So, let’s talk about money. That’s Paul’s basic premise here in this chapter. He commends the church in Macedonia for its generous giving. The churches that were located in Macedonia were in Philippi and Thessaloniki, which were two communities to whom Paul wrote and that make up part of our New Testament. He says that they were willing to give even more than what their means allows. Let’s talk a little bit about money and financial giving.
I have consistently preached on the tithe as the way in which we can be obedient to God as we are stewards of that which God has placed in our lives. I fully recognize that it is a “flat tax” and that 10% is more to someone making $20,000 than to someone making $200,000. I get that, and still I am convinced and have experienced God’s generosity to allow all of us to make ends meet, if we are faithful to His call of tithing. I hope that doesn’t sound either hokey or self-serving. I’ve mentioned several times in my sermons the way God has provided miraculously on the financial front to our family in times in need as well as to the churches where I have served in times of need. God provides. Paul commends the churches for allowing themselves to be used as God’s instrument of provision.
I’ll never forget a number of different bankers with whom I worked on my sessions who would say: “God doesn’t provide the money, people do.” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t believe it is contradictory to say that God will provide. In all things in churches without people the church is an empty shell. God works through people in order to provide. This is true not only in terms of finances but also in terms of time, material, showing up, being present, usage of gifts and skills. God uses us in a way that reflects our value just as we should love to be of use to God because of his amazing grace. So, if you are wondering what is our calling in regards to finances, 10% is our calling regardless of who we are. It is a matter of recognizing that what we have is actually given by the grace of God.
Now on to a topic where I am not very orthodox. At my daughter’s graduation this year one of the speakers was adamant that Jesus wants us all to be rich. To be honest, I was insulted and shocked that at a Mennonite School this would be a value upheld, much less one that was trumpeted at graduation. Jesus doesn’t want us all to be rich, he wants us all to care more about our neighbor than ourselves. There was one statement that was made – “Go out there and make as much money as you can, and if you can help people along the way that would be good too.” Ouch. Now to the controversial part that I was talking about. Look at vs.9. Keep in mind what is the topic at hand. Paul is not speaking metaphorically about being rich in spirit or being poor in spirit. He is speaking about material richness. There is some interplay in this verse between metaphor and literal rendition.
I wrote a paper once in seminary about Jesus who was rich and chose to sell all that he had to give to the poor. We know that his disciples were not poor. Peter had slaves and a fleet of boats. Matthew was a tax collector who could hold feasts and pay back oodles of money to those whom he had cheated. We know that there was a building boom taking place in that day as the Roman Empire expanded. There are first century writing which point to the fact that if you were a carpenter of a certain stature, that you did okay. Granted there was not much of a middle class, you were either poor or rich, but carpenters were at least closer to the middle than they were to the lower.
Who would you respect more? A person who never had money telling folks to sell all that they have and give to the poor, or a rich person who had actually sold all that he had and given to the poor? When Paul mentions that Jesus was rich, I think part of that statement was very literal. The difference is that in the end Jesus does become materially poor, but by his own choosing. He did not spend his life as a rich man (foxes have holes and birds have nests but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head). But unlike the speaker at the graduation, we know for sure that Jesus commands us to prioritize not the making of money, but rather the making of disciples, the making of people who are lovers of God. If along the way we make some money, that’s okay, that’s a plus, but our focus needs to be on people.