this world to follow him. All the churches I’ve attended spend more
time talking about responsibility then whole-hearted sacrifice for
Christ, but I have yet to find a passage in the gospel about
responsibility. Are we missing something. Can we reasonably sit in our
expensive homes with numerous luxuries responsibly saving our money
for retirement while so many people are homeless and starving. Is ten
percent just a cop out?
Your question touches upon the idea of Stewardship, and there are a few things to bring up.
1. The wealth and blessings that we have been provided by God are to be used in our various vocations. I’m a father, a friend, a son, a neighbor, a Church member. As such, I am to take what possessions I have and put them to use in fulfilling these vocations. What does this mean? It means some I put to caring for my family, some I use to bring enjoyment or physical care to my friends, some I use to aid neighbors or even random people I’ve never met, some I use to aid my parents, some supports the Church at large and some to support my congregation. The point is that rather that striving to have my service be devoted to money, I will use money as my servant.
2. This is why the question of “Is ten percent just a cop out” is interesting. There is no place in the new testament where we are commanded to tithe. Not a single place. Rather, what we do see are instructions to not use property and possessions in a greedy way, but rather to serve the neighbor. The highlight for me on this is Acts 2:44 – “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Or think on James 2:15-16 – ” If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” Or 1 John 3:17 – “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?”
So, yes, if someone says, “Well, I give 10 percent, what a good boy am I” that is a cop out. The command is love and care for your neighbor – not to demonstrate that you have “done enough” by giving X amount or Y percent.
3. This is where you might end up pushing the pendulum too far to the opposite side. Jesus doesn’t teach that if you are to be a Christian that you must just give away everything — Consider Matthew 19:16-22:
“And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”
Note what the context of Christ saying this is – He is speaking to one who thinks that He has kept the commandments — Christ says to give everything away to demonstrate to this young man his greed. It isn’t as though poverty from having given things away is a sign of being a real Christian (that was the thought of the monks of the middle ages who swore poverty), but rather this: as a Christian you should be aware that all that you have is blessing from God and be ready to put it to use in serving for your neighbor.
4. Practically speaking, does this mean that retirement savings are wrong? Not necessarily. I do so in order to help provide for my family — but if that savings becomes an idol, then it is a horrible thing. Are luxuries wrong? Again, not necessarily, but if I would refuse to help someone in need simply because I want the latest and greatest gizmo, then it has become an idol. And I don’t say this lightly – our sinful flesh loves to turn material things into idols, and most all of us have some “things” that we end up craving much more than is right or proper. Bear that in mind when you consider how you handle your possessions. So what I will say is this: go and serve live out your vocations. Be prepare to serve your neighbor, to use the blessings that God has given you as you know to be right and proper in your life, taking pains to care for the neighbor. Strive to be a good steward – but do not place any trust or glory in your stewardship, but rather with humility receive Christ’s forgiveness.
Rev. Eric J. Brown
Zion Lutheran Church – Lahoma, OK