In this third part of this series on the distinguishing marks of the early Christian church, we look at something unusual that took place. “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need (Acts 2:45).” The early Christian church demonstrated a radical generosity the world had never seen before.
The question of what to do with the poor and needy has plagued societies throughout time. God wrote into his law for the nation of ancient Israel a policy for the poor among them (Deuteronomy 15:4-7). If they would have followed it, there would have been no poor person among them. Yet, even Israel chose to ignore God’s law in regard to the poor. God spoke against that nation through the prophet Amos saying, “They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground (Amos 2:7).”
No human society has ever managed to eliminate poverty from their land. Yet, the early Christian church did what no one else could. Later in the Book of Acts, Luke says, “there were no needy persons among them (Acts 4:34).” How did they do this? They did not do it through policy, taxation, or mandatory measures. Rather, something more radical transformed the minds and hearts of this community of believers that now numbered thousands.
Usually when people give to the poor, they do so out of guilt. They see an advertisement to raise money for starving children in a foreign country. They see the swollen bellies of these children and then look at all they have. They feel guilt. They give. They feel better about themselves, and the guilt goes away, at least for the moment.
The early Christian church was giving for a different reason. Their hearts had been touched by grace. They came to see clearly the depth of their sin. They knew they were helpless to change themselves. They were convicted of the truth that God sent his Son Jesus Christ to lay down his life to cover their sins with his blood. They were not giving out of guilt; they were giving out of gratitude for what they knew God did for them.
Generosity marks not only the early Christian church, but also individual Christians as well. How can a Christian, who knows how widely God has opened his hand to them, close their hand to the poor among them? Salvation comes by grace alone, but the conviction of this grace expresses itself in the life of the Christian through acts of radical generosity.