More will make you happier. This is what our world preaches. Bigger, better, faster, newer is apparently the path to happiness. But if you’ve ever traveled to a third world country, you’ve likely seen very poor people who are happier than everyone in your neighborhood. Why?
Because the truth is the opposite of what we’ve been sold. The real connection between money and happiness, is not between having and happiness, it’s between giving and happiness. We see this in the lives of the very first Christians:
“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.” Acts 2:45-46
These early believers focused more on giving than having. They prove what my friend Todd Harper often says: “I’ve never met an unhappy generous person.” Generosity and joy go together.
But on average, American Christians give only two to three percent of their incomes to charity. In many other countries, it’s even less. We often think that we live in such an advanced society with so much technology and advantage, but the first-century still has something to teach us.
It's shocking that when the first-century church grew to around 10,000 believers, their generosity DNA remained intact. Almost the same description of their giving gets repeated. Scripture says there was not a needy person among them! They even sold lands and houses in order to give more! Acts 4:32-35
Can you imagine that happening in your church? This sounds so radical to us, so different from how we live today. But what I’ve come to see is that radical generosity is normal Christianity.
The first step in first-century giving wasn’t a big missions offering. They didn’t kick off a building campaign. Nor did they rally to end poverty in Jerusalem. The first cause they gave to was each other. They met the needs of those in their church.
Now I don’t believe they abandoned all personal property rights, but instead that the generosity culture was so thick that when a need arose what’s mine really was yours and what’s yours really was mine.
To live this way the early church had to have grasped something we miss. But what was it?
The Core of Christianity
Perhaps Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats was still fresh in their minds and they could still hear him say: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40 Maybe the apostle John was preaching what he later wrote down: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him.” 1 John 3:17
But what they knew for sure was that Christianity, at its core, is good news. And this good news is of a generous God who has done something we never could have imagined he would do. He has given something we never would have dared to ask for.
God is the greatest of patrons. He’s the giver of every good gift. He's the generous father, who accepts prodigal sons and proud older brothers. He paid our ransom with the precious blood of Christ. God is the grace-giver, not demanding we earn our salvation, but freely giving it instead. God is the life-giver, who while we were all dead in our trespasses and sins, “made us alive together with Christ.” Ephesians 2:1-4 God is the victory-giver in whom, “death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:54-57
To be a Christian means you have received the generous love of God poured out in Jesus. To live as a Christian means you respond to God’s gift by living to share Jesus with the world!
What if we were the generation to recapture our faith in a generous God and begin to live it out? What if we each asked God to give us a heartbeat of generosity like his? What if our churches cultivated first-century DNA and met one another’s needs like family? It’s time we see God again for who he is and learn to live with his joy and generosity.