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.
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 socioeconomic lines, a concept as radical in the first century as it would be today; perhaps even more so.
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 Luke’s narrative…