At least three times in Acts 4 and 5 it is said of early disciples that they “sold their possessions”, then brought what they had received from the sale of houses or lands and “laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:35, 37; 5:2).
One of my earliest memories of Lord’s Day worship in the small, rural church in Sabine County, Texas where my parents worshipped was of the offerings we offered in the service of God. When it came time to take up the offering, the whole congregation stood; began singing, and then, row by row, each person walked up to the table which held the communion and laid a nickel or quarter on that table (these were the last years of the Great Depression). Then each returned to their seat. I’ve pondered over the years why the church did it that way. Was it following traditions that extended further back than my recollection, or was it an attempted imitation of early disciples laying their offering “at the apostles’ feet”? Was it simply the practice of that congregation which was done for no special reason? I’ll never know, for all the adults of that church have long since gone to meet their Maker, and I doubt there are any who still survive that were children who would know why any more than I.
For whatever reason brethren practiced what they did, what we did, in our action, was not what was meant when the Holy Spirit tells of those who “laid their money at the apostles feet”. What was meant was that when that money was given, it was placed under the oversight of the apostles who determined, by the Holy Spirit, what God willed those funds given to Him were to be used for. We still “lay our money at the apostles’ feet” but we don’t walk up to the communion table and place our money there to do it.
The Bible makes a distinction between “my money” and the “Lord’s money”, although in past years some brethren have derided that statement. In Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira sold a field and wanted praise for doing something they had not done. They greed that they would offer their money and say they had given all they received for the possession they sold when in fact they had only given a part. Peter rebuked Ananias by saying, “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thy heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back a part of the price of the land? While it remained, did it not remain thine own, and after it was sold, was in not in thy power” (Acts 5:3-4). In essence Peter said, “Ananias, before you sold the possession, wasn’t it yours, and after you sold it, didn’t it remain in your power?” — in essence, before you gave your money it was “your money” but after you gave it, it was “the Lord’s money”. Here is a case where distinction was made of “Ananias’ money” and the “Lord’s money”.
We are aware that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 24:1), and that we are just stewards of what belongs to God. But God does make a distinction between what He allows man to hold, giving him the power to decide what that money will be spent for, and money given to God, who determines what that money is to be used for. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had a distorted concept of what could go into the treasury and what could not be: They could take money and give Judas to betray the Lord and bring about His death. They couldn’t take the money they had given to Judas and “put it into the treasury” because it was “blood money” (Matthew 27:3-8).
There is only one way churches may raise funds to do what God wants that church to do: They may “on the first day of the week” take up a collection for the work of the church (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). For a church to hold garage sales, buy property to rent, or some other means of raising funds was not practiced by the first century church. It took care of its needs then and by the same means takes care of its needs now. If this seems awkward to some and unimaginative to others, remember it is the Lord’s work, it is His funds and there is no man, living or dead, who can know the mind of God. The only way man knew in the past and what we know in the present is God’s will is what He tells us.
There are three things that God has specified He wants His church to use His funds for. First, the church provided temporary aid to brethren in need (Acts 2:44), and permanent assistance to widows who were “widows indeed” (1 Timothy 5:6). God willed that the church support the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14; Philippians 4:15). He willed that His church edify and strengthen those who obey the gospel (Ephesians 4:12).
There is no record that the church used its funds for any other reason. The contributions we “lay at the apostles’ feet” on the Lord’s Day are to be spent in promoting these three things. To spend those funds for other purposes is a misuse of the “Lord’s money”. Years ago my oldest son asked me, “Daddy, you say when we give to the church we are giving to God”, and when I responded, “Yes, son” his follow-up question was, “Well, Daddy, how does God get His money?” My answer was, “God gets ‘His’ money when churches spend that money on what God wants them to do”. I would answer him the same way today.
A prophet of old urged, “Stand in the ways and see and ask for the old paths wherein is the good way and walk therein and ye shall find rest for your souls …” (Jeremiah 6:16). Let us not respond to his exhortation as his generation did: “But they said, ‘We will not walk therein’”.