Again, returning to Acts 4:32-34 –
“No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (vs. 32b). Many are surprised to find out that Scripture refers to material possessions more frequently than prayer and faith! God is concerned about material possessions! Why is it that after some two thousand years since our Lord came into this world there is such severe inequality and financial discrepancy between Christians around the world? Some have said, “this verse is simply a historical record, not an example for us today.” Is that so? Why is it then that Scripture is so clear in its dealing with material possessions and equality in other parts of the Bible? As we will soon see, life in community has its costs. Unfortunately the western Community continues to be ensnared by its abundance while its neighbor to the south is indebted to poverty. The Church in the west must realize that the discrepancy is still too great. Ron Sider, in asking the question: “How generous are we?” makes use of some surprising statistical data. Sider reports the following in regards to giving in the U.S.:
- The average American citizen gives just 2.1 percent to charitable causes, according to the 1995 Statistical Abstract of the U.S.
- In 1992 church members gave 2.52 percent of their total income to their church (1997:204).
The Community is certainly hurting! No longer are we following the example given to us by the early believers. What has gone wrong? I believe the local church has lost its vision for giving.
Generosity within the Community of God must be a distinguishing mark. True community living will always include generosity with those most needy within the community. Self-denial is crucial to enabling generosity. Self-denial is saying no to our wants and yes to the needs of others. This was a part of the early Church’s doctrine and should be present in the Community today.
A clear biblical example of the Church acting out of a sense of responsibility can be found in 1 Corinthians 16:1-3. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, asks that they “set aside a sum of money” as they are able for the poor in Jerusalem. This was a general collection for “God’s people” because there was a need. There doesn’t seem to be any hesitation on the part of these Christians. The giving of these responsible early Christians flowed from a healthy sense of solidarity with their fellow sisters and brothers. Paul asks that the Corinthians follow the example of others in the Community who gave generously, denying their own wants.
Some of the other examples include the Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5. Again Paul reminds the Corinthians of their abundance in using the Macedonian church as an example that they could follow. Paul says, “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability.” What a solid example for the Church today! Generosity was a mark of the early Christian Community and it must be a clear and distinctive mark of God’s people today.
It is true that our generosity must come as a result of our self-denying love. Self denial as individuals within the group is what gives us community.