There are two realities with which Christians must engage as we grow in Christ. There is a way that leads to life and another that leads to death. In North America, the land of plenty, these two choices are often centered on what we own—and want to own.
The Western cultures today are richer than any societies in the history of the planet. Never before have more people had so much. Yet still the poor are with us. And still they starve in our streets. Shopping is all too often seen, not as a way of obtaining necessities, but as a pastime in itself—something fun to do on a free afternoon or even in time that ought to be spent otherwise. The average person spends more time shopping than volunteering for community service or participating in religious activities.
Consumerism is rampant in our developed societies, and the developing ones are following in our footsteps as fast as they can. As Christians, we ought to ask ourselves whether consuming or conserving is actually what God has called us to do. Does a steward consume His master’s goods or use them as the Master would specify?
What did Jesus do? First, He appears to have had no money of His own at all. Jesus did not even have a house of His own, or a business, though He may have been expected to take over Joseph’s carpenter shop. He did not collect clothes or other material things, but gave His life to ministry, serving God’s purpose and the needs of humanity. He said that it is difficult for the rich to enter God’s kingdom (Matt. 19:24; Mark 10:25) and that one cannot serve both money and God (Matt. 6:34; Luke 16:13). From these ideas it is clear that money should make us at least cautious. But does this mean He wants everyone to live in nomadic poverty, subsisting on the offerings of friends like the women and men who supported Him? No, because He also clearly showed His support for marriage and the creation of new families, talked about building, but being wise about it (Luke 12:18; 14:28), and even recommended making friends with “unrighteous mammon,” possibly with a little tongue-in-cheek attitude (16:9).
Jesus gratefully accepted the gifts of those who supported His ministry. He enjoyed the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus at Bethany, for example. So we can safely assume that not everyone is called to be a wandering minister for God, but that we are all called to be ministers to others with the goods God has entrusted to us.
The practice of tithing is designed to remind us of God’s ownership of all that we have. When we practice tithing, we learn to live on less than 100 percent of what we earn. This is a principle that Jesus was familiar with. He specifically mentions offerings and generosity, publicly commending the widow who did not hold back anything for herself, but gave the little bit she had (see Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4).
Questions to ask:
- Is my money dedicated first to God, or first to myself?
- Do I serve my money, or does my money serve me?
- If I had two dollars left, what would I do with them?
- In what ways can my money build bridges to the ones around me for whom Jesus died?
- Do I really need all I have?
- Do I ever buy just for the fun of having new things?
- How much of my resources do I dedicate to the poor that Jesus commended us to serve as if they were Himself?*