April 9, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Acts 4:32-35 (NRSV)
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
I cannot control modern economic systems. But I can ask the question about my own life: how much do I allow the needs of others to dictate what I do with my possessions?
Happy Saturday in Easter Week! In my tradition, Easter Sunday is not a day unto itself—as glorious a day as that Day is—but the beginning of a fifty-day season in which we celebrate with special joy and intention the resurrection of our Lord. And in those fifty days, we pay special attention to the first week after Easter Sunday, which we call Easter Week or the Octave of Easter (there are even special prayers for each day, which you can check out here.)
During the Easter season, we read passages from Acts, instead of readings from the Old Testament, as the first Scripture reading in our worship services. This is a practice that dates back to the fourth century, and focuses our attention on the way that the risen Christ transformed his disciples and the way his Spirit formed them into the movement we call the early church.
It is for that reason that we end up on the first weekend of the Easter season with the passage from Acts for today’s devotion. And it’s a passage that’s caused no small amount of controversy. Many people are uncomfortable with the economic ideas this passage expresses—a picture of a community so radically sold out to God and to each other that they allowed the needs of others to dictate what they did with their possessions. What does this mean about modern economic systems that do not hold goods in common?
For me, I think that asking questions about what economic system this passage expresses and endorses is missing the point. Or, at least, it’s missing the point that I think God wants me to get out of this passage. I cannot, at least not by myself, control modern economic systems. But I can ask the question about my own life: how much do I allow the needs of others to dictate what I do with my possessions?
Some time ago, in my role as editor of Christian History magazine, we did an issue about a man named George Müller (1805-1898) who founded orphanages in the 19th century. Here’s how I described him to Christian History readers at the time:
Müller, a nineteenth-century preacher, author, and orphan home director. . . came from Prussia (modern Germany), settled in England, and devoted himself to a life of faithful prayer. He founded The Scriptural Knowledge Institution and then a group of orphan homes; both were intended to help those whom others had forgotten, but even more than that, they were intended to demonstrate that God is always faithful.
Müller didn’t make budgets and speak to people about how much money he needed to carry out his plans; he didn’t have a board of missions that issued him funds; he didn’t send out letters begging others to supply his needs. He knelt in his house in Bristol with his wife and a few close friends and prayed—and people brought him money, bread, potatoes, clothes, apples, furniture, and just about everything else you can think of.
Whatever else you want to say about Müller, he was someone who lived in the spirit of Acts 2; he was so dedicated to God that he allowed the needs of others to dictate what he did with his possessions, and he encouraged those around him to do the same. His story challenges me.
When I was a child, there was a very popular bumper sticker that said: “A modest proposal for peace: let the Christians of the world agree they will not kill each other.” An equally demanding bumper sticker based on this passage might say “A modest proposal for poverty: let the Christians of the world agree that they will respond to the needs of others.” If we truly followed through on that the way Müller did and the Christians in Acts did, we might not need to talk about anything else.
What is the relationship between God and your possessions?
What is the relationship between your possessions and human need?
On this Saturday in Easter Week, listen to the famous Easter hymn “This Joyful Eastertide.” (The words are here if you are not familiar with them.) Thank the Risen Christ for his ultimate gift, and think about what you can do in response.
Jesus, may I always seek your will first as I determine how to steward the possessions you have graciously given me. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Economics of Radical Generosity (Acts 2:45; 4:34-35)
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.