(Book begins with the Preface in the January 31 post.)
Letting Go of the Trapeze
All that swinging from one extreme to the other, from social activism to enjoying my “blessings” and back again, only made me dizzy. I needed to find a way off the trapeze.
When we as Christians begin to examine our feelings about material possessions and our responsibilities in the world, we find believers promoting more extremes and calling them all biblical—prosperity gospel, graduated tithes, survival of the fittest (or most spiritual), monk-like simple lifestyles. How can we reconcile them? Or should we even try?
What makes it so hard to find my place is that the extremes are present in the Scriptures, and championed so boldly. Too often, they are the subject of what I read and hear. But the balance is there in God’s word, too, if we look, if we quietly wait for God to show it to us. Both views are presented in Scripture; both must somehow reconcile into a God-designed whole.
I do believe God calls a small number of people to extreme activism, to live a life of voluntary poverty in identification with the poor. I’m not one of them. And I no longer believe that admission makes me “unspiritual.” The Scriptures tell us there are “different kinds of gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:4).
But not having a gift or calling from God to live among the poor does not mean I can ignore their needs. That would be as ridiculous as saying that someone without the spiritual gift of giving never needs to put a dime in the offering plate. Or that the one not gifted as an encourager never needs to speak an uplifting word to another.
Finding Our Balance
When we take the whole of Scripture, we find that God offers balance to us and expects balance from us. His word is full of statements that pull together both of the extremes on many issues. We are not meant to be all-or-nothing people. We are meant to apply all of the Scriptures to our lives even when contrasts are presented. And we have the promise that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). When we are presented with opposing opinions, only he can make the truth plain in our inner being.
Jesus tells us we are called to love God and our neighbor not just love God by loving our neighbor. In Mark 12:30, 31, he says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Jesus refused to answer the “which is the greatest commandment” question by just telling us to love God. He includes two commands, two commands that are linked together in the life of the believer. He says we are to do both.
So my first priority is to focus on God and get to know him. I’m in a love relationship with him. For that to grow, it requires a commitment of time, of energy, of listening, of sharing. But I cannot be selfish in his love, hoarding it. I need to share it with others, introducing them to Christ, meeting their needs as Christ’s local representative. Loving him and loving others are both facets of our relationship with God.
First John 3:17 tells us that people have reason to question our love of God if we don’t help the needy—“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” But it is not the only “proof” of our love. Obedience (John 14:15), love among the brethren (John 13:35), and sharing the message of forgiveness in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:11–15) are all signs that God’s love is active within us. When we bash the brethren with Scriptures on service to the poor (or anything else), people should question our love of God. And while they’re at it, they should remind us of our supposed belief in the indwelling Spirit as our individual teacher.
Scripture tells us that serving others and sacrifice bring with them prosperity and reward in this life, not just in the future. Luke 18:29, 30 promises both a heavenly payoff for earthly sacrifice and an earthly one. “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life’” (emphasis mine).
All rewards for the believer are not future tense and only spiritual. Here-and-now material rewards are also promised. The Old Testament speaks of earthly prosperity for those who were generous to the needy. “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:24, 25).