A countercultural mindset
This November, I’m especially thankful for the incredible generosity of the early church—and I’m excited for what it means to us today.
The early church community cared generously for its members—which was enormously important to the success of the Christian mission. It was also in stark contrast to the norms of the surrounding culture.
Roman Emperor Julian wrote: “The impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well.” Maybe the emperor resented the church’s generosity because he recognized a power in it that he could not control.
And I believe that power, that generosity was (and continues to be) fed by thankful, grateful people.
Gratitude fuels powerful generosity
Grateful people are usually generous. They give freely of their time, their attention, their encouraging words—and when needed, their finances.
Today we see some striking examples of generosity in our popular culture—striking because they are not the norm. Consumerism is the norm, and it’s not just about food or merchandise. Most people consume far more information and entertainment than we need—because it’s so easily accessible, especially through our smartphones.
Consumerism doesn’t encourage gratitude; it’s designed to shape our desires and convince us that we always need more. The church was built on a different kind of consumerism that was and is countercultural. As we consume God’s Word—learn it, pray it, believe and trust it—we are satisfied. What we consume makes us grateful and eager to give back.
Generosity points to God’s heart
According to a new Barna study, generosity is still alive and well in the Christian community. In fact, almost nine in 10 practicing Christians say that generosity is either “extremely” or “very” important to them.
Did you know that 58% of homeless shelters are run by Christian organizations? Local congregations provide 130,000 alcohol recovery programs. They run 120,000 programs for the unemployed and 26,000 programs to help those with HIV/AIDS. The bulk of volunteers mentoring prisoners—while incarcerated and after release—are Christians.
What is the root of such generosity?
First is the understanding that everything belongs to God.
Everything belongs to God, and all things were created by his power. (Hebrews 2:10, Contemporary English Version)
If God owns it all, He has infinite resources to bless us so we, in turn, can bless others. We don’t have to cling fearfully to all we’ve got. We don’t need the distractions of materialism to block out life’s painful realities because He promises to help us through them. We’re free to be proactive about honoring God with the money He has given us.
Second, generosity flows out of gratitude for what Jesus did for us.
And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. (Philemon 1:6, New Living Translation)
Many Christians see compassion as the best motivation for generosity but I respectfully disagree—although not with the importance of compassion, (as you see by the front cover of this newsletter). It’s just that too often people link compassion with guilt as a motivation to give. God wants joyful givers, not guilty givers! But there’s something else to consider.
When our generosity is motivated by compassion, it’s easy to focus on what we can do. When it is motivated by gratitude, it’s always about what God has done.
Generosity is contagious
The early church was full of grateful, generous people who inspired others to be the same. People like Barnabas (see Acts 4 and Acts 11).
Who in your church community exemplifies and inspires your generosity? Who might want to be generous because of your example? It’s great to identify those who inspire us within the church…but there is One whose generous example is matchless.
Jesus gave all He had in ways that we can only begin to imagine…and God gave it all back to Him, and more. So Happy Thanksgiving—we are so grateful for your generosity to Jews for Jesus! Together, may we ever be grateful and generous because of all that we have in Him.