In Acts 4 we are reminded that, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (vs.34).
To say that there was no “needy persons among them” is to declare that there was a sense of equality in the Community of God. This oneness was never forced upon anyone; it was simply a reality of the Community. It was a voluntary, spontaneous egalitarianism among the believers. The biblical account reminds us that the believers felt responsible to provide for those who were deprived of their basic rights (Guthrie 1981:735). The believers went beyond pity in the Community and allowed compassion to act out in the lives of those unjustly deprived of basic needs.
Active kingdom ethics in the Community should include economic koinonia as Ronald Sider (1997) describes it. Economic koinonia can simply be described as having a sense of fellowship in economic matters. Just as the early Church had interchurch sharing among the believers, if we are to model the given example, the Community must respond in kind. Lest we forget, believers in the United States are neighbors to millions of very poor children, Christian and not. When we look at the world scene, there is much disparity in economic koinonia within the Community.
Growing up in the United States in a wealthy suburb of Southern California has certainly made an impact on who I am today. I did not experience a shortage in the meeting of my most basic needs while growing up. Though my family did not always have what would be considered an “abundance” in North American terms, we certainly were never in want.
Despite not having grown up under a cardboard box, there were moments in my childhood when God’s light and His call for economic koinonia came crashing into my soul. For instance, my father took me to visit an orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico when I was still quite young. God showed me through my experiences in that border city that there were indeed others in need. As I ran down the dirt road with some of my newfound friends I remember thinking, “why don’t they have daddies and mommies” and “where are their shoes?” As a young boy it seemed odd to me for other children not to have dads and moms.
I am certain that experiences like this as a young person were used by my Lord to lead me into His work with children at risk. As I got older and continued to make trips into Mexico with my youth group from church, God continued to show me the disparity between the world I would visit for a week and the world I went home to. What was it that I was experiencing? I believe God was showing me the sin in the inequality between His children. Why was it that some had so much while others so little, I thought. I now realize that there are certain structural issues that have helped us arrive where we currently are. Regardless of the “whys,” we know that there continues to be a disproportionate sum of abundance in the west while the scarcity runs high in the south.
The abundance of which I was a part and in some ways continue to be associated with, has sharp contrasts with what I see on a daily basis.
Economic koinonia is encouraged by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 when he writes:
13Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.
Paul seems to be drawing his reference from God’s provision to the Israelites in the desert after they escaped their oppressors. In Exodus chapter 16 we see God providing for a desperate and hunger stricken people. Somewhere between what Scripture describes as “Elim and Sinai” in the “desert of Sin” the people of God grumbled and complained to their leaders, Moses and Aaron. God in His mercy was prepared to “rain down bread from heaven” upon His children. The Lord provided for the Israelites through this manna as it is described (vs. 31).
“The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed” (Exodus 16:17-18).
To say that “each one gathered as much as he needed” implies that there were sufficient provisions for the people of God. It is probable that sharing took place between those more capable of collecting the manna and those who were sick or physically challenged.
The apostle Paul uses the passage found in Exodus to remind both the Corinthians and us today that there must be a sense of sharing and generosity within the community of God’s people if we are really to be a community formed with kingdom values. We continue today to have those who are in need and destitute who must be led to the manna of God.
If you are interested in reading more about how to help the poor, see the new blog, http://economicdiscipleship.wordpress.com/