“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”—Acts 2:44-45, NIV
This passage in Acts portrays the Christian church at its best. Some have sought to turn this passage into an example of proto-communism, but the message is much more profound.
The believers who made up the church in Jerusalem at this time were a very diverse group of people. Many had come to Jerusalem from many places for the Feast of Pentecost. When some were converted through Peter’s preaching on the Day of Pentecost, they stayed on in the city to receive the apostles’ teaching. Of course, they had not planned for such an extended stay, so many found themselves in physical need.
Some have interpreted the passage to mean that everyone sold all they had, put it in a big pile, and then they distributed it equally. The meaning is more powerful than that simple process. These people knew one another well enough that they were aware of individual needs. As those who had possessions learned of the need of others, they responded in charity (love) by selling something and giving the proceeds to one who needed it.
The believers operated out of an abundance mindset rather than a scarcity mindset. There was plenty for everyone, but the challenge was to use that abundance to respond to need.
Tony Campolo has a classic statement that he makes to large groups when the time comes to take up an offering: “We have all the money we need to accomplish this task. The problem is that it is still in your pockets.” Motivation is the key.
Rita and I visited our alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi recently. A friend was showing us around the campus and pointing out the new buildings. One is named for Oseola McCarty. Our friend reminded us of the story of the African American woman who washed clothes for a living but became the university’s most famous benefactor.
McCarty received global attention in July 1995 when it was disclosed that she had established a trust which, at her death, would provide a gift of $150.000 to provide scholarships for deserving students in need of financial assistance. (She also gave a tithe—ten percent—of the trust to her church.) Given her simple lifestyle, this was an amazing gift.
Osceola McCarty lived a simple life, saved diligently, and cared about others. Her example reminds us that scarcity is a deceptive mindset. Although possessing little, she grew it into an abundant bequest. Most of us have abundantly more but we live as if we have very little. Perhaps we need a dose of first century generosity.