If you read the last article, you will hopefully have had a look at your budget over the last week and taken stock of what this tells you about your heart; about how your current spending may be ‘forming’ you. This and the following two weeks we will add into the picture the three most important principles that help us to understand Jesus’ teaching on money…
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
What stops you giving away £100 a month more than you currently do?
We’ll come back to that….
If you looked at your budget over the last week, I hope you will have reflected about how your spending is forming you – how it is shaping your desires and priorities. Another question could be asked, though: did looking at your budget cause you to worry at all? Did you find yourself feeling anxious at any point? What about if you contemplated giving significantly more away… would that make you feel anxious?
The centre-point of Jesus’ ethical teaching is the double love command: “Love the Lord your God with your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.” One of these commands is vertical (to love God) and the other horizontal (to love neighbour). Jesus’ teaching about money can also be seen to have two central principles, one vertical and one horizontal. This week we will look at the vertical principle; next week we will explore the horizontal one.
The vertical principle is this: we are to trust in God’s ability to provide for our needs. This principle underlies many of the radical things that Jesus (and the rest of the Bible) has to say about money. That is the point of this text from Matthew – that followers of Jesus are free to live radically generous lives (seeking first the kingdom of God and righteousness) because God can meet our needs. The rich young man can sell all his possessions and give them to the poor because he will inherit a new family, with new brothers, fathers and fields to provide for his needs (Mark 10). In Hebrews 13.5 we are told to keep our lives free from love of money because God has said “I will never leave your nor forsake you.” In 1 Timothy 6.17 we hope in God, not money, because God can provide, but money can fail.
What stops you giving away £100 a month more than you currently do?
God created human beings. He knows how they work; he knows what they need. Jesus does not deny that we have real needs, as some eastern religions teach; he knows that we do – he experienced being a human! But rather than denying our need he points us to the only place where our needs can always be met.
And yet so few of us live in this reality, the reality that is really real! We tend to feel much more secure if there’s £10 000 rather than £10 in the ISA. We feel more secure when we can project our income five years into the future than when we’re unemployed. This is understandable – I too am like this – but these feelings misunderstand reality. My job could be taken from me tomorrow, by illness, redundancy or my own failing. My savings could be wiped out overnight. And yet God is indestructible and holds the whole world in his hands. When we belong to God we are his responsibility. As we follow him, our affairs and well-being become his concern. So why am I so worried about it?
The irony is that the more we have, the more anxious we become about losing what we have. In % terms, the statistics show that we give less away the more we earn. As Boethius wrote in his Consolation of Philosophy, the rich man is almost always the insecure man, because rather than giving security (which they cannot do), riches only extend the possibility of loss.
But reality is that we can afford to obediently give away as much money as God asks whenever he asks it. We can afford to turn down the job with the unethical company. We can afford to declare all our earnings and pay all our taxes. We can afford to buy clothes that aren’t made in sweat shops (although whether we need as many as we usually own is another question – one we will come to).
This raises many practical questions: What’s faith-filled giving and what’s irresponsible stewardship? Are savings ever legitimate? If so, how much? What about insurance? What about providing for my family? What about Christians who “live by faith” on the donations of others who work hard for their income! All these are good questions, but I’m wary of commenting on them until after the next two articles which also explore crucial principles. We will, though, address these in due course…
There is, though, one complexity that we cannot postpone and must offer some comment on: some Christians starve to death. Some Christians do not have all that they need. At times, God either is unable, or unwilling, to provide. The historical certainty of this statement should prevent us from taking Jesus’ words as a trite divine insurance policy. They do not guarantee our comfort or underwrite whatever lifestyle we choose to live. Does this not give us good cause to be anxious?
This question is one way of asking about the mysteries of evil and God’s providence, especially when the evil falls on the righteous. Any answer in a few bullet points is therefore inadequate. But it is worth saying at least this: if God is the only one who is able to provide all we need and is in control of every circumstance, we can draw a few conclusions that specifically relate to money:
For now, the main question to wrestle with this week is this: What stops you giving away £100 a month more than you currently do? I suggest you write down the reasons that come to mind. Then, sit down this week and work through them! Some reasons may be emotional reactions that are not in line with real reality. Can we put them to one side? Some reasons may be complexities around giving – but writing them down commits you to thinking it through. Maybe some of the questions will be addressed in coming articles.