This week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 3:7-11; it is about sharing our personal possessions and food.
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked. 11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
John the Baptist had just finished teaching about big things, such as the kingdom of God and salvation. The audience it seems were Jewish, since he is making a reference to the children of Abraham. Many of the Jewish people of that day thought that they would be saved when they died, since they were children of Abraham. It was both a religious and cultural belief system they were abiding by. In those ancient times, people placed a very high value on family and where they were from. Throughout scripture you see references to what village or town someone was from (see John 1:46). It was a big deal back then to be from a specific family or lineage: village and family were bragging rights.
Being associated with a particular family might mean that you could inherit wealth. I used to work with someone who had the last name Smucker. People would often ask him if was related to the Smucker’s family of jams and jellies, sold at most grocery stores. He would always reply with “By name but not by money!” To the Jews of that day, there was even greater significance: they believed since their spiritual and ancestral father was Abraham, they would be saved when they died, and live in heaven and not hell for eternity, with their many-times-great grandfather Abraham. Interestingly, Smucker’s trademark includes “With a Name Like Smucker’s it has to be good®.”
Those cultural beliefs are quite a bit different from today’s. Today we value individuals and what they can accomplish in their professions. We often place a higher value on doctors and lawyers than on members of other professions. We admire the amount of money people can earn, their place in society; and we admire celebrities, even those who have been made famous by silly reality TV programs. Often our modern western society links people’s value to money, and we personalize this notion by thinking that if we amass a large fortune, we can endure most calamities that might come our way.
We don’t value family and parents as much as they did either. It seems to be rare that people brag about their family names, or even respect their parents much. In antiquity, it was shameful and perhaps financially unwise to disassociate ourselves from our parents; perhaps this is why honoring our parents is one of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:12). High value is placed today on the great job you have or the college you are from–almost everyone is impressed if someone has a Harvard degree. High value is placed on the clothing emblem, brand of car and country club membership.
Looking back at Luke 3:7-11, we see John the Baptist not only hinting that their lineage and religion would not save them, but also mentioning the works of giving away extra shirts and food as evidence of God’s fruit in their lives. I can’t imagine only having two shirts and giving one away. It is difficult to imagine living in that day, with no grocery stores or cold and canned food storage at home. It is hard to believe that if I had enough money for lunch, I could give away some of my food with dinner several hours away. John the Baptist might have been using hyperbole, or exaggeration, to make a strong point. That said, maybe our closets and garages need cleaning out, and maybe we need to give away our clothes to the point of pain, to hold off buying new clothes unless we really need them, or to buy less rich food, and instead to donate money to the poor. I am reminded of a couple of quotes of C.S. Lewis, the best Christian apologist of the 20th Century.
- Charity–Giving to the poor–is an essential part of Christian morality…I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them. Mere Christianity, bk. III, chap. 3, para. 7, pp. 81-82
- The limit of giving is to be the limit of our ability to give. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Introduction, para. 53, p. 35
Jesus totally ties our faith in him to obedience (John 14:23-24), and one of the few things Jesus directly says to do (such as loving God and our neighbors–Matthew 22:36-40), is to “invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me, –Matthew 25:31-46” followed by eternal ramifications. Now don’t get me wrong, we cannot tie works to salvation, but the fruits of salvation will be demonstrated in our love for him and God’s kids, and not in our own lives.
Jesus was a Jew, but he referred to his father as God–he didn’t tie his works or salvation to Abraham or anything else: 16 So, because Jesus was doing these things (healing) on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. 19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. John 5:16-19
Can we sometimes be like the folks surrounding John the Baptist two thousand years ago, feeling secure in our wealth, comfortable with our church attendance? Thinking of all of these Bible verses and the C. S. Lewis’ quotes, it seems as if our lifestyles should be less than they are because of our generosity, and we should be working for him in response to the love of our Father God, who indeed will save us!
*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the thirty third post in this series.