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New Life Ways 8: Giving

Barny got his name written in a book. I’m not sure that Andy and Sophi knew it. But maybe they did and maybe they wanted theirs in a book too. Barny had found out some people needed help financially, so he sold some land that he owned. He took the money from the sale of the land and he gave it to the church.

Barny was really good at things like this. He had a knack for helping people through tough times and helping them toughen up about their circumstances.

Perhaps Andy and Sophi saw that and wanted to be like Barny. One night at the dinner table they had a discussion. “We could sell some property we have too. We could take the proceeds and give it to the church.” They had their plan.

What they didn’t plan on was how they would feel when they got the check for the sale of the property. It was quite a check! Suddenly thoughts filled their imaginations of what they could do with some of that money: Buy some furniture; Get a new car; Put a down payment on a vacation home.

They couldn’t let go of the possibilities so they decided to not let go of all the money. Instead, they took part of it and gave it to the church. “We sold a piece of property we owned and here is the money we made. We wanted to give it to the church to help the needy.”

The plan went as planned. Until Pete asked Andy to come by for a visit. Pete was a wise, discerning leader of the church. He asked Andy a few quick questions:

“Why did you lie about your land? You really held back part of the proceeds, right?”

“Wasn’t the land yours while you owned it?”

“And after you sold it, wasn’t the money yours to do with as you felt led?”

“So why did you have to lie about it? Remember, you didn’t just lie to the church. You lied to God!”

Andy was so caught off guard by Pete’s perception that he had a heart attack and died right there. No sooner had some men helped take care of his body than Sophi showed up looking for her husband. He hadn’t texted or called in three hours. And she knew he wouldn’t ask for directions if he were lost.

Pete—trying not to show on his face what had happened—asked her if they sold the land for the amount of money they had given the church. Sophie answered, “Of course we did! And we were happy to give it all to the church!” For her part in being complicit in the plot to pull one over on the church, Sophie earned herself a plot of land right by Andy in the cemetery.

Andy and Sophi did get their names written in a book too. Right after Barny’s. The stories are of Barnabas, from Acts 4, followed closely by the story of Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5. You have to wonder what motivated them to do what they did.

Giving was nothing new to the new church. In Acts 2 we read: “Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). By chapter 4 it seems to be the New Life Way of the church to give:

Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. For there was not a needy person among them because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of what was sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed to each person as any had need. Acts 4:32-35

It could be that some of their motivations to give were similar to ours. Taylor Conroy tells the story of how he built a school in three hours in his TEDx talk.[1] He didn’t physically build it in three hours. But in the three hours it took him to set up some personal recordings on a fundraising website he had built, he enlisted enough of his friends to give $3.33 a day for 3 months that he raised $10,000 to build a school building in a Third World country.

Along the way he discovered five factors he believes motivates people to give:

  1. Group Mentality. People are far more apt to give when they are part of a group.
  2. A tangible Outcome. People love to see a visual representation of what they are giving towards. School buildings get built. Water wells get dug. Hungry people get fed.
  3. Micro-giving vs. Large amounts. He believes people are more apt to give small amounts a day for a number of days. People can relate to the smaller amounts better than a large chunk of money. (An example might be for someone who gives nothing right now, instead of giving $30 a month it would be $1 a day for 30 days.)
  4. A personal connection. The relationship to the potential donor is even more important than the cause.
  5. Recognition. We love recognition.

My hunch is that several of these were at play with Ananias and Sapphira and maybe even the entire church.

  • The group had the mentality to give. It was in their DNA from the start.
  • They could see the tangible outcomes of their giving: people were ministered to, the church was growing, lives were changed.
  • They gave what they could. They sold possessions. And sometimes it appears they saved up a little at a time. Paul would write to the Corinthian church: “Now about the collection for the saints: Do the same as I instructed the Galatian churches. On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he is prospering, so that no collections will need to be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
  • They had a big personal connection. They knew their church leaders. They knew the poor among them. They gave to causes that people like Peter and Paul told them about.
  • And they were recognized for it. Barnabas got his name in the Bible. And others—unnamed—are mentioned too through Paul’s writings in his thankfulness for their generosity.

Giving was the church’s new life way. They taught this to people as they became part of the church. In an early church document called the Didache—which means “teaching” and was written around 96 A.D.—we find this teaching:

Do not hesitate to give and do not give with a bad grace…. Do not turn your back on the needy, but share everything with your brother and call nothing your own. For if you have what is eternal in common, how much more should you have what is transient![2]

In other words, “If you share things that are everlasting—and you do in Christ—then you should be even more willing to share things with each other that do not last.” People were taught this attitude towards their wealth as they came into the Christian community.

Admittedly, that is a different approach than what the modern church has seen. When Rick Warren was going to start Saddleback Church he surveyed the surrounding area and asked people why they did not go to church. The answers:[3]

  • “Church is boring, especially the sermons. The messages don’t relate to my life.”
  • “Church members are unfriendly to visitors. If I go to church I want to feel welcomed without being embarrassed.”
  • “The church is more interested in my money than in me.”
  • “We worry about the quality of the church’s child care.”

When he wrote a letter to invite people to their first Easter Sunday service, he addressed these four roadblocks, including money. Churches have followed Warren’s lead for years now.

We learned some important things from Warren. I agree the first thing we need to discuss with a seeker is not their giving. But when someone wants to start investigating what it means to be a follower of Christ, that topic came up in the early church and it should now.

Generous giving, especially to people in financial need, apparently created issues for the church. In some early church writings it is noticed that some “feigned to be Christians on account of their need of the necessities of life.”[4]

On the other end of the spectrum we find wealthy Christians skipping out on church because they felt—real or imagined—that church leaders were “pressuring them to contribute according to their considerable means to the church’s poor members.”[5]

Something was different, however, about the baptisms of the early church. A fundamental commitment people understood at baptism was that they would be part of a community that cared for the poor. Some, like Cyprian of the third century, engaged in a downward mobility. He had known a lavish lifestyle before becoming a Christian but “simplified his clothing, diet, and lifestyle as he prepared for baptism.”[6]

The early church practiced giving as a new life way. They sold possessions to give to those in need. They stored up on the first day of the week to give to those in need. They taught generosity as people were preparing to be immersed into the life of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

Two thousand years later the church still gives. You and I have been given that DNA, passed down through centuries of the church. Find your motivation and start giving:

  • Be part of this church group that is giving and doing something together because of it. Look around. It’s not about equal amounts. Some here make more than others. It’s about equal sacrifice. When we all give together, more can happen. The group can do more together than any individual can alone.
  • Look for the tangible outcomes in your giving. The church is equipped. People are helped. Teens are taught. Children hear about God. Marriages are coached. The list goes on. When you give, ministry happens.
  • Use the idea of micro-giving to help you kick start a habit. If you aren’t giving regularly now, start. Here’s how: purpose how much you’ll give. Even if it’s $3.33 a day for three months, give it a try and see what happens. Give up a cup of coffee a day and give that money instead.
  • Need a personal connection? Your church leaders may be yours. The person sitting next to you is another possibility. In fact, turn to the person beside you and say, “Let’s do this!” (Seriously, say it. You’ll feel better once you did.)
  • Need some recognition? Somehow we think that is bad to want some, but it’s human. We’ll let you know at the end of each year how thankful we are as a church for your participation in giving. And from time to time, we’ll find other ways to let you know that even though your giving needs to be done without notice, it is noticed. But you’ll have to get on board with giving to see that happen.

But let me warn you. Or better yet, let Ananias and Sapphira warn you. They found out that there is a danger in giving. The danger is not that they did not give everything they made off the sale of the land. The problem was they lied about what they did. They said they gave one amount when in reality they gave a lesser amount.

Be honest about your giving. Plot with God about what he wants you to give then give it. As Peter said, while it is in your possession it is at your disposal. Just don’t make a big production about what you do give.

Your downward mobility might help lift someone else up.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC02SmuOxYI&__s=mxqfqss33tshugkrgttf

[2] Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), 140.

[3] Summarized at http://www.jrmyprtr.com/purpose-driven-communication/

[4] See footnote 116, page 116 of The Patient Ferment

[5] Ferment, 116.

[6] Ibid., 115.