Day 4 Generosity and the Church
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts 2:44 (emphasis added)
This verse is more than a little intimidating. All who believed had all things in common. On one reading, it might seem like all the believers got along perfectly all the time, shared every point of view and opinion, and lived an idyllic life. But that’s not exactly the point of this passage.
One of Luke’s aims here is to highlight the Spirit’s movement among those who had come to Pentecost “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5) and how that movement manifested itself in Christian community. This was a diverse group from Persia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Asia Minor, and even Rome (Acts 2:9-11). Each of these believers brought unique customs and cultural backgrounds to the early group of Christ-followers that would eventually call themselves “Christians.” Every one of these different groups was together in one place, and they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to eating meals together, and to praying together (Acts 2:42). This is what Luke means when he says they had “all things in common.” Every facet of their lives was shared together in some way.
When we talk about generosity and the church, modern Christians often envision giving to a well-established organization or program, like a building project or operating budget. Those things are absolutely a part of what it means to be generous to the church. But in the days of the early followers of Christ, there were no such organizations or programs in place. Most of these believers met either in the Jewish synagogues or in each other’s houses.
When we speak of the “early church” and its generosity in the book of Acts, we are talking about a group of people who are showing kindness to one another as they lived life with a common purpose as a persecuted minority. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “life together” or “life in community.” The Christians of the early church were interdependent as evidenced by their generosity to one another.
We sometimes imagine the early Christians as peasants, but this is not the case. The community also included the wealthy and the educated. Within the church, there were certainly people who had a lot to lose by being generous. By giving up their wealth, they not only provided for others but also refused to let their economic class define their lives together as Christians.
We are accustomed to living with the American dream in mind. Our culture encourages us to live with the goal of maximizing individual earning potential and buying power. With that mindset, we cling to our resources instead of sharing them with others in need. It is tempting to view our lives as cycles of working, earning, and spending on ourselves and our families.
The early church reminds us that as Christians, we are not only dependent on God but also interdependent on one another. Our lives are defined by more than working, earning, and spending. Our lives are defined by worshipping, giving, and sharing.
If wealthy people in the church give to needy people in the church, couldn’t the poor among them take advantage of the wealthy? Isn’t it possible people received resources they didn’t earn or deserve? Yes. But, of course, the same is true for all of us. God gives us gifts we don’t deserve. We often take advantage of His generosity without properly acknowledging Him.
The church is a community of people committed to Christ and to one another. We share in God’s grace collectively and individually. We show grace to one another as we share with those in need. We can relinquish our resources for the sake of others because Christ has relinquished Himself for us. The gospel changes the way we view our personal possessions because it changes the way we view all things.
- Name one material good or possession that you can learn to share with your brothers and sisters in Christ without considering whether he or she is somehow “worthy” of it.
- Following Paul’s lead in 1 Corinthians 9-10, name one right or freedom that you can give up for the sake of others rather than insisting on exercising that right or freedom for your own sake.
Forgive us, Lord Jesus Christ, for focusing too much on ourselves and on our personal rights. Renew our minds so that we may behave in such a way that would be foolish to most of our society. Teach us to give up things that we could rightfully claim for the sake of others who would be disadvantaged if we were to exercise those rights. Empower us so that we may treat those things you have given us not as our own but as the possessions of all who believe. Forgive us for when we have unnecessarily withheld resources from our brothers and sisters in need. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, make our first impulse generosity and not judgment. Amen.