What is true generosity?

Huw Williams | 09:00, Monday 21 April 2014 | Turin, Italy 

I've been blessed from reflecting on the early chapters of Acts recently. First up, I was struck by the contrast between the power the disciples envisaged receiving from the resurrected Christ, and the power he is delighted to promise them in the Holy Spirit. The former may have well been driven by self-getting glory, the latter is certainly marked by the self-giving love of serving as witnesses for Christ to the end of the earth.

... this is no stoic promise that Jesus is making

I've also been struck by the generosity which permeates these chapters. Because this is no stoic promise that Jesus is making, it is not merely a promise of more pain-before-gain (although undoubtedly there is plenty of pain in store in the short term for these disciples.) The pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost it is a momentously generous event, the Son has returned to the Father and there follows the extravagant outpouring of God Himself, onto and into His people. So perhaps it should not come to us as such a surprise at the end of chapter 2 when we read:-

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (v42-47)

If your experience of church is anything like mine, I imagine this makes for remarkable reading, and you feel the pangs for that kind of fellowship. 

But we are surprised. If your experience of church is anything like mine, I imagine this makes for remarkable reading, and you feel the pangs for that kind of fellowship. But much more to the point, if an inward look at your heart highlights a fraction of the stuff mine does, then you're probably wondering where to even begin.

Well, where did it begin for these early Christians? Let's back up a few verses. When they were "cut to the heart" in response to Peter's sermon, and asked "Brothers, what shall we do?" (v37) they received a very simple answer:-

"And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." (v38-39)

There are no caveats, there is no small print, there is no, "Oh yes, and you have to start tithing and attending every church meeting." In short, there is no command to generosity here, but - as we have seen in v 42-47 - generosity most certainly does come - naturally, joyfully, spontaneously, willingly and in a way outshines dutiful tithing and 'presenteeism' as the sun outshines a candle.

The work of the Spirit is surely this - to lift our gaze to the love of God and His Son

As I look inside and see my heart alongside those of these first Christians, I find these to be hugely challenging verses. Sure, I have learned to emulate a kind of generosity, I can position myself carefully and trumpet my giving just like the best (or worst) of Pharisees, and not only in my financial giving. I'm very good at dropping into conversation how many hours I've worked this week, or how many guests we've had passing through the home in the last month. It might sound impressive (and it should do - it's designed to be) but it's not generous - it is proud, self-serving and self-glorifying. However it might look on the outside, I ask how much of it is a product of the Spirit's work in my heart; how much of my giving (in whatever form it takes) is a joyful self-giving response to God's joyful self-giving of His Son and His Spirit to me?

Sometimes I wonder.

But let's not leave it there, because the answer is most certainly not in self-loathing. The work of the Spirit is surely this - to lift our gaze to the love of God and His Son - just read Peter's sermon again! - and surely this is where we start. And continue. And end. Gazing at the love of God poured out to us in His Son Christ Jesus, and as we do so, let's pray that His Spirit will transform us into people whose hearts are truly generous, hearts that are genuinely transformed by His generous love.

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