Truths

Early church generosity – 4 lessons from Acts

We often look to the Bible for broad spiritual lessons when it comes to money, and it’s a great source for that purpose. However, if we pay close enough attention, we can also discover practical and tactical financial best practices within the text – and the book of Acts is a great place to start.

Luke, the physician who wrote the book of Acts, as well as the Gospel that bears his name, was adept at “following the money.” Luke’s account of the life of Jesus has more financial stories and details than any of the other Gospels.

Similarly, the book of Acts gives us precious glimpses into the financial world of the early Church. Luke seems to suggest that the spiritual world and the financial world are more intertwined than we might think.

In the book of Acts, Luke records that the early Church’s growth was fueled by two giving trends that seem strikingly modern: non-cash giving, and collaborative giving. While your local NCF team operates in the 21st century, in some ways they are simply running a tried-and-true, 2,000-year-old playbook from Acts 4:32-35.

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.  – Acts 4:32-35 

In the chapter that follows, Luke shares two contrasting case studies – Barnabas (a positive example) versus Ananias and Sapphira (a sinful, failed example). Finally, in Chapter 6 we learn of the need for greater administrative capacity for managing these gifts effectively.

If you’d like, pause now and read Acts 4-6, keeping an eye out for financial and administrative details as the story progresses.

What can we learn from these chapters?

  1. The spiritual impact of our generosity depends on practical tasks like gift planning, role clarity, and financial administration.

    We sometimes recoil when realizing how much planning it takes to get our giving strategy in motion. However, the biblical witness is that such planning is key to a healthy, thriving church.

    It would have taken significant work to liquidate an asset as described in this text. Once the funds were prepared, the phrase “put it at the Apostles’ feet” indicates a formal legal transfer of assets.

    This was no casual handover of a bag of coins – it was the structured placing of kingdom assets into a trusted channel for impact. Imagine the journey of the giver – a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit, followed by a season of wrestling, doubts, and prayer, followed by a few weeks of action to make the gift a reality. Then, finally, the formal handover of proceeds to the Apostles, to fuel the church’s growth.

    We can also infer from Chapters 5-6 that there was a structured, daily distribution of food to the needy in the community. From 1 Timothy 5:9, we learn that the early church even developed fairly sophisticated rules about eligibility.

    While the Apostles initially took in the funds and administered the gifts, the load quickly became too much to bear. Chapter 6 describes a process of recruiting administratively gifted leaders to carry out the community’s benevolence program.

    Kingdom impact required far more than “writing a check.” There were assets mobilized, administrative talents leveraged, and logistical problems solved along the way. This doesn’t sound too different from today.

    Giving takes a bit of work. But the work is worth it and is a worthy spiritual task. The work we do to make it happen facilitates the expansion of God’s kingdom. Giving is worship, and we’re called to do it excellently (2 Corinthians 8:7).
  2. God’s calling for our giving may require asset-based strategies to supplement our regular cash-based giving.

    As some super-users of NCF have joked, “friends don’t let friends give cash.” While the early Christians didn’t have the same tax reasons to do non-liquid gifts, the size of their mission meant that cash giving alone wasn’t enough to get the job done.

    From time to time, a well-off believer would sell a non-liquid asset in order to boost the work of the early Church, Luke explains. Reading carefully, it is clear that this is not everyone selling everything they owned; rather, there were occasional and quite meaningful gifts made as God led his affluent disciples to give generously. 
  3. Collaborative, generous communities foster tremendous kingdom impact

    As the early Christians faced the world, they saw immense spiritual and physical poverty all around them. Rather than acting as individual givers, they came together and sought collective impact with their giving.

    Could one giver have administered the daily distribution of food to widows? No. But, acting in unison, many believers accomplished this task together. The loving community they formed – feeding the hungry, welcoming children, and worshipping in joyful unity – allowed the early Jesus communities to spread.

    In this milieu of collaborative giving and spiritual devotion, Barnabas took a bold leap of faith into generosity. This initial step in his discipleship journey would propel him forward, as he became a partner to Paul and one of the most critical leaders in the early days of the missionary expansion of the Church.

    Giving generously, in community with other believers, can facilitate leveraged impact for God’s kingdom. And it might just propel you into a new calling you never anticipated, like Barnabas.
  4. When undertaking a major giving effort, expect roadblocks, personal challenges, and sinful behaviors. But, don’t let them keep you from God’s purposes

    The early Church was not immune to the full range of problems that we face today. In the case of Ananias and Sapphira, givers lied about a freely given gift, posturing pridefully as more generous than they actually were.

    While their gift was generous, their lying, prideful spirit was literally a mortal sin. God would not allow His young church to be corrupted by givers who gave for personal glory and for the praise of men.

    On the ministry side, we observe bickering and infighting over who was getting more food. (It’s like a heated argument at the Wednesday-night Church potluck.)  Can you imagine being the giver who enabled food distribution, only to see everything devolve into partisan fighting over ration sizes?

    Thankfully, problems with givers and problems with ministries did not keep God’s kingdom from advancing. When we face similar issues today, we should not back down from our calling to give generously and to serve faithfully.

May we take the financial lessons of Luke 4-6 to heart, as we give together for the advancement of the gospel. Please consider taking a next step in response to this article.

Next steps

We invite you to prayerfully consider whether collaborative giving is for you. You can reach the authors via info@generoustogether.org. They’d be delighted to brainstorm with you about your journey into collaborative giving. To learn more about asset-based giving, contact your local NCF team.

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