Some of those early Christians had houses and sold them. Let’s be logical about this: they did not sell the houses they were living in because that would have just exacerbated the problem—more homeless folks to worry about. But let’s say they had another house in Jerusalem that they used as a rental property. Today, where I live, any house that is livable will not go for much less than $100,000, and if it is any size at all, $150,000 or more.
Others, particularly Barnabas, sold property. Let’s say I have a piece of property that I bought as an investment several years ago. Five acres will cost you about $75,000 in a rural county, but closer to $175,000 in an urban county. In town, zoned commercial, it will get you well over a million and a half. Even a rural property will bring in $350,000 if it also has a livable house and is improved—well, septic, etc. We are not talking about these first century Christians making paltry donations; we are not even talking about what we would consider a generous donation. Their giving went far beyond anything I had ever considered before.
Lest some good soul feels convicted and goes out to sell his extra property by Sunday morning, let us hasten to say that this was a time of crisis. Several thousand Christians were homeless and unemployed. They had come for the Jewish feast days, fully expecting to go back home to their trades and dwellings. But in becoming part of the first church, God’s promised kingdom, they had much to learn. It would have been inappropriate for someone to say, “Why should I sacrifice my future for them? Let them go back home to their own jobs and houses.” God did not want them leaving until they had achieved a solid foundation, something that happened several years later in Acts 8 when they were scattered abroad…preaching the word.
But I wonder about us, about me, if some crisis should happen to my brethren. What if a hurricane, a tornado, an earthquake, or whatever tragedy is prone to your area, suddenly takes the homes of half the Christians in your city? How much of a sacrifice would you be willing to make? How much would I?
Another crisis fell on the Judean Christians several years later—a famine. Do we really understand this? They had no Publix or Kroger sitting on the street corner that continued to bring in food despite the failure of their own little gardens. People were starving. The Macedonian churches had just been through some affliction that left them poverty-stricken themselves, 2 Cor 8:1-3. Yet they did not say, as some might, “Why should we give? Someone needs to take up a collection for us!” They gave anyway. In fact, they begged Paul to allow them to give, because those faraway people, whom they had probably never met in their lives, were family to them, brothers and sisters in the Lord. Their secret? They gave themselves to God first. After that, nothing was too much to ask.
What would those early Christians think of us and our giving? Or our excuses for not giving? Yes, we are to be good stewards of our money, but that certainly gets us out of a lot of situations, doesn’t it? I praise God that I do know a few twenty-first century Christians who are financially blessed, but who live modestly just so they can find situations they can help with monetarily. It encourages me to do more as well.
Consider these things as you go about your lives today, and especially in the next few weeks. What are you spending your money on? When poverty-stricken Christians can give out of their own need, what can I do out of the gracious plenty I have?
Moreover brethren, we make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, how that in much proof of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For according to their power… yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty in regard of this grace and the fellowship in the ministering to the saints…but first they gave their own selves to the Lord…2 Cor 8:1-5.