Christians are to express love by giving liberally to others with wisdom.
There once was a man who had a heart attack. They rushed him to the hospital, where he could receive few visitors and was not to be excited. While in the hospital, his rich uncle died and left him a million dollars. His family wondered how to break the news to him with the least amount of excitement. Too much excitement might agitate his heart and risk his life. They decided to ask the preacher if he would break the news quietly to the man. The preacher gradually led up to the question. The preacher asked the man what he would do if he inherited a million dollars. He said, “I think I would give half of it to the church.” Upon hearing this, the preacher dropped dead. 🙂
UNITY: In chapter four of Acts, persecution began upon Christians. The Apostles performed a miracle no one could deny, and they were preaching the resurrection of Christ. This lame man suddenly walks and the power that caused this miracle is God’s power that raised Christ from the dead and the power to save people from their sins by the sacrifice of Christ. Even when the authorities told the Apostles to stop preaching, they refused.
Once they returned, the apostles and their brethren all prayed for boldness in the face of this. When the authorities in the area demand you stop preaching the Gospel, and you continue to preach the Gospel, you can reasonably predict some consequences. Persecution has begun and the brethren may be afraid. So after spending time in prayer, the book of Acts informs us of how they cared for each other and were united.
If you read Acts 4, you will notice how in the face of persecution, there is an emphasis of the authority of God’s word (the Apostles said it was better to listen to God than man), prayer for boldness (the Apostles gathered with their friend and prayed for boldness), and loving unity,
[Act 4:32-35 ESV]
32 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. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 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 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
This is such a beautiful description of the Church. They are united with “one heart and soul.” When we are all transformed by the grace of God, when we allow the love of the Lord to mold our hearts, we will all be united with one heart and soul. Rich and poor, learned and simple, Pharisees and Sadducees, Levites and Jews, were so united in Christ that all other distinctions were lost. Selfishness disappeared, for each person loved his brother as himself. What each man had, he held it not as his own, but as a steward of Christ for the good of all. The love of money was swallowed up in the love of Christ. The ordinary worldly life seemed to have melted into the life of faith and godliness. Their wants were spiritual, their occupations were spiritual, their joys were spiritual. In this happy state, in this clear atmosphere of love, the great truths of the gospel shone out with marvelous brightness; the resurrection of Christ especially stood out in the lineaments of a distinct reality; and there was a rich glow of grace over the whole Church. The whole body received the apostles’ doctrine, submitted to their rule, committed everything to their ordering.
Notice the contrast with today’s miserable aspect of our schisms and divisions, and how they made every effort in their own sphere to forward unity and godly love, to put aside all stumbling-blocks and hindrances to Christian harmony, and to labor after that oneness of heart and soul which ought to result from fellowship in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ, and from having the same hope of sharing the resurrection of life through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
This passage reminded me of, [Rom 15:5-6 ESV]
5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
These Christians were without a doubt living in harmony with one another and in accord with Christ Jesus; is there any doubt that these Christians were glorifying the Father and Son with one voice?
When we allow the Gospel into our hearts, we inadvertently allow the Church into our hearts. You cannot love God without loving God’s people. You cannot love the sacrifice of Christ without loving the people Christ was sacrificed for, especially those who recognize that sacrifice. If you say you believe in the Gospel but you do not love your brother, you don’t believe in the Gospel, not fully. A person’s faith and love are intertwined.
[1Jo 4:7-8 ESV]
…whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
What does it take to have a community of love? What does it take to be a congregation bursting with love? It takes people of faith. With faith in the Gospel, with faith in the God who is love, with faith in the infinite love of God that was shown at the cross. If we increase in faith, we increase in love. Isn’t that what it means to be “of one heart and soul”?
Don’t miss the phrase in Acts 4:33,
[Act 4:33 ESV] 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
What does it mean that “great grace was upon them all”? This is what we have been talking about. The grace of God, his infinite love, worked in them. It moved them. The NIV translates it as, “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.” Is God’s grace upon us? Is God’s grace powerfully at work in us? Does the love of Christ compel us (2Co 5:14)? For us to be a community of love and faith, each of us must be compelled by love and faith.
MATERIAL LOVE: What was the practical result of their unity, their faith, and their love? When great grace was upon them all what did they do? What did the love of Christ compel them to do?
[Act 4:32-35 ESV]
32 …no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. … 34 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 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
The result of their life from experiencing God’s grace was to provide for others. This makes sense, right? What is God’s grace? God’s grace is a gift (Eph 2:8), it is given to those who have not earned it or deserve it.What is Christ’s love? Christ’s love was shown when he gave himself up for us and sacrificed his life (Eph. 5:2).
When God’s grace works in you, one effect is your own grace—to give gifts to those who have not earned it or deserve it. When Christ’s love compels you, one effect is your own love, to sacrifice and give what is yours, like Christ gave his own life. If you know God’s generosity, then you yourself will be generous. The result of God’s overflowing, self-sacrificial generosity is our own overflowing, self-sacrificial generosity.
When our brother has a need and we have supply, love says to help. John said, [1Jo 3:17 ESV] But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
The verse right before that is, [1Jo 3:16 ESV] 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
God’s love is self-sacrificial. Christ laid down his life for his brothers, that is love. To give and sacrifice. But if you aren’t willing to give and sacrifice, you haven’t learned a thing from Christ.
The love of God should overwhelm our greed. Our zeal should snuff our desire and love of material goods out for God. We all have needs but many of us have more than we need. Those of us with more ought to help those who have less. This glorifies God. All is for each, as each is for all. Self-sacrifice is the ultimate test of love. Beyond the pain of self-sacrifice, there is the triumph of love.
[Mat 5:42 ESV] Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
[Heb 13:16 ESV] Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Notice another phrase in Acts 4:32, [Act 4:32 ESV]
…no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own…
Who possesses your possessions? Is it you? It should be God. What we have in the world is more God’s than our own; we have it from him, must use it for him, and are accountable for it to him. God’s people were of one heart, one soul, and one possession. What we have is God’s and owned by God’s people. There is no greater way of demonstrating your devotion to God than to sacrifice to the last penny for the commonwealth of your family.
What if we don’t have that much extra to give? Well, if someone has a need and is suffering because of that need and you only have enough for one person, the loving thing is to be the one that suffers. If you or someone else has to go without, let it be you. We should voluntarily take the shortage and the suffering.
How much are we to give? One person said, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” (C.S. Lewis) Another said, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving” (Mother Teresa).
With giving, I think of Muhammad Ali, an insanely excellent boxer. One time he said something that I think applies to giving, “I don’t count my sit-ups; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.” When it comes to giving, only count when it hurts; it’s not a good-smelling sacrifice to God unless you sacrifice.
Why give? Because you find joy in giving. One preacher said, “I have tried to keep things in my hands and lost them all, but what I have given into God’s hands I still possess.” (Martin Luther)
WISDOM’S PLACE: I want to make a note of the place of wisdom in giving. Is there a time to say no when asked for help? Jesus said,
[Mat 5:42 ESV]
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
We should not make any loophole or exception from Jesus’ words. But there is a place of wisdom to understand our Christian responsibility. Because we understand that there are people in this world who are not interested in helping themselves; some people would rather get money from you and use it for alcohol, drugs, or something unhelpful to themselves.
With random people on the street who ask for money: I suggest taking that person out to eat yourself. I’ve had times when someone asked me for money for food and I offered to take them out to eat. Over food I shared the Gospel with the person. It went well. If you have the time and feel comfortable, make it a chance to share the Gospel and make a friend.
I suggest giving out groceries or gift cards instead of money. With money they can take it and go buy alcohol or drugs. Give them a McDonald’s gift card or a bag of groceries. I worked at Walgreens and I had this young family, a guy not any older than me, his girlfriend, and a son, who would come in and ask for help. They were kind and nice. I’d go over to the gift cards and grab a Burger King or McDonald’s card and give it to them.
The ultimate goal of ours is helping people, right? But if there is a drug addict or alcoholic, they will use that money to only hurt themselves. Don’t help them hurt themselves.
But also, what you do is between you and God. What they do is between them and God. If you give them money and they use it for sinful habits, that is not on you. But as we get to know people who have less, who are poor, who need help, and learn that they may misuse this money, we may need to say no. It is important that we do not enable people’s sinful habits if we can. If someone has a drug problem, an alcohol problem, a gambling problem, or someone refuses to work, we should try to help them. And helping someone sometimes means saying “no.”
Our Bible says, [2Th 3:10 ESV]
… If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
We should give to people 1) who are willing to work but have fallen into hard times, or 2) who cannot work, or 3) we don’t know their circumstance.
And for those of us who have less and aren’t as able to give, you can give something other than money. Give time, effort, material possessions; give kindness, respect, love, a sympathetic ear, a smile, a hug, and encouragement.
TAKE AWAY: If each of us dedicated ourselves to giving, wouldn’t this congregation be known throughout the community? Let’s dedicate ourselves to being united in one heart and soul; let no one say that any of the things that belonged to him was his own; let us have everything in common; let great grace work in us all; let there not be a needy person among us.
Don’t let greed impede your life of love and faith.
There is the story about a monkey who reached into a jar to get his favorite fruit. As he went to pull his hand out, it got stuck in the jar’s mouth. Why? The reason was that his fruit-filled clenched fist was too big to exit the mouth of the jar. It could have had his hand free if only he had unclenched his fist. The monkey was imprisoned by his own desire. Is it possible that we share anything in common with the monkey in this story?
Abandon desire and be generous.