Please, no more money
Exodus 36: The people were ordered to stop bringing offerings!
The Tent of Meeting is being constructed and it’s no simple circus big top! The best of everything is going into the mobile worship center and the people are bringing items needed for its construction. In their excitement they bring gold, silver, bronze, and fine fabrics. And they just keep on bringing these items. Finally, the craftsmen go to Moses with a problem. They have too much stuff! Moses’ solution is to tell them to stop. I can’t help but smile as I read this story because such an order is rare or maybe even non-existent in the Church today. However, there are a couple of things to consider. First, the goal of the Church is not to rake in all that it can. Bigger, more expensive, more impressive isn’t necessarily a worthy goal. Second, God’s people are wonderfully generous when they know God is behind something. In my years of ministry I have seen this many times. God is good – and so are his people.
Take Away: God’s people are generous people.
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.