By Juan Sanchez
If you’re like me, you hate talking about money. And, of course, people hate hearing pastors talk about money. To them, it feels like we only talk about money when we’re behind budget.
For me, whenever I do talk about money, I wonder if I simply lack faith. Still, how we handle money falls under Jesus’ command to “teach them everything I have commanded you.”
Just recently, I found Acts 11:27-30 as a helpful passage to guide our church’s thinking about Christian generosity. In these few verses, Jesus made the need of the Jerusalem church known to the Christians in Antioch through a revelation from the Spirit to the prophet Agabus (11:27-28).
Agabus reported the revelation, and the mainly Greek church in Antioch resolved to take up an offering for the mainly Jewish church in Jerusalem (11:29-30). This gift not only displayed the care of Jesus for his church, but it also displayed the unity of the one Church, the Church of Jesus Christ, made up of both Jew and Gentile.
Consider with me four principles of generosity we observe as the Christians in Antioch responded to the financial need of the Jerusalem church.
Principle 1 | They gave willingly and deliberately (Acts 11:29).
Once the need was known, the disciples in Antioch determined that they would send a relief offering—no one asked them to. That word determined may also be translated “decided” or “resolved.”
In other words, knowing the need, they resolved to be generous. And notice that the determination was both individual (“each” v.29) and corporate (“the disciples” v.29).
There could be any number of reasons one might determine to give. Some people give out of obligation or obedience, others out of shame or guilt. But the greatest fuel for generosity is love.
Think about it: We’re all generous with whom or what we love – generous with our time, our resources, and our money. If we love self, we lavish ourselves with what makes us most happy. If we love others, we lavish them with what makes them most happy.
Because I love my wife, for example, I delight in showering her with generosity, even to the point of personal sacrifice. And that’s no surprise because love by definition and example is sacrificial.
But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).
And Jesus’ love for us is such that he laid aside his wealth in heaven to become a poor servant on earth, so that through his perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection, we who are poor in spirit may share in his heavenly inheritance through repentance from sin and faith in him. That’s good news!
Jesus cares for his people through the generosity of his people, and he gives us both the definition and example of what that generosity looks like in the flesh. Let us love others as Jesus loved us and resolve to be generous.
Principle 2 | They gave proportionally (Acts 11:29).
We cannot give what we do not have, and Jesus never asks us to do so. Instead, the Christians in Antioch resolved to give according to their ability – literally, according to how each prospered.
The question we need to help our people ask is “What do we have to give?” Truth be told, as Americans, we have a lot more to give than we realize. We need to help our churches understand that everything we have comes from God and that we are merely God’s managers of what he gives us.
God provides for us that we may live and care for our family, and he blesses us in ways that allow us to be his instruments for the care of his people.
It’s possible that our people’s love for self has driven them into strangling debt. As a result, they feel they can’t give. Encourage them to get help getting out of debt so that they may be free to be generous. Then encourage them to begin giving generously according to what they have, not what they do not have.
Principle 3 | They gave purposely (Acts 11:29).
The disciples in Antioch gave for a particular purpose – to send relief to the saints in Judea. They didn’t collect a general offering for general needs; they were purposeful. And so should we be.
At most churches, the purpose of giving is outlined in their annual budget. Use your budget as a teaching tool. Help your church understand the purposes for which they should give generously. Then, use the budget as a prayer guide – praying for your pastors, ministries, and gospel partnerships throughout the world.
Principle 4 | They gave wisely (Acts 11:30).
You want your church to be purposeful in their generosity, but you also want to provide accountability. The church in Antioch wisely chose trusted men (Paul and Barnabas) to take the offering to Jerusalem. And Paul and Barnabas wisely delivered the offering to the elders of the church, not just anyone.
If we want to cultivate a culture of generosity in our churches, then we should follow the example of the church in Antioch. Because of their faith in Christ, they were labeled as Christians – Christ-followers. Because of their generosity, they displayed the unity of the one Church, made up of Jew and Gentile, and they displayed the promise that Jesus cares for his people through the generosity of his people.
May the Lord grant our churches to grow in generosity that we may bring Him glory and show the world that we are Christians.