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Friday, June 30, 2017

God Feeds Them

In a recent discussion about the healthcare problem, we ended up in a discussion about ambition and contentment. I just wanted to know how to correlate the American mindset of "got to have things" (whether it's "exorbitant amounts" or just "socially secure") with the biblical context of "contentment" (Phil 4:11) and anti-greed (Col 3:5). I thought I could just leave it at that. Not a lot of answers, but ...

And then I came across this from Jesus in my reading.
He said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15)
"Oh, that doesn't seem too bad," you might think. Although for most of us "covetousness" is our default. We have to have what they have. We have to "keep up with the Joneses". We have to bring down the "1%" because, if we were honest, we want what they have. I remember one of my teenagers asking for a pair of expensive tennis shoes. "Oh," I asked, "what will they do for you? Will they make you run faster or jump higher or something?" "No," he admitted. "So why do you want them?" "Because," he grinned, "they're cool." Covetousness.

You see, I'm not seeking this stuff out. I'm not obsessing here. This is just in my daily reading of Scripture. It's hard to avoid when Jesus really lays it on.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:22-34)
Wow! Oh, sure, it is a lot of words, but He lays it all out so clearly. God takes care of His own, so why should you be anxious about anything? Conversely, you don't have the power to add an hour to your life, so why worry? God takes care of grass; He can surely take care of you. He knows (better than you do) what you need and will provide.

Given this rather wordy and yet completely clear instruction from Christ, what, then, do we do? I mean, sure, we are commanded to work, to earn a living (e.g., Eph 4:28; 1 Thess 4:11; 2 Thess 3:10). But are we working to provide for our family, or are we working for something else? How do we put "being prepared for financial difficulties" alongside "life is more than food, and the body more than clothing" and "why are you anxious about the rest?"? How do we put being diligent to make a good living next to "Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried"? How do we correlate the American Dream with this kind of instruction from our Lord?

Still not clear on this. Not at all. Because it looks like American Christians and, therefore, American Christianity are way off the mark in this regard. And that bothers me.


Marshal Art said...

I think it is because you can't answer those questions that you believe American Christianity is off the mark. It is difficult to read those passages and not immediately feel guilty for the least feeling of want one might have. That's why I believe the point is not merely want, but putting want of things above want of God's pleasure. There's also your point about how we act when we have plenty...that we need God just as much when we have as when we don't.

So what do we do when the money we make exceeds our needs? Do we give away all the excess leaving ourselves at risk should a crisis occur? After all, to have any concern for that proverbial rainy day is akin to anxiousness. Do we buy only the cheapest products, even if the cheapest products result in greater expenditure in the long haul, as well as potential negative consequences due to product failure?

And then I think of all the cool things that are out there and how we pretty much don't "need" hardly any of it. But what of all those involved in producing them and bringing them to market? That's how they make their own living. Well, too bad for them, I suppose.

To have or to have not is the same. Each comes with its own temptations. Enjoying the many gifts that God has provided through the industry of men, as well as that which is of the earth (foods, minerals, building materials, etc.) is not automatically a sinful proposition when one's mind is right...contentment in abundance.

Craig said...

I'm really in between on this, it's clear that God blessed people with many things, including material wealth. It's also reasonably clear that there were wealthy people in the early Church who didn't sell everything. We even see hints that some will be blessed more that others in heaven.

I also see people today who seem to be blessed by God with material success and who give generously out of that abundance.

I worry that if I fall on the Art side of things that I'm just trying to excuse my own issues, but I also believe that everything I have comes from God and that letting stuff take His place is wrong.

I guess I'd err on the side of less focus on stuff rather than more, but it's a struggle.

Stan said...

On the points I agree ...

I believe you are absolutely right that the point is God. I believe the point is why rather than what. Not "What am I doing (with my wealth in this case)?", but "Why am I doing it?" Clearly it is not a sin to have wealth or to not have wealth. It is a sin to be greedy. And it is a sin not to trust (Rom 14:23). "Why?" seems to be the question. Do I want to gather stuff for me and my pleasure, or am I seeking God and His glory? And that would answer your question about buying only the cheapest products, too. As a good steward trying to honor God with my finances, is it good stewardship and honoring to God to buy the cheap $5 version that I have to buy 10 of before I would have had to replace the $15 version? No, of course not.

And your comments on "need" are right on. We have been sold a bill of goods (that's word play) about what we "need" and we hardly even notice. The coolest laptop, the latest smartphone, the most expensive shoes, the finest clothing ... on and on and on. I remember a line from the Steve Taylor song I referenced the other day. "You say You'll give me what I need; they say I need a shopping mall."

And each of us does have his own temptations, his own weaknesses. In fact, I think the Bible's wording is "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." (James 1:14) We should keep that in mind, especially when we're considering both ourselves (and our potential blindspots) and others (who may or may not have the same desires we do).

The point I am struggling with is trying to correlate "Do we give away all the excess leaving ourselves at risk should a crisis occur?" with "Why are you anxious about the rest?" Seems like there should be a balance point somewhere between "terrified of potential future crisis" and "trust God to supply".

Stan said...

Craig, my first reply was to Mr. Art, but I agree with what you're saying, too. I'd like to err on the side of less focus on stuff. I wonder, in that vein, if we who have lived so long under the "American Dream" don't have a national problem with that issue. Americans are largely blind to the wealth they possess and typically not satisfied with what they have, whether it's the struggling or the filthy rich. I would prefer to focus elsewhere.

Craig said...

I have to agree with you, clearly Americans are blinded to the level of wealth they possess. And those we consider poor in America possess Material wealth far beyond those considered rich in other countries.

Like so many of these conversations, a lot of this comes down to attitude and if the condition of one's heart, not necessarily the specific actions they take.

Marshal Art said...

So we're pretty much all on the same page, I think. I would also submit that it isn't natural to immediately go from desire to considering how it plays out in the honoring God department. More thought should go into that consideration, but I don't believe every move made without doing so is necessarily problematic. For my own self, I know I need to work on expressing gratification and thanks to God for all I have, as opposed to merely expecting Him to know. He does know, but I still need to express it regularly.

As to anxiety, that's another hard thing to do when one has seen suffering and prefers not to experience it. Good stewardship would demand I do all I can to prevent the possibility, but trust in and contentment with God would assure me that I'll either find a way (because He helps me to do so), or I'll be able to deal with having failed to do so. At the same time, dealing with the failure is to continue striving to extricate one's self from hardship...again trusting God will help make it happen, or grant me peace when it doesn't. The contentment is in understanding that what happens works to His purpose. That's my take.