faith and look to give to any need as it arises.
The community of believers is not to be noted for the number of members who are destitute, homeless and bereft of the essentials in life. This is avoided not out of fear of a bad reputation, but out of that love that saw us who were poor in Spirit – indeed totally bankrupt spiritually – receive such an overwhelming enrichment of the Spirit that we are only too eager to share it with others in the family in song, teaching, prophecy, revelation, instruction, warning or wisdom. That smae overflow is what makes meeting the needs of the saints such a normal part of community life.
That expression of normal Christian community is another aspect that marks out the Body of believers from the world around them. Others get caught up in political ideologies that put the goods at the centre and either looks to forcefully centralise distribution or encourage capitalising on the accumulation of goods. Meanwhile the community of believers affirms the individual’s capability to attain material riches and at the same time recognise that those riches are only there to be a blessing to others especially those in the community that have needs.
When we talk about the love we have one for another that marks us out as Christ’s disciples a great expression of that is seen in our treatment of people and usage of the goods we’re blessed with. The consumer culture faces an alternative in the contributor culture where people work to see where they can contribute to meeting the needs of others.
This is not an area that requires much in the way of agonising if it’s not happening. Repentance in this area if it’s lacking is very straightforward to remedy practically. We live ever more intentionally close relationships with each other. We live in a way that keeps us sensitive to how we are doing as a community and where we can be of help.
As we do so, we proclaim Christ in a way that does not require mass marketing or publicising. We express Christ in a manner that shows what real love looks like. We declare Christ with a conviction that sees the Word in action.
This is a mark of a true Christian in true Christian community.
(This blog series was inspired by the Christian meditation on The Marks of a True Christian from the Encounter podcast.)
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden