We can all imagine ways in which the world could be a better place. One attractive image is the community formed by the early church: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:32a, 34-35). In other words, these followers pursued the way of Jesus through generosity to each other; no one was needy because those who had more shared with those who had less. However, this inspiring story also raises a crucial (and challenging) question: how can we follow such an example?
First, remember the primary reason to be generous: love. These followers were not motivated by fear or guilt or obligation, but by the power of God’s love, which they then embodied by their actions. Reflecting on God’s generosity to us helps us to be generous to others. The earliest meaning of “generous” in English is “of noble lineage”; generosity is a divine quality that we share as children of God. It is part of the Christian family’s DNA .
Second, consider the many ways to be generous. At first glance, the story in Acts reinforces a natural tendency to assume that generosity means contributing money. Indeed, monetary contributions are literally costly and, often, truly sacrificial. Such giving can also be a spiritual discipline, as it establishes our priorities: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21), Jesus declares.
Ultimately, however, generosity means giving ourselves—not just our money—to others. The early church behaved generously because they “were of one heart and soul.” We don’t contribute dollars in order to fulfill a legalistic obligation but as our commitment to the well-being of others.
Money is just the beginning. For example, generosity with our time is a deeply meaningful way to share God’s love. We often treat time as a personal commodity which (like money) we spend, invest, waste, redeem, and save. But time (like money) is entrusted to us as a resource to spend generously. Giving “our” time—helping with a project, running an errand, listening patiently—builds community and expresses our divine DNA. In addition, we can be generous with our talents, with our experiences, even with stories of our successes and failures. In all of these ways, generosity means giving of ourselves.
Finally, identify barriers to generosity. I was once asked at a spiritual retreat, “What would your life look like if you were truly free?” I would be more generous because I would be free of fear that generosity will impoverish me. In fact, generosity is not the “cost” of following Jesus but its reward. Generosity characterizes God’s kingdom because, as Frederick Buechner says, “in the long run, there can be no joy for anybody until there is joy finally for us all.” Generosity propels us on this path to joy—and makes the world a better place.
1. When have you been the recipient of generosity? How did you feel? How did you respond?
2. In what ways has God equipped you to be generous to others?
3. How could you be generous in a new way?