Christian living and giving

32All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34that there was no needy person among them.  For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.  (Acts 4:32-35)

The first sentence sets the tone for what follows:  All the believers were one in heart and mind. Luke is describing the extraordinary sense of unity that the early believers felt.  The phrase heart and mind indicates to me that their unity was far more than just an intellectual understanding of Jesus; they were united in their faith in such a way that they deeply experienced the feeling of a common bond in Christ.

This experience was so intense that it spilled over into the practical issue of possessions. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own.  Instead they shared everything they had.  This is an extraordinary statement; how was this sharing actually carried out?

Some have claimed that the Christian church practiced socialism or even communism.  But that is not really what happened.  It is true that they shared what they possessed and had everything in common, but Luke’s phrase, “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own”, indicates what actually went on: sharing here applied to every possession.  In a socialist society, members still have private personal possessions.  You may not own your land or house, but you do possess books, pots, and other items, which you do claim to be your own. The sharing of all possessions expressed an attitude of each believer, not a community rule.

The summary of Acts chapter 2 gives us a clearer understanding of how possessions were held in common.  Believers sold personal possessions to meet the needs of brothers and sisters, thinking that the value of their possessions were no longer reserved for their own ends, but for the common good of their new community.

Luke makes the point that in doing this they regarded personal property as a means to serving the community, acting in the way loving family members would do for one another.  They did all this because of the supernatural resurrection of Jesus from the dead, for His resurrection was proof to them that His teaching on Kingdom lifestyle was the right way to go.

At its heart, Christianity is not a religion of ideals.  It is not a philosophy.  It is a way of life, born out of the transforming power of redemption through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.  Our lives are changed, not because Jesus has a way of making us agree with His principles, but because the power by which He conquered death comes into those whom He has called to salvation.

So what are the implications for us with regard to giving?  What does this passage teach us individually and as a church about giving?

First of all, we ought to have a mind set for giving.  Again, the impression Luke gives us is that the early believers spontaneously gave to meet the needs of one another, which appears to have risen more out of a natural mind-set that they ought to be looking out for each other, rather than on any teaching given by the apostles because there is no record of such teaching at this stage.

This mind-set for giving is one of the key signs of whether someone has become a follower of Christ, because the one who has experienced the saving grace of Christ, not only becomes conscious of God but of his or her neighbours, especially those who are also in the family of God.  Christians shift from a mind-set of self-centredness to one which sees the needs of others, and it leads to a natural desire to give whatever they have the power to give.  It may be money; it may be possessions; it may be time and attention.

How attentive are you to the needs of others, whether in the church or not?  Ask God to show you the needs of His church here and the needs of the wider community.  As you do this He will show you how to get beyond the “how are you doing” greeting and find out how those around you are really doing.  Giving starts with caring enough to know the needs.

Do you know the needs of the church?

Do you pay attention to the reports on how well giving is meeting the Parish Share?

Do you know the widows in the church and their needs?

Do you know the families in the church — the names and needs of the children and the help the mothers could use? 

Secondly, we ought to give generously. That is clearly the trait Luke is bringing out in his description of the early church. That sentence in 2:45, — Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need — is not the description of a people who look through attics, garages and sheds, or wherever things are stored, to unload what they had no use for.  They gave generously what was precious to them in order to support all.

But how much is generous? Perhaps it is when others begin to question your judgement about your level of giving!  Sensitive Christians will give what they ought to, not because their emotions, or their guilt, are stirred, but because God is telling them to do so.  What should be evident of the Christian is that they give more of their money, talent, and self than the non-Christian.

Thirdly we are to have the right motive for giving.  This motive is to come out of a sense of unity and belonging.  That is what is meant by verse 32: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Like the early believers we ought to feel united to one another.  This is more than simply recognising that we hold the same beliefs.  We ought to feel that we belong to the family of Christ, and as members in a local church we ought to feel that we belong here – to this church and to each other.

That’s hard to do, – to keep the feeling of belonging.  It is hard enough in a family.  How much more difficult then, to feel a unity and belonging in a church where people come and go, come from different backgrounds, have families of their own and other groups to which they belong?  This is all made even harder when we’re meeting on YouTube, Zoom, in restricted numbers and when we have to socially distance ourselves from others!  No, it is not easy, but the very act of giving helps to nurture the spirit of belonging.  When people give and receive out of a sense of belonging to one another, they nurture that bond.

Fourthly, we are to give out of the joy and power of our redemption. I get this from verse 33: With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.

We give because of the grace of God working within us. Note what I just said – We give because of the grace of God working within us.  This means that we do not give in response to the grace of God; we give empowered by the grace of God.

Do you see the difference?  The attitude of the early Christians was that they gave because of the joy of giving, not because they felt obligated.  That joy came from the grace of God and the power of the resurrection.

We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, as we are told in Ephesians 2:10.  All that means is that we are created in Christ to do what we were originally created by God to do – to joyously glorify our God through pouring out our lives in service to him.  And our God takes delight in our serving one another.  It is not an obligation he places on us; it is a joyous privilege that he gives us the power to do.

True Christian giving is not paying God back for anything, no, we are joining in the joy for which God created us and for which Jesus Christ redeemed us.  We are joining in the activity that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit delight in doing themselves.  That is a wonderful privilege that God has given to us.

So a question to think about as you go about your daily life:

Have you added Jesus to your life, to make you feel better about yourself, to help you overcome your personal difficulties, to guide you in what you want to do?

Or

have you completely and utterly submitted yourself to Jesus, given up all that you are, all that you have, given up your whole life to Him in order to know the joy for which God created you and for which Jesus Christ redeemed you through the resurrection?

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: Acts 4:32-35 & John 20:19-29, and let them speak to you afresh in light of Christian living and giving.  As God speaks to you why not write down in your journal what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider these questions?

  1. How attentive are you to the needs of others, whether in the church or not?  Ask God to show you the needs of His church here and the needs of the wider community.  As you do this He will show you how to get beyond the “how are you doing” greeting and find out how those around you are really doing. 
  2. Have you added Jesus to your life, to make you feel better about yourself, to help you overcome your personal difficulties, to guide you in what you want to do? ….OR….
  3. …have you completely and utterly submitted yourself to Jesus, given up all that you are, all that you have, given up your whole life to Him in order to know the joy for which God created you and for which Jesus Christ redeemed you through the resurrection?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond to these questions.

As you ponder on them, why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.