Tag Archives: Charity

Wayne Grudem debates Richard Glover on the Bible, poverty and foreign aid

Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!
Two horses fight it out, may the best horse win!

A great episode of the Unbelievable podcast. This is a great debate. I really enjoyed it. All three speakers were excellent putting forward their points. It’s nice to hear an American voice, a British voice and an Australian voice debating an important issue. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


Wayne Grudem is a theologian known for his conservative approach to both doctrine and economics. His new book “The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution” (co-authored with economist Barry Asmus) makes the case that pouring aid into developing countries is a failed strategy. Grudem debates whether the Bible supports free market, capitalist economics with Australian economist and theologian Richard Glover who wrote a critique of the book for the Australian Bible Society.

 The MP3 file is here.



  • The Bible speaks to all of life, including economics, stewardship, government
  • The study of economics helps us to understand how to take care of the poor
  • My job is to apply the teachings of the Bible to all of life


  • What’s your thesis in the book?


  • A good system is one where the poor have the opportunity to earn and save from their labor
  • Book is a response to a Kenyan couple Grudem met at a London conference on business and Christianity
  • Book is not concerned with how individuals and groups can do charity to help the poor
  • Our church already does that and we support individuals and groups doing charity
  • The book is concerned with how should nations be transformed in order to grow economically
  • What should the laws, policies and cultural beliefs of a nation be in order for it to not be poor?
  • The book lists factors that have moved nations from poverty to prosperity in different times and places
  • The thesis of the book is this: government should set their people free to be able to produce more
  • We advocate freedom in economics: freedom to work, freedom to save, freedom to start businesses
  • We believe that this free enterprise view is consistent with the Bible in a number of places
  • E.g. – private property is good for prosperity (thou shall not steal) but forbidden by communism


  • What about the church sharing in communities in Acts 2 and Acts 4?


  • That is not redistribution of wealth among individuals and businesses by a secular government
  • Those passages showed that there was voluntary sharing among Christians, which is not communism


  • What’s wrong with Grudem’s book?


  • The book emphasizes the Bible and the goal is to help the poor in poor countries
  • Criticism 1: the book doesn’t engage with non-free-market perspectives on economics
  • Criticism 2: the book doesn’t survey all that the Bible says about economics


  • For 1) what is one of the views that is not considered?


  • Jeffrey Sachs says that nations need a leg up before they can grow economically
  • Ha-Joon Chang says that free enterprise was not how the wealthy nations became wealthy


  • We do engage with other points of view, especially Jeffrey Sachs in the book
  • The trouble with leftist views on economic development is that it does not work in practice
  • NO COUNTRY has even been lifted out of poverty by foreign aid
  • He says we don’t cite enough from the wisdom literature: we have 64 citations in the index
  • He says we don’t cite enough from the gospels: we have 42 citations in the index
  • He says we don’t cite enough from the epistles: we cite 22 of 27 epistles in the index
  • Some economists won’t criticize cultural and moral values that hurt prosperity
  • As Christians, we think that moral and cultural values are part of the problem that needs solving


  • What about foreign aid?


  • Foreign aid doesn’t help: a lot of the money goes into government and rulers can be corrupt
  • Instead of encouraging people to start businesses, it tells people to go into government to get aid money
  • Economists (lists 3) are saying that foreign aid entrenches corrupt government in power, does no good


  • If it’s not working, should we keep doing it?


  • When there is an immediate need, we should do it, even if it is not a long-term solution: we need both


  • Should we stop foreign aid completely?


  • Voluntary charitable giving from individuals and churches to help poor countries is good
  • Me and my co-author are both active on our church board that helps poor countries with urgent needs
  • Food and doctors are urgent needs, and we should help, but it doesn’t lift countries out of poverty
  • We need a long-term solution that helps poor countries produce their own food and doctors
  • We are criticizing 1) government to government aid and 2) IMF/World bank to government aid
  • We have had pushback because 500,000 people make a living from this foreign aid industry
  • No country has ever been lifted out of poverty into sustainable prosperity
  • That’s the definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing that has never worked


  • Does the Bible support free enterprise as a way of creating sustainable prosperity?


  • When I said the Bible was absent from his book, absent was a bad choice of words
  • But the hundreds of references he listed were not dealth with *in depth*
  • In the Scriptures, God is the one who provides (e.g. – in Ephesians, Sermon on the Mount)
  • The Bible is less focused on his people making money, and more focus on sharing basics, like food
  • Secular governments should just take it from people who have food and give it to hungry people
  • In 2 Cor 8-9, Paul talks about voluntary sharing so everyone will be equal


  • Does 2 Cor 8-9 undermine the free enterprise system you champion in the book?


  • The sharing in the Bible solves cases of urgent need, it does not lift countries from poverty to sustainable prosperity
  • Some older translations say “equality” in 2 Cor 8:13-14, but newer translations (e.g. – ESV) say “fairness”
  • The Greek word is translated as “fairly” the only other place it appears in the NT (Col 4:1), in every translation
  • God uses the means of human work and productivity to provide (daily bread is baked, doesn’t just fall from Heaven)
  • In general, there’s no provision in Scripture for a person to be dependent on donations for their entire lives
  • God promises Israel fields and mountains to tend and mine, but prosperity is from work, not depending on others


  • Does the Bible support this focus on work?


  • Working is highly praised in Scripture, (lists Bible passages that favor work over dependency)
  • Countries that were exposed to this notion of work and productivity have been more prosperous


  • Jeffrey Sachs and other development economists don’t say you can be prosperous through dependence
  • They say that it is a necessary part of leading to nations out of poverty into poverty


  • It’s never worked. What nation has become prosperous through foreign aid?


  • There are lots of nations, especially in Africa, where foreign aid has helped lift them out of poverty


  • Name one country in Africa where foreign aud has lifted them out of poverty into sustainable prosperity


  • I can’t think of one right now.


  • Our book contains a map of Africa and we looked at every nation’s per capita income
  • No nation has been able to rise out of poverty through dependence on foreign aid
  • The only close one is Botswana, but they have abundant freedoms, Christian morals, less corrupt government
  • So Botswana is the best case and they became prosperous through becoming productive, not foreign aid


  • Is he right to say that charity is a short-term solution, but that it’s not good long-term for prosperity?


  • Yes, and work is a very important focus in the Scriptures as he says.
  • But since the Fall work has been much harder, and may not have the outcomes that we would like


  • I also believe in emergency aid for when catastrophies happen, like floods and famines
  • But dependence on foreign aid enriches corrupt rulers and does not create the productivity that leads to sustained prosperity


  • Can foreign aid be used to give poor nations a leg up on becoming prosperous?


  • Dambisa Moyo, Oxford-educated economist from Zambia, says stop the aid, it’s doing more harm than good
  • Jeffrey Sachs’ view is that foreign aid hasn’t worked yet, but just keep trying a bit more
  • What works: limited government, rule of law, fair courts, documented property rights, low taxes, stable currency
  • People are creative and want to work, we just have to get government out of the way and let people work, earn and save


  • Is this free enterprise system supported by the Bible?


  • The wealthy nations of the world did not become wealthy through productive work and free enterprise policies
  • Ha-Joon Chang: free enterprise policies have never brought a country from poverty to wealth
  • E.g. – wealth is created through tariffs (not by innovating and by economic freedom?)


  • I’ve read Ha-Joon Chang’s book, and his examples are very selective and limited
  • Index of Economic Freedom: the freest countries are the most prosperous, the least free countries are the most poor
  • When you look at macro data, instead of very selective examples, the free enterprise system is best for prosperity


  • The book doesn’t do enough to engage with leftist economists (he doesn’t say which ones)
  • Just because nations who are free are rich, doesn’t mean freedom causes productivity
  • There are parts of the Bible that doesn’t support the free enterprise system (he names none)


  • The Bible is focused on work not dependency, and charity not government redistribution
  • The best way to help the poor in other countries is by encouraging work and productivity

UK Guardian claim: religious children are meaner than non-religious children

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

Here’s what the the radically secular and leftist UK Guardian had to say about a recent study:

Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.

Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.

They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism.

“Overall, our findings … contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.

“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”

Now, whenever I read studies like this that trumpet how great secularism is, I always look more closely to see how they define the terms. Usually, what’s been done is that the study will define the “good” behavior as “leftist” behavior. For example, “punitive” might mean “judging something morally wrong”, which the secular left regards as bad. So, if your starting point is feelings of compassion, moral relativism, non-judgmentalism, then yes – religious people will look bad.

Anyway, here is a response to the Guardian’s article, and the study they cite, from statistician William Briggs.

He writes:

Here’s how to you can replicate their study at home. First, define altruism. Go on, I’ll wait.

Have a definition in mind? I’m sure it’s correct and matches everybody else’s definition in precise detail, details like no-greater-love, supreme sacrifice, kindness, patience, love, and so on, right? Well, maybe not, but never mind. Instead, think about how you would quantify your definition. Quantification makes your definition scientific. Science means unquestionable truth.

Was your answer about quantification the “Dictator game”? Like this (from the Supplementary description)?:

[C]hildren were shown a set of 30 stickers and told to choose their 10 favorite. They were then told “these stickers are yours to keep.” Children were instructed that the experimenter did not have the time to play this game with all of the children in the school, so not everyone would be able to receive stickers. Children were finally shown a set of envelopes and informed that they could give some of their stickers to another child who would not be able to play this game by putting them in one envelope and they could put the stickers they wanted to keep in the other envelope. Experimenters turned around during the child’s choice and children were instructed to inform the experimenter when they were finished. Altruism was calculated as the number of stickers shared out of 10.

Yes, this scientifically captures every possible nuance of the scientific concept of altruism, doesn’t it? Science science science science. Science. It must be science! Scientists wrote this, peer scientists reviewed it, and scientists nod sagely when reading it.

Now define “religiosity” for kids. I’ll wait again.

Have it? Ha ha! That was a trick question. The authors never assessed the “religiosity” of kids; they did it for the kids’ “caregivers” instead. How? The authors asked parents to name their religion. They also asked parents questions like “How often do you experience the ‘divine’ in your everyday life?” They took pseudo-quantified answers from these and combined them scientifically with a quantification of religious attendance and derived a complete scientific quantification of “religiosity.” This was assigned to each kid in the study.

One of my friends in academia who publishes studies with regression analysis writes:

[I] Don’t buy all of his critiques of regression analysis but he is dead on in that the operationizing of the variables in that research is poor. I would also add that the regression model is underspecified.

So that’s two scholars who deal in statistics who don’t like the study. Sociologist Dr. George Yancey also responds to the study’s methodology in detail over at The Stream.

So here are my thoughts: first of all, children typically are little monsters, and they do not understand religion enough to act consistently with it until much later. So it’s a mistake to look at the religion of the parents and assume that in most cases, the children will have accepted that and be operating from that worldview. Second, if you were judging my religiosity at age 12 by talking to my parents, I would not have been considered religious at all, except I was. Third, giving stuff away to strangers is the secular left’s definition of altruism. Earning things through work and then sharing with people you actually know is what conservatives consider “altruism”. The study didn’t ask about how many stickers the religious kids shared with their friends and family when they got home. Conservatives tend to not want to hand out goodies to strangers through some unknown intermediary like big government. We prefer to give to people we know or through private organizations we know. Government is known to waste money on nonsense.

Hypocrisy on the left

There’s a lot of hypocrisy on the secular left. On the one hand, they want to give away lots of taxpayer money to the poor, on the other hand, they personally give far less in charity to the poor. I.e. – they are very generous with other people’s money – especially when they can brag about it to others to appear generous. But in their personal lives, they are often much less generous about giving away their own money. In fact, Arthur Brooks did a study of non-religious and religious people and charitable giving, and he found that the religious people gave away much more than the non-religious people.

Take a look at this video to understand how secular leftists think about “morality” and giving away money:

So, yes – they may sound generous when they are talking about spending someone else’s money, but they themselves are not generous. And that’s not unexpected, since secular leftists believe that this life is all they have, and there is no objective moral standard, nor any accountability to a Creator / Designer when they die. How will you generate a robust notion of generosity, when your story of origins is “survival of the fittest”? You can’t.

If you want to know what’s ahead for America, look north to Canada

Canada election results 2015
Canada election results 2015 (click for larger image)

A friend of mine pointed out this post by a pro-life woman based in Calgary, Alberta named McKenzie. As you all know, Canada lurched hard left last Monday, electing a strongly pro-abortion Liberal Party government, led by a man who insisted that candidates in his party swear their allegiance to abortion on demand, through all 9 months of pregnancy.

I took a look at some of the pro-life Members of Parliament and noticed that a bunch of them stepped down this election, and many others were defeated by Liberals. So, McKenzie is looking forward and seeing where the pro-abortion Liberal Party is going next now that they have a majority government.

She writes:

As tempting as it is to write a semi-encouraging post about the state of affairs for the next two to four years, the reality is that the political sphere of the pro-life movement has been dealt a treacherous blow in seeking to protect the most defenseless lives among us.

In the foreseeable future, here are three possible federal pressures we can expect from our Parliament over the next few months and years:

1. Legislation inhibiting, directly or indirectly, the freedom and mobility of life-affirming organizations, including pregnancy resource centres, and their ability to reach women seeking abortions. We’ve had zero laws restricting abortion access throughout all nine months of pregnancy since 1988, but that hasn’t stopped our new Prime Minister from enforcing a strictly pro-choice view among his party. The question at the front of their minds seems to be, “how much further could we go in promoting abortion in our society – and overseas?” A reasonable prediction is that the CRA and Human Rights Commissions will put additional pressure on Christian or pro-life charities to comply with any new laws enacted, regardless of their protections under the Charter – similar to our friends in California presently forced to give out abortion information alongside life-affirming options at pregnancy resource centres, though abortion clinics are not required to reciprocate.

CRA = Canada Revenue Agency, their IRS. We’ve already had a scandal where the IRS, probably under the direction of the White House, went after charities that were working against the Democrats on certain issues like stopping voter fraud. She is expecting to see the CRA used similarly to go after pro-lifers. As you know, the Human Rights Commissions are tools used by the secular left to punish conservatives for offending people on the secular left. The laws are only ever applied against conservatives, and they almost always lose their cases. Well, pro-lifers are offensive. McKenzie thinks that the HRCs are going to go after them.

Another one:

3. Economic policies directly and/or indirectly inhibiting our ability to donate towards charities and charitable causes, especially pro-life or pro-family causes. Less money in the hands of private donors (especially those in the middle class) in a recession, coupled with higher redistribution through taxes, hits families the hardest when men and women are in their peak income-earning years. Less resources to go around means less charitable giving when mom and dad need to put their own needs for bills, food, and shelter first.

This is not surprising. The left is always anxious to go after charitable giving, because people are giving their money to causes they care about and the left doesn’t get any benefit. What the left prefers is that they take the money from potential charitable donors and then use it to buy votes. Obama’s latest budget of 2015 was the latest attempt to limit charitable contributions. She is expecting that pro-life donors will be targeted by the new Liberal majority government. And she undertstands that whatever impact she is going to have as a Christian is going to be funded by her own efforts to work for money, he husbands efforts to work for money, and the charitable donations she can get. The government never funds the efforts of Christians and/or conservatives to push Christian or conservative views. Which is why it makes zero sense for Christians to vote to expand the federal government outside of its Constitutional responsibilities.

So what are my thoughts on all this?

Well, I wish more pro-lifers down here were as aware of the effects of laws and policies on life plans. If you read the rest of her post, McKenzie clearly has some kind of pro-life plan there, and it’s a good one in that it’s practical and evidence based. She intends to get results. But she’s not looking inside at her own feelings and thoughts when she makes these life plans, she’s looking at politics and laws and trying to anticipate where the threats will come from, and how to adjust. I wish pro-lifers here were more like that… especially when it comes to size of government. We need to keep our own money and not give it to the government. We need to keep the government away from our rights, e.g. – free speech and religious liberty.

Anyway, if you follow the gay rights vs religious liberties battles we are having now with florists, bakers, photographers, etc., then you might recall that similar things were happening in Canada 10-20 years ago. Canada was going through these problems in the late 90s, early 2000s, when the Liberals were in charge. It sort of died out when the Conservatives took over, but there’s no reason I can see for it not to come back now that Canada has elected a Liberal majority. I’m going to be watching the situation closely up there, because whatever the Liberals do up there now is likely to make its way down here in the next 10-15 years – if we elect Democrats.

In fact, with respect to what she said about restricting pro-lifers, the Democrat Party already introduced a bill to remove all restrictions on abortion at the state and local levels. This is what they do. Laws, taxes and politics do matter.

Love another Christian just because of the fellowship of the gospel

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

Philippians is my favorite book of the Bible. When I study Philippians 1, I use D. A. Carson’s “Basics for Believers” commentary.

Here is the part I want to talk about today:

Philippians 1:1-11:

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,

in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.

For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,

10 so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;

11 having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Now just read that and reflect on how passionate, and even unstable and emotional Paul sounds about this love he has for this church. Ask yourself this: what is the basis for these feelings? Read it again, and write your answer down. I’ll tell you mine in a minute.

Now here is D. A. Carson.

He writes:

As often in his letters, Paul begins with a warm expression of thanks to God for something in the lives of his readers. Here the grounds of his thanksgiving to God are three in number, though all three are tied to the same theme.

The first is their faithful memory of him. The NIV reads, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (1: 3). But others suggest “I thank my God every time you remember me,” or something similar. The original is ambiguous. For reasons I shall not go into, I think Paul is referring to their remembrance of him. Later on he will thank the Philippians for remembering him so warmly that they sent funds to support him in his ministry. But here the vision is broader: he perceives that their interest in him is a reflection of their continued commitment to the gospel, and that is why he thanks God for them.

The point becomes explicit in the second cause of his thanksgiving: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now . . .” (1: 4– 5). Their “partnership in the gospel” injects joy into Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving: “I always pray with joy,” he writes. The word rendered “partnership” is more commonly translated “fellowship” in the New Testament. What precisely does the word mean? In common use “fellowship” has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbor to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbor, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for coffee afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26).

The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God.

[..]Implicitly, such an apostolic stance asks us what gives us our greatest joy. Is it personal success? Some victory for our children? Acquisition of material things? “I have no greater joy,” John writes, “than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Paul reflects exactly the same attitude. Paul adds, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart . . .” (Phil. 1: 7). Probably this was written against the background of Stoic influence that was cautious about whole-life commitments, especially if they involved the “passions.” Be cool; do not be vulnerable; do not get hurt. But that was not Paul’s way. “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you,” Paul insists, regardless of what the contemporary culture says. “I have you in my heart”: my whole life and thought are bound up with you.


So strongly does he want the Philippians to recognize his devotion to them that Paul puts himself under an oath: “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1: 8). The significance of the oath is not that without it he might lie. Rather, he puts himself under an oath so that the Philippians might feel the passion of his truthfulness, in exactly the same way that God puts himself under an oath in the Epistle to the Hebrews. There the point is not that otherwise God might lie, but that God wants to be believed (Heb. 7: 20– 25). So Paul: God is my witness “how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Here is no mere professionalism. Nor is this an act, a bit of showmanship to “turn them on” to the apostle. Rather, it is something that repeatedly bubbles through Paul’s arguments. It recurs, for example, in chapter 4: “Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!” (4: 1).

Both from Paul’s example and from that of the Philippians, then, we must learn this first point: the fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers. That is the burden of these opening verses. Paul does not commend them for the fine times they had shared watching games in the arena. He doesn’t mention their literature discussion groups or the excellent meals they had, although undoubtedly they had enjoyed some fine times together. What lies at the center of all his ties with them, doubtless including meals and discussion, is this passion for the gospel, this partnership in the gospel.

What ties us together? What do we talk about when we meet, even after a church service? Mere civilities? The weather? Sports? Our careers and our children? Our aches and pains? None of these topics should be excluded from the conversation of Christians, of course. In sharing all of life, these things will inevitably come up. But what must tie us together as Christians is this passion for the gospel, this fellowship in the gospel. On the face of it, nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches: men and women, young and old, blue collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities. What holds us together? It is the gospel, the good news that in Jesus, God himself has reconciled us to himself. This brings about a precious God-centeredness that we share with other believers.

Does what Carson writes make you think of the Lord of the Rings book 1? (“The Fellowship of the Ring”) It sounds like Christians are supposed to band together in common purpose in order to complete a quest. They are not supposed to just be hanging out to pass the time. There is planning. There is cooperation. There is danger. There is achievement. There is adventure. I think that he loves the church in Philippi because they have entered into this fellowship of the gospel with him.


Already in verse 4 Paul has insisted that whenever he prays for the Philippians, he does so with joy and thanksgiving. Now he gives us the content of his prayers for them: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ— to the glory and praise of God” (1: 9– 11).

[…]Second, what Paul has in mind is not mere sentimentalism or the rush of pleasure spawned, for example, by a large conference. “I pray,” Paul writes, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” The kind of love that Paul has in mind is the love that becomes more knowledgeable. Of course, Paul is not thinking of just any kind of knowledge. He is not hoping they will learn more and more about nuclear physics or sea turtles. He has in mind the knowledge of God; he wants them to enjoy insight into God’s words and ways, and thus to know how to live in light of them.

[…]Third, for Paul this prayer has a further end in view. He lifts these petitions to God, he tells the Philippians, “so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ” (1: 10). Clearly, Paul does not want the Philippian believers to be satisfied with mediocrity. He cannot be satisfied, in a fallen world, with the status quo. He wants these believers to move on, to become more and more discerning, proving in their own experience “what is best.” He wants them to pursue what is best in the knowledge of God, what is best in their relationships with other believers, what is best in joyful obedience. For ultimately what he wants from them is perfection: he prays that they “may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.”

Now for my thoughts.

I want all of you reading this to do one thing for me. I want you to completely abandon the criteria you are currently using for who you will be friends with and adopt Paul’s criteria. I want you to put your gospel-related activities at the center of your life. Do not neglect your other practical duties like making money and saving money and so on, but when it comes to your passion, where you take risks, where your long-term goals are – I want you to put the gospel at the center. And I do not mean mere proclamation of simple statements, I mean apologetics and Christian worldview – including politics, economics, etc.

Now, that’s not my main point. My main point is that I further want you to stop choosing who you will associate with based on worldly criteria. I want you to think about the people around you who are the most willing to put the gospel first and I want you to take up those people as friends. I want you to talk to them, to share with them, to encourage them, to confide in them, to listen to their confessions and to generally love them in the traditional ways that Christians love, e.g. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. You need to fellowship with them – invest in their enterprises, and let them invest in yours, too. This is real love according to the Bible.

We need to stop looking at other people on the surface level – age, skin color, wealth, clothes, etc. – and start to dig deeper underneath to find out where each person stands with respect to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our criteria should not be present ability. We should choose those with desire, intensity, and willingness to learn hard things. The first person you should invest in is the person who wants to learn to defend their faith to non-Christians using the best available evidence. If that person can demonstrate their desire to do grow in knowledge and depth of insight, you should be spending your time, money and effort with that person first.

Three ways that generosity makes sense in the Christian worldview

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

First, let’s look at a few passages from the Bible that show the importance of sharing generously with others. I also want to emphasize the need to work and to not be a burden to others, and to emphasize that the goal of sharing with others is to build them up.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-11: (Paul speaking)

10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

11 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.

Acts 20:32-35: (Paul speaking)

32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes.

34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.

35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said,‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Philippians 4:14-18: (Paul speaking)

14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.

15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone;

16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.

17 Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.

18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.

Luke 21:1-4: (Jesus speaking)

1 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury.

And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.

And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them;

for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”

So in an effort to keep this post small, I’m going to be brief. And practical.

Make as much money as you can

The first point I want to make is that it is impossible to share with anyone else unless you have your own financial house in order. Don’t borrow money. Don’t ask for money.  Study hard things (STEM and useful trades) so that you always have work and are always earning money. In the 2 Thessalonians 3:10-11 passage, we learn that able-bodied people need to be working. That is a practical pre-condition of sharing with others. The more money you make the more you have to share. If you want to advance the gospel and build up others, money is absolutely vital. Don’t study crap subjects in school, don’t take useless jobs, don’t neglect the need to build a gapless resume of increasingly more challenging work, don’t get tied down by worldly goods and recreational dating early – so you can finish your education as much as you can. Be practical – charitable giving doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from a person who is ordered and disciplined. Unless you are some sort of skilled Christian scholar, don’t be flying all over the world willy-nilly on expensive mission trips, either – there is plenty of work to do right where God planted you. Be a good steward of your money, and the donations of other Christians.

Partnering with others for the gospel

The second point I want to contrast is the giving I prefer with the giving I do not prefer. The giving I prefer is to give to another Christian who I know personally who is involved in ministry that advances the gospel by arguing for the truth of the gospel using apologetics. So, I like to give to groups like Ratio Christi and to Christian scholars who have ministries or who are doing useful degrees. My goal is to spread the gospel in the only way it can be spread – by demonstrating the truth of it using arguments and evidence. I do not give money to anti-poverty groups like World Vision or to unskilled missionaries who just want an extended vacation in order to satisfy some childhood fancy animated by pride and/or vanity. When I give money to another Christian, my goal is to partner with them, not to feel good about myself. I am trying to get something done for the Lord, not to feel better or to make people think I am nice or to “balance the books” with God (which is heretical).

Building your rewards in Heaven

The third point I want to make is to emphasize that this is not a pointless exercise. Everyone who is a Christian accepts that reconciliation with God is achieved not by human efforts to be good, but by acknowledging and conforming your life to a free gift that was offered by Jesus Christ. Christ died in order to pay the penalty for every individual person’s rebellion against God the Father. That atoning death is the basis for our reconciliation with God, and our eternal life with him. However, the passage in Philippians makes clear that our experience of Heaven after we have been saved by grace is affected by what we do here and now. So often, what you hear in church is do this, do that, and there is never any rationality to it, no emphasis on long-term planning or wisdom in decision-making. It’s all just ad hoc emotivism. But I am telling you something different today. You have a few years on Earth to understand the example of Christ, to follow him, and share in his sufferings as you imitate his obedience. You better have some sort of plan to produce a return on God’s investment in you, and it has to be a good plan. Not one that makes you feel good, but one that is likely to achieve results. Plan your charitable giving like your life were an episode of Mission Impossible, and focus on outcomes, not feelings. That doesn’t mean that results are the measure of success, because that’s God’s job. But it does mean that you should prefer the Thomas Sowell approach to the Disney Princess approach.

The soul-making theodicy

The fourth point I want to make is that one of the reasons why God allows evil and suffering in this world is to allow us the opportunity to be active partners with him in demonstrating the love of Christ to others. God’s goal for us is not to make us safe and happy. God’s goal for us is to get us to freely enter into and sustain a relationship with him – a relationship that includes an accurate knowledge of who he is, and a free response of love and obedience to him. With respect to that goal, God is fully justified in permitting all kinds of evil and suffering, which in turn provide opportunities for us to 1) enter in to his plan of love and redemption for others and 2) demonstrate his character to the watching world through our actions as his agents. The situation is identical to what parents do in allowing their children to be hurt while learning – God holds back from annihilating some evil and suffering so that we have an opportunity to step into the breach. This advances our relationships with him through shared purpose and shared experiences. This is fellowship with God – not just reading devotional, pious-sounding bilge, but active partnering and dangerous action in some non-trivial enterprise. Give him your best – the same best you bring to your work or anything else in your life that really matters.