Free will offering
Acts 5: The money was yours to do with as you wished.
As the Church is being established there’s wonderful unity among the believers. These first Christians love and care for one another. If someone is in need, those with resources take care of that need. We first meet Barnabas because he sells some land and brings the money to the Church to use in meeting the needs of some of his fellow believers. Apparently, the action of Barnabas has the unintended result of making him somewhat of a celebrity among the believers. I say this because immediately following is the story of a couple that attempts to gain favor in the Church without making the same level of sacrifice. Ananias and Sapphira are part of the Church. They see what Barnabas does and the reaction of people and decide to follow suit. However, they don’t want to give all they receive in the sale of their land. Instead, they scheme together to claim to give it all, but to actually hold back a portion of it. The result is the condemnation of the Lord and their untimely deaths. They’re judged by God, not for withholding a portion of the money from the sale of their property, but for doing so and then lying about it. I find it interesting that Peter, as he realizes what they’ve done, says, “Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished.” Sometimes I read about how the early Church operated, that they “shared everything,” and come away thinking that the preferred model for the Church is communal living in which there’s no private ownership. I might even go a step farther and think that socialism is more “Christian” than is capitalism. It’s enlightening to balance the “shared everything” statement against “before you sold it, it was all yours” and “the money was yours to do with as you wished.” As I make this connection I see that the action of Barnabas and some unnamed others is the real deal. They don’t give what they have because socialism is God’s preferred mode of operation for the Church. Rather, they give because they want to. It’s theirs and there’s nothing wrong with them keeping it. Instead, though, they see the need of fellow believers and want to meet that need.
Take Away: Obviously, required generosity isn’t really generosity at all.