“I love your jacket!” says a friend.
“Thanks, I got it on clearance!” is my knee-jerk response.
“Wow, your home is so beautiful!” says another friend.
“Thanks—it was pre-foreclosure and we got a crazy deal on it!” I explain.
For nearly a decade, I’ve worked for an organization that strives to end poverty, and it’s given me such a unique perspective on how we live. But it’s also lent me a certain amount of defensiveness.
Working in poverty alleviation, I can feel the need to explain and justify the nice things I have. I worry that people will judge me or will judge the organization I work for if I don’t drive a junker and get my clothes on consignment. (As an aside, I do love me a bargain.) And so I have developed a tic—a defensive need to explain away the fact that I myself don’t live in poverty.
But I’ve come to realize that my justifications are creating a culture—a culture around me of implied judgment of the choices of others by my constant need to justify my own purchases and assets.
One of my favourite passages in the Bible about generosity is in 1 Timothy 6. Paul says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (v 17-18).
What’s so interesting in this chapter of the Bible, in which Paul holds up generosity and contentment, is that he also calls out that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” God provides things for enjoyment. The things, in and of themselves, are not inherently evil, but were given as gifts. But the love of these things can become the root of evil in our lives. Therefore, we are to live generously, not putting our hope in things but in God. It’s a balance of enjoying the things God gives us, being generous, doing good and not becoming a fool for riches.
Viewing our possessions in this light, how can we be generous and compassionate, while also refusing to create a culture of legalism and judgment for the way others live (or the way we think they live)? Here are a few ideas.
1. Reserve judgment.
“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12)
It can be easy to look at a Christian living in a big ole home and piously ponder, “How in the world can they live in that house when there are people starving?!” Whether or not the criticism is valid, it is probably not your judgment to render—it’s God’s. You aren’t privy to their pocketbooks. For all you know, they may be more generous than you are. Another thing to note is that our perspective on wealth is relative. Someone living in extreme poverty might look at your house and wonder precisely the same thing.
2. Look to the plank in your own eye.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Rather than tending to the seeming lack of generosity of others, tend to your own heart. What is God calling you to do and how is He calling you to live? You’re more likely to influence others by your own example of generosity and compassion than by a self-righteous attitude.
3. Remember that God calls us each to different paths.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
God might be calling some to sell all their possessions and follow Him, as Jesus directed the rich young man in Matthew 19. To others, He might have a plan to use them in a different way. What we do know from Ephesians 2:10 is that He places each one of us in a unique context with unique skills and assets and calls us all to do good on His behalf.
4. Don’t create a culture of judgment.
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Yes, I’m looking at myself here. Don’t be so defensive of your possessions that you make others uncomfortable, wondering if you’re judging them too. Instead, create a culture of grace around you. Allow people to see that you are generous not because of a legalistic standard but because of the love of Christ that overflows in your heart.
5. Enjoy and be thankful for all you have.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (1 Timothy 6:17)
Remember that what you have is a gift from God—assets that you are a temporary custodian of on this earth. Thank Him for giving good gifts for you to enjoy, and give them back to Him as an offering to serve Him.
6. Take hold of the life that is truly life.
“Command [the rich] to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:18-19)
Remember that all this is really about following Jesus. Living for Him and serving Him. In doing so, we will have true life—not the elusive and transitory life that the wealth of this world can offer us—but the true, full and abundant life that Christ offers us.
P.S. If you want to spend more time considering what the Bible has to say about money, contentment and generosity, read 1 Timothy 6:6-19. Ask God what particular truths you need to apply from it to your life!