Wednesday, February 14

A Potent Force For Good In This World

I'm on Lesson 16 or so, learning about finances.

Today Paul gets practical about the very topic of money itself. He continues listing areas which require transformation to put on Christ. As you read the next two, you'll see the same pattern of three elements--what to put off, what to put on, and the new mind of Christ we're to adopt.

 Eph. 4:26-28
26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

We must put off anger, in contrast to some of the popular teaching of today, which often says it's most healthy to vent our anger. Certainly we will be hurt if we deny our anger, but Paul says that giving our anger its way makes room for the devil. Do you want to provide a place for the devil in your life? I certainly don't, so this mindset gives me powerful motivation not to stay angry. 

Paul doesn't say, "Don't be angry." He says, "Be angry but don't sin." The old self sins in anger. I easily justify myself when I am angry, because anger leads to righteous indignation.

How does this apply to money? Well, indirectly, I suppose. But just like we say "Don't drive under the influence of alcohol" we could say "Don't spend under the influence of anger." Anger clouds our judgment and could lead us to ungodly decisions about our money.

Paul's next item: put off stealing. Clearly, if we are in Christ, we cannot steal. Now, I have never robbed anyone or even taken something that belonged to someone else knowingly, as far as I am aware. But John Wesley had higher standards for those in Christ. He said that if we do not repay debts as quickly as possible, we are robbing our lenders of the interest. 

I think there have been a few times in my life when someone has given me some money to pass on, which I forgot and neglected to give it to the person it was intended for. Honestly, I was not seeking to steal it; I was sloppy in my management of details and forgetful. This will never do. I repented of that years ago, and Paul here gives me a good reminder to be vigilant against any form of taking what belongs to another.

Now I would have thought the opposite of stealing would be contentment with what I have. Paul surprises me here by exposing my poverty of thought in my natural flesh, and the extravagance of Jesus (which we saw in chapters 1-2). The new self to put on is not mere contentment, but working hard. Stealing is a short cut to avoid work.

And the new mindset goes a step further: Paul assumes that we will want to give to those who are needy, if we're in Christ. Why? Well, when we think about Jesus for a minute we realize he was always about the business of giving to the needy. He came preaching good news to the poor, giving sight to the blind, healing the sick, binding the wounds of the brokenhearted, and setting captives free. I have been the recipient of his generosity myself! This past year alone Jesus set me free from at least three ways I had been a captive to sin and death.

Why wouldn't I want to participate in that myself? If Jesus truly dwells in me, and if I am his loyal and obedient subject, then of course I will be involved in the business of my king. Of course I will be generous, compassionate, working to set captives free, and giving to the needy!

This mindset is new for me. My wife and I have given to ministries ever since we got married, investing in people who are preaching the Gospel in word and deed to the lost and serving the poor, and in our church. We give a minimum of ten percent because that seems like a good baseline standard. But there is no such rule in the New Testament. The standard is to be a cheerful giver, to give as much as possible, even out of our poverty, and in this passage, to work hard in order to be able to give.

I have worked hard for two reasons: because I love my job, and to support my family. Supporting our church and other ministries has almost been incidental--a conviction and commitment we live out. But it has not driven me to work to make more money.

This attacks me in my sloth: will I put out more effort than strictly needed, in order to give more generously? My organization would like to pay me more money that I feel I really need. Because we're a non-profit, I fundraise all those dollars. My attitude has been that if I need less, I can just fundraise less and be content with that. But Paul presses me: will I fundraise what my supervisors would like me to make, in order to have much more to give away?

Perhaps my wife and I should dream a little about giving. Where could we give to? Actually, we know lots of people with significant needs that we would love to invest more in. So we could dream about the kinds of good works we could make possible and how we could be good news to the poor, if we had more to give.

I am inspired. Are you?

Lord, help me to work hard. I want to become a more potent force for good in this world. Strengthen my hands for the work of fundraising and earning money so that I can give much more to the needy.

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