// you’re reading...

Clergy Mail

Remember The Poor 1/5

I have wept in the night For the shortness of sight That to somebody’s need made me blind; But I never have yet Felt a tinge of regret For being a little too kind. (Anonymous)

Christianity is about a God who lovingly gives himself to us, who delights in giving gifts (Luke 11:9-13), and invites us to give ourselves back to him and to others. ‘God so loved, that he gave…’ (John 3:16). Jesus, the Son of God, says Paul, ‘loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 3:20). The Spirit of God similarly loves, and gives gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14).

These ‘spiritual gifts’ or ‘charisms’ (charismata from charis, grace) are given for the common good; to each for the good of all (1 Corinthians 12:7). The same Spirit who enabled Jesus to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, healing for the sick, and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 4:18,19) is given to us to do in our world what He did in his.

We will focus on one of these gifts: generosity (Romans 12:8). Money is a sensitive subject. The ‘hip-pocket nerve’ is a tender part of our being.

But the Bible has more to say about the use or misuse of money than about the sacraments or heaven and hell! Jesus is recorded in the four Gospels as speaking more about money than any other single subject. In the Sermon on the Mount he says where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. Paul, in most of his letters refers directly or more subtly to our responsibilities to share in the costs of Christian ministry or the needs of the poor. Jacques Ellul suggests money is one of the ‘spiritual forces’ with which we struggle (Ephesians 6:12). (1) It’s the only impersonal thing to which Jesus gave a proper name — Mammon. Jesus thought of money in some sort of spiritual sense, competing with God for our allegiance. The only way to break the power of Mammon is to give money away. Money is a root of many evils: for televangelists with their millions or you and me with our thousands or hundreds! Your chequebook stubs are a pretty good indicator of the kind of person you are!

Today the average Western family has more than 50% of its income available for what would have been regarded as ‘non-essentials’ by our grandparents: in 1900 it was 4%.

We came into the world with nothing, and we shall leave the same way. In the meantime we have a responsibility to manage the resources entrusted to us by God. Freely we have received, so freely we give (Matthew 10:8). ‘Stewardship’ is everything we do with everything we have. Stewardship begins with the idea that God owns all things — so we’re not giving to God what is ours, but releasing what is already his. A steward (e.g. a banker) manages someone else’s money or property (Luke 16:1). Christian stewardship is all about responsibility, loyalty, and commitment — being trustworthy (2 Corinthians 4:2). (So ‘if God ever gives anything to you get rid of it quickly’ said one person who realized he became covetous for more if he hung on to it too long).

One way of looking at tithing is that it’s the Lord’s tax for the use of the earth, because it’s his. That doesn’t mean we’re to be legalistic about tithing. The motivation should come from love not law (Romans 13:10), but a tenth of net income given away to others is a good place to start. Jesus endorsed tithing, but said we have to do much more — practise justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42). We don’t tithe to be ‘blessed’, although we will be; nor to avoid God’s curse: though the Bible is up-front about that too (we have no option to give or not to give, 1 Samuel 8, Malachi 3:8-10); nor to secure our ‘salvation’.

Gifts above the tenth are ‘freewill offerings’ (Deuteronomy 16:10-11, Exodus 36:7, Leviticus 22:21), ‘festival tithes’ (Deuteronomy 14:22-27, 16:3,13,16) and ‘charity tithes’ (levied every third year for the poor, Deuteronomy 14:28-29, 26:12-15). The givers in the Gospels who receive Jesus’ commendation are not mere tithers, but people like Mary who gave her precious gift, Zaccheus who gave half his goods, and the widow who gave everything.

Here are some Christian principles about money: # Churches where people have truly ‘first given themselves to the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 8:5) are more likely to meet their financial commitments. God’s work done in God’s way will not lack God’s supply. Ultimately the truest gift is the gift of self. When our hearts are right with God, generosity follows. In the familiar words of Isaac Watts, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. # You only truly keep what you give away (Proverbs 11:24, 25). # People ought to give thoughtfully — to people and programs, not because there’s a fund-raising effort — and faithfully (1 Corinthians 4:2). Committed people give regularly and proportionally (1 Corinthians 16:2).

We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give. But humans, because of their insecurity, tend to be covetous, acquisitive. The desire to possess is very strong, and the more we have the more we want. Deficits, inflation, cutting down forests, the greenhouse effect, the destruction of the ozonosphere – all are caused by greed.

It’s interesting that Christians who take a lot of the Bible literally don’t do that with our Lord’s words to the rich young ruler: ‘Go, sell all you have and give the money to the poor…’ (Mark 10:21). (Our reading: ‘Keep most of what you have but be nice!’). The Bible is clear that we should provide for our family’s necessities (1 Timothy 5:8), and each person and family/community ought to figure out where the threshold is between needs and wants. It’s good to have what money can buy, but most important to have what money cannot buy.

So: # Give up shopping as a form of recreation. If you don’t really need it don’t buy it! Get by with less. Our grand- parents had the slogan ‘Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.’ # Fast foods are very expensive in relation to their nutritional value. # Some find the graduated tithe a good way to extend their giving: you start by budgeting for the basic necessities, give 10% of that, then 15% of the next, say, $5000 you earn, 20% of the next $5000, and so on. (2) # Your church might consider receiving an extra offering for the local and overseas poor — perhaps once a month. # Each family should give regularly to the poor. It’s a good reminder for children of our bounty and others’ need.

1. Jacques Ellul, Money and Power, Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1984.
2. Ronald Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1977.


Comments are disallowed for this post.

Comments are closed.