What we sacrifice of our wealth for others should be considered in the context of Jesus' sacrifice for us. Graeme Loftus explains.
Mother Theresa often confronted Christians who live affluent lives. She wrote, “I think that the work of the church in this developed and rich western hemisphere is more difficult than in Calcutta, where the needs of the people are reduced to a dish of rice to curb their hunger—something that will show them that someone loves them. In the West the problems the people have go much deeper; the problems are in the depths of their hearts... . When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed” (In My Own Words, pages 24, 25).
Not everybody would agree with Mother Theresa. Sir Bob Geldof, high-profile campaigner against poverty, for example, abandoned seeking to raise money in the chain of Live8 concerts. He recognised that governments and leaders in poverty-stricken countries often grossly misappropriated money dedicated to the poor who finished up receiving little of the well-intentioned aid from people in more affluent donor countries.
Geldof's recognition of this sad reality, however, only underscores Mother Theresa's basic description of the human heart. Humanity in general has never recognised that all the available assets and resources on this planet, whatever they may be, are not to be plundered by greedy individuals and used for their selfish wants.
The Bible Viewpoint
The Bible points out that self-seeking is characteristic of the sinful human heart. It is in rebellion against the heart of a generous God who made available all His created resources (see Genesis 3:1-6; Hosea 2:8). Everything God has given, in fact, belongs to Him first (Psalm 50:10, 11). We only ever hold it as custodians, to use responsibly and for His purposes (Genesis 2:15). To do anything less is not only eventually destructive for us personally, it brings misery to others (Deuteronomy 7:25; 10-13).
When God originally created man and woman, they were to “rule” everything on the earth as God's representative (Genesis 1:26). At that point, they recognised Jesus as their Lord and willingly saw everything around them as a trust from Him. Their governance and use of earth's resources were initially beneficial. There was no pillaging of forests or greenhouse emissions to threaten our fragile ecology, no thoughtless terrorising of endangered species or reckless plundering of energy resources.
We have insights into this wise rulership of nature in Jesus when He rebuked destructive storms (Mark 4:39) and called fish into His disciple's nets (Luke 5:4-6). Jesus took responsibility for the health of His body, psyche and spirit as things entrusted to Him by His Father (Luke 2:52).
In His use of human resources, it's important to notice that Jesus chose to identify Himself with the poorest of the poor. In selecting a family to watch over the infant Messiah, God chose a working-class couple who could afford only to wrap their baby in strips of cloth, who gave birth in a cowshed, and who could afford only the poorest of offerings at Jesus' dedication. This was not only a statement against the rich, whose wealth was at the expense of the poor (Luke 3:10-14), but also a proclamation of what comprised real wealth in the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:19-21).
In Who/What Do You Trust?
There's something about money, wealth and human assets that touch the heart of our primary values and underlying priorities more than any other litmus. That's probably why Jesus talked more about the subject than any other.
It isn't that money in itself is evil. In fact, the Bible teaches that one of the gifts given to some by the Holy Spirit is the gift of giving generously, if they are in a position to do so (see Romans 12:8).
What He pointed out time and again, however, was that wealth is seductive and, more often than not, undermines our relationship with God and our spiritual life.
It is impossible, Jesus said, to worship both God and wealth (Matthew 6:24). One or the other has to be our ultimate Lord. He pointed out that the ultimate use of our assets is to extend the kingdom of God, because that alone endures, the only possible response to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 6:19-21). That alone saves us from the false values and consequences of a materialistic lifestyle that involuntarily rejects the Lordship of our Creator and misuses His gifts for self-centred, destructive purposes. And note, His teaching is the exact opposite to a popular teaching that becoming a Christian is a guarantee of prosperity. Often, it is the very opposite (Hebrews 10:32-36).
He Chose Poorly—And Lost
Jesus told story after story to bring this truth home. He lamented the values of a rich man who overlooked the realities of eternity and focused his energies on building bigger buildings to store his earthly belongings while he ate, drank and enjoyed himself (Luke 12:16-21). He sadly watched a wealthy, youthful ruler terminate his search for eternal life and walk away when challenged to give his money to the poor and become a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 19:16-24). Thinking he faithfully kept the Ten Commandments, the young man suddenly realised his “idol” was his money, which he worshipped, and was more important to him than God.
Salutary Lesson In Life
The great danger of wealth is that it unconsciously undermines our reliance on the resources of heaven by focusing on the security that we think we have in the resources our assets can give us.
On one occasion I took my young family overseas while I did some postgraduate study. Stretched for cash to pay for airfares, tuition and the necessities of living, we were forced to sell everything we owned. While studying, we still needed a vehicle to get around, but found insurance prohibitive. Seeking to trust God, I did a “deal” with Him, asking Him to “insure” it because it was His work we were doing. So when our car was gutted by fire a few months later, I was devastated. I felt God couldn't be relied upon in temporal matters. Then, over the next week, various unknown people thrust envelopes containing money under our door, unseen at night. We might have liked to have declined it, but couldn't anyway. When we added it all up, it was exactly the value of that car.
Such a personal experience shattered my mind-set, for it opened my eyes to the abundance of God's provision when we give His kingdom priority (Matthew 6:33).
God has an inbuilt strategy to teach us this value of constantly depending on Him and His resources. It's called tithing, which means giving one-tenth of your “increase” faithfully to Him, through tough times as well as good. He instituted the practice in the Old Testament times. It tested His people's dependency on His lordship, and whenever people failed to follow it, their resources dried up (Malachi 3:8-12). To withhold the tithe was to actually rob Him, He said, because He had dedicated it to His work of maintaining His kingdom.
In New Testament times, tithing was still mandatory for Christians (Matthew 23:23), but as Jesus made clear, with one major difference. Tithing was no longer to be viewed as a law, as in the Old Testament, rather, it was to be given with a willing heart, motivated by the Holy Spirit as a loving response to His sacrifice. It, too, was sacrificial (2 Corinthians 8:9). And in that context, I suggest, a mere 10 per cent would appear to be but a beginning.