“Give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.”
In previous weeks we have examined two biblical principles that help us to make decisions about following Jesus with our money: God can be trusted to provide for our needs and the principle of relative wealth. This week brings us to our final principle – the principle of need and sufficient wealth. It is in holding these principles in productive tension that we stand the best chance of responding well to the Holy Spirit in making decisions about money. The remaining articles on money will be a lot more practical and on specific difficult questions.
Poverty is not an ideal in the Bible. Although in the Bible often the poor are praised and vindicated, that is normally connected to their righteous behaviour in suffering, or the fact that their righteous behaviour has led to poverty. Poverty itself is seen as a great evil.
And this has to be the case, because God is the creator who created this good world for us to enjoy. Material poverty – the lack of enough to meet our needs – is not a good thing. That is why Christians are called to do everything they can to help those who are poor. God created this world for everyone to enjoy; it is therefore deeply wrong and an offence to God that so many of the people he has created are not able to have their needs met and enjoy God’s good creation. So unless God speaks to us individually with a special call, in general, the Christian should not aspire to poverty.
However because so many do live in poverty, bearing in mind our discussion last month, the Christian should also be wary of great wealth. If we are wealthy and Lazarus starves, have we not ‘profaned the name of our God’? Thus if we are not to aspire to poverty or wealth, this leaves us somewhere which we might sum up as ‘enough to meet our needs.’
At many places throughout the Bible I think we see this principle at work. In Exodus God gave manna to the people of Israel. Each Israelite was able to gather enough for that day but no more. None could accumulate wealth, but none starved. Paul references this passage in 2 Corinthians 8.13-14 where he applies the same principle to the church in Corinth, arguing that no church should be impoverished, but through mutual giving all should have enough. Jesus too seems to have a similar ethic when he encourages his disciples to pray only for their daily bread, without anxiety because “your father knows what you need.”
So the principle of need is perhaps the closest we come to a ‘norm’ in the Bible for what is right in terms of living and giving. Have enough to meet your needs, but not much more.
Having said this, let me also make two qualifications about the ‘principle of need’:
So, yes, there is a principle of need, but we must recognise that ‘need’ is slippery. For some of us, we find it deeply frustrating that there is nothing more solid and legalistic than this. We want to know what we’re allowed! Well, Christianity just doesn’t work like that a lot of the time. The principle of ‘need’ is helpful, but we can use that to avoid obedience to Jesus, or to bash each other with. This is where the principle of relative wealth is so helpful. When I think about my needs, its helpful for me to do that in conversation with how the rest of the world lives. At the end of this article I’ll make some suggestions of how to moderate your view of what you ‘need’.
Some suggestions for working out what you ‘need’:
Above all, keep holding all the principles in tension, reading the teaching of Jesus and prayerfully asking, “God, out of all the resources you have given me to steward, how much should I keep for myself?” Putting the question like that can change everything…