What Revival Looks Like: Sharing Possessions

by Craig Keener, originally posted on his blog as the second part of a series on Spirit empowering.

If the immediate expression of the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost was prophetic empowerment, the longer-range impact was a new community of believers who walked together in their lives and shared one another’s needs.

Much of Acts 2:41-47 follows the following structure:

A         2:41     Successful evangelism (3000 converts)

B         2:42     Sharing meals, praying together

C         2:44-45            Sharing possessions

B’        2:46-47a          Shared meals, worship

A’        2:47b   Successful evangelism

Whereas the conversions in 2:41 responded to Peter’s preaching, the conversions in 2:47 apparently responded to the life of the new community. Peter’s preaching explained divine signs at Pentecost; but the sacrificial love that Christians showed one another was no less divine, no less supernatural.

At the heart of this display of unity was the costly expression of commitment to caring for one another’s needs, in 2:44-45. This sharing exemplified on a literal level what Jesus taught, sometimes on a hyperbolic level. For example:

  • Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys” (NIV)
  • Luke 14:33: “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (NRSV)
  • Luke 18:22: “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (NASB)
  • Cf. also John the Baptist in Luke 3:11: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (NRSV)

In Luke’s Gospel, sharing possessions is actually a sign of repentance, an answer to the question what one must do to have eternal life (Luke 3:9-11; 18:18, 22). It does not earn eternal life, but it concretely evidences the reality of their turning to God. In Acts 2:37, hearers ask Peter what they must do, and his answer is more general: repentance and baptism in Jesus’s name (2:38). The sharing of possessions, however, soon follows as a fruit of this repentance.

In Acts, believers do not immediately divest themselves of all possessions and move onto the street at conversion. They do, however, sell what they do not need to live on, whenever someone is in need (Acts 2:45; 4:34). That this mutual caring is no fluke is clear because at the next corporate outpouring of the Spirit on the Jerusalem church—the next “revival” or “awakening”—sharing again takes center stage (this time, if anything, more emphatically; 4:32, 34-35). Caring for the needy continues afterward, although eventually the Twelve have to delegate this ministry to some other Spirit-filled ministers (6:1-6). Churches in one location also helped churches in another in view of impending famine—even though the famine was predicted to strike them as well (11:28-30).

Often people today pray for revival, thinking of the emotional benefits to individuals involved. But we might demonstrate to God better our commitment to such revival if we recognized up front what it might cost us. If we are ready to devote everything to God that he asks of us, it is clear that we really want revival. And when we are really fully devoted to God and dependent on his grace and power, revival has already begun, at least with us.

For one longer video on this topic, see here.

Craig S. Keener is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary. He’s the author of books like IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Miracles:  The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts and Acts: An Exegetical Commentary.

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