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Spirit of Generosity5 months ago
Revd George Fisher dives into Acts exploring the theme of generosity.
Please excuse the attempts of a Yorkshireman to write about generosity. Acts 4:32-37 is intriguing. Why? Because it is so similar to Acts 2:42-47. Why did Luke cover this twice – do we suspect that he is wanting to underline the importance of it? Let’s look at the similarities and differences:
- Both come after an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2 it was the initial outpouring which inaugurated the church, in Acts 4 the Spirit came and shook the room where they were meeting. In both cases it was in a prayer meeting!
- Both passages refer to a radical attitude regarding their possessions, having ‘everything in common’. It is not that they did not own things, but ‘no one claimed’ possessions as their own’. In law they continued to own goods, in heart and mind their possessions were available to help their needy brothers and sisters.
- Both reveal this radical attitude leading to radical action where from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them and put the money from the sale at the apostle’s feet, so they could distribute it. In both cases it was voluntary and sporadic, as the need arose.
- Both state that the distribution was in proportion to genuine need, but only in the second passage does Luke record the result, that there were no needy persons among them.
Luke repeats it because it reveals the emerging culture of the early church based on the life and teachings of Jesus and a result of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
The inspiration for this sharing of possessions in the Jerusalem church came from the Old Testament as illumined by Jesus, both in his teaching and his way of life. One of the most notable things about Jesus was His radical relationship with wealth and possessions. Jesus lived simply and had no tangible possessions that we know of. He relied on the generosity of others but also was utterly generous with what He had and who He was. Jesus’ life abounded with simplicity and generosity. When the Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2 and Acts 4, they didn’t just have a great spiritual experience, but were profoundly changed to become more like Jesus. They did what Jesus did.
And how we need this today, living in a society which is preoccupied with possessions. We have heard a lot recently about the toys of the rich oligarchs, super-yachts costing anything from £250-750million. Don’t worry if you can’t afford that, you can charter one for £100,000 per week. Staggering! But it’s too easy to point to the super-rich - it’s all relative. To many in the world our society are the super-rich, with the latest top of the range mobile phones, designer clothes, cars and numerous luxury holidays. It’s not as if any of this truly satisfies. We live in a society of deep unhappiness and anxiety, where mental health issues and addictions are rife. When John D Rockerfeller was the richest man in the world he was asked in an interview how much is enough. His response? ‘Just a little bit more!’
I believe we do need to listen today to what God is saying to us through these passages about Christian living, especially regarding care for the needy and sacrificial generosity. We also need to be reminded of the importance of our continuing dependence on the Holy Spirit to make a difference in our lives individually and our life together as the church. We need to look at our priorities and attitude to possessions and make sure we are not being moulded by the world around us but by the example of Jesus and what His Spirit is saying to us. So what can we do practically?
- Some churches develop a dedicated fund for the poor, administered by the church leaders, which those who have a lot can give into.
- Many churches give away a tithe of their regular income from giving to worthy charities at home and abroad so all the congregation can participate in giving away to others through the regular giving.
- We are also called individually to be generous. My wife and I were challenged recently to be generous in a particular situation we encountered. God repaid us within days through the generosity of a couple in church. Let’s grow in our generosity to each other and to others we know.
But I don’t believe that this is purely about money. I think we need to be generous with one thing we all possess, our time, giving that to others. Dieter Uchtdorf once said, Love is spelt T.I.M.E. That can be through an area of service to the community, a church ministry, or simply being a friend and a listening ear to others as we are nudged by the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately this cannot be forced, and only comes from God’s heart of generosity. Acts 4:33 says, ‘much grace was on them all’. As we experience the free grace of God and the infilling of His Spirit, we will have lives increasingly filled with the generosity and simplicity of Jesus, and truly be His disciples.
Let’s ask Him to fill us with His Spirit and transform us to be more like Jesus.