A spirit of radical giving organically existed among the original disciples that, in many ways, contradicts and has become lost in today’s capitalistic, materialistic and individualistic mindset. Sure, instead of disciples helping disciples, radical giving has given way to societal welfare programs, which now fill these basic needs. Still, politically and socially, many disciples today passionately resist and chaff against this spirit. Yet, it remains a testament to and an identifying quality of the first believers. Many churches claiming to have restored (past tense) first century Christianity have not recaptured this spirit. Far too many individual Christians are content to let the government meet these needs. While there are many reasons this quality has been largely lost on the church today, the resulting ramifications of its loss are keenly and broadly realized in the lives and love of disciples today.
Of the original Christians, Luke writes…
“Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power, the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” (Acts 4:32-35, NKJV)
Apparently motivated by the grace shown them through Jesus Christ, these disciples took unity to an entirely new level, embraced fellowship in almost overwhelming ways and embodied selflessness in means rarely seen today. They undeniably let go of the world and the things in it to unreservedly embrace Christ and His body. They gave in radical ways. Their genuine love for one another was not expressed in mere words and speech, but was realized in the unparalleled magnitude of their actions and deeds. They gave their lives and livelihood to the Lord and for their brethren. They did so freely. Their actions did not seem to be inspired of edict or compulsion, but of a free will and desire to embody Christ. Do we see this spirit in the church today? Do our daily lives capture and embody this spirit?
There are many inspired texts that perhaps inspired such selfless thinking in these disciples. Should not these texts and examples overcome the thinking of the world in us and inspire us to the same selfless living? Consider…
Mark 10:17–22 (NKJV): “Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ ” And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
Luke 12:32–34 (NKJV): “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Acts 2:44–45 (NKJV): “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.”
Acts 20:33–35 (NKJV): “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ””
Many today believe that this spirit smacks of socialism—something to be avoided at all costs. It is contrary to the individualistic spirit of capitalism and materialism that permeates this world. Yet, herein lies one of the most foundational qualities setting Christians apart from those of this world—their willingness to freely, abundantly and radically give. Dispossessed of the world and heirs of heaven, they know that through letting go, they embrace something far greater. They lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, rather than hoarding treasures on earth. As the Lord admonishes…
Matthew 6:19–21 (NKJV): “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Realistically, even when attempting to embrace this spirit, the spirit of the world that has possessed us for so long resists our giving ourselves wholly to it. The cautionary account of Ananias and Sapphira demonstrate this struggle emphatically. Even when we are giving, we are holding on, unwilling to give completely, yet desiring to be seen as more selfless than we actually are. There was no requirement made of them to give it all or at all. They were not condemned at all for not giving all, but for lying about giving all. Their belongings were their own to sell and to give, wholly within their control, but they chose to lie to the Holy Spirit about their giving. Their struggle was real and cost them dearly. Consider Luke’s powerful account of the event…
Acts 5:1–11 (NKJV): “But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”
She said, “Yes, for so much.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.”
While many will castigate this amazingly generous and Christlike spirit as socialism and others will excuse themselves from such radical giving by demeaning those who strive and struggle to emulate it, God clearly praises it. Jesus Christ overwhelmingly embodied it. The original disciples decidedly embraced it. Make no mistake, when great need arises, Christians tend to rise to the call. However, rarely is the kind of radical giving seen among the original disciples seen today! Christianity is not about retaining as much as we can of the world, whether in its spirit, or by its ways or through its means. Christianity is realized in letting go of the world and the things of this world to wholly, completely and radically embrace the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus. How far are we willing to let our faith take us? How radically are we willing to give?