Sermon: Sunday, 26th November, 2023
Speaker: Geoff Murray
Scripture: Acts 4:32-37
What would you say was the biggest display of generosity you’ve seen? Maybe on an individual level, someone’s been over the top generous and kind towards you. Perhaps at a community level, recently in Buckhaven there was the fireworks display but that was not going to go ahead because of the sheer expense of it, yet within 24 hours, the community had a whip round to raise £7,000.
But often times generosity has limits and that is partly to do with our limited resources but also partly due to our hearts. It can be very easy for there to be an end of generosity but here we see an extravagant display of generosity in the early church. We see here remarkably:
‘Nobody claimed possessions as their own, but shared everything they had.’ (Acts 4:32)
‘There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.’ (Acts 4:34)
‘Joseph… sold a field and brought the money and laid it at the Apostle’s feet.’ (Acts 4:37)
There are three things which mark the giving of believers in Acts 4; it was selfless, sacrificial & voluntary.
‘Nobody claimed possessions as their own, but shared everything they had.’ (Acts 4:32)
We see here the selflessness of the believers. What a different mindset in 2023 where our goal can easily be to build our possessions with the emphasis on ‘our’. But actually, the Bible brings to light that for believers, our possessions aren’t our own but are to be shared with others.
You see, God is the giver of all good gifts. What we have is not our own as if we are our own provider. Incidentally, last Sunday night I talked about mindsets sneaking into the church and we’re just so used to it that we don’t think anything of it. It’s possible that possessions is one of them where it might never enter our minds to share with those around us.
Yet, many of the disciples didn’t have that mindset, they never counted any of their possessions as their own but shared everything they had. And this is a selfless attitude in the church. Not selfish, but selfless. Putting others ahead of yourself.
How easy it is for the mindset to be, ‘Ah, another online subscription service to stream more films and tv shows. Let’s get it to join my 5 other subscription services I have.’ Or the newest and swankiest phone on contract or new car on lease. Maxing out the vast majority of our spending on ourselves. It’s very easy to do that.
Now, I’m not saying we should never spend on ourselves or never have an online subscription to Prime or Netflix or whatever, but is our spending also outward on other people. So can we say that a big focus of our spending or our time is on others? Is the giving of our money, resources, time, and talents selfless?
Are you asking: Is there a need? Can I meet that need? Then I will share with you what I have and I can meet that need for you.
So often, it’s easy to be marked by selfishness rather than selflessness, but its what we see here.
I’m sure you can think of things you have that you wouldn’t mind giving away, or times you wouldn’t mind helping out with your gifts and talents. But there would be some things you would really struggle to get rid of, it would be costly and sacrificial.
‘They shared everything they had.’ (Acts 4:32)
How striking is that? Nothing was off limits. They shared all that they had. Which surely means as well as being selfless and other-centred that it was also sacrificial. That’s got to cost at some point. There’s got to be something you come across which you didn’t want to give away. A sacrifice would be made. It would be costly.
Think of all your possessions, think of your most treasured possesions, all of it shared with your church family as they have need. That’s going to be costly, that’s going to hurt. Yet that’s exactly what the believers did.
We also see people selling houses or land and bringing the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to the needy (verse 34) and also a guy called Joseph who sold a field and brought the money to the Apostle’s feet. (Verse 36) So it’s not just possessions that they had that is to be shared, but also anything they gained had to be shared.
So say you come into a bit of money perhaps through inheritance or like the people in this passage that you sell land or houses and you gain something, that immediately is to be seen through the lens of giving away, of sharing.
That’s massively sacrificial. Think of the amount coming in for land or the amount coming in for houses, that is going to be costly to be thinking, ‘Right, I’m going to share this now.’ ’Really? Can’t I just enjoy it?’
Think of how much you could do with that if you kept it to yourself. Think of the nice new house you could get, the fancy car, the extravagant holiday, think of it! But the sacrifice of it all is that for the believers, anything gained was straight away to be thought of in the context of. ‘How can I share this with my brothers and sisters?’
Not only is the giving displayed by the disciples here selfless but it is sacrificial. It cannot possibly be selfless if things are hoarded all to themselves, it cannot possibly be sacrificial if only some things are on the table. But we see that the giving of the believers is selfless and sacrificial.
Lastly, giving is to be voluntary. This all sounds slightly like Christian communism and totally bizarre. In a world of self, it actually sounds slightly threatening and upsetting to our lives ‘Really? Sharing everything?’
But it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t under compulsion, there was no arm twisting. They gave of their own possessions willingly, gladly, freely, generously. Now what could possibly generate this kind of generosity? What could possibly lead people to sell what they had and share with all?
‘And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.’ (Acts 4:33b)
God’s grace intervenes and disrupts the cycles of selfishness and causes an unthinkable generosity amongst his people.
When we consider the famous hymn ‘When I Survey’ – the words ‘love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life my all.’ – we are reminded that Jesus was not stingy towards us, he didn’t hold back, he didn’t give part of his life, he didn’t give some of his life or even most of his life, he gave everything, even his life on the cross to die for us. He has given us everything, how can we respond with anything other than radical generosity with what we do have?
And that really is the key to generous giving that is selfless, sacrificial, and voluntary: the voluntary, selfless, and sacrificial giving of God, giving his son for us on the cross that we might know him, love him, and serve him, giving in selfless, sacrificial, and voluntary ways.
There is no coercion or forced giving here, it is in response to the good news of the resurrection of Christ they share and the grace of God that worked so powerfully in them.
God so lavishly pours out his kindness on us day by day, how can we respond with anything other than a heart which shares with those in need? Receiving such kindness does not lead us to store up and hoard all of our things from God to ourselves, but leads us to have an open hand of generosity to anyone in need around us. God, in his grace, does not have us as individual Christians but he gives us one another, we become family, we become as one, united in heart and mind. In other words, we have others to be generous to!
And the love that that fosters to have unity with believers creates a certain desire to show that in practical ways. We have not only the ability to give and be generous, but in the church we have the people to be generous to!
And that is exactly what we see in Acts 4. We see Christian love being worked out in generosity towards each other as they are ‘one in heart and mind’, in love they show generosity towards each other to the extent there is not a needy person among them. What an incredible thing that would be.
So there is no compulsion, there is no being forced, nor is their acts of religious piety some way of buttering up God to appease him. Their hope is not in their religious efforts, it is in the resurrection to which they testify, it is in the grace of God so powerfully at work among them and their love is for one another.
And that is the powerful combination which leads to such radical generosity. The resurrection of Jesus, the grace of God at work among them and the love they have for one another. It is when these things come together in unison that we see generosity on a selfless, sacrificial, and voluntary level.
This passage gets us to ask these two questions followed by this one answer: Is there a need? Can I meet it? If I can, let’s go for it.
‘Do good to all, especially those of the household of faith.’ (Galatians 6:10)
What might this look like for us today in Fife in 2023? I want to preface this by saying there are some of you who do a tremendous job at supporting and caring for one another. Thank you for how you serve the Lord by serving others in the church, I am often just praising God for the kindness some of you show to many in the church.
But what can this look like? Maybe there’s someone in the congregation who doesn’t have a car who isn’t so able to get to church by themselves on foot, can you bless them by taking them to and from church? I’m so pleased to see this already happening on a couple of occasions.
Or maybe there are other ways we can do this. For example, Jessie and Elijah are about to welcome another baby Lord willing early in the new year. Are there any knitters out there? You can use your gifts and your time to bless baby Brook when, Lord willing, he makes his appearance by knitting a jumper or a hat.
Perhaps a burnt out Mum would appreciate some childcare so she can get 5 minutes to herself.
Maybe there is someone in the congregation who is on their own, could you give them your time, a precious commodity in life today, to spend time with them and keep them company? In the middle of a loneliness crisis in this country, it is a bigger need than we think it is, even amongst those with us here.
There is a multitude of needs even here in Kirkcaldy Free Church, yet there is a multitude of possessions here in Kirkcaldy Free Church. Be that time, money, physical possessions, gifts and talents, whatever that is, you have it and your fellow church member needs it.
So what are the needs? Can you meet them? If you can, may I just encourage you to go and to share freely and liberally what you have to meet that need. This is our calling as Christians and the very natural outworking of having received generous kindness from God ourselves in giving us his Son and giving us one another. Let us give selflessly, sacrificially, and voluntarily towards one another out of love for God and love for one another.
I’ll end with a quote from John Wesley, author of hymns such as ‘And Can it Be?’ said this:
“Do all the good you can by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”