Giving the best, or at least good enough
One passage that you have not heard many sermons unpacking (not surprisingly) is Acts 5:1-11, the Ananias and Sapphira story.
This is one difficult, maybe even brutal, depiction of offering expectations in the early church. Interestingly, several songs reference this passage, a catchy one being by the Chosen Gospel Singers, but there is nothing catchy about what happened here. It is a stark warning about how we give and what we give.
At this particular time, there seems to be a spirit of absolute generosity or commonality among the first followers of Christ Jesus (Acts 4:32). All kinds of needs were being met as people donated all that they had to the cause. That is until we get to Ananias and Sapphira who sold their property but kept some of the proceeds, lying to the apostles. It does seem excessive with both Ananias and Sapphira dying because they denied some portion to the fledging church. Of course, we don’t know the full account, the details that might help understanding, but at face value, it seems that keeping anything back or defrauding the offering meant such an offense to God that you were liable with your life.
I don’t see that giving strategy going over very well today, even if they did meet everyone’s needs then with the generosity of the early church. Every once in a while, you do hear about someone who gives all they have to mission or ministry. We had an article just recently about something similar right here in Farmville with the Aloha House of Hope, but those stories are rare. Nevertheless, there is still a profound lesson in this regarding donations.
If you are not familiar with the Souper Bowl of Caring, it is a mission project in which people collect cans of soup around the time of the Super Bowl to be donated to local food ministries. It is a tradition of our church to collect these cans and give them to FACES. When I was pondering the soups at Walmart, deciding what I would purchase to give. I was reminded of a lesson I once heard: a better offering is to give what you yourself would use. I am talking the quality of the things we donate.
Am I offering food I would prefer, clothes I would prefer, toys I would give my own kids, etc.? It is easy to think that cheaper means you can buy more, but the temptation is to buy just as much for less. We may feel better because we have given something, but the value of our gift is less. Donating is not about us.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of someone who might come for food assistance, we might believe quality is a statement of love. Ananias and Sapphira did not get this message when it came time to give.
REV. DR. PETER SMITH is the transitional pastor for Farmville Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at email@example.com.