God’s People, part 233: In Common

Read Acts 4:32-37

“Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.”  (2 Corinthians 8:14, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

EarlyChurch_LivingInCommonPart 233: In Common. The Scripture reading for today’s devotion is a powerful scripture that has, unfortunately, been vastly misunderstood and misused. It shows us the power that exists within the body of Christ when it is living out the kind of servant-love that Jesus taught and commanded his disciples to carry on following his ascension; however, it also is an example of how Scripture can be used and twisted to carry out the agendas of human beings, even if they do so with good intentions.

Let’s first get the humanist interpretations out of the way. Good people with good intentions can still find themselves paving the way to hell. This Scripture gives us a prime example of how that can happen. People like Karl Marx were largely against religion and, especially, deterministic materialism. The Church, especially the Roman Catholic Church but also including Protestantism, had become an institution that promoted deterministic materialism. It expanded like an empire, demanded that monks not marry in order to retain church property, and pushed to grow its authority on a global scale.

All the while, it taught that “slaves should obey their masters,” that God determined who should serve as rulers and that all people should respect and subject themselves to kings, political authorities, and the law (no matter how immoral it might be), and it held people in subjection to classes defined by wealth. Sadly, many of the religious leaders who held people in their economic places were themselves extremely wealthy (e.g. the Pope, the King of England, bishops and cardinals, etc.).

Thus people like Karl Marx saw religion in such a way: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”[i] Religion was something that needed to be rooted out from society in order for socialistic and systemic change. With that said, Marx was sympathetic to the non-supernatural elements of Christian teaching, especially when it came to everyone living in common as found in Acts 4:32-37.

Marx is not alone in that and many, including Christians, have pushed for social change. In fact, there are some Christians that would call themselves “Communists”. Still, it is not equitable to mention Communism (not to be confused with Socialism and/or Democratic Socialism) and not mention the failings of that political system. Any student of history knows that Communism led to the rise of dictators such as Joseph Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Fidel Castor, Hugo Chavez, etc., who used brutal measures to uphold their authority and Communistic ideals. Of course, those ideals led to the elite government leaders being rich and everyone else being poor.

That is not what we see happening in the early church; rather, what happened in that context was much more practical, organic and self-sustainable. As mounting pressure rose up against early Christ followers from Jewish and Roman authorities, the community came to rely on each other to survive. The early Jewish Christians took a vow to poverty, meaning that they would not own anything to themselves, but would share resources and rely on the charity (love-driven giving) of others to sustain their lives and ministry. That is a far cry from the top-down approach of Communism.

With that said, it was also a witness to the great faith of the the early Christian community in Jerusalem and, we see that even Paul encouraged his churches to contribute to the “poor” in Jerusalem in order to support their lives and ministry (Romans 15:31; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Galatians 2:10). It must be noted; however, that this “living in common” was not something that was completely widespread throughout the church, but was specific to the Church in Jerusalem. Clearly, Paul’s churches did not all live in common, giving ownership of everything (e.g. money, property, resources) up to the Church as a whole; however, Paul’s churches still equitably shared their resources with others, including offering their homes up to be used as places of worship, tithing to support the ministries, and sharing in common meals.

What does this say for us? In our churches today, we see less and less giving. People see tithing as a “personal” matter and they get easily offended with pastors and/or church leaders talk about money. People want all of the “services” of a church (e.g. baptism, weddings, funerals, weekly services, Bible studies, Sunday School, counseling, and visitations); however, they don’t feel all that inclined to making their contributions a top priorty over other expenses. In fact, many view giving to the church (local, regional and global) as an obligatory expense.

This is not how the Church was intended to be. All of us make up the Church Universal, and investing in the Church is the same as investing in ourselves. That was the view of the earliest church, and that is how we should view it today. We are God’s and belong to the body of Christ; therefore, should we not prioritize supporting the body of Christ with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness? That should be our top priority, along with bringing the good news of Christ to all people. I pray that you will reflect on that, if you are not already, make that the top priority in your life.

“Generosity is as much showing your vulnerability as it is your passion for something.” – David Droga

Lord, help me to let go of my materialistic desires, so that I may generously supply the Church, of which I am a valuable part, its needs so that that it can carry on your ministry and advance the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.

[i] Marx, Karl. “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” in Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. (Paris, 1844), https://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/critique-hpr/intro.htm.

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