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Giving it all away: seven Christians living out radical generosity

Matt Holderness Portrait Matt Holderness
5 min

From the earliest days of the Church, followers of Jesus have often been confident examples of radical generosity. We’re told how the first believers "had everything in common" and "sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need" (Acts 2:44–45). While few are called to live and give in that setting today, many Christians over the centuries have embraced a similar level of generosity, giving away vast portions of their wealth. Here are seven inspiring examples taking us from the early days of the Church right up to the modern day.

Barnabas

We don't know much about Barnabas beyond what Luke records in Acts, but his simple act of selling a field and giving the proceeds to the apostles made him one of the earliest examples of sacrificial giving (Acts 4:36–37). At a time when many were liquidating their possessions to meet needs, Barnabas stood out. His generosity probably meant giving away a considerable inheritance and it earned him a new name. Originally known as Joseph, he was thereafter known as Barnabas, meaning "son of encouragement".

His generous attitude enabled him to play a vital role in ministering to the rapidly expanding community of believers in Jerusalem and in the growth of Christianity. From Barnabas we learn that the gift of generosity is not just about offering financial support but also about helping and encouraging others.

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St Francis of Assisi

Adopting a generous lifestyle is the hallmark of Francis of Assisi. Born into a wealthy family in 12th century Italy, Francis experienced a profound conversion that led him to reject his entire inheritance, take a vow of poverty and live a simple life serving the poor.

Following Jesus’ teachings on poverty and generosity Francis chose to take “Lady Poverty” as his bride, wearing rough robes tied with a rope and begging for food and shelter. Francis' radical generosity in giving up everything inspired others to join him, forming the Franciscan order of friars known for taking vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. His joyful embrace of poverty challenged rampant materialism in the Church and helped further the gospel.


John Wesley

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, demonstrated radical generosity by living simply and giving away much of his substantial income from book royalties. Though he had no high living costs as a single man, Wesley reported that his giving regularly exceeded his income, illustrating the paradoxical power of radical generosity.

Wesley famously instructed Methodists to "earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can". By his own example, he embraced that principle wholeheartedly. Wesley used his money to fund missionaries and ministers, to pay church debts and to care for widows and orphans. His generosity flowed out of his value that "money must not be hoarded but kept in constant circulation".


George Müller

The German-born George Müller was another pioneering philanthropist who relied solely on faith and the provision of donors to fund his network of orphanages across England. Over the course of nearly 63 years of operating his first home for orphans in Bristol, Müller recorded that unmistakable answers to prayers allowed him to take in nearly 10,000 orphaned children and to distribute over 300,000 Bibles – all without asking anyone for money.

Müller took literally Jesus' command to "sell your possessions and give to the poor" (Matthew 19:21). He started out with just a few shillings and never owned property, a house or belongings of significant value. Müller was able to house, feed, clothe and educate orphans through God's abundant supply to those who trust and depend on divine provision. His life gloriously modelled Jesus' teachings on radical generosity and trust in God.


Lord and Lady Kinnoull

In the 1800s, this Scottish noble couple epitomised radical philanthropy by using their vast wealth to aid vital Christian ministry at home and abroad. Inheriting a fortune from coal mines and estates, Lord and Lady Kinnoull directed large amounts of money towards the construction of churches and schools. Historical records also show the Kinnoulls gave generously to overseas mission.

Their philanthropic legacy demonstrates a commitment to generosity and investment in Christian ministry from a privileged social standing. The Kinnoulls’ example shows how you can be a rich Christian, using inherited wealth to bring about significant change for good.


Millard and Linda Fuller

Millard and Linda Fuller are more recent examples of radical generosity, especially in the areas of affordable housing and alleviating poverty. As a millionaire entrepreneur, Millard had achieved the American Dream until a re-commitment to Christ led him to donate all of his possessions – multiple homes and millions of dollars – to start Habitat for Humanity in 1976.

Over the next three decades of leading Habitat, the Fullers embraced a very simple lifestyle, living off of a small salary and donations while hosting small groups in their home. As Millard said, "The economics of Jesus' way is indescribably freeing ... When you have little or no equity in the things of this world, you experience an immense liberty for kingdom righteousness." The Fullers modelled what it means to sacrifice affluent lifestyles and dedicate resources fully to serving others.

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Peter Vardy

Another modern example of radical generosity is Peter Vardy, a Scottish entrepreneur and car dealer. After becoming a Christian in the 1990s, Vardy sold his business for millions and gave away his substantial fortune to fund education, evangelism and mission projects.

He went on to establish several charitable organisations including the Vardy Foundation, which has donated many millions to causes including church building projects and Bible translation. Vardy has also personally supported many churches’ missionary work, Bible colleges and evangelistic initiatives across Europe.

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Written by

Matt Holderness

Matt joined Stewardship in 2022 with over twenty years of marketing experience from roles at Kendal College and Capernwray Bible School. He has degrees in Business and Marketing, Theology, Management and most recently a Masters in Hermeneutics. 

Through raising awareness of Stewardship’s services, Matt helps people explore the impact their generosity can have on the church and Christian charities. He’s passionate about supporting Evangelism and Bible causes, and has a particular interest in charities that are helping people in Poverty and Debt in the UK.