I’m planning to be study Philippians today with the woman I am mentoring in apologetics, so I thought I would post something about generosity and sharing.
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.
2 And He saw a poor widow putting in two small copper coins.
3 And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them;
4 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.