A Biblical Look at Material Possessions and Giving
Through my recent study of the book of Acts, I have been awestruck by the generosity of the first-century church; the believers were amazingly unattached to money and possessions. As I have meditated on texts like Acts 2:45 and 4:32, my heart has been exposed, and I am deeply aware of my own tendency to have an unhealthy affinity for material things. I doubt I am alone. My aim in this short post is to lay out some Biblical ideas on worldly possessions and giving. There is much more that could be said, but this is a start.
1) Some Scriptures Are Descriptive, and Some Are Prescriptive
In the Bible, some texts are meant to be descriptive, and others are intended to be prescriptive. In the aforementioned Scriptures, we learn that the early church had all things in common; they were voluntarily selling their extra possessions and property, distributing the proceeds to any in the church who had need. These believers were so in awe of Jesus Christ and so changed by the Spirit, that they came to care very little about the luxuries of this life; they just wanted to ensure that— within the church— every need was met.
Though this is a beautiful picture of radical generosity, as far as I can tell, the Bible does not explicitly call us to emulate this exact method of giving. Nowhere does the Bible command every believer to sell their possessions and give away 100% of the proceeds. In fact, in Acts 5:4, Peter— addressing Ananias and Sapphira—implies that this type of mandate was not even given to the early church; it was entirely discretionary. What the NT does teach, is that our giving should be done regularly (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), proportionally (Acts 11:28-30), generously (2 Corinthians 9:6-8), and joyfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). That being said, I sure don’t think God would mind if we followed this pattern!
2) God’s Creation is Good and is Meant to Be Enjoyed
The Bible teaches that God’s creation is good. Every created glory is meant to point us on to the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). There is nothing inherently spiritual in an ascetic lifestyle; God has immensely blessed us with “everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). There is nothing wrong with having possessions, inasmuch as possessions do not have us. Everything we have belongs to the Lord (Psalm 24:1, 50:12).
3) Value People Over Possessions
What we see displayed throughout the book of Acts, is a valuing of people over possessions; land and material goods were sold to meet the basic needs of the less fortunate. Throughout the Bible, we see the call for us—as we are able—to ensure people’s basic needs are met (e.g., Deut. 15:7-11, Proverbs 22:9, Proverbs 19:17, Matthew 5:42, Hebrews 13:16, James 1:27, 1 John 3:17). If this is going to happen, we must leave a financial margin in our lives. It is difficult to be generous when we are strapped down by unnecessary financial burdens.
4) Listen to the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is our guide (John 16:13). It appears— particularly in the book of Acts— that believers’ sacrificial giving was led by the Spirit. Under the New Covenant, we don’t give a certain amount based upon the Law, but each one provides as “he has decided in his heart…” (2 Corinthians 9:7). A preacher doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) force or manipulate a true believer to give a certain amount or percentage in the offering. The Spirit will lead us.
Throughout the book of Acts, Luke makes much of being filled with the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit clearly guided the decisions of the early church. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul implores believers to be people who are continually being filled with the Spirit. If we are committed to following the leading of God’s Spirit, we will be generous givers.
5) Who or What Has Your Heart
We must keep our guard up in this day and age, as our culture tends to worship possessions. Many in the church are trying to reconcile a love for God and “things;” their hearts are divided. Even the best-meaning Christians can become consumed with the acquiring of possessions. Remember, none of us can have two masters.
Before making a purchase, consider asking the following questions:
1) Have I prayed about this purchase? Has God given me a sense of peace?
2) If I make this purchase, will I still have enough margin to be able to give generously?
3) What is my motive in wanting to make this purchase? Am I trying to keep up with the Jones?
4) How can I best glorify God with this purchase?
Enjoy God’s creation! Just make sure created glories stay in their rightful place. They were never meant to be our God, and they will never satisfy our hearts. The things of this world are trivial, so let’s spend our time storing up riches in heaven. As we pursue Christ as our highest treasure, our love for material possessions will inevitably wane. Let it be, Lord.