A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
When times are uncertain, there’s a lot of talk about what we should be doing to protect ourselves. The internet is rich with advice. Some is competent and some is not, but almost all of it involves applying the ways of this world. Some advise us to stock up on stuff, so when there’s a shortage we won’t run out. Others say we should also buy precious metals to help preserve the value of our assets when inflation comes. The list goes on.
Some of this is OK, but there are a couple of things we should keep in mind when we’re trying to decide what to do. First, we should know that this advice assumes that the coming hard times are only temporary. You can’t stock up for life (or even a few years) and eventually, you’ll need to convert your silver and gold back into money. So you can only think of these things as a bridge between prosperity past and prosperity future. But when there’s no prosperity future you’re only delaying the inevitable.
Second, the Bible doesn’t command us to do this. In fact it specifically admonishes us against it. “Do not store up treasure on Earth,” Jesus cautioned, “For where your treasure is there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:19-21)
And in His ultimate example, He told the parable of the farmer who had more than his already full barns could hold, so he tore them down, built bigger ones, and filled them. Just when he finally had enough to feel secure and decided he could relax, the Lord said, “You fool. This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself.” He finished with this warning. “This is how it will be for anyone who stores things up for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21) Being rich toward God means giving generously to those in need.
Scarcity Vs. Abundance
No matter how we try to justify it, storing up is an act of selfishness. And it demonstrates a lack of faith by revealing a scarcity mentality when the Bible teaches an abundance mentality.
Let me explain. A scarcity mentality says there’s only so much to go around, so if I don’t get all I can while I can, someone else will get it and I won’t have enough. The motives behind the scarcity mentality are selfishness and faithlessness.
An abundance mentality says the Lord’s supply is endless, so I can share what I have now because He’s promised to supply all my needs in the future. The motives behind the abundance mentality are generosity and faithfulness.
The Biblical model is based on an abundance mentality (John 10:10). It teaches us to use the extra we have to help those who don’t have enough, depending on the Lord who gave us the extra in the first place to give us more as we need it. Thanking the Philippians for their gifts, Paul wrote, “And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). Notice he said “will meet all your needs”. We don’t give to others solely because God has met all our needs in the past, but also because He’s promised that He will meet all our needs in the future as well. The Philippian believers were experiencing hardship themselves, but still found a way to help support Paul’s ministry. This is what Jesus called being rich toward God.
That Doesn’t Make Sense
I realize this all sounds counter intuitive. When we’re barely meeting our present needs the natural tendency is to use whatever is left over to make sure we can meet our own future needs. For many, the last thing on their minds is the plight of others. They don’t see that as their problem.
There are two sources of this kind of thinking. The first is called the Protestant Work Ethic. This is a non-Biblical theory wrapped in a thin veneer of Christianity. It’s attributed to the German sociologist and political economist Max Weber (1864-1920) and holds that hard work is part of God’s calling on our lives and is both a sign of our personal salvation and a necessary component for receiving His blessings. It’s been summarized by the most popular verse that’s not in the Bible, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” If other people are not being blessed it’s because they’re not working hard enough. Helping them out encourages their “laziness” and deprives them of the blessing they would receive by working harder.
God’s ways are not our ways, and the Protestant Work Ethic reeks of humanity. Of course we’re admonished to give our best effort at work. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Col. 3:23). But our generosity toward others is the trigger that releases blessings for us, not hard work. “With the measure you use (in giving to others) it will be measured to you,” Jesus said (Luke 6:38). Paul confirmed this in 2 Cor. 9:6.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
The other source is our government. Ever since the Roosevelt era, Americans have been told that our country is too rich and successful to tolerate having things like hunger and poverty in our midst. Therefore the government would assume the responsibility for eliminating these things by guaranteeing a minimum standard of living. Programs like Social Security, unemployment insurance, and the various forms of welfare were all instituted to encourage people to look to the government for help in times of need. Once again, we’re taught that the plight of others is not our concern. If people need help, they can go to the government and get it.
Both of these sources had the effect of taking God out of the equation so after a couple of generations of this, most of us no longer see God as our Provider. Regardless of what we repeat with bowed head around the dinner table, the truth is that too many of us look to ourselves, or if we’re among the 41 million people currently receiving food stamps, to our government for our daily bread.
Two Ways To Go
So there are two approaches we can take in these uncertain times. The way of the world is to “Look Out For Number 1” by trying to stock up enough stuff to see you through the difficulties ahead, leaving others to fend for themselves or rely on government help.
The Bible’s way is to “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You” by seeking out people in need and helping them with the extra the Lord has provided for you.
The most practical solution is to start relying on God right now. “Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well,” He said (Matt. 6:33). He was referring to things like what we’ll eat and drink, and what we’ll wear.
Take some of your excess and find someone you can help with it.
I’ve said before that doing this pays the best return on investment available anywhere. Your generosity will be rewarded in this world (2 Cor. 9:11) and you’ll be storing up treasure in the next one (Matt. 6:19-21). I call that getting double your money back.
But Wait, There’s More
In addition, you’ll be learning how to live by faith in the One who has promised to meet all your needs and who never breaks His word, instead of relying on the uncontrollable ways of the world. Then if things get really bad and your neighbors have exhausted the supplies they stored up, you’ll be able to help them. And in doing so, you’ll know from experience that God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work (2 Cor. 9:8).
And finally, you can not imagine the change in perspective adopting this approach will give you. While others are plagued with uncertainty, you will experience a peace that transcends human understanding. Selah. 09-25-10