Today, I am reading and commenting on Acts 4-6.
I want to start today’s Bible Study by focusing on the believers’ response to the threats against them from the Sanhedrin. They prayed, but what did they pray for? First, take note of what they did NOT pray for; they did not pray for safety, for protection from those threats. Instead they prayed for boldness. Our prayers should be similar. Our first concern in our prayers should not be our safety. It should be our willingness to do God’s will and preach the Gospel in the face of danger. We need to remember the prayer of the early believers in light of incident’s such as the shooting during Sunday services in Texas the other week. Our prayers, and our actions, should not be primarily about safety in Sunday worship but rather the boldness to worship and serve God in the face of such risks.
I did not originally think I was going to write much about the early Church sharing their possessions. However, when I finished the above in fewer words than I expected and began reading the rest of the passage I notices something I am not sure ever quite registered before. When we read the Acts of the Apostles we tend to separate Acts 4:32-37 from Acts 5:1-10 into two stories. I am convinced that Luke intended for them to be part of the same story. Verse 32 sounds as if all of the believers threw their money and possessions into one pot which people took from as they needed. It sounds a lot like Marxian Communism. However, Luke gives us an example about how it really worked in verses 34-37. Those who had assets would liquidate some of those assets and give them to the Apostles to distribute to those in need (I want to come back to this distribution a little later). Luke even gives as an example of how that worked with Barnabas.
As a side note, I find it interesting that here Luke calls him by his given name, “Joseph”, but mentions that he was known as Barnabas. Later, Luke only refers to him as Barnabas. I suspect that this reflects the way Luke’s sources for the story referred to Joseph/Barnabas and is intended to allow for more easy corroboration of his story from those sources.
We have a further example of how this worked in the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Now this second example of how it works has another point as well, but the part I want to focus on is what Peter told Ananias, “The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away.” It would have been perfectly acceptable for Ananias to keep the property. It would have been perfectly acceptable for him to have sold the property and kept the money, or to have given only part of it to the Church to help the needy. Ananias’ and Sapphira’s only sin was in trying to get the recognition for giving the entire amount while only giving part. So, there was no obligation for the wealthy to give to aid the needy. They did so, or not, out of the conviction of their own heart.
I said I would get back to the distribution to the needy. Luke is not as explicit in explaining how the distribution to the needy went as he is on how the giving side worked, but we can see a bit of it. However, we get an idea about how it worked from the appointment of the Deacons. If it had just been a matter of giving money to those in need, it would not have been such an arduous task. Instead, the Apostles, initially, and later the Deacons, determined the need and supplied what was needed. They did not just give the needy widows money to buy food, they gave them food. I do not think that represents a hard and fast methodology. The key was that those distributing aid determined the need and supplied the actual need. It was not a pot of money shared willy-nilly to whoever asked. From here, and from things in Paul wrote in his letters, I think we see that the leaders of the Church worked with those in need to aid them in supplying their own needs as best they were able, then the Church picking up the slack to meet the needs of all of Its members.