In Acts 2 the early believers sell their possessions and give the money to the apostles to distribute to the needy. At the end of Acts 4 we have a very similar passage with regard to sharing. Acts 4:32-37:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
As you can imagine, this sharing is a symptom of a church that is full of fellowship and people who genuinely care for one another. Although the church did not have a formal structure at the time, people were giving money directly to the apostles and trusting them to distribute the money properly.
When the opposite of this happens, it is a symptom that something is wrong within the church. I’ve seen this in various forms and have numerous examples. The most common thing that occurs is that a person is not happy with what is going on with the church so they stop giving. It can be to prove a point or try to gain attention or somehow punish the church or the pastor. If giving drops low enough the pastor will have to be fired or will quit and then we’ll get a new pastor who listens to what I want.
Another sign of dysfunctional giving can be – but not always – designated giving. There are times when we have drives for building funds or other special projects that are completely fine. People are motivated to give for different reasons and some will be more motivated to give to a building project or to missions or some other area. But the example that we have in Acts was that the money was given to apostles to be used at their discretion. The people trusted their leadership to do the right thing with their money. This isn’t always the case today.
Today we have instances where people don’t believe that the church is giving enough money missions or they believe the church needs new choir robes so they give their gift with strings attached. The church can only use that money for what it was designated. The giver is essentially saying that they don’t trust leadership to be good stewards of the money so they will decide what is most needed.
Once again, let me reiterate that this is not a hard and fast rule and it has a lot to do with the attitude with which the gift is given. If someone came up to me and said that they really believe that God had laid it on their heart to provide money for a playground for the children and they wanted to know if the church would use that money for that, that is a different situation. There is a difference between wanting to give on a project and preventing the church from using those funds for what may be more pressing needs.
Acts 5 shows us the consequences of a bad attitude when we give. Acts 5:1-11:
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
This may seem like a strange thing to take place, especially for two people who were giving to the Lord’s work. But this all comes down to attitude. Ananias and Sapphira want the praise of people. They want people to think that they are good Christians. They want to make it seem like they are giving their all when in fact they are worshipping God and giving on their own terms.
Peter is right when he asks, “Didn’t the money belong to you before it was sold? And after wasn’t the money at your disposal?” They could have done anything with the money. They were welcome to keep part of it or even all of it. If they had decided to give ten percent of the sale they still would have been doing a good thing in helping others. But instead they want people to believe that they gave it all in their worship of God when that’s simply not true.
Our sharing, our tithes, and our offering comes down to our attitude toward God. Ananias and Sapphira wanted praise from men rather than praise from God and they were exposed as frauds. The drastic consequences that they face are meant to show the church early on that they are to take God seriously. We can’t pretend to worship fully when we’re really holding back.
There is a lot of debate about whether Christians are supposed to tithe ten percent today. The tithe was instituted in the Old Testament and was to be ten percent of one’s wages and harvest and was used to keep the temple operating and pay for the work of the Levites whose job it was to keep the temple running.
But in the New Testament there is no mention of a ten percent tithe and some people say that the requirement went away along with animal sacrifice and a bunch of other ceremonial laws that the church does not follow. People who want to make this argument I believe are looking for the Ananias and Sapphira way of worship.
There is no New Testament verse that calls for a ten percent tithe. If we hold to the rules of the Old Testament, Christians should give a ten percent tithe. However, if we follow the example set by the early church, the people are giving well over ten percent. People are selling their property and giving the money to the apostles. These are likely wealthy people who are doing so and are probably not giving up their means of income or living on the street because they sold their house. But what they are giving is still a sacrifice and likely represents more than ten percent of what they have.
If we put a set percentage or number on the amount that we give it can easily become a matter of ritual. We should not give to God because we feel compelled or guilty but rather we should give because we love the Lord. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
Don’t give because the pastor asks or because someone else is giving or for any other reason like that. Give because God has laid it on your heart to give and you want to do so. We should give because we want to acknowledge that God is in control of our finances and our lives.
Some people are blessed with the ability to give more and a hundred dollars a week is a fairly small portion of their income but for the most part what we give is reflective of our faith in God and who we believe He is. If you give $5 a week, you have a $5 a week God. If we can’t trust God to keep His promises about taking care of us, what other promises don’t we believe God will keep?
What you give is between you and God. 2 Corinthians 9:6 above says that if we sow sparingly that we will reap sparingly. I don’t believe that this is an idle promise or just words on a page. I believe this is one of the reasons that God blessed the early church. They gave generously and God blessed them generously.
God wants people who want to give and He has promised to bless those who give cheerfully and generously. I believe that God blesses both individuals and churches who will trust Him in this. God is also not fooled by people who pretend to give more than they are. We don’t fool God even if we fool men. Those who think that they are getting away with something may be in for a rude awakening one day.
As God blessed the early church for its generosity I believe He will continue to do today. We need to set our hearts on Him and decide what is right to give in honor of Him.