Saturday, April 11, 2009

God's Economics of Charity

A response to the article, "Prosperity in Community"

Great article by the way. In it, you mention that "stewardship is frequently seen as increasing wealth for later distribution rather than distributing wealth for present increase of all."

How do you think that relates to the Wesleyan principle of "make the most money so that you can give the most money away." Or, put another way, "Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can." And if we are go go against Wesley’s method, then who is to be the distributor of this wealth for the present increase of all. It seems the government, and sadly even the Church, is pretty poor at doing this.

Finally, how does this apply to those who find themselves in a position of service that also make a decent income (e.g. physicians)? It appears that one can have empathy, live in community, and have a strong income. However, the words of I John 3:16-18 still apply, and the prerogative then becomes "live modestly and give the rest away." Is there a better way?

Thanks for your response, J.

Honestly, I think that the number one thing that destroys ministry opportunities is th concern for a "decent income" or the attempt to "make the most money."

In Anawim, I have worked as a pastor and leader for 10 years without a regular income of any sort. My family had to begin as homeless so we could minister to the homeless. God is my boss and He is the one who provides us with everything we need. And He has. Abundantly. The more we worry about what money we will "make" then the less we are doing things for the Lord and we are actually serving Mammon, which Jesus said we cannot do both at the same time.

I believe that Scritpure teaches that if we have resources, then it is our just duty to give them to those who have need. (I John 3:16-18, as you quoted) And, if we do so faithfully, then God will provide all of our needs (Psalm 41:1-3; Luke 12:22-34 -read the whole thing!). So the economy of God is that of charity-- continually giving and receiving, and the more you give, the more you will end up receiving.

I am not saying that having a strong income is a sin. But the focus cannot be the income-- that is just feeding into the world’s unjust, uncharitable economy. We should never consider what one "deserves" as people who follow Jesus. If Jesus thought that way, he would never have sacrificed himself for our sins. Instead, we should think of the need and how, with our meger resources, we can meet the need. And then, out of heaven, God provides out of his abundant resources.

You are right, though. The Church, sadly, is terrible at distributing resources. Because, like the rest of the world, they want to build themselves up rather than meet needs. So who should distribute? The cheerful, generous giver who considers what the other needs, rather than seeing giving as an arduous task that must be done out of duty. Distribution should never be handed to the judge who surrenders a small amount based on a moral measure, however.

Of course, this brings up as many quesitons as answers. But I suspect this forum is too short to really discuss it at length.

One last thing, J, and this may apply better to your query at the end.

I believe that Scripturally, there are three models of giving that are all radical, and loving.

1. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. This is the model of live modestly and give the rest away that you mention. I think that it is the basic model you have presented by Jesus.

2. Live without possessions This is the model of the disciples. They didn’t give to the poor, really, but lived as the poor to give the gospel to the poor. They completely depended on God’s resources.

3. Shared use. This is the model of the early Gentile church. The early church, rather than selling everything they had, used it in community. Thus, if someone had a house, that house was to be used for the Christian community and had people in need staying there. If someone had food, they brought it to the community for all to share. We see this frequently in Acts and in Paul’s letters (I Timothy 6, e.g.)

So, although I think that the first model should be normative, all three models could easily be used together.