Daily thoughts from our minister.
There is absolutely no way that any of us can stand against the absolute horror of income and wealth inequality in this world. It makes sense to avert our eyes from time to time because the pain and the injustice is too much to take in. I am certain that this is made worse for us because of the ease of communication and the occasional marketing of poverty for the benefit of a few. When we look at all the evil in the world it is crushing and overwhelming. No wonder so many avert their eyes.
This is not an excuse to do nothing, it is the opposite. Hiding our eyes will only make things worse – for us and for those whom we refuse to see. Have the courage to look and the determination to do something about it. No one can see everything but we all can see something.
Generosity has good eyes and exercises wisdom. Read the texts below with eyes that contrast self-serving and generosity. Again, generosity is not all about writing checks and volunteering at soup kitchens. Generosity sees poverty in all its forms – relational, educational, social, economic, and access. Find the form of generosity you can exercise and do it. Admit to the things you lack and allow yourself to receive.
A greedy man stirs up strife,
but he who trusts in the LORD will be enriched.
He who trusts in his own mind is a fool;
but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
He who gives to the poor will not want,
but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
When the wicked rise, men hide themselves,
but when they perish, the righteous increase.
And an argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But when Jesus perceived the thought of their hearts, he took a child and put him by his side, and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me; for he who is least among you all is the one who is great."
Generosity extends beyond those who are in dire need. It also extends to seeing that those who serve others, in whatever capacity, are paid well enough to live.
Martin Luther’s comment on Paul’s letter to the Galatians is clearly about spiritual teaching. However, our society must come to grips with the underpayment of all who teach and work to alleviate injustice and suffering.
Commentary on Galatians (6:6) “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teaches in all good things.”
Now the Apostle also addresses the hearers of the Word requesting them to bestow “all good things” upon those who have taught them the Gospel. I have often wondered why all the apostles reiterated this request with such embarrassing frequency. In the papacy I saw the people give generously for the erection and maintenance of luxurious church buildings and for the sustenance of men appointed to the idolatrous service of Rome. I saw bishops and priests grow rich until they possessed the choicest real estate. I thought then that Paul’s admonitions were overdone. I thought he should have requested the people to curtail their contributions. I saw how the generosity of the people of the Church was encouraging covetousness on the part of the clergy. I know better now.
As often as I read the admonitions of the Apostle to the effect that the churches should support their pastors and raise funds for the relief of impoverished Christians I am half ashamed to think that the great Apostle Paul had to touch upon this subject so frequently. In writing to the Corinthians he needed two chapters to impress this matter upon them. I would not want to discredit Wittenberg as Paul discredited the Corinthians by urging them at such length to contribute to the relief of the poor. It seems to be a by-product of the Gospel that nobody wants to contribute to the maintenance of the Gospel ministry. When the doctrine of the devil is preached people are prodigal in their willing support of those who deceive them.
We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this verse. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails their income to such an extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they cannot live by the Gospel. Without ministers to proclaim the Word of God the people go wild like savage beasts.
Paul’s admonition that the hearers of the Gospel share all good things with their pastors and teachers is certainly in order. To the Corinthians he wrote: “If we have sown unto you spiritual things is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (I Cor. 9:11.) In the old days when the Pope reigned supreme everybody paid plenty for masses. The begging friars brought in their share. Commercial priests counted the daily offerings. From these extortions our countrymen are now delivered by the Gospel. You would think they would be grateful for their emancipation and give generously for the support of the ministry of the Gospel and the relief of impoverished Christians. Instead, they rob Christ. When the members of a Christian congregation permit their pastor to struggle along in penury, they are worse than heathen.
Before very long they are going to suffer for their ingratitude. They will lose their temporal and spiritual possessions. This sin merits the severest punishment. The reason why the churches of Galatia, Corinth, and other places were troubled by false apostles was this, that they had so little regard for their faithful ministers. You cannot refuse to give God a penny who gives you all good things, even life eternal, and turn around and give the devil, the giver of all evil and death eternal, pieces of gold, and not be punished for it.
The words “in all good things” are not to be understood to mean that people are to give all they have to their ministers, but that they should support them liberally and give them enough to live well.
The fifth century was a time of upheaval and decline for the mighty Roman Empire. Around 439, the Vandals, led by King Gaiseric, sacked Carthage. One of the leading Christian citizens was Celestinianus. He escaped with his family and servants but was impoverished.
Theodoret, Bishop of Cyprus (c.393 – c.460), wrote a series of letters to prominent people on behalf of his friend, asking them to help him. I have chosen three to share. The context is different, but these letters speak to a generous response toward the victims of war, refugees, and lending assistance.
It was only a few years later (455) that Rome would suffer a similar fate as Carthage, at which point the decline of the western empire could no longer be denied. These events also led to the increasing political power of the Bishop of Rome (pope).
Letter 29: To Apellion
The sufferings of the Carthaginians would demand, and, in their greatness, perhaps out-task, the power of the tragic language of an Aeschylus or a Sophocles. Carthage of old was with difficulty taken by the Romans. Again and again she contended with Rome for the mastery of the world, and brought Rome within danger of destruction. Now the ruin has been the mere byplay of barbarians. Now dignified members of her far-famed senate wander all over the world, getting means of existence from the bounty of kindly strangers, moving the tears of beholders, and teaching the uncertainty and instability of the lot of man. I have seen many who have come thence, and I have felt afraid, for I know not, as the Scripture says, “what the morrow will bring forth.” Not least do I admire the admirable and most honorable Celestinianus, so bravely does he bear his misfortune, and makes the loss of his happiness an occasion for philosophy, praising the governor of all, and holding that to be good which God either ordains or suffers to be. For the wisdom of divine Providence is unspeakable. He is travelling with his wife and children, and I beg your excellency to treat him with an hospitality like that of Abraham. With perfect confidence in your benevolence I have undertaken to introduce him to you, and I am telling him how generous is your right hand.
Letter 32: To the Biship Theoctistus
If the God of all had forthwith inflicted punishment on all that err he would utterly have destroyed all men. But He spares; He is a merciful Judge; and therefore some He chastises, and to others He gives the lesson of the punishment of the chastised. An instance of this merciful dealing has been shewn in our times. Exiles from what was once known as Libya, but is now called Africa, have been brought by Him to our doors, and by shewing us their sufferings He moves us to fear, and by fear rouses us to sympathy; thus He accomplishes two ends at once, for He both benefits us by their chastisement, and to them by our means brings comfort. This comfort I now beg you to give to the very admirable and honorable Celestinianus, a man who once was an ornament of the Africans’ chief city, but now has neither city nor home, nor any of the necessaries of life. Now it is proper that those who in the jurisdiction of your holiness have been entrusted with the pastoral care of souls should bring before their fellow citizens what is for their good, for indeed they need such teaching. For this reason, as we know, the divine Apostle in his Epistle to Titus writes “Let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses,” for if our city, solitary as it is, and with only a small population, and that a poor one, succors the strangers, much rather may Berea, which has been nurtured in true religion, be expected to do so, especially under the leadership of your holiness
Letter 36: To Pompianus, Bishop of Emesa.
I know very well that your means are small and your heart is great, and that in your case generosity is not prevented by limited resources. I therefore introduce to your holiness the admirable and excellent Celestinianus, once enjoying much wealth and prosperity, but now escaped from the hands of the barbarians with nothing but freedom, and having no means of livelihood except the mercy of men like your piety. And cares crowd round him, for travelling with him are his wife, children and servants, whom he has brought with him from no motives but those of humanity, for he cannot think it right to dismiss them when they refuse to abandon him. I beg you of your goodness to make him known to our wealthy citizens, for I think that, after being informed by your holiness and seeing how soon prosperity may fall away, they will bethink them of our common humanity, and, in imitation of your magnanimity, will give him such help as they can.
From Nicene Post-Nicene Fathers series 2, Vol. 3, Ed. Phillip Schaff.
J.W. McGarvey (1829-1911), whose writings are worth reading today, gives us a moving and emotional picture of the apostle Paul returning to Jerusalem a changed man. Reminding us that he would have passed by the very place where he had consented to the death of Stephen years earlier before commenting on the text leads us to understand the courage of Barnabas on many levels.
However, Paul connected with Barnabas, what we know is that Barnabas was a generous and encouraging man. Generosity in one part of our lives usually means there is generosity in all parts. Being known for generosity can lead to building bridges that others would see as impossible.
From: Commentary on Acts of the Apostles by McGarvey, John William (1829-1911)
“And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.”
The mortification of Saul as being compelled to thus escape from Damascus was remembered for many years, to be mentioned when he would “glory in the things which concerned his infirmities.” He had not yet seen any of those who were apostles before him since he left them in Jerusalem to go on his murderous mission to Damascus. He turns his steps in that direction, resolved to go up and see Peter. We will not attempt to depict the probable emotions of the now devout apostle, as the walls of Jerusalem and the towering height of the temple came once more into view. As he approached the gate of the city, he passed by the spot where Stephen was stoned, and where he himself had stood, “consenting to his death.” He was about to meet again, on the streets, and in the synagogues, his old allies whom he had deserted, and the disciples whom he had persecuted. The tumult of emotions which the scenes about him must have excited, we leave to the imagination of the reader, and pages of more voluminous writers. We know the reception which awaited him both from friends and foes.
“And when he arrived in Jerusalem, he attempted to join himself to the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles, and related to them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had spoken boldly in Damascus in the name of Jesus.” This ignorance of the brethren in reference to the events of the past three years in Damascus is somewhat surprising; but it only proves that they had no rapid means of communication with the brethren in that city. It is not probable that Barnabas had any means of information not enjoyed by the other brethren. Doubtless he obtained this information from Saul's own lips, either because he was prompted to do so by the generous impulses of his own heart, or because Saul, having some knowledge of his generosity, sought him out as the one most likely to give him a candid hearing. In either case, it would not be difficult for him to credit the unvarnished story, told, as it must have been, with an earnestness and pathos which no impostor could assume. When Barnabas was once convinced, it was easy for him to convince the apostles; and the warm sympathy which he manifested for Saul was the beginning of a friendship between them which was fruitful in blessing to the Church and to the world.
Our words matter. We have been given the gift of speech by our creator. According to the Bible, when God spoke, the universe came into being. (Exactly what that means is a different conversation.) While we do not have the power of authority to speak matter into existence, we do have the power of speech.
Words still have creative power. Our words have the power to heal or harm. Our words can create an atmosphere of security or insecurity. What we say to other people matters – a lot. What we choose to create with our words comes from our hearts. This is why we need our hearts washed clean, our consciences clear, and our trespasses forgiven. Generous and gracious words come from purity of the soul which is possible if we walk in faith with God through Christ.
Generous people speak good things into life. Generous people create blessings and good for those around them. Generous words invite, encourage, and correct.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants -- not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations" -- in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
The following text from Ecclesiastes has, appropriately, been suggested as good financial advice. I believe that these words are also excellent guidance for all parts of our lives. Generosity does not look for “the right time” to reap the greatest benefit. Generosity helps in all directions because we do not know the outcome of the good we do – or don’t do.
Generous people (people of faith) do not wait for the right time. Do the work, pay attention to the seasons, but don’t sweat the weather.
your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what evil may happen on earth.
If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth;
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.
He who observes the wind will not sow;
and he who regards the clouds will not reap.
Generosity is a characteristic of the lives of people who inhabit the Kingdom of God. It is a marker for those who are seeking spiritual peace and direction. It is interesting how different the lists of what people look for in a church and the description given in the Sermon on the Mount can be.
If you are seeking God, seek generous people who do their best to lift those who need lifting up.
Blessed are the poor in
spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.