"Radical and Unreasonable Generosity"
Message by Peter, Pastor NDIC.
Date: September 6, 2009
Acts 4: 32-37 - Let's read the Scripture first.
32All 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. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There 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 35and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
36Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.
This is God’s Word. The title for the message today is “Radical and unreasonable generosity.” That’s what you find in this piece of Scripture and it happened because of God’s grace touching the lives of ordinary men and women. His grace transformed their giving.
So the Big Question today is: “if we have experienced God as a God of grace, how does that change our attitude and use of our money?”
let’s look at the background first.
Here in this passage we see that the early church or early Christians were extremely visible, they were visibly different in their attitude of their money, it says “no one claimed that any of his possession was his own, but they shared everything they had.”
This is telling us that one of the main ways that the world understood that the Christians were different was in their economic mindset and that the church was in a certain sense an economic subculture that was radically different than the economic culture around it.
You see, in the midst of this passage, and also in Acts Chapter 2, we see that whenever the life of the early church is described, the Christians drastic generosity, unmistakably drastic, in many ways an unreasonable generosity to the outsider, was actually like an engine that drove a cycle or dynamic that had a tremendous powerful influence on society around them.
There was a cycle of impact and the engine of that cycle or that dynamic was this drastic and unreasonable generosity from the world’s point of view.
In verses 31, 32, 33 you see it.
In verse 31 you read they were filled with the Holy Spirit. In verses 32 it immediately says that as a response to this, that no one claimed that any of his possessions were his own and they shared everything. We also read that the apostles testified about Jesus and who he was and it had a tremendous impact and people came… Why?
Because the message was backed up by the lives of the people and the lives of the people was characterized by an unreasonable and difficult to account for generosity.
Radical, unreasonable, unaccountable generosity with their funds led to a deep oneness, a fellowship and a loving community in which they broke bread in each other homes with glad and generous hearts and that led to people coming into their fellowship every day.
What was the engine of the success of the early Christians and what helped them turn a very pagan and cruel Roman Empire and society into a compassionate and charitable society?
It happened because of that unreasonable and unaccountable generosity. It happened because people on the outside looked and said “We don’t get this. Nobody gives money away like this; nobody’s attitude towards their money is like this.” It says in Chapter 2 that “they had favour with all the people.” Whenever the preachers preached, people listened.
A true story has come down to us, from the year 252 AD.
There was a tremendous plague in the city of Carthage and the healthy people were leaving the city in droves. They had to get out, because of the threat of contamination, and in the middle of that panic, the great Christian leader Cyprian brought all the Christians together in the centre of that town.
That town had hurt the Christians, persecuted them and yet Cyprian said “if we are going to do what Jesus did, who although he was rich, became poor, so that through his poverty we might become rich, than we need to do the following, he said “I call you now to fan out into this town and to give both personal and financial aid and care and comfort to all according to their need, not whether they were Christians or not or whether they were your enemies. We are called to follow where our Master would go.”
Fascinating story, they would not abandon the city in the midst of the plague.
And another quote, a powerful peace of evidence, is from one of the early Roman emperors, Julian, who tried to stem to tied of Christianity and revive the pagan religion. He couldn’t do it and in his disgust he wrote one of his friends about why the Christians were succeeding and Julian says “Their success lies in their charity to all, they take care not only of their own poor, but ours as well.”
This is proof positive, that the way Christians differed from those around them was in their attitude of their money and it was one the main things that gave the Christians success in a world that looked upon them as strange. It befuddled the world and changed their attitude towards them.
Christians, un-like every other kind of religion, Christians have a religion of grace while every other religion has a religion of moral effort and summoning up your courage and doing better than other people. Christianity is a religion of grace and as a result Christian’s attitude towards their money is different.
Let me show you:
Grace revolutionizes first of all, our attitude towards money and secondly our procedure of giving. So let me go through these two things.
If you have experienced the grace of God, it gives you a completely new attitude toward money, a completely new relationship towards your money. We are told in verse 32 here “No one considered his possessions his own..”
Some years ago Bill Cosby was on a commercial which was put out by some investment company. They wanted you to give them your money, so they could invest it for you and help it grow. In the commercial Bill Cosby says “You know why I want to give my money to these people, who can handle it for me? I want to do this because…it is my money.”
And of course a marketing, research person had told him that if he said’ it is my money’ than that would really ring a bill in most people’s hearts and of course it does.
Because, unless you understand what I am about to show you in the Gospel, that’s how you are going to feel about your money: “It is mine, I worked hard for it and I nearly have not enough of it, I really deserve to have much more, I see many people who don’t work as hard as I do.”
But if you are a Christian you have a completely different approach to it. You look at your money and you say “it is not mine anyway. I don’t look at it as mine; I don’t feel it is mine.”
If you haven’t had an experience of grace in other words, when someone comes to you and asks for money, you are irritated. You are touchy about people asking you for money. You don’t like it.
If on the other hand, if you are a Christian or if you have had a real experience of God’s grace as a Christian, when people ask you for money you might feel sad because you can’t give to them and you might say “I only have a limited amount”, but you are not irritated, you are not touchy.
Let me show you why:
Scrooge. Remember Scrooge? Now what happened to Scrooge? The spirits took Scrooge and they showed him his greed and then…they showed him his doom and than in that final climactic scene he is seeing his life just after he died and he is seeing the people around him, how miserable they are because of his greed.
He sees his own grave and a wasted life and he sees an absolutely lonely tomb stone. Suddenly he falls in it and than suddenly it is what? It is Christmas morning and he thought he was dead and now he is alive and he sees all these people lives that are ruined by him and yet, they are still there!
What happens to him that Christmas morning? His attitude towards his money is completely changed. Why?
He has actually had in the story an experience of grace. What is the experience? A second change! It was undeserved, it was unlooked for, he thought he was dead, he thought everything was gone and all of sudden, “a second chance.”
Now, as I will show you in a minute, that’s not a whole lot of grace, but it’s still grace and as a result he looks at his money totally different.
Here is what happens, he is now gleeful, like a little kid, scheming to get rid of his money. Gleefully thinking about how he is going to shower people with his gifts and how their lives are going to be changed. He can’t wait to do it. You still see Scrooge, kind of rubbing his hands and cackling, but over something different! The new Scrooge has been changed by grace, so that his attitude towards his money is now “it is not mine.”
The Bible says the very same thing, this is the point we are trying to get across. The Bible says that if you have experienced God’s grace, you too will have a totally different way of regarding and looking at your money.
The bottom line
You know how we like to talk in many companies about the “bottom line”? That is the thing that really, really, really tells you how you are doing. Yes, yes, you can say, there is a lot of disorganization in the company and yes, there is people at each other’s throats and yes, we blew this and we blew that, but the question is “what is the bottom line? Are we still making a profit? This tells me how we are really doing.”
Well, believe it or not, but even the Bible says money is the bottom line in your life.
Yes, it is. You can talk about how much you love God and how much the grace of Jesus Christ means to you, how much you love your brothers and sisters in Christ, but the bottom line, the thing that’s unmistakable, the thing that’s down there at the bottom, the thing that tells you where your heart is and what you really, really believe, is where you spend your money and what your attitude towards your money is. That’s what it tells you.
And let me show you, if Scrooge had his attitude towards money changed, simply because of a second change, how much more should our attitude change towards our money because of Christ’s grace; because Christ’s grace is more than a second change.
It is not one more change to redeem yourself, it is not one more Christmas to be a good person, it is not that Jesus appears before us and say, “look at me, I am honest, I am compassionate, generous, I have a servant heart, live like me and you can redeem yourself!” If he only came to be a model for us, so that we might redeem ourselves, he is an utter failure. I wish he had never come. Because nobody can care like Jesus cared, nobody can love like He loves and nobody can give like Jesus gave and if he is only a model, he discourages me, he devastates me, he demolishes me and he leaves me in the darkness, if that’s all.
You see, our Christmas Carol is different.
The real Christmas Carol is not one more change to be good. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ came and died to pay the penalty of our failures and if we receive him, his record becomes our record. He doesn’t say “one more change to do good deeds”, o no, instead He says “don’t you see, your doing will never get you there, looking at me proves that. I have done all the good deeds for you, I have lived the perfect life, I have died the perfect death. I have put myself in your place and took your penalty, so that if you trust in Me and you lay your doing down and you trust wholly in me, the Father will welcome you as complete in me.”
“Lay your deadly doing down, down at Jesus feet, stand in him and him alone, gloriously complete”, that’s what the hymn says.
Now listen, don’t you see, that goes so far beyond Scrooge’s grace.
Why aren’t we then, so far beyond him, more generous in our attitude towards our money? What immediately happens, immediately, when that experience of grace comes into your life, your bottom line changes. Of course it changes. First of all you start to say “look at what I really got.”
He used to get up every day, look up to heaven and he used to say “You are my goodness, I was your punishment, You assumed everything I deserved and was, so that I can receive everything you deserve and are.” Luther used to get up every day and say “I am rich, I am adopted into the family of God, I have an imperishable inheritance, I am going to shine like the stars in the Kingdom of my Father and even now his holy power and joy has come into my life through his holy Spirit and it has started to grow and it will eventually swallow up all of my foolishnesses and all of my sadness’s, all of my weaknesses. I am rich!”
Now when you say that, you immediately look at your material possessions and you say “This is a small thing compared to what I’ve got and will never loose and not only that, you look at all you’ve got and you say, this is all grace, this is all grace!
I was in my grave and suddenly it is Christmas” and that changes everything. It melts away your possessiveness.
As Paul says in second Corinthians (he is asking the Christians to give towards hunger relief), he says “I am not commanding you to give, I am just looking at the sincerity of your love, for you know the grace from our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, became poor, so that through his poverty we might become rich. “
What is Paul saying? Paul is saying, there is never any need to lay guilt on a person, to get them to be generous who has experienced the grace of Jesus. He says “you know..I don’t have to command you.
Secondly, grace not only changes your relationship to your giving, it also changes the procedure of it:
Look at Scrooge before and after his experience of grace. Before he is like all of us. You know how we give to charity, how we give our money away?
Our giving is passive and spontaneous.
Look at Scrooge. People have to come to him and ask for it and that is how we all are. We feel like ” this is my money, and so, if somebody wants it, they better come and get it, but I am not looking for ways to get rid of it. And besides I don’t have that much of it anyway.” And we are always sort of wallowing in self pity about it and feeling very possessive about.
So we are passive, till someone comes along and pulls those guilt strings and you know, puts that slide up there, that little kid, and than you know, we start to feel something and we feel the guilt basically and what happens is we are passive, but as soon as we get the guilt strings being tugged, we immediately reach in and see what we spontaneously give.
Which means: We give whatever we are able to afford at that moment, either cash in our wallet, or our cheque book. “How much have I got, well, I guess, I can afford this much.”
We are passive and spontaneous.
Active and intentional
But Scrooge had an experience of grace and he changed completely and you will be totally different too, after you have experienced the grace of Christ.
And instead of passive and spontaneous, you will be active and intentional. Being active and intentional is not just a good idea: It is a result of experiencing the grace of Christ!
Look at Scrooge afterwards. He is looking for ways to get rid of his money, he is pro-active, he is intentional, he is planning. He is scheming how to get rid of his money. He thinks about it constantly, makes plans. That’s the way anybody, who has experienced the grace of Christ, is:
“Look at what He has done for me; look at how God planned to pour out his riches towards me. Freely by his grace, so I am going to plan too.”
This is where it helps to think about percentage.
How much percentage of my income will I joyfully and purposefully give to the church and the poor? The Bible has given us a guideline in this and that is around 10 %. I say ‘around’, because for us, living under grace, 10 % (according to my understanding of Scripture) is more a principle than a law, more a common sense minimum, than a demand, more an expression of our thankfulness, than an external law.
And we do want to give generously, because of that inner cycle, that engine of radical, unreasonable, unaccountable generosity. Once you’ve been touched by grace, it is within you, propelling you to always want to give more. You may start with 4 %, than 5, 8, 10, even beyond 10 %! Can anybody relate to this?
And this is what this cycle of generosity, this engine within, is telling you:
“I want to give God the best I have; I want to give Him what the Bible calls the “first fruit”, the first portion of my pay-check, the first portion of my vacation money, the first portion of my 13th month’s salary. I am not going to wait till the end of the month”. “This is what those folks in the Old Testament did whenever they gathered their harvest, they gave God the first 10 % and I have decided to do the same. They lived under the law, I live under grace, and shall I not do even more?”
Perhaps you are struggling financially or carrying huge financial burdens right now.
Perhaps 10 % is a bridge too far at this moment. That’s all right, just keep hanging in there, pay your bills, know that you are not alone and that we understand your situation. Sometimes it just takes time to even be able to give financially. God knows your heart and giving can express itself in many other ways as well (time, serving, etc.).
We started the message with this Big Question: “if we have experienced God as a God of grace, how does that change our attitude and use of our money?”
Do you feel that question has been answered?
I think the answer to the question might be the following: Experiencing God’s grace through Jesus Christ enables me to not be possessive about my money, but to give certain portions away and do so in an active and intentional manner. God loved me first and His love transforms the way I now give.
Let’s now listen to an old hymn called “Yes, Jesus loves me”, and as you listen to the words, allow His grace to touch your heart, comfort you and take away any fears you might have.
His love will set you free and enable you make this wonderful quality decision to follow Jesus, to give Him all your have, even your money, because He died for you.
“Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong;
They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me! This I know,
As He loved so long ago,
Taking children on His knee,
Saying, “Let them come to Me.”
Jesus loves me when I'm good,
When I do the things I should,
Jesus loves me when I'm bad,
Though it makes Him very sad.
Jesus loves me still today,
Walking with me on my way,
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live.
Jesus loves me! He who died
Heaven’s gate to open wide;
He will wash away my sin,
Let His little child come in.
Jesus loves me! Loves me still
Tho' I'm very weak and ill;
That I might from sin be free
Bled and died upon the tree.
Jesus loves me! He will stay
Close beside me all the way;
Thou hast bled and died for me,
I will henceforth live for Thee.
Message partly taken from a sermon by Pastor Tim Keller, He is an American author, speaker, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City, New York.