Thursday, July 6, 2017

How Much Is Enough? (IV)

“For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack – that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.’” 2 Corinthians 8:12 – 15.

How often do we look at what we don’t have instead of what we do have? We look at what we don’t have and say, “I can’t do that. I have nothing to give. I have nothing to contribute.” Is this true?

When we look at what we don’t have our focus is on nothing so we have nothing to give; we can’t give what we don’t have. If we look at what we have we have something to give, for we are looking at something – especially those of us in the West, especially those of us in middle-class and above circumstances. The Macedonians were living in deep poverty (8:2) and yet they gave, they begged to give, they desired to give – their brethren in Judea needed help and the Macedonians wanted to give beyond what they had – their giving made no sense to the observer, but it made sense to God.

Many times I’ve heard people say that the church in Jerusalem that held “all things in common” (Acts 2:44 – 45) is not a model for the church, that it is an anomaly, that it was only for that particular time and place. But I’ve never heard these same people talk about 2 Corinthians Chapters 8 & 9 unless they do it out of context, a point I’ll get to in a future post. While we know from Acts 5:4 that there was no coercion to sell private property and contribute it, we also read in Acts 4:32: “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but that they had all things in common.” [Italics mine].

Whether or not I have sold what I have is not the point, the point is who owns what I have – is it the Lord Jesus or is it me? If Jesus Christ owns my possessions then they are at His disposal, I am a steward and not an owner – my wife and I are stewards of our possessions, we hold them in trust for Jesus Christ and His people and for the blessing of others.

“Nor was there anyone among them who lacked…” Acts 4:34. Can we not see the interplay of Acts and 2 Corinthians? Do we see the consistency? How can what we see in Jerusalem be isolated to that time and place when we see it applied to the saints in Europe, in Macedonia and Greece?

We don’t see it because we don’t want to see it. We ask, “How much is enough?” And we answer, “Just a little bit more. Let me have just a little bit more and then I’ll give. A little bit more so that I am certain I’ll be okay and enjoy life and then I’ll give. A little bit more and I’ll make adjustments. Surely God understands, surely Jesus knows, surely He wants me to have just a little bit more.”

We gloss over the word “equality” in 2 Corinthians, we don’t make eye contact – if we don’t see it then it doesn’t exist – but it is there and it is the Word of God.

Paul reaches back into Israel in the Wilderness on its journey to Canaan for his analogy, when the manna fell to feed the people of Israel no one lacked, there was an equality of provision. The people of Israel were on a journey together. We, however, tend to live in relative isolation. We close our doors, we close our hearts, we close our pocketbooks; we use common sense and cultural norms to justify ourselves – we make excuses for why others are in need and therefore justify not giving to them, justifying a lack of equality. (Just to be clear, this is not letting individuals and families escape from accountability – if people don’t work they are not to eat – 2 Thess. 3:10. However, the mutual care of one for another is seen throughout the Bible and the exception is not the rule – we are to care for the widows and orphans and others – we need to quit looking for a way out).

In Paul’s day we might say that manna was falling in Greece but not in Judea and that the Greeks should be giving. As for the Macedonians, even though there was but little manna in their nation they were determined to give beyond what made common sense – they weren’t looking at what they didn’t have but rather at what they did have…and they were trusting God to provide.

There is something deeply wrong in the church when people in the same areas and regions go hungry while others feast – within the church. People gathering in some churches may lack adequate food and housing and medical care, while 15 or 30 or 45 minutes away people in other churches enjoy warmth, and full refrigerators, and attentive doctors, and education, and safety. This is a concentric principle and reaches to the ends of the earth – what about our brothers in the Middle East, Asia, Africa? How do we compare with the Macedonians? What about our brothers across the street? Across the bridge? Across the tracks?

The only place I know to begin is with myself. The only place we can collectively begin is with repentance and a commitment to follow Jesus Christ in giving whether or not anyone joins with us. Sadly, for pastors to preach and teach 2 Corinthians Chapter 8 & 9 is risky – to challenge the American obsession with consumption and possessions and financial security is a fool’s errand (in the natural). It certainly doesn’t help that much of the American church overtly preaches a pagan prosperity gospel, and that the rest of us often think that the only thing wrong with the prosperity gospel is that it lacks decorum – better to frame the permission to get more and more and more in terms of the American dream, of the Declaration of Independence and its pursuit of happiness, in socially acceptable terms. The real problem with the prosperity gospel is that it doesn’t hold its teacup properly.

Can we not see that possessions and consumption have anesthetized us to the pain and suffering and distress of others – both within and without the family of God? Someone has poured drugs into the water trough that the sheep drink from.

How do we and our churches compare to 2 Corinthians Chapter 8 & 9?

How does the word “equality” sound on our lips? How does it play in our minds? Does it have room in our hearts?

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