This is a very challenging passage. It describes people living out their faith in a way that is so different from our own experience that it leaves us confused or even suspicious. Their lifestyle was radical and we might feel the need to explain it away as an initial burst of enthusiasm which would soon be dimmed by the realities of life. Ive even read someone who described it as a misguided attempt at communism. Almost everyone who comments on this passage assures us that we dont have to follow in their footsteps, and, of course, theyre right. There is no law saying we have to live like that. But I think we make a terrible mistake if we simply dismiss this first expression of the church of Jesus Christ as a quaint experiment in naïve zeal. Persecution did arise almost immediately and some of what they did had to change, but some of the most disturbing parts of what we see in our forefathers and mothers not only didnt disappear, but became vital to their survival. They deserve an honest hearing, after all. This is the church fresh from the hands of Jesus. This is what people who had talked to Him only days earlier thought He wanted. This is what they believed pleased Him. So, yes of course, it will look different today. It has to. But the deep principles they were living out ought not to change. Most have been forgotten over the past 2000 years, but maybe its time to remember them, and let them live again.
What does Luke say? (Ac 2:41-47)
See: DBS (Saturday)
vs41-42 (continued): Luke says they were continually and energetically pressing into both the teaching of the apostles and also something he calls koinonia, which is the word he uses to describe their shared life as a community. We see those first believers entering into a family-like commitment to each other. Please notice that they did not just get baptized and go on their way. They immediately became part of a dynamic pattern of communal life: day after day in the temple courtyard in large public assemblies, and day after day in homes where they ate and prayed together. The gatherings in the temple must have drawn many onlookers. There the apostles preached and taught, and also prayed for the sick and cast out demons using exactly the same model as Jesus had done.
v43: The continued flow of miracles taking place through the apostles kept everyone profoundly aware that God is real. Jesus was not simply one more religious doctrine or school of philosophy. A person need only go to the temple on any given day and watch the sick healed or people being baptized in the Holy Spirit to be reminded God is present and powerful, and to realize He sees everything we do. Luke literally says,
and fear came to every soul, and his meaning is clear: people were very careful in the way they conducted themselves. Hidden, secretive sins werent happening. People were conscious of being in Gods presence. Doubt was at a low level.
v44: In these verses Luke describes the depth of their communal life. He says,
and all who believed upon it (the name of the Lord) had all things common (as common property). In Acts 4:32 hes even more precise in the way he says it:
not one said any of his possessions was his own, but all things were common to them.
v45: They were selling real estate (houses, fields, lands), and other possessions (livestock, jewelry, heirlooms
) and were giving the revenue into a fund managed by the apostles (Ac 4:34, 35), who divided to all as anyone had need. They were living out Isaiah 58:7, dividing their bread with the hungry, bringing homeless poor into the house, clothing the naked, and caring for the impoverished members of their own family. We should emphasize that none of this was planned or required. These were individual acts of generosity responding to genuine need.
v46: One of the main ways this sharing took place was by means of daily common meals. There must have been regular offerings taken for the food. Feeding a houseful of guests each day would have cost way too much for any one family to afford. In this verse, Luke tells us again that their communal life was expressed in two gatherings: a large gathering in the temple for teaching evangelism and ministry, and many small gatherings in private homes throughout the city, where they ate and prayed together in an atmosphere filled with the joy of the Lord and a sincere love for one another.
v47: Luke tells us their conversations were filled with praise to God. There was so much to give thanks for. Jesus had saved them by His death and resurrection, and He was mightily at work doing miracles among them. The more they prayed together, the more they saw God answer their prayers, the more they testified to answered prayer, the more everyones faith grew. Constant intercession must have been going on for unbelieving family and friends, and delighted announcements shared when spiritual break through arrived. This combined with praise for what God was doing in the temple created an atmosphere of celebration and hope. It created an environment that was very attractive to everyone in the city. Luke says they had favor with all the people, and day after day the Lord was adding the ones being saved upon it (saved by calling upon the name of the Lord). Their reputation was excellent and their gatherings were open and welcoming, so whether people came to faith in the temple gatherings or around a dining table listening to testimonies, they were immediately adopted into this growing spiritual family.
The word Luke uses to describe the way they shared life as a community is koinonia. Its often translated into English by the word fellowship, but that word, as we use it, is far too weak. What they entered into was genuine communal life, which was not a new or foreign concept to them. To begin with the disciples, and this number included many more than the Twelve, had been living as a community for the past 3½ years. They traveled together, shared meals and had a common purse. During those same years in Israel there was also another group of Jews called Essenes who lived this way. Some lived near the Dead Sea at a place called Qumran where they had formed a religious community. They ate together, studied the Word together, prayed together and pooled their earnings into a common fund. Here are some ancient quotes describing them (Miriam Feinberg Varmosh, Daily Life at the Time of Jesus, Palphot Litd, PO Box 2, Herzlia, Israel, pp 78, 79):
They despise riches, in vain would one search for one with a greater fortune than another. All of them loving frugality and hating luxury as a plague for body and soul. (Philo, Apologia pro Judais 4).
All are to dine together (the Community Rule)
Whatever they receive as salary is not kept to themselves but is deposited before them all (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2:8:3).
And no better example of communal life can be found than the Exodus. A million and a half people thought of themselves as a large, extended family descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For forty years each person received an equal portion from a common basket of manna (Ex 16:13-21). Every morning before the sun grew hot all would go out to gather the bread-like substance that appeared on the ground, and placed what he or she gathered into large common baskets. Then each person drew out an equal portion, a bowl-full, so that:
he who gathered much had no excess, and he who gathered little had no lack
The apostles did not impose this kind of communal life on believers (Ac 5:4), but they did model it. They simply kept living the way they had lived with Jesus, and a community sprung up around them, almost spontaneously, or maybe we should say, naturally. Everyone seemed to understand that Jesus expected them to continue the intense model of community which He had practiced with His own disciples, and that His call to leave everything and follow Him was still in effect. And maybe they realized that, once again, like their ancestors, they too were wandering in a wilderness on their way to a Promised Land.
So, what basic principles do we see at work among them?
1) Becoming a Christian involved a dramatic change of lifestyle. A person entered into a family-like community.
2) Their koinonia was not forced upon them or based on rules. People were drawn together by love.
3) They regularly met in one large group for teaching, evangelism and ministry and in many small groups to eat and pray together.
4) They gave generously to the poor at a level we might think unreasonable.
5) Prayer for the sick and demonized was a normal part of life.
6) They lived with a healthy fear of God.
7) Their gatherings were marked by joy, warmth and praise.
8) New believers were immediately welcomed into their community, undoubtedly by being invited to their house gatherings.
9) They had a great reputation in the city, and people were constantly drawn toward them.
The challenge these early Christians place before us is this: which of these principles would be impossible for us to do today? I actually think there are some things they did which would be very hard for us to do today, at least the way they did them. Eating daily in someones home is an example. Physically gathering every day is another. But beyond that, I think we would be wise to let their example call us deeper. I think any step in that direction, toward greater koinonia, will dramatically increase the transformation of peoples lives. The lonely, isolated way we live is destructive. Its time for each of us to ask How can I move closer in relationship? Its time to discover 21st century koinonia.
1) What step could you take to draw closer to other Christians?
2) Do you feel attached to other believers or do you feel alone in your faith?
3) Have you ever experienced the intense, joyful kind of community we read about here in Acts? Tell us about it.