giving: enemies and self-preservation

[Where I live, lots of people ask me for money.  This post is one of several in search of a biblical view of giving to the poor.  The introduction is here.  I believe the process of finding a biblical stance is at least as important as the conclusions to which I come.  For this reason, I intend to post portions of several 3-column studies that have helped me arrive where I have on these issues.  For the sake of brevity (not one of my gifts), I’m not including all I’ve discovered in these studies, but rather only those realizations which have pointed me toward my current stance on giving.  For a better understanding of what a 3-column study is and why it’s important, see these instructions.  Also, I’m saving all “I will” statements to print at the end of the series.]

Luke 6:27-36

Rather than post column 1, I will direct you to Luke 6:27-36.  Below is a summary and restatement in my own words:

I’m talking to those of you who can understand what I’m saying:  Love your enemies and do good things for those people who don’t like you.  Bless them and pray for them, no matter how they treat you.  If someone hits you, don’t resist them; instead allow them to strike you again.  If someone desires to take something from you, don’t object; instead offer them that and another item.  Give to every person who asks you.  And if someone steals something, don’t demand it back.  Treat others how you want to be treated, regardless of how they’ve treated you.

If you love your friends, what’s unusual or honorable about that?  Even the worst of people do so.  Why do you think it noble to treat well those who treat you well?  The ungodly do that.  You expect praise for lending money to those who will repay you?!  All kinds of evil people make loans, expecting reimbursement.  But I tell you to love your enemies.  Treat them well.  Lend to them without expecting anything in return.  Then you’ll get “credit” for your actions; you’ll be rewarded the rights of a child of God.  You’ll be like him in sharing mercy and kindness even with the evil.  He blesses even those who don’t acknowledge or appreciate him.  Be just like him in this.

What I’ve learned:

  • Jesus wants me to love everyone, even (or especially) my enemies and those who mistreat me.
  • When I love others (including my enemies), it will be demonstrated through my actions and evidenced by 1) treating them well, 2) honoring them, and 3) praying for them.
  • I am not to take my own personal rights into account when determining how I permit others to treat me.
  • I am not to take my own personal rights into account when determining how I treat others.
  • I shouldn’t live life protecting myself or my possessions.
  • I should give to everyone who asks.
  • I should treat others how I want to be treated, regardless of how they’ve treated me.
  • We gain “credit” through our actions, but loving the easy to love profits us nothing.
  • Lend to your enemies and to those who will never pay you back.
  • God blesses and shares even those who are against him and don’t acknowledge his lordship.
  • Remember what God did for you when you were still his enemy; then do as he did.  Be merciful and kind to your enemies.
  • In doing this, you become like God and demonstrate that you are his child.
  • The children of God should look and act like God.

My thoughts:

Much of this text centers around gaining “credit” or reward based on the way in which we treat others.  We will all, in the end, be judged according to our works. I know it sounds controversial, and I don’t want to get too deep into my thoughts here (rather I’ll save them for another post).  But I will offer that salvation is by the grace of God through faith alone.  But that faith is evaluated by works.  Every individual will stand before God and be judged according to his deeds.  If I haven’t gone far enough yet to get you riled up, I’ll add my leaning that there will be levels of reward in heaven, according to each man’s works on earth.

But regardless of how you feel on these issues, it’s clear that exchanging kindness for kindness gets us nowhere with God.  But God rewards us when we offer love despite having been shown hatred.  We’re commended when we give without the expectation, or even possibility, of repayment.  When all there is to gain falls in the lap of our enemy, we are becoming like Christ and acting like children of God.  In giving up our own personal rights we’re able to offer healing while receiving injury. Think Jesus on the cross.

I can no longer live a life of self-preservation.   To spend my energies protecting my possessions, my freedoms, my image, and even my own life, is to choose to be unlike Christ. Think about all the time and money we devote to ensure we’re not stolen from or cheated in any way.  What about the anger, and even rage, we experience when we’re not afforded our rights?

  • “That guy cut me off!  Jerk!”
  • “I can’t believe they wouldn’t give me my money back on this item — what the ___ good is store credit?!  I’ve been cheated.”
  • “I’ll teach him to treat me that way…”
  • “We should get a better alarm installed on our house.”
  • “Its a lot of money, but we’ve got to be covered by insurance.”
  • “I’m not giving that guy cash — he’ll just spend it on whiskey.”
  • “How do I know you’re really out of gas and haven’t eaten in two days?  You could be lying.”
  • “Did you just hit me on the cheek?!  Oh, you’ve done it now!”
  • “She’s a prostitute!  She’s not gonna’ touch my feet with her tears or her perfume.”
  • “I’ve got a great idea: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones!”
  • “Can you believe he told me to sell all I had and give it to the poor?  I worked hard for all those things.  What the poor need to do is get a job!”

God didn’t call me to a life of protecting myself and defending my rights.  That’s not what he intends for his children.  Self-preservation is a lie of Satan.

It’s important, too, to look at those verses which precede Jesus’ words in our text (vv. 20-26).  Those who are poor will receive the kingdom of God.  The hungry will be fed, and those who weep will laugh.  But the rich and well-fed have already received their “credit” and the fruits of their labors.  In the end it’s better to have been treated like an Old Testament prophet than to have been warm and well-fed in a 3-story house with a 4-car garage.  We will be judged by our actions — and I’m guessing our response to our enemies and the poor among us is towards the top of the list.  Furthermore, I believe Jesus is, in our text, speaking to those people who have understood and taken to heart the words he’s just spoken.  Hence his opening statement, “But I tell you who hear me….”  If you understand this concept of future judgment and reward, you’d do well to put into practice this loving your enemies thing I’m about to tell you.

Other items of note:

  • A Christian should treat his enemies well, honor them, and pray for them.  It seems to me some of us are good at faking the first one.  And praying for people can be easy — they’re just words, right?  But honoring your enemies… that’s a tall order.  It means putting others (whom I even dislike) before myself.
  • Give to everyone who asks. I’m still working through this one.  Thoughts?
  • I’ve often heard it argued we shouldn’t give to those who won’t use “our” money wisely.  But when I look at how God divvies out wealth and blessings, he doesn’t seem to use the same formula.  I know a lot of really rotten and selfish people who are blessed with material possessions, power, health, and influence.  And I also know some of the things they spend God’s money on.  If I’m to be like God in being kind to the wicked….
  • It’s wise to remember I was once God’s enemy. I was once the beggar, asking him for money to eat.  I was the one who constantly robbed God — in addition to claiming that his blessings were my own, I stole his glory every chance I got.  But now I’m his child, and all he has is mine.  Can I do the same for those who are enemies, beggars, and thieves in my own life?
  • Children of God should look and act like God.  I would go even further to say we always look and act like whatever we serve as God.  Our lifestyles clearly reflect our idols. If I’m right and this is the case, money is king for many of us.  And power and authority for others.  Food, sex, popular culture, Facebook, college football, and even knowledge.

God, please help us.

Next text in this series: 1 John 3:16-24.

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12 Comments

Filed under giving and generosity

12 responses to “giving: enemies and self-preservation

  1. I can no longer live a life of self-preservation. To spend my energies protecting my possessions, my freedoms, my image, and even my own life, is to choose to be unlike Christ. Think about all the time and money we devote to ensure that we’re not stolen from or cheated in any way. What about the anger, and even rage, we experience when we’re not afforded our rights?

    This is huge. I know I am guilty of this. I (maybe) rationalize it by saying that “God has given this to me so I have to take care of it” but is that right? You have given me much to think about.

  2. i’m still struggling with all of this myself…. a lot. i want to be a good steward of what God has blessed me with. but repeatedly in scripture i’m seeing that sharing these things is what it means to be a good steward. how exactly do i determine with whom to share? Jesus says everyone who asks… that’s hard.

    i also repeatedly see Jesus give up his own personal rights. yet we’re called to defend the rights of others. this one is hard for me — especially with a family.

    i started thinking about all this a lot more when i first moved to tanzania. there are some missionaries who go to tremendous measures so they’re never in a position in which others might be able to steal from them or hurt them — never going out after dark, not trusting anyone, bringing in guns from the states. i personally feel really uncomfortable with those choices — i’d feel i was living a life of fear and self-preservation.

    however, i do have a fence around my house, bars over my windows, and a dog to alert me of “intruders.” to me, these things fall under protecting my family, which i’ve been commissioned by God to do. so i think there’s got to be a balance.

    but it’s hard for me to know how to find that balance? where exactly does providing for and protecting my family end and self-preservation and making sure i stay in possession of all my wealth begin?

  3. Thich

    I’ve been wrestling with your thoughts regarding to whom and how should you give ever since you’ve asked that question over at my blog.

    On Friday I had a night class and my professor shared with us that Jesus tells us to give to anyone who asks (as you said above).
    My professor then went on and said, “That does not mean giving to the local mission, that does not mean going out to buy them a sandwich when they specifically ask you for $5. That means giving to them what they’ve asked for in order to meet their need.”

    I think he implicitly said to us that ultimately it’ll be up to the individual on how he or she will spend that money but it’s our due dilligence and duty to help those who have asked for it.
    My prof then said, “If you believe that someone is taking advantage of you, seek God’s assistance and let Him work it out.”

    He ended that discussion with this comment:

    “He who gives to the poor is not a thief.”

    all I could say after that was “wow.”

  4. thich, i’m getting ahead of myself to say this… but your professor’s thoughts are pretty close to where i’ve ended up myself (in thought). but reality becomes difficult, because eventually i’ll have no money left. nor will i have a car or a way to get back to the u.s., etc. because i really am asked for that many things here every day.

    but there are many texts in which God promises to bless us with greater wealth if we share ours. so maybe it’s impossible to give it all away?

    on another note, you have a friday night class?! what kind of school is ambrose?

  5. Personally, I think that it’s important to give back, important to reach out and help another when the opportunity presents itself.

    I do, however, have a problem with merely handing cash to a junkie / alcoholic, knowing quite well they will turn around a buy a rock or 1/5 of alcohol.

    I’ve bought homeless people meals and given them cigarettes (when I smoked), but will not hand over cash.

  6. melissa, i feel the same way. but i can’t seem to reconcile my feelings and human logic with the biblical teaching. the very central event in Christianity is a God choosing to die on a cross for people who claim he doesn’t exist — and worse yet, for those who will be called by his name, but use it only for the pursuit of power and wealth. every day people trample his gift under foot. yet he offered it.

    what do you think?

  7. This particular class I have is a modular and is about Personal formation and spirituality – so it pushes the limits of who we are as future ministry “professionals.”

    Because it’s a modular, we have the class once every month and it goes from Friday 6:30p-10p and then Saturday from 9a-4p

    Last semester I had a modular class for my Old Testament Survey class and for the final class, we spend 7 straight hours learning about the Theology of Suffering… as ironic as that sounds… but it was such a rich and personally moving class as we discussed about the Christian response to suffering.

    Ambrose is a Bible College & Seminary that also offers Liberal Arts degrees as well. We produce a lot of pastors and missionaries as a heritage of the school.

  8. T

    This has challenge me greatly and I appreciate that. Not sure where I stand either.
    I have been leaning to giving more and more. I have to have some faith and trust in God to provide what I need.
    Giving to anyone who asks is a tough one.

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