Jesus showed us what it means to love – that love knows no bounds and stops before no barriers. Nothing can stop love, even if circumstances seem to block the way. Love had, and has, faith for everything (1 Cor. 13:7–8). So Jesus, prompted always by love, did not let property or possessions stop him. When he came to know and love a young man who owned many possessions, Jesus looked straight into his heart and said, “You still lack one thing: Sell all your goods, give the money to the poor, and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).
The first church in Jerusalem distributed all their goods straightaway. As soon as Christ’s Spirit was poured out over them, nobody could hold on to property any longer. Love compelled them to lay everything at the apostles’ feet. With the help of the deacons the apostles distributed everything (Acts 6:2–6). Christ’s love makes us want to give up our possessions and live in community of goods (Acts 4:32–37). That strikes at the root of our selfishness.
To give away your cloak as well when only your coat is asked for is truly in keeping with love. But to put in a second hour of work when one hour is asked for means much more (Matt. 5:38–42). The fight against private property must be preceded by something deeper: the killing of selfishness, self-love, self-will, and self-importance.
Religion and devout feelings are useless unless they are expressed in action and in truth, that is, in real community (1 John 3:17–18). Jesus says, Love God! And the other command is exactly the same: Love your neighbor! There is no true love for God if it is not a true love for our fellow human being, and vice versa (Matt. 22:36–39).
This has been our experience: Community is possible through the Spirit that comes to us from God. It is when this Spirit fills us that there is true love for our neighbor and full community among us.
People Cannot Build Community
It is certainly true that God works in people, in all men and women. But as soon as this truth is exaggerated to the point where we believe solely in ourselves and other human beings, we are on the wrong track. We must believe in God in such a way that not the individual but God is in the center, and that individuals join with each other in submitting to his will. God’s will can then work in us and through us, and we ourselves become so transparent – like a window – that our own human life no longer matters at all: God’s working is all that is seen. I do not believe community can come into being in any other way. No matter how humble, dedicated, and unassuming people may be, they cannot build community in their own strength (2 Cor. 12:9).
Our faith in God is not the product of our wishful thinking; the basis of our communal life is God and God alone. But we cannot say we have acquired this basis and now we own religion like someone owns property. What we have must be given to us new each day. It is a dreadful thought, but we have to face it: We can lose it any day. All we can say is that we are placed on this foundation by God’s grace. Our faith does not result from our natural abilities; the Holy Spirit has to lead us there.
We have nothing. If we ever thought we had community, we have now seen that we do not have it. And it is good for us to have seen that. Community exists exclusively in Christ and his life-giving Spirit. If we forget him and are left without his influence, if we forfeit his working among us, it is all over with our community (John 15:5).
Adapted from God’s Revolution (Walden, NY: Plough, 2021).