“The point is that you can’t be too greedy” (Donald Trump). This was one of the many ‘inspirations’ quotations on a business website I recently visited. Here’s another: “You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself” (Ivan F. Boesky). That’s the world in which we live, one driven by greed, one where greed is not only acceptable but also promoted as being good. There’s a word which the Bible uses to describe this greed, it’s ‘covetousness’, and it’s listed as one of the things that will exclude us from the Kingdom of God. It’s mentioned right there alongside fornication, adultery, theft and drunkenness (1 Corinthians 6:10).
Built into the Law of Moses were checks and balances to ensure that oppression was not perpetuated by those motivated by greed. It’s too bad the world doesn’t operate that way today. Developing countries are forever in debt to wealthy nations, and even the ‘generous’ moratorium extended to nations affected by the tsunami at the end of 2004 only provides these countries with a short period of reprieve. Not so under the Law. Every 7th year all debts were cancelled! It was a gift from the creditor to the debtor. And further to this, a stern warning was given for those who might have a thought in their wicked hearts that says ‘I will not lend because the year of release (the 7th year) is near’. The Law of the Lord was sensitive to those in need and inspired graciousness towards them. How foreign this is to the world today. Banks today wouldn’t lend you a cent if they knew they weren’t going to make more than they gave, and that’s generally how people give today. Think of the effort required to prize open wallets and purses during fund raising events. In general, people do not give unless (a) they will benefit from doing so (b) they are forced to do so (c) they are put in a position where it is extremely awkward not to or (d) there is strong social pressure to do so. In contrast, God wants us to freely give. He wants us to open our hands wide, to be generous. He wants us to give based on a need and not just when we have surplus. He wants us to give even if there’s no hope of receiving anything in return. We find all these principles of godly giving mentioned in Deuteronomy 15. Elsewhere in scripture we learn that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), that is, it is more blessed to give then receive (Acts 20:35) and that those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly (2 Corinthians 9:6). God opens his hand wide to us (Psalm 145:16), we can show our appreciation by reciprocating this generosity to others. By compassionate giving we not only show our love, but God’s love (1 John 3:17), we not only give to those in need, we lend unto the Lord (Proverbs 19:17).
We often seek examples from the children of Israel when they were in their wilderness wanderings. Well, here’s an example we do well to contemplate. Moses asked the children of Israel for a willing offering (Exodus 25:2). How did they respond? Were they willing to part with their possessions? Absolutely! There was an outpouring of giving. The possessions they were given when they left Egypt were willingly and generously offered for the Lord’s service. So generous were they in their giving that Moses had to make a commandment for them to stop! “And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing” (Exodus 36:6-7).
There’s a saying that goes like this, ‘The real measure of our wealth is how much we’d be worth if we lost all our money’ (J. H. Howett). That’s the point isn’t it? All the ‘getting’ of material possessions does nothing to increase the value of who we are. Like many things in this life, we need to radically depart from the accepted norm of the world when it comes to the giving of our money, of our material goods, of our time or our love. It’s not what we give. It’s not how much we give. It’s why we give that’s the all-important factor.
Forget the so-called ‘inspirational’ quotes of the business world. Here’s one that is worthy of full acceptance: “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Jesus Christ).
James Flint (Arima Ecclesia, Trinidad)