Uniform 09.13.2015: The Gift of Sharing


Acts 4:34–5:10

In The Giver, Lois Lowry’s Newbery award-winning novel for kids in middle grades (and adults too!), young Jonas is part of a tightly controlled community where everyone is the same, no one goes hungry, and each person’s career is chosen for him or her during a special ceremony for twelve-year-olds. He lives in an environment where people see in black and white, take pills to suppress sexual desire, and never know what it means to be different. For the residents, it’s safe, comfortable, and expected. No one is in need. No one experiences pain for more than a few seconds before a special pill removes it. No one knows loss.

When we read about the early church in Acts, we may think they had some kind of beautiful utopia. Luke writes, “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.…There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:32, 34). It seems that they had a community where all were equal on every level. Isn’t that ideal? Shouldn’t it be our goal?

By the time Jonas turns twelve in Lowry’s story, he is already beginning to question his “perfect” society. At the Ceremony of Twelve, he isn’t assigned to be Caretaker, Nurturer, Food Distributor, Instructor, or Engineer. Instead, he will be the Receiver, taught by an old man known as the Giver. This weighty job requires that Jonas take on all the memories of life before sameness—which means he gets to understand the color red, the beauty of snow, the closeness of true family, and also the pain of an injury, the heartache of grief, the horrors of war.

Utopia, while it seems ideal, is both dangerous and impossible. In order for everyone to truly be equal, we must give up much of what makes us unique. The truth is that the early Christians were no closer to utopia than we are. The next part of our lesson text shows that, though all believers were to share everything with honesty and generosity, people were tempted to look out for themselves just as we are today. And while God may not strike us dead for our lies and selfishness like Ananias and Sapphira, our spirits will surely die a little every time we ignore a brother or sister in need and focus on ourselves.

We cannot create a utopia. What can we do, then, to create a sharing community? Our government can work hard to develop policies that help the needy and secure equal rights for all. Our communities and churches can be dedicated to providing support in the form of safe houses, food service organizations, and clothing closets. And we—each of us—can remain aware of the desperate needs in our area and resolve to help in some way. God who has given us much calls us to share our abundance with others. That can be our greatest gift.

Source: Lois Lowry, The Giver (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1993).


1. What utopian books/movies have you read/seen? What were the themes? Did the communities work well, or did they become more like dystopias? Why or why not?
2. What do you think it would take to create a community of sameness? What would it be like to live there? Can you think of positives and negatives of living in such a place?
3. Imagine yourself in the early Christian community. What would it mean for you to share all you had in common with everyone else? Would this be easy or difficult? How so?
4. Do you think it’s truly possible to have a community in which people share what they have with each other? If so, how? What would be the downfalls of this community?
5. Even if we can’t establish a true utopia—with perfect government, provisions, and equality—what steps can we take to promote the gift of sharing each day?

Reference Shelf

The text offers a second Lukan summary, similar in content to the first (cf. 2:42-47). Both speak of the community holding things in common (v. 32; cf. 2:44) and the apostolic witness (v. 33a; cf. 2:43b). This summary also speaks explicitly of the believers being “of one heart and soul” (v. 32). It was not uncommon in literature of the Hellenistic period to find the expression “one soul,” an idiomatic way of talking of friendship, joined with “holding all things in common.” As with the previous summary, Luke is painting an ideal portrait, recognizable to Gentile readers of the early community: “What [Gentiles] esteemed as an ideal, had become a reality in the young Christian community.” The expression “there was not a needy person among them” (v. 34) is an echo of Deuteronomy 15:4. Deuteronomy 15:1-11 applies well to Luke’s portrait of the early Christian community. The “people of God” dwelling in the land were to be a people who were generous so that there would be no needy persons among them. Recall that Luke is portraying the early Jerusalem community as the “restored” people. Thus, it is only fitting that in their life together they realize, through their generosity and sharing, God’s intentions for God’s people as spelled out in their Scriptures. Like the ideal portrait of God’s people presented in Deuteronomy, the early community can best be described not so much as practicing communal ownership, as generous sharing. Verse 34, which employs imperfect tenses, can be read to say that people were in the habit of selling property and bringing the proceeds to the apostles. This implies a regular practice of disposing of property “as any had need” (v. 3b).

Laying the proceeds at the apostles’ feet is fitting in this context. The larger issue is “Who is the true leadership of (restored) Israel?” Readers know it to be the apostles. Laying something at someone’s feet symbolizes “a state of submission or obedience” (cf. Josh 10:23-24; 1 Sam 25:23-25; Ps 8:5-6; 110:1; Luke 7:38; 8:41; 10:39). Thus, by entrusting their property to the apostles, these early followers show that they too understand wherein the real leadership resides. The scene concludes with a picture of Barnabas laying the proceeds from his property at the feet of the apostles. Herein exemplifies faithful obedience to those who rule over the twelve tribes of Israel.

Source: J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007) 80-81.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum and book since 2001. She attends church and leads an adult Sunday school class in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading fiction, spending time with her two daughters (ages 10 and 8), and watching television shows on Netflix. Her goal for 2015 is to tackle the bass clef on the piano.


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