Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
In Acts 4:32-37, we are given a clear idea about generosity of the early Christians. Many of them sold their possessions and took the money "And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need". Unfortunately, there were some bad apples in this great multitude of caring Christians. In chapter 5 we read about Ananias and Sapphira who wanted to enjoy the prestige of this kind of giving but were too greedy to actually part with their money. When Peter confronts Ananias with his sin, he asks Ananias an interesting question about the "price of the land". In verse 4 he asks, "Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" In other words, he was telling Ananias that this kind of giving was not mandatory. In this lesson we shall study giving above and beyond the tithe, first fruits, and offering.
In the last lesson, we saw how the tithe, first fruits, and offering belonged to God. There is no question that these should be given back to God, but what do we do with the remainder of our possessions? According to our text, the remainder is "in our power" to give or not give. Let us look at some very compelling reasons for giving from what is left and how this giving should be done.
1. Divine Providence
While the children of Israel journeyed in the wilderness, God provided sustenance for them in the form of quail and manna. This provision is described clearly for us in Exodus 16:13-31. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons for us to learn is found in the results given in verse 18, "he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack"; and in verse 20, "some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank". God wanted to train the Israelites to depend on His daily supply for their need. Those that gathered more than they needed were no better off than those that gathered less. Those that tried to hoard some away for the next day were probably quite disappointed to find that it would only last for a day.
What does this have to do with the normal Christian and giving? Plenty! Paul quotes from this passage when discussing the subject of giving in 2 Corinthians 8:12-15. The great principle taught here is that we ought to keep only what we daily need and give the rest away. If we hoard and gather more than we need, God can see to it that it all gets used up, while if we keep less than we need, He can stretch this to our satisfaction. In other words, a little with God is better than a whole lot without God.
In Other Words, a publication of the Wycliffe Bible Translators, recently told a story about Sadie Sieker, who served for many years as a house-parent for missionaries' children in the Philippines. Sadie loved books. Though she gladly loaned out some, others she treasured in a footlocker under her bed. Once, in the quiet of the night, Sadie heard a faint gnawing sound. After searching all around her room, she discovered that the noise was coming from her footlocker. When she opened it, she found nothing but an enormous pile of dust. All the books she had kept to herself had been lost to termites. What we give away, we keep. What we hoard, we lose. - Larry Pennings
2. Faith Promise
Another great principle on giving can be found in Luke 6:38 where Jesus says, "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over ". If you give, God will give back to you even more than you gave! Proverbs 19:17 has something very similar to say. This is what we call today faith promise giving, but it is important to realize that faith promise is not limited to missions. It is a principle for giving: you give first and God will repay you.
In the latter part of the 17th century, German preacher August H. Francke founded an orphanage to care for the homeless children of Halle. One day when Francke desperately needed funds to carry on his work, a destitute Christian widow came to his door begging for a ducat-a gold coin. Because of his financial situation, he politely but regretfully told her he couldn't help her. Disheartened, the woman began to weep. Moved by her tears, Francke asked her to wait while he went to his room to pray. After seeking God's guidance, he felt that the Holy Spirit wanted him to change his mind. So, trusting the Lord to meet his own needs, he gave her the money. Two mornings later, he received a letter of thanks from the widow. She explained that because of his generosity she had asked the Lord to shower the orphanage with gifts. That same day Francke received 12 ducats from a wealthy lady and 2 more from a friend in Sweden. He thought he had been amply rewarded for helping the widow, but he was soon informed that the orphanage was to receive 500 gold pieces from the estate of Prince Lodewyk Van Wurtenburg. When he heard this, Francke wept in gratitude. In sacrificially providing for that needy widow, he had been enriched, not impoverished.
3. Sowing & Reaping
Sowing and reaping is a general principle that applies also to giving as indicated in the latter part of Luke 6:38 as well as in 2 Corinthians 9:6. If you give very little, you will reap very little which applies to both now as well as with heavenly blessings. If you give a lot, you are going to reap a lot. You will reap financially what you sow. You may be rich now and give little, but at some point in the future you may become poor and little will be given to you.
The Bible has several principles about how the normal Christian should give:
In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says we should give "not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver". When we give, we should take delight in doing good for others and part with our money or possessions willingly. If we feel forced to give or we are uneasy and grieved about it, we need to either get right about that or determine whether we are really doing God's will by giving. Paul had some important exhortation to the rich: he told them to be "ready to distribute, willing to communicate" (1 Timothy 6:17-19). The word communicate has nothing to do with talking. It means "inclined to make others sharers in one's possessions". This is exemplified in the early believers in our text who sold their possessions in order to share them with other believers.
Romans 12:8 says, "he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity". That phrase "with simplicity" means to give with faithfulness and integrity and without fraud, partiality, and respect of persons. Giving should be void of any pretences.
Matthew 6:3 says that in our giving "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth". This was a figure of speech that has to do with secrecy. Some people give to show off their wealth or to make people think they are very religious (like Ananias and Saphira). When we give, we ought not make a public show of it.
Charles Spurgeon and his wife, according to a story in the Chaplain magazine, would sell, but refused to give away, the eggs their chickens laid. Even close relatives were told, "You may have them if you pay for them." As a result some people labeled the Spurgeons greedy and grasping. They accepted the criticisms without defending themselves, and only after Mrs. Spurgeon died was the full story revealed. All the profits from the sale of eggs went to support two elderly widows. Because the Spurgeons where unwilling to let their left hand know what the right hand was doing (Matt. 6:3), they endured the attacks in silence.
There are many causes that we can give to in this life, but let us pay attention in particular to two important examples given in the New Testament.
Almsgiving is providing for the needy and distressed. For the normal Christian, almsgiving ought to be natural (1 John 3:17, and see Psalm 41:1, Proverbs 19:17, Acts 20:35), and it was definitely practiced by the early Christians. Looking after the poor was a duty that the Apostles in Jerusalem emphasized to Paul and Barnabas (Galatians 2:10). In the days when believers became known as Christians, a famine hit Jerusalem and the Christians in Antioch sent relief to them (Acts 11:27-30). Later, Paul would take up a collection from his Gentile churches again for the needy saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-27, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, 2 Corinthians 8:1-4). Though the normal Christian is to look after their brother in need, this does not include those that are lazy or poor because of self consequence (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Another great example of giving that is seen in the New Testament is missions giving. This was simply providing for the work of God that was going on outside of the local church. We often think of missions giving as going to those in some foreign country, but it really includes anything outside of a Christian's own church. The Apostle Paul was supported often by those from other churches (2 Corinthians 11:8-9, Philippians 4:15-16). The great commission (Matthew 28:19-20) can be fulfilled both by physically going and by prayerfully giving.
If Christ, who was rich, became poor for our sakes (2 Corinthians 8:9) surely we can follow in His steps and give generously such that others too might enjoy the riches of God.