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There’s an intriguing phrase in Acts 2:47 that describes the church in Jerusalem as “having favor with all the people.” What exactly were these early Christians doing that brought them such esteem? The preceding verses tell us:

And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts. (vv. 45–46)

When unbelievers witnessed the generosity of these believers, they saw how they loved one another. Many came to faith partly through the power and integrity of this refreshing alternative to materialism: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” ( v. 47). Their generosity demonstrated the life-changing power of the gospel. While being attracted to the generous giving of Jesus-followers, unbelievers were attracted to the gospel of Jesus.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:1: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia.” How was God’s grace demonstrated? Through their giving to needy Christians. In verse 6, Paul calls the Macedonians’ giving to help the hungry in Jerusalem an “act of grace.” The same Greek word is used for Christian giving and for God’s grace.

Christ’s grace motivates and puts in perspective our giving: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (v. 9).

As thunder follows lightning, giving follows grace. When the lightning of God’s grace strikes us, the joyful giving of our time, talents, and treasures should follow.

In 1 Timothy 6:17–19, Paul makes clear that it is God’s will for us to be open-handed givers, generous and rich in good deeds. This passage tells us that through giving, we’ll “take hold of that which is truly life.” The materialistic, self-centered life is not the good life. The true good life is the life of generosity. When we live that way, the world will notice.

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our tangible love for others witnesses to the gospel truth that Christ loves us and died for us. This is explicitly related to what 1 John 3:17–18 says: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

The world can benefit from seeing the church's generosity as an attractive witness to the grace of Christ.

There is a long history of Christian generosity as a powerful witness. The Roman emperor Julian had an interesting complaint about early Christians: “The impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well; everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.” The theologian Tertullian said, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of lovingkindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents.”

Aristides, an unbeliever, was sent by Emperor Hadrian to spy out those people called “Christians.” His words to the emperor have reverberated through the centuries: “Behold! How they love one another.”

Helping the needy has always set Christians apart, showing the world that we operate on a radically different value system. What religions besides Christianity have established hospitals, or networks of famine relief and development to help starving people, victims of disasters, and refugees?

In the fall of 2017, hurricanes swept through the Caribbean and Southern United States, devastating millions of lives. Writing about Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Houston, blogger Trevin Wax wrote:

Houston will get through this tragedy because of God’s people who are already there and God’s people who are on the way—volunteers from all over the country giving and going, not just for days and weeks, but months and years.

I remember how churches mobilized when the Nashville flood hit a few years ago. In the aftermath, we gutted houses and helped people reconstruct their lives. I remember the stench of those washed-out neighborhoods, but I also remember the fragrance of the good deeds of God’s people.

True, Scripture tells us not to give in order to be seen by men (Matt. 6:1). Glorifying God is our primary motive, and we should be careful to avoid pride. But sometimes our generosity will be seen by men and even should be, just as when the early Christians sold their property and gave away the proceeds.

In the same sermon where Christ says we’re not to give in order to be seen by men, He commands us to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (5:16).

Acts 4:36–37 tells us that Barnabas sold a field and brought the money to the Apostles. His act of generosity was commonly known among believers and permanently recorded in Acts. The body of Christ can benefit from seeing open models of generous giving like that of Barnabas.

Every local church also needs examples of other churches that are models of giving generously. When thousands of churches are giving generously to reach the lost, when they’re as excited about helping the poor as they are about building projects, the world will observe God’s grace at work.

When the world sees the beauty of such generosity, they’ll be drawn to the good news of our Savior. They will notice our good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven.

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From the April 2018 Issue
Apr 2018 Issue