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Christian Charity

In response to Agabus’ prophetic warning concerning the famine to come, the church at Antioch demonstrated the same generous Spirit as the Jewish church in the early chapters of Acts. Their Christian charity is not self-interested, looking inward for a good reason to give, but rather others-focused, based on unity in Christ as brothers and sisters in the gospel, with a special note of thanks (expressed financially) for Jerusalem’s initial gift of the gospel itself.

Out of this brief account at the end of Acts 11, here are three principles from verse 29 that help guide our giving. The first principle is that of proportionality, where everyone gave according to his ability. The rich people gave more, and the poor people gave less, but like the woman with the two copper coins, they all gave as much as they were able. This wasn’t a top-down decision; each person determined what to give, not according to whim or desire, but according to ability. It’s a very different question to ask “What do I want to give?” than it is to ask “What am I able to give?”, and we should meditate on what that difference is. Proportional giving sets people free from guilt because it is not based not on an arbitrary external standard, but on the measure of one’s ability, which is really the measure of God’s kindness. Proportionality means giving to others in the same measure that God has given to you.

The second principle is that of purpose. This was not just a random gift, given irrespective of need, but a gift targeted to bring relief in a particular situation. If Jerusalem was not in crisis, this gift would not have been asked of Antioch. But in light of the famine sweeping through the entire Roman world, this gift from Antioch was meant to keep the church in Jerusalem alive. The money they sent would be used to buy food to help starving saints. The word “relief” is diakonia, the word for “service”, which in Acts 6 is exactly what the men were appointed to: to serve tables, making sure that there was no “famine” among the Greek-speaking widows in Jerusalem, followed by several chapters of wonderful ministry by the men commissioned to serve the Church. We see in chapter 11 a similar crisis: a famine, needing diakonia relief, to be followed in chapter 13 by a wonderful expansion of gospel ministry as Saul and Barnabas are sent out as missionaries. The purpose of the gift from Antioch was not just to preserve life, but to advance the gospel.

The third principle is that of perspective: in other words, giving needs to be targeted and focused. The famine will spread throughout the whole Roman world, but the church in Antioch knows that their new congregation cannot meet the needs of the whole world. So not only does their giving have purpose, but it also has perspective, a realistic assessment of the need, and of their ability to meet a specific part of that need. This is a tremendous lesson for us, as well. Wisdom calls on us to target our giving so that it will be effective, and not get lost like a drop in the ocean. Giving a little to a lot of ministries seems loving, but often it really isn’t. It is more effective to give more money to fewer ministries than it is to try to solve a worldwide famine by sending tiny checks everywhere. Think about it from the role of the recipient – if you are trying to scrape together enough money for a meal, would you rather have to collect a penny from everyone in the room, or just take a dollar from the first person you talk to? Perspective means having a realistic view of the needs in the world, and having a realistic view of your ability to meet those needs.

In verse 30, we see that the Christians in Antioch were more than just talk and good intentions. They collected the money, and sent it off with Barnabas and Saul, putting hands and feet on their love for the Jerusalem church. As the young church in Antioch shows us, Christian charity is love responding with open eyes and an open heart to the needs of others with proportionality, purpose, and perspective.

Posted on Wednesday, July 02, 2014 by CJ Bowen