a contract with God

Forgive me the liberties I’ve taken with the text (I aspire to be the next Eugene Peterson, only without the trite and cheesy* colloquialisms):

Don’t fool yourselves or turn up your noses at God’s contract.  It’s a simple kingdom truth that wages are determined by performance.   If a man works selfishly and for his own good, he’ll receive death.  But if he works in order to please God, his salary will be true life — and he’ll enjoy that life forever.

So don’t entertain thoughts of starting your own private businesses.  And don’t give up doing good and working for God.  Because God’s salary and benefits package is far better than anything you could arrange for yourselves.  [His retirement plan’s not bad, either.]  Take advantage of every opportunity that arises; if you’re able to assist someone, do.  And you should especially lend a hand to other employees in God’s kingdom.

— Galatians 6:7-10 (my own very loose translation)

judged by our works

A lot of Christianity frowns on talk of good works being rewarded. “Eternal life is a free gift, and you can’t earn it,” they say.  I’m not suggesting salvation can be earned.  But we can’t deny that the Bible says a great deal concerning our being judged by works and reaping what we sow. This is a kingdom principle. The truth of the matter is that a true Christian shouldn’t be concerned by this, as faith manifests itself in love for God and love for others.  And these are necessarily demonstrated by good works.

the fruits of selfishness

While living selfishly seems to bring us great pleasure, Paul is clear that, in reality, it results only in death.  We would do well to consider the future implications of our behavior today.  Pray that God will help us to see well in advance the fruits of those things we do in the present.

transformed thinking necessary

“As we have opportunity, let us do good…”  Pray that God will help us to notice the opportunities we have to do good. I’m afraid I often miss these occasions — not because of a reluctance to help others, but rather because of a failure to be conscious of their needs.  This seems to be at the root of the problem. If my thinking is selfish, then my actions will necessarily be so. In order to take advantage of opportunities to help others, I must be thinking of others. A self-centered attitude yields service to self.  While an others-based view of the world produces compassion and kindness.

responsibility to help other christians first

Christians are called first to help one another.  We often ignore this principle (which is found throughout scripture) because we think of it as selfish.  We prefer to give to the poor in rural Tanzania or to the homeless in New Orleans because (my guess) it makes us feel good.  But proper kingdom giving begins with giving IN the kingdom. It may not be as sexy as feeding the poor in Haiti or providing water for a village in Sudan, but it’s a kingdom principle.

We’re meant to demonstrate to the world how the family of God functions.  [You could call it a missionary principle.] I’d argue this is God’s form of attractional ministry: that Christians love one another and take care of one another. [Not that we have a great praise band and let visitors park near our front doors.]  For a little more on the subject, see giving: the seventh year and debts.

**********

May God empower us to take every opportunity to do good works.  May he make us a less selfish people, and may he be glorified in our willingness to serve others.

 

* You know, it’s sad that the word “cheesy” is in and of itself cheesy.  I generally don’t use it, but the irony struck me as humorous today.  It is, however, slightly better than “corny.”


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25 Comments

Filed under modern-day retelling, musings on the Word

25 responses to “a contract with God

  1. Great points. Another reason we give to Tanzania, the Sudan and the homeless in New Orleans first is because we feel it absolves of responsibility. If I give them some money, my conscience is clear the next time I see the needy child on TV. We convince ourselves that is our only role, throw some money at the problem and move on. The church must grow past this, it simply isn’t effective enough. I guess we American Christians are good at throwing money at problems. The obvious issue with that is we weren’t given that example at all. Jesus was hands-on in ministry. Just another thought I had on the giving part.

    • good thoughts, stan. we often put money where we’re not willing to invest our time — especially if it does relieve some of the guilt we may be carrying.

      and just for it to be said out loud, american christians are not the only people in the world good at throwing money at problems. many of the problems i see every day in tanzania are in some way or other related to groups who have simply thrown money at other problems.

  2. You catch my eye with “responsibility to help other Christians first”.

    Hmmm. I have a “operational” problem with many Christians who tend to regard the local church as a storehouse / bank / loan center, in that they come very easily to the church that they contribute to (on whatever frequency) and ask for money in time of need. Often genuine needs. This conflicts with the principle of the church being generous to the community around, because, often, all the funds that are available for benevolence are consumed by the church itself. I feel that often we become an insular society by only caring about those whom we regularly “see” at church, and we wear blinders to those that we are called to reach out to. In other words, the squeakiest wheel dominates the lubricant requisitions.

    So, while I agree that we should help other Christians, how do we resolve that with the fact that we claim to do evangelism and ministry with funds that are given to our churches rather than just giving them back out to other church members that have bad money management skills?

    Or could we perhaps agree that your statement is NOT a church management principle but a PERSONAL instruction? Or does that create a type of prosperity doctrine problem – “We give these people lots of money when they screw up and get over their head in debt, so if you’ll become a Christian and join our church, we’ll help you like that, too.” ???

    Or do I just question every darn thing too much ? 🙂

    • bernard, questions are good. so are answers; sorry i don’t have any.

      but i do have my opinions. i believe the “church first” principle to be not only for personal instruction but also for churches. several times in the new testament, we see one church taking up collections for another.

      but, in my mind, there are several problems. i’ll only list a few:

      1) if the problem is money management, then giving money alone is not a solution or a help. so that would be a case of a church making a bad decision. i’m not saying we shouldn’t give cash to those who manage money poorly — but i am saying we should be giving them something more. maybe help in managing money. (the same thing happens on much larger scales, with the u.s. giving money to corrupt african countries….)

      2) if there’s not enough money to take care of our own, and to help others in our community, my guess is that’s a sign that we’re not being generous with our funds.

      3) i kind of question the whole idea of the church taking up collections every week to go into this big budget system, etc. i don’t think it’s wrong, but i think it’d be great if christians were more proactive with their giving decisions, and took care of one another out of their pockets instead of out of the church treasury or food pantry. if we didn’t have so much overhead cost in “running” a church, there’s be a whole lot more money freed up for helping one another and others. and maybe the church could just take up collections when there was a purpose for a particular collection? just ideas.

      • 1 – Even paying for money management training doesn’t always help when you’re dealing with fairly low-income people who are peer pressured into expensive cell phones, cars, televisions, mortgages, etc. I agree with you here but it’s still a long term problem in some churches. At least some that I know about.

        2 – I can agree with this statement except for the fact that, again, low income churches (groups of people with low incomes) don’t fit the norms. They can’t be generous. They simply don’t have it. Yet, others in the church have needs too. It becomes a “I’ll help you now, you help me later” swapping of funds mentality. In other words, all too often, we’re encouraging people to “tithe” so that somebody else’s light bill can be paid, and claiming that they’re “giving money to God”. Hmmmmm. Why not just teach that Christians should help each other rather than demanding tithes and then going through monstrous administrative meetings just to give it back out to somebody else in the church? It’s basically a church welfare system mentality. Take from the rich and give to the poor. Yet the church has a FIT about the government doing the same thing.

        3 – I think we abuse the terms “tithe”, “storehouse”, “giving to God” and even “offerings” in a horrific way. I’ve said a lot about this in a lot of places, so I’ll try to not wear out my welcome here, but I’m rather frustrated with the administrative costs of church eating up so much of the money that is “given to God”. Again, I think it’s a bit dishonest. Collecting “gifts” is fine, and much of it may be used to support those who minister, but we need to find a way to be more truthful about it.

        Yeah, I fight to be truthful about stuff myself, and find myself not doing so. So, yes, I’m a liar, too, but I believe that we as “the church” need to work on things just like we do as individuals, and being perfect is not going to happen, for me, so let’s just all work together… 🙂

        I’ve got a lot of questions and concerns about how the church wants to connect pocketbooks to religion, but they always want to be the beneficiary of somebody “selling out to God.” I see it unfair that preachers abuse the pulpit in the name of “preaching about how God says to handle your money” but they ALWAYS demand that the tithe be given to the church, NEVER do they preach about giving to others. (These are generalities; I know there are exceptions.) I have issues with churches owning buildings that are only used for weekly worship services and offices, I have issues with churches that claim “everything belongs to God” yet they hold on to their resources, buildings, property, and even their people with an iron fist, often in the name of wise stewardship. If it’s God’s, what more right does the deacon board have to “hold on to it” than does the individual? There is a church in my area – a very fundie church, just btw – that reported empties their coffers at the end of every year. I can’t swear to it, but there’s an intriguing concept there. If they have ANY money left over, they give it away. No savings. So I have heard. Is this valid? I’m not positive. But it’s out there.

        • i guess, bernard, that i was thinking less about a church taking its offerings, tithes, and the like to use for these kinds of things — not that i think it’s bad in and of itself. in the new testament we have models of individuals selling their land when there was a need and giving to help others. and there are times when the money was given to the leaders who would disperse it as needed.

          and i have many of the same feelings you do when it comes to churches spending so much money on buildings and staff, etc.

          you mentioned that church giving it all away at the end of the year. i know of one congregation that met in a school cafeteria to keep their budget really low. and they gave 50% of all moneys into foreign missions. i think both of those ideas are great ones.

  3. That’s a really interesting point you make about our responsibility to help other Christians first being a “kingdom principle.”

    It seems that BOTH are explicitly stated – give to one another according to need – give to the poor. Do you believe one takes obvious priority over the other? (Clearly, “the poor” could be followers of Christ as well.)

    There may be lots of people who feel strongly led toward assisting the poor in Sudan or the US or Haiti who have absolutely zero interest in the “sexiness” of it that might take offense at the idea that they are somehow in error because their offering isn’t going to the “right place” first.
    Are you saying their giving is not within the kingdom?
    I may be misunderstanding you….

    • @tisha, all i mean to say is that it seems to be a biblical (and kingdom) principle that we should take care of the christians in our communities before we help the non-christians or the people in foreign lands. i’m constantly seeing this idea throughout scripture, though i’ll admit i can only think of a couple of places off the top of my head.

      besides this galatians text where paul tells them they should especially do good to other christians, i’d read deuteronomy 15:1-11 and 2 corinthians 9:6-15.

      i’m not saying we shouldn’t give to the poor in other countries — though i do think the churches in those countries are more likely to know how to give responsibly and appropriately in their own communities than we are. i think, when possible, it’s always best to give through local churches. a lot of money gets dumped on problems in countries like tanzania, which in the end only creates more problems. i think this could very well be part of the reason for this idea of giving to those in your own community. you and i know what’s appropriate to give and how we can best help the families in our churches who can’t pay their bills. but i doubt either of us really have any idea what should be done for the street kids in moscow. i’m done with my tangent now.

      i meant only to say that I believe God expects christians in the body of Christ to meet one another’s needs before they meet the needs of those outside the body. i’m not at all saying we don’t have a responsibility to help the poor in sudan. but if there’s an old lady sitting on your church pew who can’t afford to pay her heat or to buy a blanket, then you’d better not be stingy towards her in order to send money to the sudanese.

      our problem is not that we’re so generous, but only want to be so towards those in foreign countries. our problem is that we’re not generous enough to first meet the needs of those in our churches — and then send money to help elsewhere. (that is a generalization, but generalizations are that for a reason.)

      • Thanks for taking the time to answer my question.
        I read the verses you referenced in Deut. and 2 Cor.
        I’m still having trouble seeing any clear hierarchy as far as giving is concerned.

        Anytime people start talking about how to best dole out $, it’s bound to get tricky.

        I think most of us are scattering (so to speak) our giving – we give to our church, we assist other families in need, we provide meals to folks when necessary or helpful, we sponsor children, we help take care of our extended families, we donate to organizations who are on the front lines, fully aware of what is beneficial, meeting legitimate needs in the lives of people – here in the US and abroad.
        I would not personally offer a street kid in Moscow anything directly because you’re right, I wouldn’t know what exactly to do for him. But I would write a check to a group that works with these kids and knows how to properly and appropriately distrubute, if I felt led to do so.

        Gosh, you get a lot of feedback from people. It’s so challenging to discuss these complicated topics in a few typed out words online where misunderstanding can easily happen. Don’t you get tired of having your words dissected? It seems like it would become exacerbating.

        • you said exacerbating…….:0)

        • I really, really hope that Brett doesn’t think I’m dissecting his words, especially not in any inappropriate way. These are coffee shop discussions for me. I literally don’t know ANYONE in real life that’s interested in having these types of conversations, so I’m just chatting with a cyber-friend. Not meaning to rip anybody apart, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way 🙂

          • I’m exacerbated just reading! 🙂
            Bernard,
            I didn’t mean anyone specifically, besides myself….
            It just seems that there is a lot of back and forth and qualifying what exactly was said and it’s hard to get the full meaning of someone’s intention through blog comments.

            I know what you mean about not having people who care to talk about these topics. I have only a handful of friends I can ask as well. That’s part of the reason I appreciate Brett’s blog so much.

            This is why Chrissy and I like to chat on the phone about this kind of stuff. It takes a LONG time and a lot of conversing to really understand each other well.

            But I’m sure I’m not alone in that I’m learning a lot by reading everyone’s point of view here and I enjoy the discussion very much – whether in agreement or not. If it were my blog though, I would be exhausted. 🙂

          • I desperately need an outlet for my thoughts. I don’t have a small group of any sort – except my church size as a whole is not much bigger than some small groups but is just the wrong type of people – and definitely nobody that I feel free to challenge, confront, and really get real with. I mean, I SUCK at being a Christian, but my church looks to me for a form of leadership, and I’m just a normal dude – I don’t have a Monday morning pastors group to get together with and talk about how stupid my church members are…

            So, believe me, I’m thankful for Brett and all of you guys and gals.

        • tisha, i think what you’re saying “most of us” are doing is exactly what i’m saying we should be doing. i’m only really stating that the simplest understandings of these texts point to a responsibility we have to take care of one another before we take care of others. i don’t mean that it’s necessarily a time issue, giving to one before the other, or that it’s necessarily an importance issue, either.

          and i don’t think everyone else has to agree with me. it’s just that i don’t know any reason not to take the passages that deal with this in the simplest way — which is that God desires for his people to especially take care of one another.

          i don’t think especially means first, in time order, but it does mean something along the lines of “if you’re only able to help one, help these.” or “it’s most important that you do this.” or “make special efforts to help those among you.”

          [also, i think this principle is stated elsewhere (often), but i’m about to leave for a couple of days and don’t have time to look it up. if it seems like the discussion’s still going when i come back, i’ll gladly discuss it.]

        • as for getting a lot of feedback and having my words dissected, i don’t mind when people make it clear that they’re disagreeing with me, but still accept me as a brother. as long as there’s no name-calling and whatnot, i do pretty okay. most of the ideas i post on the blog are just that: ideas. or maybe slightly more — my best understanding of the texts. i don’t claim to always be right, though i do try to be responsible with the word of God — and i always appreciate the discussion.

          however, for those comments and ideas that i’m not as good at accepting, see these:

          missing the point

          marriage

          the first lady wrote an entire post on her own blog, ripping me for my ideas on marriage. this while never having even attempted to discuss it with me. she calls me a male supremacist, worldly, and someone who shouldn’t be accepted as a christian leader. and she says i have no understanding of the kingdom of God.

          the second lady commented on the post itself, saying that my understanding of marriage requires a dominant husband and an inferior wife, and accuses me of having said in my post that her marriage wasn’t Godly. then she insults me and all of my readers by saying that she’d expound more on all of this, but none of us would listen with open minds.

          those are discussions i’d rather not enter into — and haven’t as of yet. i’m just not a big fan of having my relationship with God questioned because of my best attempt to understand a particular passage from the bible (and not a horrible attempt, either? it’s not like my ideas are totally ridiculous). i believe christians should be gracious towards, everyone but ESPECIALLY other christians. (see what i did there?)

          • Jen

            I think that in both of those cases, we are reading about some personal baggage. Typically women who are so on the attack mode when it comes to these kind of topics have lots of baggage, so don’t take it personally. I am in recovery from that type of baggage….My dad gave my mom $20/week allowance (the same as my older brother) and that is all she was permitted to spend, the meal planning had to be submitted and approved by my father, and she had her week arranged; Monday light cleaning, Tuesday commisary, Wed heavy cleaning, Thur dry cleaners and errands….etc. I swore I would never be a “submissive” wife….God changed my heart about that and lots of other things too. 🙂
            So, for the record, I think you handle things very tactfully and don’t come off as “this is the way it is”. You do, however, happen tochoose what can be trigger points for some people (which are also some of the best things to dialogue about) and therefore, hit buttons. All that to say, while it seemed you were attacked, my perception after reading their posts is that they had some baggage in the submission area.

          • Haha! ESPECIALLY sneaky little segue there. 🙂
            I saw that response to your marriage post yesterday – I thought it was pretty unnecessarily firey. Then, reading that other blog post this morning, it looks like you made yourself a downright enemy! Bound to happen with all that pot stirring you like to do. Heh.
            Seriously, the marriage posts were really civil with excellent thoughts to consider clearly laid out. Their responses were obviously very, shall we say, personal, and about them, not about you.
            Have a great couple days away!

  4. I am with you here Bernard.
    I was force fed in a legalistic bible Cult, the Gal 6:10 verse for many years.
    “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers!”
    Emphasis on HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH first!!!!!
    So much so, we didn’t do JACK for anyone outside our group.
    Then, because of cult teachings, we eventually didn’t do JACK for anyone IN our group, because we had to give ABOVE 15% to the HEADQUARTERS, and would end up blaming ill misfortunes on the LACK OF FAITH in our fellow believers.
    I could write a book.

    All I know is, that Jesus told us to Love God with our whole heart/soul/mind/strength
    And to Love your Neighbor As YOURSELF.
    So this admonition of Loving our neighbor is fully loaded.
    How do I love myself?
    I make sure I eat, brush my teeth, have roof over my head ..etc….
    Has nothing to do with self esteem, and everything to do with how we value our self enough to do the basic things (even if we say we ”hate” ourselves).
    This is how we love ourself=love our neighbor the same???
    So, if it’s in my power to help anyone/anywhere I can, I do.
    Without judgement or reservation.
    God is big enough to supply the needs for all givers who do so with a pure heart….(even if the recipients are lying thieves) .
    I think it’s more a personal instruction.
    Church was never meant to be a business model.
    People are the church. But they are so bogged down financially, you can’t put the burden on ”the church ” to meet all the needs inside and out without falling apart financially. (at least, that is what they fear).

    There is something to be said about home churches.

    • chrissy, i agree with you that churches run like business seem unwise. i also have an affinity for house churches, where everything we read in the new testament seems to make much more sense. this text wouldn’t be hard at all to understand and follow if each of us was thinking of a group of 20-30 people.

      and i hate that the cult you were a part of misused this text. but their misuse doesn’t require that we throw the verse out?

      • Oh heaven’s NO!

        But, the emphasis is misused in this verse.

        I don’t think, like Tisha said, there is an hierarchy to ”doing good”.
        Doing good can mean anything. not just giving money. It’s also kindness.
        I think the point was to not forget your brothers and sisters in all your doing good. “Especially” doesn’t mean first.

        • chrissy, i agree that doing good means much, much more than money. actually, that’s one of the greatest problems today — that we’ve watered down helping others to become giving money only.

          i mentioned above (to tisha) what i think about the word ‘especially.’ but since it’s become a point of contention, i looked up the greek word. it’s malista and means: especially, chiefly, most of all, above all.

          so it’s not first in regards to time, but it is in regards to before or more than others.

          it’s also used in 1 timothy 5:8 in nearly the exact manner. though that verse is about taking care of the needs of your own relatives and family (and if you don’t, you’re worse than an unbeliever).

  5. Jen

    Wow…this is a great conversation and touching some nerves; rightly so, I think. As an x book keeper of an average american church, so much of what Bernard says resonates loudly with me. I no longer go to that church because I could not stomach what I saw. I was told “that’s just ministry”, “all churches run this way”, “you are just naive”…..and I wanted to shout and still do, “brothers and sisters, it should not be so!”
    I believe that God wants us in communities taking care of one another. I think scriptures about caring for one another was written in this context. What we know as church today is not what it was then. People were in community and they were sharing with one another as needs arose; rarely was there a need for a “middleman”. In Deut God says there will be no poor in the land and then He says the poor will always be with us. If we could live as God instructed, opening our hand to the poor in the land, taking care of the widow, orphan and sojourner then God’s edict of not having poor would come true. However, we live in a fallen world and most likely until Messiah comes again and rules as King, there will, as He said, always be poor among us. So, what is our resposibility in the meantime?

  6. the folk in AA say they are a program of attraction rather than promotion. It seems to work better, especially in gaining devoted disciples.

  7. Jason Miller

    Good conversation.

    Ok then. Is there perhaps a social preference here, one which lets us as Americans feel more comfortable giving to people we don’t know through organizations the are impersonal, i.e. church or UNICEF or etc.? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying those organization don’t do good, they do, but is what God is getting at more about knowing that someone in your church is having a problem that could be solved you yours truly? Being aware that there are issues and engaging with them one on one as opposed to through 3rd party?

    I just tend to think that personalized giving makes Western givers and receivers uncomfortable…so we opt for the more impersonal route.

    I don’t know. Probably not true.

  8. Jason Miller

    Note to self: read what you typed before pressing post. Hope you can make out the meaning.

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