The Radical Simplicity and Generosity of Jesus and His People

“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.

The Contagious Generosity of God

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We read about the generosity of the early Jerusalem church in Acts 4:

“And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. ” (Acts 4:33-34)

The result of God’s grace at work within the church was a generosity that was unparalleled by those around them. It was a generosity that was contagious. Of course, we know that the source of this generosity was God Himself.

“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)

The God that we hear about in the Bible, that we are dealing with in Christianity, is a generous God. God is not stingy, but gives us what we could not get through our own means. The word that captures God’s generosity is grace.

Grace means that we receive what we do not deserve. The God of the universe, in one sense, owns everything, and we have nothing. Yet, though we have nothing, and, perhaps, have less than nothing because of the dark power of sin that infects our lives, God does not give up on this wonderful, cracked creation of which we are a part.

God does more than not give up on the creation. He gives into the creation, taking on human flesh and bone to live in the messy and marvelous world we inhabit. And God coming in, Jesus the Messiah, though He holds all things as His own, lets them go that we might partake of His treasures.

Like some cosmic Robin Hood, Jesus comes to take from the rich to give to the poor…except He is both the rich man and the revolutionary, giving all He can into our lives.

“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)

We come empty to God, and He fills us.

Christianity tells us that God is generous.

And it is because God is generous that His people, too, become generous. This is what we see in the New Testament record. It is not just the Jerusalem church, but the Antioch church that sends off its best to share the message of Christ with the rest of the known world in Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1-3). It is the Thessalonian church whose faith rang out in the known world because of how they lived it out (1 Thessalonians 4:2-10).

God is a generous God, and His generosity – His grace – is contagious within His people.