Where Everybody Knows Your Name
Dr. Jim Denison
It was his first day on the job. He was a new clerk in the produce department of a super market. A lady came up to him and said that she wanted to buy half a head of lettuce. He tried to talk her out of this, but she persisted. Finally he said, “I’ll have to go back and talk to the manager.”
He went to the rear of the store, not noticing that the woman was walking right behind him. He found the manager and said, “There’s some stupid old bag out there who wants to buy half a head of lettuce. What should I tell her?”
Seeing the horrified look on the face of the manager, he turned around and, seeing the woman, added, “And this nice lady wants to buy the other half of the head of lettuce. Will that be all right?” The relieved manager said, “That would be fine.”
Later in the day, he congratulated the boy on his quick thinking. Then he asked, “Where are you from, son?” The boy said, “I’m from Toronto, Canada, the home of beautiful hockey players and ugly women.” The manager looked at him and said, “My wife is from Toronto.” The boy said, “Oh, what team did she play for?”
Don’t you wish we could solve our relational problems that easily? Unfortunately, most of us cannot. Loneliness is an epidemic in our country today. We see it in the alcohol and drug abuse rates; the suicides; the fact that the number of unmarried couples living together has increased 800% in recent years; the popularity of New Age and alternative spiritual movements; the mushrooming number of chat rooms on the Internet. We are lonely people.
Remember the television show Cheers, about a bar in Boston? The opening lyrics had it right: You want to be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You want to be where everybody knows your name. Where you can belong, no matter who you are or what you’ve done. Where everybody knows your name. Wouldn’t you like to be part of a group like that? Who wouldn’t?
Outside of television, there’s only one such place. Luke, the author of our text, would like to take us there. Let’s go with him and see if what we discover helps us today.
Where everybody knows your name and your need
As we go in, Luke makes an amazing claim for these people: “All the believers are one in heart and mind” (v. 32a). “All the believers,” he says. Now remember, there are more than 5,000 in this church. And they’ve come from everywhere—Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, male and female, crossing every barrier of prejudice known to their world. If we were to walk in on a crowd of Jews and Arabs, blacks and KKK members, Yugoslavians and Albanians, we’d be in the same room.
Yet, he says they are “one in heart and mind.” United both in their emotions and their ideas, their feelings and their actions. Aristotle defined friendship as “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” This is Luke’s claim for these people, here.
It sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But Luke proves it. “No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own” (v. 32b). “No one” is emphatic in Luke’s Greek: there are no exceptions to this rule. “They shared everything that they had” (v. 32c). Jews and Gentiles would not share the same food or even the same room; now they share everything.
The Greeks had a very common proverb: “Friends have all things in common.” These people fulfilled their ideal. And with this result: “There were no needy persons among them” (v. 34). None.
Here’s how this program of congregational ministry worked: People in the church were constantly on the lookout for others in need, so they might report this to the congregational leaders.
When such reports came in, the wealthier members of the church voluntarily responded. This was no Social Security tax or required contribution. On their own, they sold lands or houses and brought the entire amount of the sale to the church. This was an act of Christian charity and grace. The Roman Empire would certainly give them no tax advantages for their contributions.
They placed their money at the feet of the apostles, an act of legal transfer akin to signing over your title today. Then the church utilized a massive aid distribution system, to get the money to those in need. And this happened continually, not just occasionally or during times of special emphasis. This was a regular part of their congregational life.
Now, Luke knows we might be skeptical of such a description. So he invites us to meet someone whose credentials we can check: Joseph, named Barnabas. He’s taking part in this ministry, at enormous personal sacrifice. He is a Levite, thus a member of the priestly tribe of Israel, part of their aristocracy. This means that by law he can own no land in Palestine, for God had decreed that they were to live off the good will of the nation (Numbers 18:20; Deut. 10:9).
But he’s become a Christian, forfeiting all such support. He is something like a pastor living in a parsonage who leaves the church and has no home. His family has some property on the island of Cyprus, where he’s from. It is expensive land, rich and productive, and valuable for tourism as well—something like owning part of Honolulu. It is likely his only financial support and sustenance. But he sells it anyway, brings the money, and transfers it to the church for those in even greater need than himself.
As a result, he must work to support himself for the rest of his life and ministry (cf. 1 Cor. 9:6). He goes from personal wealth to poverty overnight. For this, the apostles nickname him “Barnabas,” which means “Son of Encouragement.” As indeed he is.