Unity in the Body of Christ

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all  that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Acts 4:32-35

After the things which we have seen in the last few sections, Luke gives us a glimpse into the lives of the believers in those early days. They lived in unity of purpose and of mind; they were generous, holding back nothing in their devotion to the Lord and each other. As we can see, those who had means often put their means at the feet of the apostles who used the resources to ensure that no one in the community of faith had unmet physical needs.

It should be observed by all that those donations from the sale of assets were entirely voluntary, for nowhere in our text are we told that anyone directed anyone else to dispose of an asset or give for the needs of others. Rather, we can rightly infer that those who made such gifts did so entirely of their own accord as the Lord led them to do so. Another thing we should note here is that there were believers of substantial economic resources and those with little or nothing in this world within the Body of Christ at that time, and since the text is clear that they lived in unity in “heart and mind” they were not divided along socio-economic lines, a concept as radical in the first century as it would be today; perhaps even more so in that time than this.

Luke adds a specific account of this generosity and in this case he mentions a name:

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”); sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (4:36-37)

Here we are briefly introduced to Barnabas, of whom we will see much more later in the book. There is an interesting note here that we might not want to miss, for Luke notes that Barnabas was a Levite. The Levites served in the temple, and were not permitted to own property and so we must infer either that this practice was not observed in the first century or that Barnabas might have owned the property he sold through marriage, or perhaps that the non-ownership of property was only applied to those living in Jerusalem; as usual, scholars debate these things. Whatever the case was, Barnabas demonstrated his devotion to the community of believers and the leadership of the apostles in his act of generosity.

Barnabas also stands in marked contrast to what happens next in Like’s narrative…

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About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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5 Responses to Unity in the Body of Christ

  1. I always liked Barnabas. And I never knew Levites weren’t permitted to own property, but just did some research. In Numbers 35:2, it says, “Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities.” Perhaps his portion of this gift of land is what he sold.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Possibly. Don’t forget that the Levites worked in the temple. They weren’t farmers or tradesmen, they didn’t earn big paychecks from the temple service; how could they support their families? That’s what Numbers is dealing with; those lands could have been sold or operated by hired men for sustenance.

      Of course, there is a big difference between “the Levites” and an individual Levite.

  2. Guessing this was written before the issues with the Gentiles not receiving as did the Jewish followers,

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