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How Generosity Crushes Greed

Article Type: Pastor to Pastor

By Rev. Phillip Leo, Church Communications Director

“Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need… They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” (Acts 2:45-47, NIV)

Suppose I’m a teacher, and you’re a student in my classroom. Toward the end of the course, I offer you a choice between 2 and 6 extra-credit points. Clearly, this is a no-brainer and you decide to take 6 points… until I tell you there’s a catch.

If 10 percent or more of your classmates also decide to take 6 points, no extra credit will be awarded to any student.

So, what do you do? Take the 6 points and hope no one else does? Or choose 2 points and hope the rest of your classmates aren’t greedy? 

Actually, this scenario plays out every semester at the University of Maryland where Dylan Selterman teaches undergraduate psychology.

“For the first eight years I used this exercise,” says Selterman in a June 2018 National Geographic article, “Only one class – of all the dozens I’ve taught – stayed under the 10 percent threshold. All the other classes failed.”

I know this result is predictable, given how easily greed bubbles up in people. But you might be surprised to learn that, since 2016, about half of Professor Selterman’s classes now receive extra-credit points.

What changed? Students were also offered a zero point option by which they could cancel out someone else’s choice for 6 points. A few students each semester choose this option in order to get extra credit for the rest of their classmates.

It turns out that just a handful of self-sacrificing students can make a huge difference.

This is the difference the early church made through sacrificial giving. Though small in number, their uncommon generosity transformed both the needy and their communities. These believers enjoyed the favor of their neighbors but more importantly, they reflected the favor of their God. 

The same principle demonstrated by Professor Selterman’s class applies to us… it only takes a handful of saints giving sacrificially to make a significant difference.

Greedy living may be normalized and even idolized by many. But this only highlights the need for selfless generosity to be lived out by a few.

There’s no telling where things will end up when today’s believers display this powerful witness. After all, who could’ve guessed the results from Acts 2?

Just imagine the plans God has for us when we give sacrificially in Jesus’ name. There’s no telling what may come of it!


Barnabas Foundation is proud to be your partner in promoting financial literacy and generous giving at your church. Find articles, books, studies and more for your church under Tools and Resources. You can also email me at pleo@BarnabasFoundation.com or call 888.448.3040. 

Rev. Phillip Leo is the Church Communications Director at Barnabas Foundation. Read Phil's online bio