[Brent Smith is the preaching minister of the Trenton Church of Christ in Trenton, Tennessee.]
The apostle Paul writes, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8.28). Ultimately, that working “together for good” is realized in forgiveness, salvation and heaven. In this life, too, by God’s providence, many hardships and heartaches become blessings.
The new Christians in Jerusalem were immediately brought closer together through difficulty and support. They shared a common bond in the Lord, and they shared themselves with each other. Luke writes that “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2.44). Needs reminded Christians that they were not self-sufficient. Sharing demonstrated love.
Great acts of generosity seem to have stirred up feelings of jealousy in the hearts of two church members, Ananias and his wife, Sapphira (Acts 4.32-5.2). Their covetousness and deceit were revealed, however, and God made an example of them. Giving to be seen of men was not, is not, acceptable to God. He struck them dead. Their punishment frightened the early church. But great reverence for God ensued (Acts 5.11), and multitudes of people continued to come to Jesus (v. 14).
The benevolent program for widows in the Jerusalem church led to feelings of neglect and to complaints (Acts 6.1). The problem led to greater organization in the church, the installment of qualified men to lead the ministry (perhaps the first deacons in the church). There is no mention of further neglect or complaint: “Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (v. 7).
The ongoing problem with poverty in Jerusalem provided an opportunity for the once-feared Paul, to raise funds from Gentile churches and bring the aid back to Judea. The generosity and show of support helped to ease racial and religious tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians.
The church today is very benevolent. Problems do arise, though — complaints, impure motives, greed, entitlement, waste, feelings of neglect. Tough decisions have to be made by both individual Christians and local congregations. Givers themselves can become resentful, reluctant, stingy. But beautiful things happen too. The hungry are fed. The gospel is spread. Love is shown and received. Glory be to God through Jesus!