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Outside The Gates

Joy of Generosity

Acts 3:1-10

Lesson audio

Have you ever had someone do something for you that was extremely generous? (A good discussion question that; it helps to know how our beggar in this story felt). Here’s a man who did:

Act 3:1-10 NIV

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer--at three in the afternoon. (2) Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. (3) When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. (4) Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" (5) So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. (6) Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." (7) Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. (8) He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. (9) When all the people saw him walking and praising God, (10) they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

The story

This little gem shows Dr. Luke’s ability to tell a story. We shall examine the cast of characters.

Peter and John

Enter our heroes:

·         They are on their way to prayer at the Temple. It is a reminder that the root of Christian charity is in the spiritual life, in devotion to Christ. If your prayer life is weak, generosity fades.

·         See that there is no “respect of persons” with them. The beggar is the lowest of society; it would be easy to think, “I don’t have time for such men. I’m an Apostle – I came to pray, not give.”

·         Indeed, the beggar was unsuspecting – they had to tell him to look at them. Generosity is personal – eye contact required! It is something that comes from deep inside you.

·         They gave what they had received from Christ. It’s a reminder to us that when we give, we are only passing along what Christ has given to us.

The beggar

Now consider the impact on the beggar. Imagine, if you can, the life of the beggar in these times:

·         He is physically unable to work. Even in our time a man is identified by his work. Can you imagine how this shaped his mental picture of himself? A man who can’t work would view himself as worth less than others.

·         He is completely dependent upon others. He was “put” at the gate – family or friends had to carry him there.

·         In that time, he would be viewed judgmentally by society. They would view his infirmity as God’s punishment for some sin he (or his parents) had committed.

Not a good life – and his expectations went no higher than the money he could beg. Can such a man look forward to future happiness?

Had they walked on

Suppose Peter and John had simply ignored the man. What then? One more anonymous beggar would live out his life of pain, unnoticed by the world, buried with eulogies like, “He’s in heaven; now he can walk.” It would have been a small funeral for an unimportant man. We’d have 10 missing verses, unknown and unsuspected.

The Nature of Generosity

The word itself comes to us by way of Latin, “Generositas.” In the original framing, it meant to treat someone like they were part of your own family (the root word is genus, meaning family, tribe or race). This explains a lot.

Generosity is inherently personal

It is a reflection of who you are on the inside. By their fruits you will know them, Christ told us – that applies to the good as well as the bad.

·         Generosity is warm – even extravagant. Charity may be cold and grudging, but generosity cannot be.

·         Generosity is a part of the Christian lifestyle – it is the imitation of Christ, who gave generously, even the gift of his life.

The root of generosity - compassion

No one deserves generosity, for by its very nature it exceeds any obligation. For example, suppose you get your car washed at a high school fundraiser. Your might know the charge to be five dollars, but you might give ten dollars. The extra five is generosity, right? Your sympathy with their cause is your motive.

More generally, compassion is the cause of generosity. If you think not, look at how charitable organizations advertise – how many starving little children have you seen? Compassion drives generosity.

This is one reason that we are cautioned not to “sear our consciences.” Generosity can be quenched if you deny it often enough.

Generosity – and the heart of God

We are to be generous in imitation of Christ. Do you not see that he gave to us his very life – not because we deserved it but because he had compassion on us? He did this in person, by his own body and blood.

With what measure you measure, you shall be measured. The measure of Christ and his compassion is the Cross; how will you be measured?

The Power of Christ over our failings

So why is it that all Christians are not thorough models of generosity? We have our excuses and objections:

I’m afraid

Being generous is personal – even if you don’t know the other person well. It means that you are going to step outside the circle of those you love. It’s not very frightening to give to a charity in Africa; but the roadside beggar is another story. Likewise those you know – and don’t trust. But may I point out:

·         Life is full of risks. You take your life in your hands every time you put them on a steering wheel. So handle this risk like any other. Take reasonable precaution and then do as your Lord commands.

·         Remember the old hymn, “Anywhere With Jesus (I can safely go)?” You are not alone; he is with you. Take courage from your Lord.

·         Remember, perfect love casts out fear. Perhaps it is not courage you need so much as love.

What if he’s a fraud?

First, of course, take reasonable precaution against outright fraud. If the televangelist asking for money has been convicted of fraud, it’s probably not a good idea to send money. Be as shrewd as the serpent – but harmless as a dove. But do understand that it’s likely that one of the world’s beggars (including the one on TV) will eventually get your money by false pretenses. Then what?

·         First, remember that you did not give this money to the beggar. You gave it to the Lord when you gave it to “the least of these.” He expects you to be prudent, but if that fails remember the gift was for Christ. He will not forget you.

·         Second, God knows the fraud. Do you think he is incapable of dealing with such a man?

The poor you always have with you

Or, as we often say today, “I can’t solve world hunger.” Remember this: generosity is well received – but even better given. The very act molds you into a more compassionate person. There is also this:

·         No, you can’t feed them all. But you can feed the one in front of you.

·         Jesus didn’t heal every person in Judea who was sick. Evidently, then, you don’t have to heal them all.

I can think of no better way to end this than to quote a letter from Isaac the Alchemist:[1]

 

My dear young friend,

How easily you become annoyed in your city! Surely this is a man whose infirmities are obvious. He is blind – that is easy enough to test. Whether or not he has this fell disease you name AIDS may be hidden, but surely blindness should be sufficient.

Why, indeed, has God made this man to stand in your path each day as you go to your work? As the Scripture says, the poor are always with us. If his blind eyes seem to be upon you most particularly, should you not take it as a sign from the Lord? For who else directs the eyes – and steps – of the blind?

There is a simple enough purpose in all this. Like all Christians, you must be taught to give alms. The lesson may be hard or easy, but it does require one thing. It requires someone to receive those alms with thanksgiving and blessing for your name. Thus will you learn charity in this world and be blessed in the next.

You would pass the man by. You turn your eyes away from his unseeing orbs and walk swiftly. Is this wise? Does this not indeed harden your heart? Had God placed an army of beggars before you it might be different. You are correct; you cannot cure the hunger of the world. But our Lord has not placed an army in your path; only one beggar. When you turn away from him, do you not harden your heart? Do you not sear your conscience?

Indeed, I think you have much to learn of this beggar. Day by day he stands, bearing his supplication on silent paper. Surely you can see that by this method he is fed – and thus learn that persistence is a virtue. For if he is fed in his quiet persistence by the sinners who pass by, how much more will we be fed if we persist in beseeching the Lord of Heaven?

Your beggar dispenses yet another lesson to you. Does not his poverty test your wealth? At the least you should examine yourself and be grateful to God that you are not the one standing alone and blind. Do more than that. Consider that our heavenly Father provides for this man as he provides for you. No doubt you prefer your provision, but do ask yourself: of what true value is my wealth? Is it simply for my pleasure, or is some greater purpose to be achieved?

You tell me that AIDS is fatal. My young friend, life is fatal. This beggar gives you yet another lesson. He teaches you that your end will come too, and who knows which of you shall die first? Consider well the manner of your end, and commit your ways to God.

Taken in all, I think you are highly indebted to this beggar. He teaches you charity and persistence, breaks the hardness of your heart, tears you from the snares of wealth and helps bring you to a good end. Surely, for such services as he has rendered to you, you could spare the man a coin or two?

With my kindest regards,

Isaac the alchemist


[1] This is one in a series of letters from a 5th century Christian to a modern one. The series is found  here.

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