Jer. 17:9 π Mt. 25:45 π Acts 6:1-7 π Rom. 2:4 π Eph. 4:16; 2nd π Tit. 2:13-14 π Jas. 1:17 π 2 Pet. 1:5 π 1 Jn. 3:16 π 1 Jn. 3:17; 2nd
One of the things of which we have been robbed by the practice of vicarious giving - and something which should be obvious but often isn't to many people - is the need to give to the poor what they need. Rather, as the practice of vicarious giving has taught us, it is much easier to rummage through our closets and garages, find our excess stuff and cart it off to a thrift store or to give an amount in cash to some organization or "ministry" than it is to visit the poor in their homes and find out what it is that they truly need and give it to them. When a day of physical assistance or personal service, for example, is what someone needs but we give them a piece of used, leftover furniture or even some cash, we (the giver) feel smugly "good" about ourselves while the poor recipient of our love ("charity") wonders what happened to the God who knows their needs.
In truth, this message applies not only to our treatment of the poor but how we deal with everyone for whom we have something to share or give. Paul tells us that the Body of Christ is "joined and knit together by what every joint supplies." This is to be done "according to the effective working by which every part does its share." ( Eph. 4:16 ) If we fail to give out what God has given us, we are not only guilty of hoarding, we are also guilty of failing to knit together the Body of Christ. Every joint - that is, every member of the Body of Christ - has something to give to another, has a share in the work of building the Body and needs to stand ready to receive what the others have for him. When anyone fails to give out what God has given to him, everyone loses. In the case of our failing to give of our worldly goods when our brother has imminent needs, it is only proof that God's love has not permeated our hardened, sinful hearts. ( 1 Jn. 3:17; top )
It is necessary to humble ourselves and take on lowly roles of service for those whom we have something to give. Giving our excess and giving what we want to give has nothing to do with God's love. Rather it has to do with our own self-centeredness. It is doing what makes me feel good - not what the other needs. Exalting ourselves at the expense of some poor soul who has come and groveled at our feet by bestowing upon him some crumbs from our table is not God's love.
It is necessary for us to truly enter into one another's lives and do whatever is necessary to remove the need/supply aspect from the relationship as quickly as God enables No one truly enjoys being in need - nor is anyone's season of poverty meant to be permanent or overly severe. And no one truly seeking to follow Christ enjoys being made to feel dependent upon the charity of others. What is needed, to use a phrase generated by the world, is not a hand out but a hand up. What an indictment against the Body of Christ when the world's institutional welfare system and God-less social charities produce better results than does the "loving," "serving" and "giving" of "the Body of Christ." (It was not always this way!) When a brother, as but one example, is forced to labor alone for years when even worldly organizations of volunteers achieve similar tasks within weeks, the members of the Body of Christ are too enmeshed in their own lives and are stifling the work of God's Spirit in their midst.
There is something else about needs that we need to understand. Most Americans, with their extravagant annual income, do not have material or monetary needs. Obviously, there are homeless, unemployed, underemployed and/or exploited Americans who are poor and who do have material and monetary needs - but these are the minority and not the ones to whom this message is primarily addressed. Occasionally, some wealthy American believers hit a cash-flow crises and need help with a mortgage payment or some other monthly or annual expense. But, by and large, most Americans do not have material or monetary needs. What most of them truly need is to find more outlets and opportunities to give - outlets and opportunities which clearly exist but which have been obscured by affluent American cultural expectations and the vicarious-giving traditions of "church" and clergy.
Because Americans (and others in affluent cultures as well) do not have material and monetary needs while simultaneously hoarding the vast excess they possess, they are severely handicapped in their ability to know how to deeply love one another. Take for example, however, a brother in rural Russia or Mexico. His sole food possession at the moment is one can of beans. Obviously, food is a necessity for the body. This brother would be quite justified in popping open that can and wolfing down its contents. Instead, this brother seeks out another brother who has no beans and shares them with him. He has truly loved his brother by setting aside his own needs (laying down his own life - see 1 Jn. 3:16; top ) to meet the needs of his brother.
Let us return to the Americans, most of whom already have shelves full of several kinds of beans (not to mention a stockpile of food that puts many third-world "grocery stores" to shame). When such an American finds a brother who has no beans, he is not required to lay down his life for his brother. No, he need only "sacrifice" from the luxury of his excess, grab a can of beans from his shelf, personally deliver those beans so he can feel "good" about "helping the poor" and then return unaffected and unchanged back to his own affluent lifestyle and circle of affluent friends. But if the poor brother already has a can of beans but really needs physical assistance with or some personal attention to some task that would aid that poor brother's family or should he simply need just some real spiritual fellowship, then, too often, the wealthy Americans find religious Christianese excuses to exclude and neglect him, calling him "unwilling to work," "lazy," "deceived," "proud," "demon possessed" (with a so-called "spirit of poverty") or even just groundlessly denounce him as one simply to be avoided. This is not Christ's way of humility and love.
There is some truth in the notion that God alone knows the true needs of others. There are those who use this, though, as an excuse to do nothing because they haven't received "specific instructions." Thus they can look upon imminent, obvious needs and "spiritualize" away their responsibility to give or serve. And, in so doing they expose their own God-less heart, they fail to minister to Christ Himself and they forfeit an opportunity to knit together the Body of Christ. ( 1 Jn. 3:17 ; Mt. 25:45 ; Eph. 4:16; top )
All good things come from God in the first place. ( Jas. 1:17 ) When we have a desire to in our hearts to do something good for someone else, where does that desire come from? God. But our hearts are deceitful and wicked ( Jer. 17:9; top ) and sometimes what we think is good is really not good for the other person. If we will listen for God's "veto" of our good intentions, it is enough. If God does not "veto" our impulse to do a certain thing (and we have truly listened), we can rest assured that our impulse is truly good and is truly what God wants us to do.
Because God knows the secrets of every man's heart is why we must give God the opportunity to "veto" our notions of what we think we ought to do for others. Perhaps it is because so many of us, immersed in "church" subterfuge, went from our "sinner's prayer" to a "new believer's class" that we don't have a solid grasp of the fundamental goodness of God. Peter, in telling us how to mature spiritually, tells us to "add to our faith goodness, to our goodness knowledge..." ( 2 Pet. 1:5; top ) By going from our conversion experience directly to a classroom setting, we are adding to our faith knowledge and we are skipping an essential element of our ability to spiritually grow and personally experience the handling of the goodness of God in our every day world.
Nestled in Paul's description to Titus of the salvation process is one of the core purposes which God had in enacting His salvation of mankind. "Our great God and Savior Jesus Christ...gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works." ( Tit. 2:13-14 - emphasis added) He wants His people to be zealous for good works, seeking every opportunity to express the essential element of goodness which is part of the very nature of God. It is the goodness of God, whether expressed in direct divine intervention or expressed through the human members of His Body, that leads men to repentance. ( Rom. 2:4 ) This has been clearly demonstrated in the Bible ( Acts 6:1-7 for example; top) and throughout various periods of church history.
If we want to see our friends and neighbors drawn to repentance, if we want to see the Body of Christ truly joined and knit together in love and if we want to see the work of God truly done in the earth, we must give freely of what God has given us as supply for the rest of the Body. Anything else is a work of our flesh which wars against the work of God's Spirit among us. Let us choose carefully which side we are really on.
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