Have you ever come across the Toddler Rules of Ownership? Rule number one: If I like it, it’s mine. Number two: If it’s in my hand, it’s mine. Number three: If I can take it from you, it’s mine.
And so it goes on – you get the idea. Toddlers have to learn hard rules about sharing, taking turns and hiding the force of their desire to possess everything in sight, but growing up doesn’t solve the underlying issues.
Adults like acquiring and holding on to stuff too. And we really believe we deserve what we have, that we have earned it and so we can keep it for ourselves. Like the proverbial monkey, we can be trapped by our inability to release the nuts in the jam jar, holding tightly on to material wealth we really don’t need.
The early church modelled a radically different approach: ‘No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had’ (Acts 4:32).
Those with plenty supported those in need and each member of the family had equal status. This appears to have been such an intrinsic characteristic of the early Christian movement that Paul had to address a tendency among the fit and active to sponge off the group instead of earning a living (see Thessalonians)! The point was that resources were shared according to need.
As we look at this passage, we might identify with the needy or the well off. But if we are doing this group study on a full stomach, have shoes on our feet and the ability to read, we are among the world’s richest inhabitants. And what we have is a result of God’s grace, not our own worthiness.
There were two direct consequences: firstly, their testimony about the resurrection was powerful (Acts 4:33). The reality of Jesus’ defeat of death played out in concrete, practical terms among his followers. Can we say the same today? Does our communal life proclaim to the world around us that Jesus is alive?
Secondly, ‘there was no needy person among them’ (Acts 4:34). This verse echoes Deuteronomy 15:4: ‘there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you’.
When we live as God’s covenant community, seeing what we have as there to be shared with each other, there should be no poor among us.