(I recently taught a Bible study covering the book the Acts of the Apostles. I used my mother’s Ryrie Study Bible to provide the basic outline of the Bible study.)
We now move into the last section of this chapter where we get an example of how the believers would take care of each others’ practical needs.
Read Acts 4:32. This truly was a golden time for the church! Today, when we look at how many different denominations there are out there and the disunity within the Body of Christ it is hard to believe that once the Body was “one in heart and mind.” Of course, at this time we are talking about possibly 10,000 people? (We know there were 5,000 men, so a rough estimate of all the people, including women and children, would be double.) We still see some glimmers of this unity and caring for each other across denominations occasionally (my church, for example, sometimes has us pray on Sunday morning for different local pastors and their congregations; we’ve also helped out, physically and financially, other local churches in need). But I don’t believe this is the norm for most Christians today; I think it is the exception. I would hope that if God asked me to give up something of mine to help out someone else I would, but I admit I would probably have to think about it and it probably would not be an automatic response. The “that’s mine!” principle is alive and well in the American church.
Read Acts 4:33. Again we see that the apostles are in the forefront of sharing the gospel. It seems to me that a good portion of the apostolic ministry was to be witnesses that Jesus rose from the dead. Not to share it as a second hand experience, as we believers have to do today, but as a first hand experience. The more people they could share this with, the stronger the witness, and the more people would be impacted. It would be hard for someone to talk with an apostle and look him in the face when he said: “I touched Jesus after He died and rose again. I spoke with Him. I even ate with Him!” and not be convinced of the validity of his testimony. Of course, as we’ve seen in earlier passages of this chapter, with the chief priests and Jewish elders, there were clearly people unconvinced by the apostles’ testimony, but I think their hearts must have been particularly hard and closed to the truth.
Read Acts 4:34-35. There are many aspects of the early church that Luke could have chosen to speak about, but he chose to mention this. Why? I think because it makes it clear that Christianity is more than just about words (ie. the apostles testimony) or even just about miracles, but rather at the basis of it all, Christianity is about love. God’s love in sending His son, the believers’ love for each other. If the believers had not taken care of each other in such a manner, those with money sharing with those without, Christianity would have been just another superficial belief system, in my opinion. It certainly would not have been very appealing to the non-believer. Yes, miracles are wonderful and amazing to see, but it is love which draws the heart and keeps it. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Here in Corinthians we see that there is a pious, superficial giving of money to the poor which does not involve love (so we must be careful not to fall into that trap), but I believe that what is happening here in Acts was done out of love for each other and not out of superficial religiosity. Read James 2:14-17. If the early Church had not taken care of each other while claiming to have faith, they would have demonstrated to all that their faith was worthless and dead.
Read Acts 4:36-37. Luke singles out one individual as a good example of this kind of sharing. Here we are first introduced to Barnabas. He will become a good companion to Paul in the future. Read Acts 13:1-4. What do we know about Barnabas from the passage in Acts 4? Actually quite a lot.
Note that his given name is Joseph, but everyone calls him “Barnabas” which means “Son of Encouragement.” This tells us something about his character: Barnabas was a born encourager: this was probably his spiritual gift. When we read about him in the future we will find him encouraging others or bringing others to where they need to go. We will read about “Barnabas and Saul” for a time, then it will become “Paul and Barnabas” showing how Barnabas fades into the background and allows Paul to take precedence in the ministry. He is a gifted support person. He demonstrates this so blatantly, that people call him by his nickname!
He was from the tribe of Levi and lived in Cyprus.
Way back during the time of Moses and Joshua when the 12 tribes were assigned land, the Levites were not given any land of their own and actually were prohibited from owning land. Read Deuteronomy 18:1-2. There were towns and lands set aside for the Levites’ use, but not to own. Read Joshua 21:41-42. The fact that Barnabas has land to sell suggests three possibilities:
The land (or field) he owned was in Cyprus. The prohibition against Levities owning land might not include land in other countries.
The land was in Palestine, but it actually belonged to his wife (who was from another tribe) and he received it as a marriage portion.
After all this time the prohibition against Levites owning land was no longer observed.
He was generous. Wherever or however he got this land, he chooses to sell it and give the proceeds to the apostles for use in helping the needy in the church.
Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford (notes). The Student Bible. NIV Version