Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Kingdom of God and Financial Freedom – Principle #1 Equality

Jesus said,
24"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
Matthew 6:24

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?"
Luke 16:10-11

For many years I didn’t see what the Bible taught about money. I was caught in the mindset of working, paying my bills and tithing to my local church. I experienced both success and near bankruptcy during this time. If someone said do you serve money, I always answered no.

When I was working at General Motors as a toolmaker, I had a certain amount of financial success. I gave generously to my church but the scriptures that talked extensively of caring for the oppressed were in most part, ignored and not understood by me. It wasn't that they were difficult to understand but it was like there was a cloud over my thinking to really appreciate them.

I always had small misgivings about where my trust really was, God or GM, but I managed to push those insecurities into the background. I even proved that I wasn’t a slave to GM when I quit this well paying, very secure job. I managed to go to Bible College for 3 years, with 3 young children and came out of that experience with no debt. I then went and pastored for 5 years in a small northern community for 5 years, making a third of the wages that I had made at General Motors. We were poor but my kids never knew it. In all of this, I really didn’t understand the basic teachings of finances that I would like to share with you.

One of my favorite studies in the past was the topic of the endtimes. A key passage that is often ignored by endtime teachers is found in Matthew 25,

31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not 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.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
Matthew 25:31-45

I am a little shocked by how Jesus separated the sheep from the goats. It was essentially over the issue of the handling worldly wealth. Providing the basic necessities of life: food, water, clothing, and friendship to those who have less than us.

I come from a church tradition where tithes and offerings get dispersed in this order: buildings, salaries, programs, district office, missions and if anything is left over, some form of benevolence.

For some reason, a simple to understand verse that speaks specifically about caring for the poor was used by me to take up an offering for the above priorities.
1Now about the collection for God's people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
1 Corinthians 16:1-2.

I often quoted from verse 2 when taking up the offering at church. I know it is often printed on tithing envelopes. But the context of this passage was that it was a collection for the oppressed and likely people the Corinthians would never meet.

As a follow up to this passage Paul writes this about a year later.

8I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10And here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.

13Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, 15as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."
2 Corinthians 8:8-15

This finally gets me to Principle #1 in dealing with finances.

Principle #1 - EQUALITY

Our first priority in handling money should be the goal of equality. This is equality on a global basis.

When we hear a kingdom word like equality, our immediate response should be joy. And for some it may be. But for those who might be more like me, it may mean a big pang of fear, or a quick dismissal or maybe it feels like a small bone caught in your throat.

Some people have rejected the idea of a good God on the basic premise of “Why would a good God allow innocent children to die needlessly of hunger and malnutrion.” As a Christian, I somehow closed my ears to that argument and yet it has significant merit.

The reality is that God weeps over every person that has been oppressed and He expects His people to do something about it. My heart was closed to this concept for most of my 30+ years as a Christian. It wasn’t that I wasn’t giving away money, it was that I wasn’t fervently seeking EQUALITY in our world.

The more I meditate on this one concept I am astonished at how much of the evil in the world would be eliminated if we simply desired and acted upon this one principle.

How many trillions have been spent on war or how many millions have been spent on toothpaste for whiter teeth or how many billions have been spent buying bricks for beautiful edifices while children drink contaminated water and fill their bellies with dirt.

Equality would get our priorities straight. Surprisingly, I don’t think we would do without anything of value, in fact, we would even prosper more if we established this as a priority. How much of our taxes goes to lining the pockets of those who have the most and building bombs that supposedly have the purpose of bringing freedom? The waste and excess could be RRRRRRolled back considerably if equality became a real goal.

Praying about equality cannot be done passively. It does require a right understanding of giving and receiving. It requires us to take action but it does not allow us to make beggars of others. This simple caution steers us in a much more creative process of things like micro loans and teaching people to fish.

Let’s not confuse the kingdom principle of EQUALITY with forced equality that is advocated by power mongers in order to control the masses.

I tentatively think the next principle is going to be "There's a Go in Gold".

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