This passage has long poked and prodded at my steadfastly held belief that the best way to ensure my long-term security and stability is to work hard and save well. This certainly isn’t all bad, but it is good to be challenged about the way we think about our finances, our possessions, and our community.
The first thing I’d like us to look at together is how the financial generosity of the early Church began with the believers being ‘of one heart and soul’ and with the apostles sharing their testimony of the resurrection of Jesus. The early Church were a diverse group of Jews, Gentiles, men, women, old and young. They were different from each other but united through a life-changing encounter with Jesus. The death and resurrection of Jesus, followed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost had bound this community together, had given them one heart, one soul. Their unity and the grace bestowed upon them by God found it’s expression in a natural overflow of generosity. The reality of the cross and the empty grave did not lie dormant, a comforting doctrine for difficult times, but moved the community to live in a new way, as if part of a new kingdom. They did not claim private ownership of their possessions but prioritised people instead.
The early Christians understood that their lives were not their own, they had been bought at a price. They were no longer living for their own comfort, stability or pleasure.
We have received this same spirit as our brothers and sisters in the early Church. We testify to the same resurrection, we worship the same Jesus.
And when we understand that that our lives are no longer our own, we too are freed from the belief that we must achieve our own comfort at all costs. People become more important than possessions. When we testify to the resurrection of Jesus, we testify that we are no longer dependent on the security of wealth but on the total completeness of what Jesus has done for us.
Let’s pause here.
You may be feeling that this is a passage about impossibly generous Christians with impossibly high standards. You may be feeling that this model of giving would never work in your life, with your income, benefits, financial commitments, debt, children, the list goes on. Even now you may be figuratively closing your hands and your heart around your finances. I know that’s often my response. Whether that reaction is because we don’t have enough and are anxious about God’s provision, or because we have more than we need and are worried about what God might be asking us to give up, let’s engage with this question of resurrection led generosity.
In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says that ‘each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’ Giving is an act of freedom, not a subscription charge, not a penalty.
How much more does a gift mean when it’s spontaneous and thoughtful? I’m sure we’ve all experienced the ‘dutiful gift’ at Christmas. The Secret Santa or distant relative that wraps up a token present that has absolutely nothing to do with us or our interests. Giving under obligation does not bring joy to either the giver or the receiver.
But manufacturing a cheerful heart is not something we can do by ourselves. As we’ve seen, the early Christians’ hearts were changed by their experience of the resurrection of Jesus. Their perspective on their community was shifted by the knowledge that each and every one of them was infinitely valuable to God, valuable enough to die for. The community loved one another and put this love into tangible action.
If you are struggling to be generous, if you are fearful or uncertain, can I suggest inviting God to fill your heart with the sure knowledge of Jesus’ blood poured out for you, his defeat of death, and his ongoing intercession for you? Because as we allow these truths to permeate our hearts, we will begin to see the world through a different lens. Ask God to soften your heart so that you might be able to open your hands and offer up your gifts freely and cheerfully.
In this passage we can see the early Christians selling their land and their houses and using the proceeds to give to those in need. This will not be feasible for many of us, but the principle is applicable across the ages. The early Christians did not cling to the gifts of wealth God had given them, but offered them up to bless others. What could that look like in our lives, in our community? Could our homes be opened up? How could our finances be redirected to invest in more outward looking projects?
Imagine with me what life would look like if people were considered as precious as possessions. If hearts and hands worked for the building up of the community, and not the self. If we had such a grasp of the magnitude of the resurrection that the attraction of wealth faded away entirely.
How beautiful a picture and how powerful a witness this would be for the watching world.
Father God, we know we need your spirit to work in our hearts if we are ever to be truly generous. We thank you that you promised to send us your spirit and that you have faithfully kept that promise across the generations. We pray that as we consider how to steward our worldly wealth, you would remind us that true treasure is found in you. Help us, Father, to give with open hands and open hearts, led by a revelation of your grace.