Mine and ours (part 2)

Whenever I help couples prepare for marriage, I make them discuss some of the topics that couples fight about most often. One of them is money. I ask them to consider how they intend to handle spending and bank accounts after they’re married. Will they pool all their money into joint accounts? Deposit their paychecks in separate individual accounts? Put some money together, while keeping some separate? How much can one spouse spend without having to check with the other? From which account?

There’s no one right way to do things. But I would worry about the couple that intends to keep all their money separate, because how they handle money says something about their “investment” in the relationship. To have no money in joint accounts at all suggests a lack of trust that will make it difficult to build a sense of togetherness.

Of course, the problem isn’t solved by forcing couples to put money into joint accounts. If they are able to willingly share what they have, it’s because they already love and trust each other. Making them share won’t create the bond by itself.

Something similar, I think, is true of the earliest believers in Jerusalem. No one forced them to share their resources, and if someone had, it wouldn’t have created the amazing unity Luke describes in Acts 2 and 4. The miracle had to happen first. Through the Holy Spirit, they had already begun thinking of each other as family. They could think of “mine” as “ours” because they saw themselves as the family of God: God was their Father, making them brothers and sisters to one another, and Jesus was the firstborn. The outward evidence of that miracle was the free and open-handed sharing of wealth, so that none of them would have to suffer need.

As we’ll soon see with the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), such generosity was neither a new religious law nor a way of gaining public recognition for one’s superior spirituality. Nor could it completely stave off need. When famine struck the empire (Acts 11:28-29), the Jerusalem church needed help from others.

But this only extends the story of mine versus ours. The apostle Paul, knowing the plight of the poor in Jerusalem, began to take up a collection among the Gentile churches. With all the letters and phone calls we get from organizations asking for money, we might think of such appeals as commonplace. In Paul’s context, however, it wasn’t — and it gave his opponents an opportunity to cast doubt on his motives.

Paul, however, would not be deterred. He wanted Gentile converts to show their solidarity with Jerusalem through their free and cheerful giving (2 Cor 9:7). The Macedonian churches obliged, generously. The believers in Corinth pledged to help (though they apparently balked when Paul’s opponents managed to get their attention).

The point is that the family of God was growing, and they were willing to share with each other accordingly, across geographic, cultural, and ethnic boundaries. This is part of the outward movement of the gospel that Jesus predicted: from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the ends of the earth.

We share our wealth  for a number of reasons. Perhaps it makes us feel like we’ve done a good deed. Perhaps we’d feel guilty if we didn’t, especially when confronted with images of sad-eyed children who need our help. And if that weren’t enough, getting to write off the contribution on our taxes gives us a little extra motivational boost.

But that’s not the same thing as giving because we’re family. Under one heavenly Father, we have sisters and brothers everywhere around the world. They may not look like us. They may not sound like us. And they may need us to share from out of our abundance (2 Cor 9:8).

If we see them as family, we can give cheerfully.

That’s the miracle.