The Antidote to the Love of Money: The Love of God Poured Out in Our Hearts

A picture of barley field grains overlain with the words of Acts 2:42-47, illustrating that the antidote to the love of money is the love of God poured out in our hearts.
Acts 2:42-47 tells us that the early Christians held everything in common so that no one had need. This was their expression of God’s love for one another. Picture of Barley Field Grains from Pixabay

In “The Love of Money is a Root of All Kinds of Evil,” we examined the love of money and found in Scripture that the early brethren avoided it by living according to principles of love. In “The Love of Money: A Hallmark of Our Times,” we looked into the love of money that fuels our twenty-first-century economic system. We also saw that this short-sighted greed is driving the world toward several potential disasters that could mean the ruin and death of millions of people. Now, let’s take a closer look at just how the first-century saints showed the love of God in their lives by loving one another rather than loving money.

The Love of God: Acts 2:42-47

All Things in Common

By loving one another and behaving as siblings, the early Christians were living in a way that was the opposite of loving money and seeking riches. One way they did this was in leveling their wealth by having all things in common.

They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. Fear came on every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together, and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and goods, and distributed them to all, according as anyone had need. Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. The Lord added to the assembly day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

I want to draw your attention to the word “fellowship” in verse 42. It is the Greek word koinōnia. Vincent’s Word Studies says this about it:

From κοινός [koinos], common. A relation between individuals which involves a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest and in each other. The word answers to the Latin communio, from communis, common. Hence, sometimes rendered communion, as 1Co_10:16; 2Co_13:14.

The word “common” in verse 44 is koinos, the root word mentioned in the quote just above. So, Paul expresses with directly related words the fellowship (koinōnia) the believers had together, including their “breaking of bread” (metonymy for eating the Lord’s Supper or “communion”), and their having “all things in common” (koinos).

Don’t overlook that those who had “possessions” (ktema—”lands,” “estates,” what is legally called “real property”) and “goods” (huparxis—”movable property,” “personal property”) sold them and distributed “them” (apparently the proceeds of the sale) to those who had need. They weren’t compelled to do this. The apostles didn’t make them do it. The government didn’t make them do it. They simply put their love into action.

As an aside, I want to mention that, had the government taxed the people to provide for the poor, nothing in the Bible would have condemned it. As we know, Jesus taught that we are to pay taxes (Matthew 22:21). Neither He nor anyone else in Scripture says we are to quibble over how the taxes are used. To bring this to today, I find it an offense to the name of Christ that some vociferous Christians oppose, among similar social programs, a tax—calling it stealing—that would give everyone nationalized, universal health care. At the same time, they say nothing about taxes that go to foreign military exploits that have nothing to do with national defense. Is this not being hypocritical about the love we’re supposed to have, abhorring that which is good, and clinging to that which is evil? (see Romans 12:9)

The Love of God: Acts 4:32-35

According as Anyone Had Need

Now, let’s look at another place we see this:

The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. With great power, the apostles gave their testimony of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Great grace was on them all. For neither was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as anyone had need.

Acts 4:32-35

Again, we see that the believers were of one heart and soul. “Not one” (oude heis—“not even one,” a Greek way of emphasizing the point) claimed private possession, but they held everything in common (koinos). No one was in need because those who possessed lands (chorion, “plots of land”) and houses (oikia) sold them and brought the money to the apostles for distribution to those in need.

Here are some things to keep in mind from Acts 2 and 4. Those who had property voluntarily, through love, gave up their right to that property, and they gave according to their ability. The Christian community held these things in common. The brethren received of that community chest according to their need so that no one lacked.

The Love of God: Matthew 6:33 and Mark 10:29-30

All These Things Will Be Given to You

Here’s a question: When Jesus taught, “But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33), did He have in mind a specific mechanism for these things being given? And, when Jesus said, “Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for my sake, and for the sake of the Good News, but he will receive one hundred times more now in this time, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land, with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30), what was He describing about “now in this time”?

All of us know that when we became Christians, all other believers became our family. However, when I became a Christian, no one gave me a house and land! What about you?

By explicitly stating, “Now in this time” and “with persecutions” (implying that He’s talking about this age, not the eternal state) in Mark 10:30, and by listing the necessities of life as being what will be given (Matthew 6:31-33), Jesus is referring to something quite literal in this life. Yes, we can apply these Scriptures loosely to God always providing for His people. But, if we look at what Jesus is saying, we can see that He clearly had something specific in mind. When Jesus says, “he will receive one hundred times more now in this time, houses…and land,” that doesn’t fit mere provision. It doesn’t even fit occasionally helping someone in need. But it does fit the early Christians’ practice we see in Acts of having all things, even houses and lands, in common.

Likewise, I believe this system is what Christ is specifically referring to in Matthew 25:31-46 when He speaks of giving food, drink, housing, clothing, and of comforting those housebound by illness and those in prison. It is the selfless way the brethren are to love one another.

Oversight of the Distribution

The equitable distribution of goods was, at first, overseen by the apostles (Acts 4:37-5:11). By Acts 6, the believing Grecian Jews (believing Jews from outside Judea but who were now living in Jerusalem) complained that the widows of the believing Judean Jews were getting favored in the distribution. The apostles’ response was to pass the responsibility of overseeing the distribution to seven brethren picked out and recommended as trustworthy by the multitude of the disciples. They chose men who, as far as their names indicate, were Grecian Jews, thus ending the controversary.

Could this system be abused? Yes, about twenty years later, Paul addressed a problem that had cropped up with the distribution of the food in Thessalonica.

For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” For we hear of some who walk among you in rebellion, who don’t work at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are that way, we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-12

Of course, we must realize that society in the Roman Empire of the first century was different from now. Slaves had no choice—they worked. Some freemen also were paid household servants. In a precarious position were day laborers, usually on farms. Otherwise, besides the rich aristocrats and the government administrators, most people were what we would call self-employed.

At one level were bankers, traders, shippers, etc., and those who held government contracts for works projects and for collecting taxes. The working class weren’t employees, but labored at their own craft or had a share in their family’s business. Women, living under the protection of their fathers, husbands, or other relatives, did domestic work. But some also worked in a trade or business or as midwives. I point all this out because, unlike today when someone may be unemployed for various reasons, in the society in which Paul was writing, there wasn’t such a thing as being unemployed. If someone was able to work and wasn’t working, it was because that person was being lazy.

The Love of God: Acts 11:27-30

The Special Collection

That said, I think it’s possible that Paul was talking about someone not doing his or her fair share of work within the community of Christians. With a distribution of goods and sharing at least some meals together, everyone would have been expected to put in some work.

Today, able-bodied workers can be out of work for many legitimate reasons, such as being put out of work because of automation, employers moving abroad, employers going out of business, etc. We shouldn’t be quick to judge someone as lazy.

I want to mention the collection for the saints at Jerusalem. Agabus came from Jerusalem to Antioch and prophesied that the inhabited world (oikoumenē), seen as the Roman Empire, would suffer a famine (Acts 11:27-28). Despite the fact that they, themselves, would also likely be affected, the brethren in Antioch determined to send relief, each according to his ability, to Jerusalem (Acts 11:29-30).

Commentators have imagined several theories to explain why the brethren in Jerusalem seemed to have more need than the brethren elsewhere. A common opinion is that this shows that the community of goods in Jerusalem had left them impoverished. Absolutely nothing in Scripture supports this. In fact, the very generosity of the saints in Antioch shows that they saw the community of goods to extend even to distant brethren.

The very fact that Agabus came from Jerusalem specifically to Antioch indicates that God intended that Antioch be the first to hear and respond. We don’t know if Agabus’s message included anything that focused on Jerusalem being in greater peril. But we do know that Jerusalem, in fact, turned out to have great need.

The Jewish historian Josephus, c. 37 – c. 100, gives an account that Jerusalem had a need above much of the rest of the empire. He tells of how the Jewish proselyte (not a Christian), Helena, Queen of Adiabene (a small kingdom in what is now northern Iraq) went to Jerusalem during the time of this famine. She found at Jerusalem that “many people died for want of what was necessary to procure food.” So, she sent her servants to bring grain from Alexandria and figs from Cypris back to Jerusalem for the starving people (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 20.2.5). The thing to see here is that the need wasn’t just among the Christian believers. The need wasn’t caused by the believers’ community of goods. All Jerusalem was hit especially badly by a famine.

So, the saints in other localities—e.g., Antioch, Corinth, Galatia, Macedonia (1 Corinthians 16; 2 Corinthians 8:1-15)—desiring that no believers go in want while they had something to give, sent what they could. I want to particularly show you 2 Corinthians 8:13-15:

For this is not that others may be eased and you distressed, but for equality. Your abundance at this present time supplies their lack, that their abundance also may become a supply for your lack; that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”

Here we see again that the saints were following a principle of equality of wealth. The Greek word “equality” here is isotēs. Today, we still use the prefix iso- to refer to equality. Love dictated that all lived at the same economic level.

As far as is known, the practice of holding goods in common continued through the apostolic era. In fact, there are historical references to the practice by Julian the Apostate—an unbeliever who looked down on it—as late as the mid-fourth century (Roman A. Montero, “The Sources of Early Christian Communism”). This was about the same time that the Roman Empire became a Christian state, and whatever remained of biblical Christianity went underground. Some of these non-Catholic assemblies that met in secret seem to have carried on the common-goods practice through to the Reformation. Even to this day, Hutterites practice what they call a community of goods.

The Antidote to the Love of Money

Jesus spoke the Golden Rule while the Old Covenant was still in effect: “Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). It is the law and the prophets because it is love in action, and “Love therefore is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10b).

How much more are we in the New Covenant and indwelt by the Holy Spirit to show love to others? The New Covenant began with the ultimate expression of God’s love—Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross. Romans 5:5b tells us that “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Under the New Covenant, we’re told who are to be the objects of our love: our siblings in Christ, our neighbors, and our enemies. In other words, everyone. We don’t have to have affectionate feelings for everyone, but we’re to do them whatever good we can when they’re in need. This then, pouring the love that God has poured into our hearts into others, is the perfect antidote to falling into the snare of the love of money.

In “You Are My Disciples, If You Have Love for One Another,” we’ll take a further look at the Christian way of life called love, list some possible disasters, do a little statistical math, and talk about what we can and can’t do about all of this.

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