August 2, 2012

The Least of These IV: Poverty & The Kingdom Are Relational

Alms & Tithes

In Luke 12:32-34 we see Jesus tell people that they should, not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom. He goes on to tell them that they are to, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is the very thing that drove away the rich man in Luke 18 but it attracted Zacchaeus in Luke 19 and saved him. It is the idea of giving alms or voluntary aid or help to the poor. Jesus and His disciples did this very thing as we can glean from places in Scripture like John 13:29 (Batey 24, Hendriksen, “John” 248-249). We see in the giving of alms, a person that is ready to give away or surrender the control of their life to God and trust Him to do what is best. It is the premise behind Chapter 6 of Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 6:2 we see that it is expected or assumed that a person would give to the needy, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.” It is the false assumption that one that needs material possessions and money to feel secure. This only shows that they have virtually no faith in God who would provide for them as He promised.

Matthew 6:25-27 ~“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Can there be anything more counterproductive to a believer entering the Kingdom than this profound lack of faith on display? A person who is completely wrapped up in the system of the world system which is not of God… it is a system in rebellion against Him.

Poverty & Kingdom are Relational

Poverty, the Kingdom and therefore the Church are relational or relationship based. Tithes and proper use of tithes by the church was also good but not if it totally replaced mercy and compassion in the heart of believer. Sometimes loving you neighbor is more than just throwing money at them. Sometimes help is not giving a homeless drug addict a $20 dollar bill. Sometimes love and compassion is buying them a meal and getting them help to wean them off their drug dependency. Tithes or offerings are not necessarily an accurate indicator of the heart as is evident in the lesson from Jesus of the Widow and her offering of mites.

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4

Here the widow gave all she had therefore gave solely in faith. The rich on the other hand gave of their surplus which required no faith as they were not dependent on the money they gave nor would they be dependent on God to reimburse them to be able to survive. So here we see that tithes and generous giving could be an indicator of a generous heart but at the same time it could just be an ostentatious façade by someone that craves attention and wishes to be viewed as pious. In this story we see that giving should never be a replacement for mercy, compassion and justice (Batey 23). It is better to feed and clothe the poor rather than to buy them off as a salve for one’s conscience.

Personal interaction and the “human touch” always trumped a faceless system or government driven charity (contrary to Liberation Theology, again). In this aspect of Jesus’ ministry to the poor and His concern for the downtrodden we see the relational requirements of God’s Kingdom (Christian 185). Proper communal function is not based in a centralized bureaucratic system but rather a decentralized “soft” network of people, bodies or souls. All of these need to be interconnected on the basis of Christ being the centrality of all Creation and the Holy Spirit working through them communally and in unity (Schlabach 143). When the body of Christ is balanced and healthy, so will be the Kingdom. There will be no malignancy or imbalance, poverty, prejudice, bias, sickness, etc. All will be equal in Christ. Again, this is the general essence of the Kingdom. In God’s Kingdom, relationships take precedence over benevolent actions, otherwise these benevolent actions lack the main currency necessary between the giver and receiver to create a lasting bond necessary in the Kingdom: Love. This transaction then becomes just an informal exchange of goods not reciprocal loving action that benefits both the giver and the receiver. In this way the poor become a gift to the compassionate Christian and the compassionate Christian become a gift to the poor and it is actually God making the exchange through grace (Schlabach 37-38). Ironically, we see this in Jesus direct personal interactions with sinners which gained him the reputation of being a friend of sinners.

Mark 2:15-16 ~ While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Through not only Jesus’ message and teaching but also in Jesus’ actions, we see the example for the Church. This means behind Church, is the Kingdom and behind Kingdom is Christ and He is the power that sustains all life (Colossian 1:17, Hebrews 1:3) and at the core of this life is an essence of benevolence and mercy. To put trust and faith in the power which was Christ himself was to free a believer from the fear and dependency of things of this world thereby freeing one’s self up to pursue helping others through benevolent personal acts. Anything less was a lack of faith in Christ and was by its nature self-centered and selfish. By taking the yoke of Christ (the Gospel) and becoming a slave to Christ, a person allowed themselves by volitional action to enter the Kingdom of God through God’s requirements of obedience. This thereby freed them to do the will of the One whom they were following which was the sincerest form of love for Him and was a love that sustains them all, rich or poor.

John 14:15 ~ “If you love me, keep my commands.”

The two greatest of these commands/commandments spoke to helping the poor indirectly by treating one’s neighbor as one’s self as outlined here:

Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

This interestingly is a similar response give to the question by the Lawyer in the story of the Good Samaritan when he asked Jesus what one must do to inherit eternal life:

Luke 10:25-29 “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

If there is any confusion over who someone’s neighbor is in either of these passages, it is cleared up in the answer to the lawyer. In short, these passages show us that our neighbor is any person who is in need. So what we end up seeing here is the outworking of a person’s salvation or a person who has eternal life is directly linked to loving God and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. The question is why? To me, this is rather simple and commonsense. If one does love God with all his heart soul and mind, it is a foregone conclusion that he would then love God’s most beloved creation created in His image: Humanity. In addition, if a person loves God to the extent commanded in the bible, they are most certainly obeying God’s commands and therefore His word (Schlabach 115). If they are doing this, then they are accepting Christ and what He did for us, which was to die on the Cross to atone for sins. This would mean that they are saved. It’s a packaged deal!

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