“No, you can’t,” came the reply. “Well, why not?,” was the reply to the reply. “Because it is mine,” was the short answer. A brief pause was followed with, “But don’t you know we are supposed to share?” With growing frustration, the final answer came. “But you will break it, or lose it, and then it won’t be mine anymore.” At that point, the child growing weary of the persistent requests from the other child to play with his toys, picked up his things and went back into his house.
I can remember like yesterday the disappointing scenario that denied the potential joy that may have come if only the attitude of materialism hadn’t dominated the situation. The assertion of entitlement and proprietorship that led to letdown is one that is played out continually in a society that is being held hostage by greed, materialism, and a false perception of a person’s value. At its source is a failure to understand what actually produces worth in a person. Often the false thinking says that the more things a person has or the more lovely those things are, then the greater that person’s self-worth is. This inevitably undermines generosity which produces very unpleasant humans. A society that refuses to engage in the art of sharing has indeed fallen into a sad state.
While a fallen culture that exhibits characteristics of its fallenness comes as no surprise, a redeemed culture that continues to exhibit those traits is truly tragic. As Christians, we are redeemed from the pitfall of sin, as well as the effects caused by sin, according to the blood that was shed by Jesus Christ. As a result, God has chosen in His grace and mercy to share with us His righteousness and the heritage of eternal life. There is no greater expression of generosity that has been seen in the entire history of the universe which stands as a witness to the Church as the standard to follow.
“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” John 10:11 NASB
While we do not have the ability or authority to bestow forgiveness of sins and eternal life upon someone, the principle of sacrificial giving is still there. Unfortunately, and too easily at times, we have the very unique ability to forget where we have come from; denying the miry pit of our past which the Lord drew us out of. This is seen nowhere clearer than when a church loses its humble heart of generosity and becomes an institution more concerned with hoarding and accumulating than with the blessing of giving. Similar to the picture of little children who have yet to fully learn the art and blessing of sharing, the danger for the church is that the lesson taught us by the sacrificial love of Christ would be something forgotten and replaced by a love for material possessions that will someday rot out, rust out, and return to dust. Instead of being skilled and proficient stewards of what has been given to us, we become like the unjust steward who dug a hole and hid his talent in the ground.
“But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.” Matthew 25:18
So how do we avoid falling into the attitude of materialism that pervades an antagonistic and dangerously influential culture? Or, maybe more practical, how do we escape the chains of “it’s mine” once it has invaded the land of our hearts and taken us captive?
The answer is probably more simple than it seems…become a giver.
Generosity Begets Generosity…
Generosity is an interesting animal. With the economy of most things, when you give it away or use it up, a person is left with less, right? For instance, if I have two cookies and I give one away, now I am left with less than I had when I began. It is simple math. But if one only looks at the surface, they will fail to see the underlying benefit that is actually taking place. While a person may end up with less cookies if they give one away to someone who needs a sweet treat, there is a somewhat mysterious economy of divine math, governed no doubt by the Lord Himself, that dictates there will be a benefit that is actually added; leaving the person with more not less. The equation goes something like this, two cookies minus one cookie equals greater generosity. While some may get hung up on the surface level of the equation that says if I am generous then I will just end up with less, the Lord’s economy says we will actually end up with more. And this more carries eternal weight.
Jesus has much to say in His gospels about the blessing of generosity and the pitfalls of hoarding. For instance, He tells us in the book of Acts that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35). And again, Jesus warns us against the deceptive thinking that leads one to believe that a person’s worth consists of the material possessions one may or may not have (Luke 12:15). In another place, the Lord warns us not to place too much emphasis on earthly possessions because they will eventually fall into decay or be stolen, but instead He urges His would be disciples to store up treasure in heaven where rust, moth, and thief cannot diminish its worth (Matthew 6:19-20). These are critically important truths to cling to in breaking the chains of materialism.
But there is another principle that Jesus taught that is equally profound and effective in regaining the kingdom ground that is often given up in a church or a person that is reluctant to live life with an open hand. In the gospel according to Luke, Jesus tells a story of a wealthy man (Luke 16:1-9). This wealthy man evidently had so much wealth that he needed to have a manager to oversee his possessions and maintain his successful business. One day, the rich man schedules an appointment with his manager so he could go over the books of the account with him. The manager quickly realizes he is in big trouble because he hadn’t been very faithful in watching over his boss’s accounts. People owed his boss money and the manager had let it slide. As he contemplates his situation, realizing he is about to lose his job and is not fit for manual labor, he does something very shrewdly. He goes to his boss’s clients and gives them all big discounts on the bills they owe, even dropping their debt down by as much as half. Why does the manager do this? It says he did so in order that he could use the means of generosity in finances and business to gain the friendship of his boss’ debtors so that when he loses his job, he will have somewhere to go. When the manager discovers what he has done, he praises the manager for his shrewdness. Then, as is Jesus’ custom in His parables, He makes the connection between the earthly illustration and the kingdom of God by saying this,
“And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness (Greek – μαμωνας, mammon), so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9 NASB)
Jesus drives the point home by explaining to His disciples in this parable that their willingness to use the unrighteous wealth of this world to serve others and even to possibly gain friendships (I take this to mean eternal, heavenly friendships as they become converts through the gospel which the opportunity of generosity may afford) proves that their faith is actually a saving faith in Christ which results in receiving an eternal dwelling place. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Generosity with earthly possessions, whether it be clothing, cars, houses, or even money, is proof positive that one is a child of the kingdom. This also implies, on the other hand, that an unwillingness to be shrewdly generous with our possessions puts us in a position where we should seriously question where our faith is. Is it truly in Christ who determines our self-worth? Or is it in the things of this world that will soon fade away? Are we ok with using the unrighteous wealth of this world to make friends with sinners? Or are we too hung up on stockpiling and preserving possessions “because it is mine.”
One Last Thought…
Often the argument is raised, “But God gave me this, and I need to be a good steward of it. I need to guard it and protect it. If I share it, then I run the risk of losing it. Or if I loan it out, then I run the risk of it getting returned broken or in poor condition.” To which I believe the Lord would say, cast your seed and care not if it seems to be lost or returned to you in disrepair…the Lord can always give more.
After all, wasn’t He the One who gave it in the first place?
“And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Hebrews 13:16 NASB