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The Justice of Community

Jesus the Son told His disciples, “The poor you will have with you always.” God the Father told Israel, “There will be no poor among you.” So what’s up with that?

Those two verses periodically cause a bit of turmoil in the evangelical camp. And here’s why.

A while back, something struck me that was so obvious in the Old Testament…but I had somehow missed it. It’s about that verse in Deuteronomy quoted above: “There will be no poor among you.” DEUTERONOMY 15:4

It began with Acts 4 with a passage I had probably read hundreds of times:

The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common. ACTS 4:32

Let me be honest: that unsettles me a bit. Doesn’t it you?

Luke continues: …there was no one needy among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales and placing them at the apostles’ feet. The proceeds were distributed to each, as anyone had need. ACTS 4:34-35

Those who had some measure of wealth were selling off real estate and giving the money to the leaders to take care of needy people in their community. These were people who had been radically touched by God. They were all in. They saw themselves as a family, but remember: there were thousands of them. This wasn’t a little commune in the country; there was something profound happening in their midst. And so this letting go of “stuff” was compelling and evident.

But there’s more to the story that can be easily missed…and Luke drops a big clue. He uses the phrase: There was no one needy among them. That’s a phrase taken right out of Deuteronomy 15.

I had heard that referenced in “word-of-faith/prosperity-teaching” circles. That if we have enough faith—if we confess the Word enough—we can be wealthy because God told Israel that if they obeyed Him they would be prosperous, and if they didn’t, they would experience poverty. DEUTERONOMY 28:11-15

But here’s what’s interesting: in Deuteronomy 15, that verse is tied to a social system that required all Israelites to forgive any debts owed to them every seven years. All debts were wiped out every seven years, creating a new level playing field despite whatever bad investments you had made, bad decisions, or just bad luck. Plus, they were to loan money to each other freely with no interest—even in the sixth year when they knew they wouldn’t get paid back.

On top of this was the Jubilee—the fiftieth-year celebration—where not only were all debts forgiven, but any land that had been bought fair-and-square had to be given back to its original owner…and all who were indentured slaves because of debt were set free from their “owners”. Jubilee was a massive social security system that may not even seem fair to us but it was vital for this community in relationship with God because it reminded them that everything actually belonged to God and He was loaning it to them. And it kept them from taking an individualistic approach to their relationship with God and reminded them they—Israel—were a covenant community.

And then when they did that, then God says there should be no needy among them. Isn’t it interesting how community-oriented that was…and how less individualistic in terms of the way we typically teach about true prosperity?

It takes a community to raise a disciple…and it takes leaders to build a real community.

Let’s not kid our little individualistic selves.

Dave Workman | The Elemental Group


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