“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
One of the most notable things about Jesus was His radical relationship with wealth and possessions. Jesus lived simply and had no tangible possessions that we know of. He relied on the generosity of others but also lived radically generous with what He had and who He was. Jesus’ life abounded with simplicity and generosity.
It is because of this that the early church had a marked freedom in relation to wealth and physical possessions. The early church was a community of simplicity and generosity, living unchained to wealth and possessions. As we read in Acts: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (Acts 2:44)
Throughout Paul’s letters we see a radical simplicity and generosity in relation to wealth and possessions. When writing to Timothy, Paul describes how believers can live simply, not holding onto possessions because we know we only need a few things: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6:7-8).
We also read, both in Paul and in Luke’s account of Jesus, warnings about the power of possessions. Paul tells us that a dedication to wealth can destroy us: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). And when Jesus warns the rich young ruler, He does so knowing how wealth can take the place of God: “When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy” (Luke 18:22-23).
Jesus and the early church lived with radical simplicity.
But that simplicity overflowed with generosity.
The radical generosity of the church is so clear in Acts 2-6, where the life of the church was marked by an open-handedness with what they owned: “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:45). Whereas many of us may be tempted to turn a blind eye to the needs in our midst, the early believers faced into those needs, not only becoming aware of them but helping to meet those needs. In Acts 4, finances were shared directly with the needy: “It was distributed to anyone who had need” (4:35). And when the Greek widows were facing inequity in the generous distribution, deacons were appointed specifically to address that situation (6:1-7).
The early church’s generosity was marked by sacrificial living. We are told in Acts 2 that early believers were so moved by the compassion of Christ that they “sold property and possessions” (2:45). And later in the account, we hear that “from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them” (4:34). This was then brought to the apostles for distribution to those in need.
There was a radical generosity and simplicity that marked the life of the early church. Where did this come from? It came from an overflow of the grace of the Lord Jesus, who gave everything for them. But it also came from a life oriented around life in God’s kingdom as seen in the simplicity and generosity of life that Jesus modeled on earth.