One of the problems I grapple with most often as an affluent Christian is how to be a good steward of the resources God has given me. My spiritual “big brother,” Bill Rudd, just passed along some really helpful scriptural wisdom on this subject, and (with his permission granted) I’d like to share it. If you wrestle with this issue, I hope you will also find his thoughts spirit provoking and helpful:
WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT GLOBAL NEED?
40% of the world’s people have not heard the good news about Jesus. 65% of the people in Muskegon county have no affiliation with a religious congregation of any kind. 65% of the people in Muskegon Heights live below the poverty level. 3000 children in Michigan in foster care desperately hope for adoption. 300 Michigan children have no hope of adoption or foster care. Globally 19,000 children die every day of preventable diseases. 10 million children under 5 will die in the next year due to malnutrition and preventable health issues. In light of such global and local needs, how should Christians use their resources?
- Should we sell everything and give it away? Should we sell most of our possessions and live very simply so we can give the rest away?
- Should every family adopt or have foster children?
- Should every family take in a homeless person? Should every person visit those who are sick or in prison?
- What is “enough?” Enough clothes, food, toys, big enough house, new enough car or furniture?
- Is it okay to go on a vacation? How much should we spend? Is it okay to go to Disneyland or on a cruise?
- Is it okay to have a vacation home?
- Is it okay to have an expensive hobby: golf, fishing, hunting, shopping, collectables, etc.?
- Is it okay to eat out? How often? Is it okay to buy Stabucks, drink pop, buy candy, go to movies?
- What percentage of our income should we give to the church? To relieve poverty and suffering?
- When are we doing too little, too much, or just enough?
These are not easy questions. We could give away everything and hardly make a dent and then we wouldn’t be able to help anyone or even to take care of our own families as God commands. The following observations from Scripture won’t answer all those questions but will hopefully give a context in which decisions can be made. The following observations, one per day, could provide a month of serious Scripture study and meditation on this topic.
30 OBSERVATIONS FROM SCRIPTURE ON THE USE OF OUR RESOURCES
1) Everything we have belongs to God and is a gift from Him, including the opportunities and privileges which arise out of where we live, our background, the abilities and health to work, etc. (Psalm 27:1; Deuteronomy 8:17, 18; James 1:17).
2) God gives us good things for our enjoyment. We should receive and use God’s good gifts with gratitude and joy (Deuteronomy 8:10, 11; 1 Timothy 3:4, 5; 6:17).
3) One purpose for working and earning money is to be able to give to those in need (Ephesians 4:28).
4) We are encouraged to save for the future (Proverbs 6:6, 7) without hoarding more than is needed to the neglect of helping those in need (Luke 12:13-31).
5) All material possessions and wealth are temporary and can be lost in a moment (Matthew 6:19; 1 Timothy 6:17).
6) We should never put our trust in earthly possessions (1 Timothy 6:17) or seek the fulfillment from them which only comes from God (Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13; Colossians 3:5).
7) We are commanded to lay up treasures in heaven by our giving (Matthew 19:19-21; 1Timothy 6:17-19; Luke 16:9).
8) We are commanded to be content with what we have and what we don’t have (1 Timothy 5:6, 8; Philippians 4:11-13; Hebrews 13:5, 6).
9) One way to embrace contentment (Hebrews 13:5, 6) is to set a “life style cap” beyond which everything can be given to spread the Gospel and to relieve suffering – learn to say, “That’s enough!”
10) We should not covet or what others have (Exodus 20:17; 1 Corinthians 13:4; Galatians 5:26; 1 Peter 2:1). We should not judge how others use their resources (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 14:4-10).
11) We are commanded and encouraged to generously and sacrificially care for our family’s needs (1 Timothy 5:8), including our Christian family (Galatians 6:10; Deuteronomy 15:7, 8, 10) but also the needs of those unrelated to us (Matt 6:1-4; 1 John 3:17, 18; Proverbs 3:27, 28; Luke 6:30; 1 Timothy 6:17-19; Luke 10:30-37, Luke 14:12-14; Galatians 6:10).
12) Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us and that not every possible resource must be used to give to the poor (Matthew 26:6-13).
13) Until the Restoration we will never eradicate poverty (Matthew 26:11; Deuteronomy 15:11). However, our inability to eradicate poverty is not an excuse for a lack of generosity (Deuteronomy 15:11).
14) It probably is a realistic goal to try to eliminate poverty in our own family (1 Timothy 5:8) and church (Acts 4:32-34; Deuteronomy 15:4). It may require our willingness to give up our attitudes of selfishness and possessiveness and to sell things so as to be able to help others (Acts 2:44, 45; 4:32-37). This will be a wonderful witness to the lost and may bring many to Christ (Acts 2:43-47).
15) The Old Testament law gives us examples of ways to address systemic poverty issues which could be creatively applied in culturally appropriate and equivalent ways today (Leviticus 23:22; 25:3-6; 25:10ff; Deuteronomy 15:1-18).
16) We will all give account to God for how we used the resources He gave us: time, abilities, possessions, and opportunities (1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31ff).
17) How we use our resources to spread the Gospel and to relieve suffering reveals (more than any verbal profession we might work) whether or not we are truly Jesus’ followers (Matthew 25:31ff; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17, 18).
18) Using one’s resources to help those in need reveals the reality of their relationship with Christ and therefore will result in our reception into His eternal kingdom while a failure to use ones resources to relieve suffering will result in banishment to eternal punishment (Matthew 25:31ff).
19) All Christians are commanded and encouraged to prioritize (Proverbs 3:9, 10; Matthew 6:33) giving generously (2 Corinthians 9:6, 7), sacrificially (2 Corinthians 8:1-4; Mark 12:41-44) and regularly (1 Corinthians 16:2).
20) The New Testament model is to give to and through one’s church (1 Corinthians 16:2; Acts 4:35; 11:29, 20).
21) All Christians are commanded to give secretly (Matthew 6:1-4) to relieve suffering (Luke 12:33; Matthew 25:31ff; Galatians 2:10).
22) We are to give as if we were giving directly to God, joyfully and not reluctantly or grudgingly (2 Corinthians 9:7; Deuteronomy 15:10).
23) Some believe the Bible gives the tithe (10%) as the minimum standard (Malachi 3:8-10) along with giving beyond it in proportion to God’s blessing (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:13-15; Deuteronomy 16:10). God does not give us more merely so we can selfishly consume more but so that we can generously give more. God blesses us so we can bless others and expects that the more He gives us, the more we will give to others (2 Corinthians 9:8; Deuteronomy 15:14).
24) God does not call on every believer to give or sacrifice in the same way. All are commanded to sell some of their possessions to give to the poor (Luke 12:33) but some may be commanded to give away everything (Mark 10:21).
25) Jesus illustrated the importance of prayer to sort out which needs God is calling them to meet (Mark 1:35-39).
26) Although Jesus sometimes gave of Himself to the neglect of His own needs (Mark 3:20, 21; 6:31; Luke 8:23; John 4:31-33), He did not heal everyone who could have been healed or meet every need that could have been met and sometimes withdrew so as to not exhaust their ability to continue (Mark 6:31). God does not normally call on us to exhaust all of our resources for others leaving us in need and without the ability to help anyone else.
27) God promised to bless generosity (Luke 6:38; Proverbs 11:25; 22:9).
28) We should respond to suffering and need as we would hope others would respond if it were us, our children, or our grandchildren who were without the knowledge of God or were starving or in great need (Luke 6:31).
29) In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus revealed that “loving our neighbor as ourselves” means that when we see human need, we should be willing to sacrifice to meet it (Luke 10:23-31). Because of media and the internet, the “neighborhood” of needs that we are aware of has grown exponentially. At the same time, American Christians have more wealth than any generation in history. Those whom God has given greater resources have much greater opportunity (Luke 12:48).
30) In the “restoration of all things” everyone in the world will enjoy peace, prosperity, and health. That is a wonderful aspect of the Gospel of the kingdom which we are to proclaim with our words and illustrate by our good deeds (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10; 1 Peter 2:12; Titus 3:8, 14), which, like Jesus’ acts of compassion are “signs” of the kingdom (Luke 4:18-19; John 20:21).
Recommended reading if you dare to have your world rocked: Unfinished: Believing is only the Beginning, by Richard Stearns; Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, by Ronald J. Sider; Generous Justice, by Tim Keller; The Hole in the Gospel, by Richard Stearns