A Time of Crisis
“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God” (v. 4).- Acts 5:1–16
Immediately after Pentecost, many of the Jerusalem believers began to sell off their possessions and share their profits with the church at large, so that they “had all things in common” (Acts 2:44–45). In Acts 4:36– 37 we find Barnabas selling a field and giving the money to the church. Fringe groups at various times and places in Christendom have misinterpreted these verses and have attempted to show that some form of communism is the truest and highest form of Christian living. Such interpretations show what happens when a verse is ripped out of its context.
First, we have to see that the New Testament clearly affirms the privilege of private ownership of property. Peter’s words to Ananias in Acts 5:4 make it clear that Ananias’s property was his own, and the proceeds of its sale were his own. There was no obligation for Ananias to sell his property and give it to the church.
Second, in a time of great excitement, when it is necessary to take drastic steps to bring about social change, people may indeed sell off what they own and pool their resources. In the Gospels Jesus made this kind of exceptional and radical demand of His disciples, and something similar happened in Acts as far as the Jerusalem ministry was concerned. This was the great crisis in world history, and for a time the normal round of life had to be set aside.
Third, while the New Testament does not indicate that the early church expected to see the second coming of Christ right away, it clearly shows that they knew that Jerusalem was to be destroyed—Jesus Himself had taught this over and over again. At the end of Peter’s Pentecostal sermon, the people were warned to save themselves “from this corrupt generation” (Acts 2:40). There was no point in holding property in Jerusalem. But beyond this practical consideration, there was every reason to sell one’s property and give much if not all of its profit to the advancement of the Gospel.
Thus, trusting Jesus’ prophecy of woe, the early Christians sold their Jerusalem property, and gave large parts of the proceeds to help the work of the church in this time of unprecedented crisis.
Those who sold their property showed their trust in Jesus’ words, while those who bought and/or hoarded it did not. While we are not called to act out such drastic steps, we are called to learn from what is recorded in Acts. What can you learn from this about the property and resources God has entrusted to you?
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 9:6–12