Throughout the pages of Scripture, and especially among the faithful spoken of in it, there is a different focus. It is not on the individual but on the community. If you have ever watched an ant colony or a beehive you will have a good image to grasp this concept. Although made up of many individuals, these insect groups thrive and strive for their colony. Each member has a goal to help the colony grow and each member continually does their part to reach the goal. In Old Testament times we can see this characteristic in the way a person noted which tribe and clan they were a member of, particularly when land was concerned (Josh. 13:1-24:33; 1 Ki. 21:1-3). In New Testament times that association was still true but one’s country of citizenship were also important. Paul is the most noted example of this aspect of one’s identity in the Roman Empire (Acts 21: 39; 22:22-29; Phil. 3:4-6). In both Testaments individual were still important, but the prominent marker of who you were came from the community to which you belonged.
After the birth of the Church at Pentecost in the opening chapters of Acts we can see the early believers approaching their new identity in Christ in the same way. While many of them came from a variety of places and backgrounds (Acts 2:5-11) they came together as one with one purpose and one goal (Acts 2:42-46; 4:32-33). In this day and age it’s every man for himself but, in contrast, the behavior of those early believers is truly amazing. We read in Acts 4:32 that individuals "did not claim anything belonging to him to be his own, but all things were common property to them." This common property was used to help other believers who were in need. Two examples follow this passage and are in contrast to one another. The first example is Barnabas who sells a tract of land and gives all the money to the apostles with very little fanfare (Acts 4:36-37). The second is Ananias and Sapphira, a husband and wife who sell their land but then lie about the amount they received for it when they present the proceeds to the apostles. Not only did their actions defraud the community, their lie did not go unnoticed by God either (Act 5:1-10).
It's not always easy to put others and their needs before our own. But it was to be at the center of worship at the Temple. Psalm 133 illustrates this. As a "song of ascents" it was to be sung as the Israelites made their way through the Judean hills and upward toward Jerusalem. As they reached Mount Zion and the Temple came into view, the words, "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity" reminded them that although they came from different tribes, they gathered in Jerusalem to worship God as His people. In Jerusalem, though they were many individuals they also became one. The unity that they experienced as a nation under God was a blessing like the beautiful land where they lived and it was pleasing to God (1 Kin. 4:20:-25). Were the people always successful in working together in unity? No. Sadly their leadership failed in maintaining that unity and King Solomon, the second king to rule over the united kingdom was succeeded by his son who was responsible for dividing it (1 Kin. 11:41-12:33).
The early believers needed to be reminded of this aspect of their faith-community. But how does a group of individuals come together as one? John instructed them to "walk in the light" as Jesus Himself did (1 Jn. 1:7). Modeling our faith after Him produces fellowship with one another. Paul reminded the Philippians of the same thing when he told them to have the same attitude as Christ (Phil. 2:5-8) who gave the ultimate self-sacrifice when He died on the cross. When times get tough, as they have in recent months, our first reaction is to hold on to as much as we can and to save what we have for a rainy day. But the Biblical model is community-minded. It not only meets the needs of others, it brings glory to God and people to His kingdom. Times can quickly change from bad to good or bad to worse. But believers with a community mindset can not only persevere, they can become a testimony of what God does when He brings a wide variety of people together as one (Mt. 5:13-16; Acts 2:46-47).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre