(From a book not yet published)
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had…(v.34) There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:32, 34-35) NIV
Among Christians it is not uncommon to see people give generously to missions, to build church buildings, to employ pastors and staff. These are indeed often worthy of our support. Where is the pattern of the early church among us in sharing within our own congregations to make sure there are no needy among us? Where is the pattern of the early church to share with other churches who had needy people as we see described in 2 Corinthians 8:1-15?
Some Christians have decided to live in community in order to try and live out this idea, some have attempted to live simply and set a level on their own consumption in order to share more. Some congregations have partnered with other churches, across town and across the world, to become supporting congregations. All of these things can be wonderful, and they can also have temptations and problems.
We must always be careful not to become legalistic and self-righteous, especially in specifics that the Scripture has not commanded. The godly principles of Scripture must be applied by all of us but sometimes these matters are left to our own conscience. We need to be careful not to quickly condemn others because we judge them on how they spend their money. Yet, I am afraid we often err in doing little or nothing to stop our headlong pursuit of self-centered materialism. When I say self-centered I also speak of whole congregations that simply endorse selfish living.
I have been the recipient of many acts of mercy to me personally, to my family, to my congregation and people. I confess that at one time I had a very wary eye toward the wealthy. I had not known many of them and it was easy for me to live in stereotypes. I did not trust them. Thankfully, over the years I have met people with lots of money who seemed bent on trying to give all of it away. I have seen them attempt to do so wisely. It is too easy to want to be friends of the wealthy, to please them, to seek to exploit a friendship for personal favors. I can’t imagine how hard it is to be met with a new request by so-called friends every day or so.
I have had to fight within myself to guard my own integrity, that I would not accept personal favors simply because I wanted or even needed something. I have tried not to take advantage but to live under authority, with my salary published by my church, and to channel money to the truly needy. I am grateful for the many acts of love toward myself; I hope I have received this with humility and honesty.
Those of us in ministry have the opportunity to “poor mouth” so that it seems we always need a new car, a new suit, a better home, or a free meal. Since I have had the forum of the pulpit I knew that I could steer the generosity of wealthy members to help me and my family. They would often have done so with joy in believing they were helping “God’s man, God’s servant.” God forbid I would steal from the widow, from the orphan, from the unemployed. I t is especially important for those in ministry, in leadership, to be examples of not taking advantage of their positions, of practicing material generosity and not simply examples of consumption.
I don’t believe God calls on us to despise the rich, but nor does he want us to suck up to them so that they would fail to be held to accountability. The wealthy need to live in justice and generosity; it is a blessing for them to do so. God will give them even more in this life and the life to come. All of us need to learn to share, from the widow with her mite, to the working poor, to the middle class, to the professional, to the scary rich.
A call comes from the State Department of Human Services. “We hear that your church is able to help people with food and utility bills, is that correct?” “Yes,” our full time Deacon answers. “We have a lady whose lights have been shut off, but we have no designated funds to cover this contingency, can you help her?” Our Deacon suggests that they send her to our office so we can meet her and find out what she needs. She is a widow, she works cleaning the local library at night, she has no one in her family able to help her, she had been out of work and lost income. She walks a mile home after work in the middle of the night since no buses run then.
She comes to the office and tells our Deacon her story. He tells her that, yes, we can pay this bill for her, but we could help her so much more if she could come and visit our church and worship with us. The Deacon arranges a ride to pick her up, she begins to attend. Eventually she joins the church, and not long after she starts coming the pastor makes an appeal for church members to give money to provide scholarships to send some men to a conference. After the service this widow walks forward to give the pastor an envelope holding fifty dollars. She was the first to respond, the first to give.
One of the things I know that many of the poor who come to our church for help don’t know, yet, is that if they were to become part of our congregation they would never again have to be hungry. Surely every church ought to be able to say that. In America this is possible, we have enough to share, to at least feed our own people. If we really tried we could make sure every congregation that we believed was preaching the Gospel and faithful to the Word would always have enough to care for their poorest members. We cannot do this without an attitude and lifestyle of sharing, and sometimes that means a radical disposing and distribution of our assets.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) NIV
We need, our children really need, a call to something greater than themselves. Many Christians are very sacrificial for their children, but I am afraid sometimes this is in reality just indulgence and an extension of self. We must take care of our own families, but someday our children must rise up to be people of character, and if they been given a life where everything has revolved around them then how will they know how to share, and how to give their lives away for the kingdom of God?
So give, find some worthy young person who is from a single parent home, some kid who has no resources and give him a part time job, give him a bike, give him or her a scholarship to camp or a good school. Find some poor church and give them books for their young people, set up summer jobs at other Christian ministries for them. Go to your pastor and tell him you can buy a new set of clothes for any middle school kid who can help with the offering once a month, and buy the whole outfit from shoes up. Tell your pastor you will match any money for adoptions up to a thousand dollars for anyone in the church. Go to your Deacons and tell them they never have to worry about having enough food in the pantry to give to the hungry. Give, and make yourself glad.