Resurrection Economics: What the early church teaches us about generosity
My freshman economics professor at Purdue University never mentioned the resurrection of Jesus Christ in conjunction with any enduring economic principle. In fact, it likely never even crossed his mind as he taught us about Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. That's not altogether unsurprising. What is surprising, however, is that few Christians make the connection either.
Yet Acts tells us that the first followers of Jesus saw a clear relationship between the Resurrection, which profoundly changed the trajectory of their lives, and their money. Here's how Luke, the medical-doctor-turned-church-historian, describes the transformation that took place in the early church: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need (Acts 4:32–35).
In moving seamlessly from speaking of the apostles' testimony about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ to their generous acts of kindness, Luke makes an undeniable connection between the empty tomb and compassion. He has just introduced us to resurrection economics.
When the early Christians grasped the reality of the empty tomb, a revolution of generosity took place. They could have broken into small groups to discuss the deep theological implications of the Resurrection, but they didn't—not at this time, anyway. Instead they asked the question, "Because Jesus is alive, what can we do to help our neighbors in need?" In response some of them, such as Barnabas, sold land they owned and gave the proceeds to the poor.
Jesus' resurrection turned their financial worldview from one of ownership to stewardship. "No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own." The new Christ-followers began to view everything they "owned" as a sacred trust from God. They now had a responsibility to live generously in ways they had not done before. As a result there were "no needy persons among them."
Imagine the impact this truth would have on our Christian communities. No families wondering how to pay the bills during seasons of unemployment. No hungry children. No couples drifting toward divorce court due to unbearable financial stress. There would be more than enough to go around because people living in community with their neighbors share their lives and their good fortune with each other.
Consider again Luke's observation about sharing. "They shared everything they had." In his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum places two words at the top of the list of things he learned in early childhood: share everything. Yes, sharing is still an act of childlike faith and expected of believers.
The way the Resurrection affected the early church economically provides a
powerful example for us to follow today. How might you help meet the needs of His other children? What sacrifices are you making so that someone else can enjoy basic necessities?
Ask God to show you ways to live more generously and to open your eyes to the needs around you. Pray that He would give you a compassionate heart and fill you with a fresh surge of His resurrection power as you live to give.
As you seek to live out the principles by which the earliest Christian community cared for one another, be prepared for a transformational experience that puts you in touch with real people who have real needs. Confidently move into those situations with God's resources, knowing that—as He provided for the poor Philippians who gave to support Paul (Phil. 4:19)—He promises always to supply the needs of the generous as we focus on others.
Resurrection economics can and will transform entire Christian communities when God's people adopt a steward's way of life. Imagine the life-change stories that such countercultural living will produce. Some of them might even become case studies in freshman economics.
Ron Jones (ThM, 1995) serves as executive and teaching pastor at Pantego Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.