Have you ever wondered what your church community should look like? I’m sure you have and I’m sure you’ve compared it to what you’ve read in Scripture. And I’m willing to bet that what you’ve experienced in your church community resembles what you see in Scripture to a greater or lesser degree.

Luke gives us a glimpse of the church community very early on in the book of Acts. Let’s see what we can learn from this glimpse with this excerpt from the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary.

The Community of the Uncommon Life

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47

The early chapters of Acts include several important summaries of the community’s life and mission in Jerusalem (see 4:32–5:16; 6:1-7). These “snapshots” are touched up and colorized by Luke—some say considerably so—to form a portfolio of biblical images paradigmatic of the church’s corporate witness. While evangelism is certainly one effect of their life together (see 2:47), the primary purpose of their common life is to nurture Christian community.

Marks of the Church

2:42. Luke writes stories to instruct his readers about normative matters of the faith rather than merely to set the historical record straight. The Christian norm reflected in this text, and others like it in Acts, is that believers who share a common geographical address are also to share a common religious life. The chief characteristics of this common life are listed in v. 42 and elaborated in the following verses: “apostles” teaching (v. 43, ἡ διδαχὴ τῶν ἀποστόλων), fellowship (v. 44, κοινωνία), the breaking of bread (vv. 45-46, ἡ κλάσις τοῦ ἄρτου), and prayer (v. 47a, προσευχή). These same characteristics are repeated throughout Acts as the hallmarks of an ever-expanding people of God (2:47b).

Miracles in the Church

2:43. That the believers in Jerusalem should “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching” is not surprising, for the apostles are not only the principal successors to Jesus but also the principal depositories of the Spirit’s power. The “many wonders and signs” (πολλά τέρατα καὶ σημεῖα) they perform bear witness to their spiritual authority. This phrase recalls Joel’s prophecy (2:19) of the outpouring of the Spirit to mark them out as important participants in a new epoch of salvation’s history. In fact, they are the heirs of Jesus’ authority, which he earlier demonstrated by the “wonders and signs that God did through him among you” (2:22; cf. Luke 9:1-2; 24:19).

The effect of their authority within the community is confirmed both by adherence to their instruction but also by the “awe (that) came upon everyone.” “Awe” translates φόβος (phobos; lit., “fear”), which Luke routinely uses to summarize even the outsider’s response to God’s activity (cf. Luke 2:9; 8:37; Acts 19:17). The performance of these same “signs and wonders” of Jesus is the evident result of their baptism with God’s Spirit that enables them to do and teach in continuity with their Lord (cf. 1:1-2). In fact, 2:43 glosses 2:19 as well, indicating the “signs and wonders” of the Spirit will continue in the community’s life through the presence of the apostles.

Sharing in the Fellowship

2:44. “Fellowship” (κοινωνία) is used only here in Acts, but for Paul it is an important idiom of the community that is initiated into newness of life in partnership with the Spirit (cf. 2 Cor 13:13; Phil 2:1). In this case, God’s gift of the Spirit to the community suggests a transforming presence that unites the different believers into a common κοινωνία. Luke uses a well-known phrase from Greek philosophy indicating friendship: “all things in common.” A fellowship of believers shares more than common beliefs and core values; they display a profound regard for one another’s spiritual and physical well-being as a community of friends. The Jewish community at Qumran, for example, tied its rituals of purification to this same ideal of friendship in a manner recalling 1 Peter’s exhortation that the “purification of souls” issuing from Jesus’ passion should form a community of friends (cf. 1 Pet 1:19-22).

Meeting Together as the Church

2:45-46. The formation of believers into a community of goods is an important theme in Acts. Popular sentiment may well have led Luke to emphasize more traditional elements of public piety—the contented soul of Stoic thought or the civility of Platonic theory. While no doubt Luke knew these popular Greco-Roman notions of true friendship, his ideals are more deeply rooted in the prophetic typology of Jubilee (cf. Lev 25:10)—Isaiah’s “favorable year of the Lord” (Isa 61:2a; cf. Luke 4:19)—that had previously shaped his Gospel narratives of Jesus’ ministry among the poor (see, e.g., Luke 4:16-21; 6:20-36; 12:22-34; 15:1–16:31; 17:20–18:4; 19:1-10). According to this pattern, the redistribution of proceeds from sold property reflects the social character of God’s kingdom, where all share equally in the gifts of God. The community of goods of Acts is indicative of those economic practices of the restored Israel of God.

Luke’s reference to temple observance is not a bid to take it over for Christian worship or to advance the church’s claim that it is the “true Israel.” Rather, his point is that worship is a resurrection practice of repentant Israel. The reference to the joyful practice of “breaking bread at home” (κλωντές . . . κατ’ οἶκον ἄρτον), the perfect evidence of life in the Spirit, should not be interpreted as a Christian sacrament (i.e., the Lord’s supper) or some other distinctly Christian discipline. Rather, Luke recalls the practice of devout Jewish families who following temple worship would share meals together as symbolic of their social and spiritual solidarity. The decisions the community makes about “bread”—how to sell it, distribute it to those with needs, and share it without rank or rankle—manifests the effect of the Spirit in its common life.

Merriment in the Church

2:47. The community’s worship is characterized by the people’s praise of God (2:47a; see also 3:8). The community has no material needs, no intramural conflicts, no broken hearts for which to petition God for tender mercy. This will come soon enough. At the beginning of its mission there are only success stories and a community of friends filled with gladness. The reader’s lingering impression of the daily rhythm of this community of the uncommon life is that it is both growing “day by day” and worshiping in the Temple “day by day.” Indeed, the formation and practices of this community of goods testify to God’s commitment to Israel’s restoration.

Reflections on Jubilee and Repentance

1. “All who believed were together and had all things in common” (2:44). At the beginning of his Gospel, Luke uses an Isaianic prophecy about “the favorable year of the Lord” to introduce the principal themes of Jesus’ anointed ministry (Luke 4:16-18). In particular, Jesus’ actions among the poor and powerless in identifying with their marginal status within Israel and announcing their deliverance are taken as the fulfillment of this prophecy of the Lord’s Jubilee (Luke 4:21). Jesus’ teaching about sharing possessions envisages the social character of God’s kingdom, where the conditions of the least, lame, lost, and last are transformed.

God’s grace does not privilege the rich and famous; God’s liberating love extends to everyone who calls on the name of the Lord for salvation. However, this Jubilee is possible only because of the empty tomb and only after Pentecost. The community of converts formed on the Day of Pentecost is a repentant Israel to whom the kingdom of God has been restored. God’s kingdom reflects solidarity and mutuality rather than a class system; therefore, believers live together and have “all things in common.”

2. Teaching, fellowship, sharing goods, and prayers are the religious practices of repentant Israel. Each is a concrete expression of forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Spirit; each is possible only because of conversion, and together they make possible the convert’s continued formation toward maturity. This is so because these practices are much too demanding to implement without the habits of a repentant mind and purified heart. They are also too demanding for the individual believer; therefore, the initial images of conversion in Acts are those of a community and of shared practices and goods.

Reflections on Community and Equality

1. These are religious practices that envisage a steady and lasting obedience. The popular conception of a Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit or of a great revival featuring many conversion experiences is of religious phenomena characterized by fleeting spiritual intensity. The religious practices of the converted in Acts suggest a different enthusiasm, one that is more disciplined and holistic. The spiritual authority of the Twelve, exercised by their teaching and miracle working, is coupled with corporate worship and prayer. The traditional Jewish routines of temple observance are paired with meetings in believers’ homes. The Acts’ model of Christian community is one of common worship, common practice, common good, and common witness.

2. “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all” (2:45). The most distinctive practice of the community’s common life is the sharing of goods. It should be noted that Luke is not interested in the production of goods. Rather, that these goods already possessed are now shared with other believers. In an economic culture shaped by individual acquisitiveness, this resurrection practice seems idealistic and even scandalous. All the institutions and mythologies of the present order teach us to value private property as the principal motive of hard work, invention, and national wealth.

Yet, for Luke the kingdom of God is the real world; there can be no economic policy more prudent, therefore, than one that cultivates a community of goods in which class divisions are dismantled under the aegis of the Holy Spirit. Why should this be so? Social inequity of any sort fosters no good thing. It is impossible (and finally impractical) to achieve a lasting unity, no matter how important the cause, if inequality persists. This is precisely why Luke is so keen to press the inclusiveness of God’s salvation.

Find Out More with the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary

The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary is a ten-volume commentary on the whole Bible that we’ve combined into one volume. Written by a number of respected scholars, this commentary will help you in your endeavor to rightly interpret God’s Word.

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