Again, as in Acts 2:42–47, Luke gives us a glimpse of life in the early church, and what an impressive community it is.
Life in the first century could be difficult. There was little public welfare. People often had only their own family networks, and if those failed they were on their own. The unity of the Christian community extended to possessions; they shared everything as if they were members of one family. The principle was one of equality. If someone was needy, their needs were met by the abundance of others (v. 34) and laid at the apostles’ feet for distribution. Here, then, is a Spirit-inspired generosity. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once said that communism’s downfall was its failure to produce the selfless man. What the political system cannot do, God can through the gospel of His Son. Here is a selfless, generous community of people of the new covenant.
Luke mentions one person as an example, Joseph of Cyprus. Renamed Barnabas, the son of encouragement, by the apostles, he did what was described in verses 34–35. True to his name, Barnabas introduces Saul to the apostles in Jerusalem at a time when the other believers were hesitant to accept their former persecutor (Acts 9: 26–27). He is sent by the church in Jerusalem to encourage the Gentile church in Antioch (Acts 11:22–24) and goes to Tarsus to invite Paul to participate (Acts 11:25). He leads the first missionary journey with Paul (Acts 13:2). Paul soon becomes the dominant partner and Barnabas willingly plays second fiddle (Acts 13:42, 46; 14:1, 12). Barnabas was far more patient and generous-minded towards Mark than Paul (Acts 15:36–41). Barnabas is a great example of humility and generosity. He was a true disciple of Christ, who came to serve (Mark 10:45).
I pray a daily prayer that God would give me a mind that is clean, generous, and humble. Barnabas is a very good example of a life lived with such a mind. But Luke will not have us idealise the early church because the generosity of Barnabas stands out in stark contrast to what is about to follow in Acts 5.
What is it about Barnabas that gives you a model to follow today?
What changes might the principle of equality bring about in your fellowship? Do you think our responsibilities toward fellow believers have an economic aspect as well?