‘Those Impious Galileans’


In his message entitled Grace and Money, Dr. Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City extracts from the book of Acts vital truths about the giving posture of the Early Church.

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. 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 4:31–35).

Keller describes the Early Church’s generosity as the engine that drove its success in impacting its surrounding community of unbelievers. So radical and astonishing was this “generosity of unreasonable proportion” that those on the outside clamored to discover what was at its core. This curiosity opened hearts to the gospel, and not only succeeded in converting small pockets of observers, but ultimately transformed the Roman Empire—arguably the most influential social structure in history—from a “harsh, cruel, pagan society into a compassionate and charitable society.” Acts 2 further demonstrates this connection between selfless giving and the growth of Christian movement:

Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (v. 45–47).

In 252 A.D., a devastating plague hit the city of Carthage. Healthy people fled in droves, leaving everything behind. Cyprian, the bishop, drew all the Christians into the center of this town where they had been persecuted and told them, “If we’re going to do what Jesus did, so that through His poverty we might become rich, I call you to give personal and financial aid, care and comfort to all according to their need, not their faith.” This countercultural attitude toward money clearly differentiated these early Christians from the society that surrounded them and contributed significantly to the perpetuation of the Christian faith.

About a century later, Roman emperor Julian tried to revive the pagan religion. He eventually acknowledged defeat and, in a letter to a friend, wrote, “Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity . . . These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them into their agape . . .” Julian’s dying words were, “You have won, Galilean,” expressing his recognition that, with his death, Christianity would become the empire’s state religion.

How do our money mindsets and resulting behaviors compare to those of the Early Church? It depends. In one sense, the Church is still highly responsive in times of great crisis and need. Many Katrina victims acknowledge the Church as the single most compassionate entity in providing lasting help and hope to devastated communities along the Gulf Coast.

Conversely, our neighbors may look into our day-to-day lives and discern little or no difference in how we use money. If this is the case, we need to question our true grasp of and commitment to the biblical principle of stewardship that Jesus extolled far above any other subject as He taught along the path, in the temple, on the mount and by the sea.

The Alliance was established in a spirit of risk and sacrifice. Workers eagerly accepted tough assignments, knowing that pushing back the darkness in some of the rugged and hostile continental interiors could result in their deaths. And those who stayed behind to support them not only emptied their wallets and purses but also threw in gold watches, diamond rings and other treasures when the plate was passed. They had a deep and abiding understanding of biblical stewardship: Everything we have belongs to God. We are only stewards. (1 Chron. 29:14)

Our parents and grandparents share in a legacy that helped to bring about the explosive growth of the Church in Southeast Asia, Latin America and West Africa. We are now poised to push back the final wave of darkness by helping to plant the seeds of the gospel in the last and least-reached frontiers of our world. How well we devote our time, talents and treasures to this task will determine how our children and grandchildren will remember our Kingdom-building legacy—and establish their own. As the beautifully illustrated cover of this magazine reflects, “‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’” (Luke 12:34).

Peter Burgo

IMPORTANT NOTE: Effective March 2010, significant changes will be implemented regarding the distribution of this magazine. Click here for details.

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