Back in the days when I used to dedicate a segment of the worship time to children, one activity revolved around the use of common sewing thread. Picking out one of the heftiest boys, I would have him hold out his arms for me to tie a single thread around them. Of course he could easily break it. As I added more strands he eventually could not break the threads. My lesson, of course, was the strength gained by numbers. All of us working together can often accomplish more than one person working alone. The need for praying as a part of a group falls into that category, as life in the early days of the gospel movement illustrates.
Our story begins when the first group of believers who developed a captivating plan (4:32-33). The Holy Spirit was at work among the new converts. As was true of the apostles following the preaching at Pentecost who gathered in one accord (2:1), that unity of purpose and attitude pervaded the multitude. They shared one heart and soul, but something new swept over them. In their love for Jesus and each other, they donated their personal goods to a common cause. Their act was not demanded by any outside agency, force, or power, but arose as a spontaneous act of love.
The Holy Spirit was also continuing to motivate the apostles. Two phrases stand out: great power and great grace. The word for power denotes, not authority, but a physical feat. The Spirit worked miracles among the people. The great grace emphasizes a distinctive quality which embraces and fulfills the Hebrew word for mercy, or blessedness. We gain initiations of the wonder of God’s grace in John 1:14 which ascribes Jesus, the Living Word, the only begotten of the Father, as “full of grace and truth.” John adds in verse 16, “and of his fullness have we all received, and grace for grace.” It rolls over us like the waves of the sea. This grace is eulogized in the immortal hymn “Amazing Grace,” written by John Newton, his only surviving hymn.
We turn to consider the result of a consecrated action (vv. 34-35). The responsibility of how to care for the poor plagues nearly every civilized society. For example, beginning with President Lyndon Johnson’s avowed desire to win the war against poverty, trillions of dollars spent since that time have done little to raise the living stand among them. As far back as Karl Marx and his writings, he and his followers believed the cure lay in the abolition of private property. Pure communism advocates giving to every person according to the need. Widespread abuse led to the modified policy, “To each according to production.”
The church in Jerusalem learned that the desire for public honor led to a catastrophic decision (5:1-6). The first problem originated, not from the ranks of the needy but from the perversity of the well to do. No one calculated the reaction aroused from the depravity of human nature. To the point, Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold some land and then agreed to give only part of the money to the apostles. Their sole purpose was to place themselves hypocritically among the devoted. The Holy Spirit communicated their deceitfulness to Peter who confronted them. Ananias died on the spot (v. 5). Sapphira, coming in later, confessed her involvement, and died. Understandably, “great fear came on all these that heard these things” (v. 5).
Collecting the abundance of goods led to a confused distribution (6:1-7). Workers in any welfare distribution center can attest to the chaos in trying to serve people with different languages. Those in the first church distributing donated good were accused of neglecting Jews who spoke Greek. To rectify the problem, the believers set aside faithful, Spirit-led men to oversee the distribution. The fact that all of the men had Greek names indicated they probably spoke Greek as well as Aramaic. The election of the seven, not called deacons as such, but undoubtedly that’s their later designation, allowed the apostles freedom to minister the word (v. 4). Word in this instance referred to the good news about Jesus.
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