RICH TOWARDS GOD - THE ANSWER
Paul has an answer to the danger that owning stuff brings, and his answer to the question, "What is 'rich towards God'?" is, "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share." 1 Timothy 6:18 (NIV).
Being rich without the counter-balance of knowing how God intends us to use it brings with it three misconceptions - that money gives us status, that our money is ours to use as we please and that we have a long time to spend it. Paul's counsel puts riches is their correct perspective in the kingdom of God and teaches us God's purpose for entrusting it to us.
Three simple instructions summarise our responsibility to be faithful stewards of what we have been given: Do good, be rich in good deeds, and be generous and willing to share. This brings us to the issue of righteousness in Scripture.
According to God's Word, wage earners have four groups of people to care for financially, our spiritual authority, our church, our families and the poor. In the Old Testament God taught them to give by percentage to discharge each of these responsibilities. The first one-fortieth of their harvest belonged to God. It was called the first fruits which God commanded His people to give to Him as a 'terumah' - an offering, which was then given to the high priest to support him and his family.
After the terumah was deducted, the balance of the harvest was divided into ten portions. One portion, one tenth, was taken to the temple to take care of the needs of those who served in the temple. After paying their taxes out of the balance, it was again divided into tenths, and one tenth was set aside to take care of the family's needs in the future, it could be eaten or sold and the money saved for the children and grandchildren. Every third year, the family tithe was given to the poor.
The balance of the harvest was theirs to be used in whatever way they chose without guilt.
In this way, collectively', if everyone played their part, everyone in the nation was provided for and no-one was excluded. This was called 'tsidaqah' - tsidaq (righteousness) which became tsidaqah (righteousness revealed).
God is smart. He knows that the love of money closes our hearts and destroys society. His economic system breaks the cycle of greed as well as takes care of the needs of everyone in a nation. The Apostle Paul was trained as a rabbi. He understood God's economic system and how it worked in society if the people faithfully carried it out. His counsel contains the principle which the Old Testament constitution has already fleshed out in detail.
One of the first indications of transformed hearts in the early church was the generosity among believers that took care of everyone's needs in the believing community. "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their goods and possessions, they gave to anyone as he had need." Acts 2:44,45. There was an infectious joy in this community born of generosity which attracted outsiders to them and swelled the numbers of those who believed in Jesus.
Could this not be the missing element in the church today? There has been a subtle shift from being rich to getting rich which is, unfortunately, fuelling the very spirit of greed in believers which God's way of generosity is intended to overcome.
(To be coninued)
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