The Christian life is full of various tensions. The kingdom of God has been inaugurated, but it is still to come in full. Believers are free from the law, yet we are slaves to Christ. We are to rejoice in the goodness of this world, and yet also be so careful not to love the creation more than the Creator. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that tension is not a bad thing. I believe it is often a recognition of the various edges of any given belief or principle that refuses to make things easier for oneself by merely assuming that only one edge exists.
One certain area of tension in my walk with Christ is on possessions and giving. How could it not be? On one edge of Scripture Jesus tells us that we must give up our possessions to follow him, the early church in Acts is constantly selling everything they own and giving the proceeds with an almost reckless abandon, and a widow is the most praised for not saving her last cent, not what most of us would consider a wise retirement plan. Furthermore, Jesus has a way of speaking and teaching about the abuses of pleasure, the neglect of the poor, and the false hope of riches that quite frankly makes me terrified of becoming rich… and honestly just a little nervous being a middle-class American when compared to the rest of humanity past and present. It was not for nothing that the late G.K. Chesterton stated, “There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in a peculiar danger of moral wreck.”1 Sometimes I just feel like just giving it all away and seeing what God does from there.
And yet, we do see Christians using their houses to host church gatherings, we see clear commands to ensure that one works and provides for one’s self and one’s family first and foremost, and we see collections being made for offerings from part of one’s earnings. To be able to give someone a shirt off our backs or a bed to sleep in implies that we have them. None of this is contradictory, yet their is an obvious tension here, one that I have no problem stating that I’m still working on.
At times, even in my still less than homey working class house, the words of Saint Basil the Great (329-379 AD) pierce my conscience like a sharpened blade, “Tis the bread of the hungry you are holding, the shirt of the naked you put away in your chest, the shoe of the barefooted which rots in your closet, the buried treasure of the poor on which you sit!”2 For how similar such words sound to those of my Master, “I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or as a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for Me, either” (Matthew 25:42-45).
And those words are true, and those words are good, and they are something every Christian needs to heed and wrestle with. If our love of possessions and wealth has blinded us from a concern and care for the needy then we have a serious spiritual problem. Though we must also remember the freedom that we have in Christ. We cannot forget to apply the Gospel to our living and our giving, for ultimately God loves a cheerful giver, and therefore the Apostle Paul does not instruct the Corinthians to give with a predetermined amount of total abandon, but as each person had decided within their heart to give (I Cor. 9:7).
Though the tension can be thick when it comes to Christian giving, I believe several things are clear. We should be earnest about giving. If we are not cheerful givers we should be asking God to change our heart not deepen our pockets. We truly must believe, despite the wealth of opposing narratives that surround us, that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), even if that must mean that our fear of missing out will be realized in some places. We ought to remember that although “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude” (I Tim. 4:4) we are also sojourners and exiles on this earth (I Peter 2:11), and “pilgrims travel light.” How careful we must be to not misplace our hearts by building up our treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal (Matt. 6:19-20). We must balance our freedom in the Gospel and the true and good enjoyment we get from the physical blessings that are genuine gifts from God with the uniform witness of the deceitfulness of riches (Mark 4:14).
But what exactly does this kind of balance look like? Honestly, as I’ve said, I’m still working on it, but I believe that living in the tension is actually a good sign that we care about both the freedom of the Christian and the clear warnings and admonitions of Scripture. As usual I’ve found C.S. Lewis quite helpful in taking a step forward in fleshing out what exactly Christian giving should look like in my life, as he states in Mere Christianity:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our own expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our giving does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving exclude them.4
Essentially, give til it hurts, then praise God for both the pain and the blessing.
- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (New York: Cross Reach Publications, 2017), 74
- Quoted in Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, (New York, NY: Viking, 2016), 314
- Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving, revised and updated edition, (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2017), 55
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2001), 86