Acts: The Spirit-Led Church is Generous

Elder Brian Haferkamp preaches on Acts 4:32-5:11, reminding us that the Spirit-led Church is generous because it is led by a generous God.

The spirit-led Church is generous. Judy just read of the early Church’s heart of generosity. Verse 32 says:

no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.

And in verse 34:

There was not a needy person among them…

This small group of believers were not only unified in their hearts and minds but also in their desire to care for the needs of the group. According to the previous chapters, the size of the Church is around 8,000-10,000 people. Try to imagine that many people in our community being of one heart and mind in the ways that we read about at the beginning of Acts.

If we look ahead at chapter 6 we also get a glimpse into how the Church practically cared for each other's needs. There was a daily distribution--or service of food--that the Church had initiated. A part of the proceeds given to the Apostles from the sale of land and property would surely have been used to fund this daily distribution.

Just a quick word on what this passage is not about. What we see here is not a call to Communism. It is a call to community, or koinonia. The members of the early Church clearly owned property. They voluntarily sold and brought the proceeds of the sale to the disciples as they were led by God to do. Peter even reminds Ananias in chapter 5 that he had the choice of what to give before he gave it. So, clearly, the Apostles weren’t forcing the disciples to do this or allotting a percentage for them to contribute. This is not a call for the Church to enter into state-sponsored Communism. This is not a system. Instead, the Church is called to enter into an other-centered, sacrificially-giving relationship with God and others in the Body of Christ.

The text clearly explains that the Church was generous, but why was the Church being so generous and how can we exhibit the same generosity today? I think that’s the heart of what we need to hear from God today.

The spirit-led Church is generous because it is being led by a generous God.

From the beginning God has been generous. He created a world of abundance. There is enough food and life to support the animals, plants, and humans. Fruit falls off the trees and goes unbeaten. Produce rots on the vine because so much is produced that it cannot be picked and eaten. One seed can be planted in the ground and it multiplies so that it can feed an entire family. We have not been able to exhaust the natural resources that the earth yields. God has generously created the world.

He is also generous to those whom he has called. He called out a people who were not the strongest and best to be his own. He nurtured them from one man to millions. He prospered them, freed them, and gave them land that was excessively good and more than filled their needs. Even in their sin he sheltered them from the heat of the day and warmed them in the cool of the night. He gave them laws and purpose. He gave them meat and bread from the sky each day. He did not let their sandals wear out, even after 40 years of walking around in the desert! God is generous to those whom he has called to himself.

Even in God's Law there is a call to generosity:

Deuteronomy 15:12-15

12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the LORD your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.

Finally, we see God’s generosity in his greatest Gift. There is no greater gift to the world than Jesus Christ. God gave his only son so that man would not die but that he would have life forever with God. He did not wait until Mankind deserved the gift, but gave it at the right time. The gift of God’s grace and mercy in the person and work of Jesus Christ is more than enough to cover all of the sins of mankind; there is no need for another gift. The salvation of Christ is generous.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,

Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!

Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,

Freely bestowed on all who believe!

We would never get to the business meeting today if we were to read all of the passages of God’s generosity in the Scriptures. His generosity toward the world and those who love him is a “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over.”

Because the Spirit-led Church is being led by a God who is generous, the early Church was generous. They reflected what they heard and saw in Jesus Christ--the God-Man. During his ministry Christ spoke of, and demonstrated, generosity toward others. An example of this is found in the feeding of the five thousand.

We’ll read the story from Mark 6. Just a quick background: Jesus’ disciples were returning from being sent out two by two. At the same time, Jesus learned that John the Baptist had been beheaded. That’s where we pick up in Mark 6:30.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

If ever there was a time for sensibility and not generosity, this was it. Exhausted, hungry, and surrounded by the spiritually and physically needy, the disciples spoke sensibly and told Jesus to send the people home. But rather than sensibility, Christ chose generosity. He not only cared for the people’s spiritual needs--who looked to him like sheep without a shepherd--but he also cared for their physical needs. On top of that, he did not ask the people to conform to the physical limitations of the situation (two fish and five loaves) but provided generously; more than enough so that the disciples took up food after all had been fully satisfied. The Greek word translated satisfied can mean “to gorge” or “fill to abundance.” At the heart of God is a generosity that flows out to meet the needs of the world.

In our passage today, after Luke writes about the general mindset of the early Church--that they were of one heart and mind and no one considered anything to be his own--he gives us a story that shows the dichotomy of the generous heart and the heart that holds back.

Barnabas--the same Barnabas we later read about in Acts--is the epitome of the type of generosity that Christ showed in the book of Mark. He was taking part in the early Church’s practice of selling property and bringing the proceeds from the sale to the feet of the Apostles so that they could use it to meet the physical needs of the Church. His story is the norm for the early Church.

But in chapter 5 Luke reveals the story of Ananias and Sapphira. Ananias also participated in the practice of selling land and bringing the proceeds to the feet of the Apostles--with one caveat. He had decided in his heart to take on the appearance of generosity without actually having a heart of generosity. It seems that from the text he said the amount of money he was laying at the Apostles’ feet was the full sale price of the land when, in fact, he kept a portion of the sale for himself.

Peter makes it clear that the problem here is a problem of the heart:

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

“You have not lied to man but to God.” Ananias wanted to participate in the new thing that was happening, but his heart wasn’t right. One commentary poignantly sums up the story this way:

[Ananias’ deception] was an attempt to serve God and mammon; to gain the reputation of a saint, without the reality of holiness.

Participation in the life of God and his Church begins in the heart. We might be able to fool men for a while but God cannot be fooled and he will not be mocked. Pleasing men and lying to God is a pathway to destruction. We could spend the next 30 minutes reading stories of Jesus confronting the religious leadership of his day on this very subject.

So where does that leave us? If generosity is a matter of the heart then we cannot become more generous by “digging deeper,” or begrudgingly giving more, or by intensifying our obedience. God does not simply command us to give. He says give because I have given much to you. He says be generous because I have been generous to you.

Do you desire to be generous? Since it is a condition of the heart there is only one place to go to become more generous--go to God and ask him for it. The generous One is the only one who can give you a heart of generosity. Our sinful desires and the work of the Enemy stoke fear that leads to self-protection and becoming self-centered.

God, however, gives great blessing to those who put aside fear for faith and give generously.

Pro 11:24-26

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;

another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.

Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,

and one who waters will himself be watered.

The people curse him who holds back grain,

but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.

Luke 6:37-38

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

1 Timothy 6:17-19

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Brothers and sisters, we give generously--of our money, our time, our attention, our possessions, our presence--because God has been generous with us. He has also given us the assurance of life. He has proven that he will care for our needs. That frees us up to care for the needs of others with generous giving.

God desires to make us other-centered. He desires that we care for one another in love; that we care for others in the Body of Christ the same way we care for our own selves. And when the spirit-led Church is generously participating together--with one heart and one mind--the entire Church is cared for.