LET’S TALK ABOUT MONEY
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15
Thus far, we’ve been talking about manna and meat. I’ve been saying that manna represents the all-sufficient Bread from Heaven, Jesus; and in contrast, meat is what we demand from God when Jesus isn’t enough for us. But where does money fit into this picture? Well, Paul, who taught that the Old Testament narrative was relevant to New Testament believers (1 Corinthians 10:1-11), proposed in a subsequent letter to the same church a startling application to the manna story.
In the process of challenging the Corinthians to pony up to give aid the poor in Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 8-9), Paul borrowed a piece of the manna metaphor to teach them about the spirit of generosity and egalitarianism in the Church. This time he associated manna to money. While Jesus identified himself as the Heavenly Man(na) with which we should be abundantly satisfied, Paul leveraged the imagery to show how we should relate to our material resources and demonstrate a radical liberality. “Just as God had insisted on equal portions of manna for all his people in the wilderness, so now the Corinthians should give “so that there may be equality” in the body of Christ.” Ron Sider
We might say that money is as much a gift from God to us as manna was to the Jews in the wilderness. Of course, we exchange work for the money we receive, but we know that even the availability of the work as well as our ability to perform it is a gift. Even though some in Moses’ day were more capable of manna gathering than others, it was to be distributed equitably so that no one received too much or too little for their needs (Exodus 16:17-18). Then, based on the manna story, Paul suggested that some people are more able “manna gatherers” than others, that is, better at making money than some, and went out on a limb to imply that, as followers of Jesus, we’re obligated to share the resources we have with others endowed with less ability or fewer opportunities. He urges those who are wealthier to share with those who, for whatever reason, are less endowed.*
In the case of manna, if anyone hoarded what they collected, it spoiled. Moses told them to consume each day’s portion instead of making any attempt at saving it up and amassing more than their permitted allotment. But when they defied the mandate and stuffed some in a cabinet for the next day, it became rancid and full of maggots. In Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just Timothy Keller says, “Paul interprets this as an abiding principle for how we are to deal with God’s material provision for us and share it equitably. . . . Money that is hoarded for oneself rots the soul.” Ouch!
Likewise, Paul warned Timothy that some people “think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” Don’t get me started on the gold-necklaced preachers who fly their personal jets between their crusades (an ill-advised term if ever there was one!) and their lavish estates! There’s nothing new under the sun so Paul warned his protégé:
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
17 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. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 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
The more content we are with “just Jesus” the less apt we’ll be to covet wealth. When we see that the Man(na) from Heaven is more than enough – way more! – we tend to clamor less for meat or money. There’s an old Amish maxim: “To desire to be rich is to desire to have more than what we need to be content.” With food and clothing we can and should be content.
“Some gathered much, some little… he who gathered much did not have too much and he who gathered little did not have too little.” Exodus 16:17
The distribution of manna was supernaturally supervised in one way or another. Either, by the time they got to their tent with their basketful no one had more than anyone else or they brought it all to a distribution center and it was doled out equally. If someone gathered more and another less, God saw to it that, on one hand, no one starved and, on the other, no one got manna-rich. As desert dwellers theirs was to be an egalitarian society. To the early church, Paul indicated that the principle of equitability still stands, and that, under the Lord’s advisement we should distribute our wealth in an equitable way.
He challenged the Corinthian Christians to a justice-based distribution of wealth in the spirit of generosity. God had supernaturally intervened to assure equal portions for the Jews in the wilderness, and Paul – aware that God loves “cheerful givers” – advised the saints to follow a similar policy out of their own free will. His was no top-down command as though advocating any sort of involuntary socialistic Christianity, but “advice about what was best for them in this matter.” 2 Corinthians 8:10
Tangentially, though manna stopped coming when they arrived at the Promised Land, the lessons from God regarding egalitarianism didn’t. Mosaic legislation was designed to keep the ordinary disparities between the wealthy and the poor from becoming extreme. His laws regarding lending to the poor without interest, leaving some of the fruit of their harvest for the needy to glean, and providing for the fatherless, widows, and immigrants are all indicative of his concern for those among them who were less fortunate.
“God’s concern for the poor is so strong that he gave Israel a host of laws that, if practiced, would have virtually eliminated any permanent underclass. . . . If this is true of God, we who believe in him must always find some way of expressing it our own practices, even if believers now live in a new stage in the history of God’s redemption.”
Going back to the Jews’ demand for “meat,” I wonder if we could take the comparison between manna and money another step to make the point that a just distribution of wealth requires that each of us, whether rich or poor, must not demand “meat” in our manna world. In other words, if we are receiving our regular allotment of manna (Jesus called it “daily bread”), we ought to be content and therefore refuse to covet more than that. Work hard on our jobs? Of course. Take a promotion when it’s offered to us? Sure, unless it gets in the way of some kingdom value, i.e. family obligations, ministry calling, personal integrity, or doing justly in the world. But those who “want to get rich” and are “eager for money” tend to crave more and more while the spirit of generosity is squelched. When preoccupied with a lust for meat we’re not as likely to share our manna with those who have less.
As I said previously, there’s a “mixed multitude” in the Church today, who not only want more than manna, but they feel entitled to more and more manna. They’ve confused God’s dream with the American Dream and seduced a segment of the Western Church to deem the accumulation of manna / money as an evidence of superior spirituality. They misleadingly preach that personal prosperity is an indicator of how much faith one has, and that God’s approval is evidently on the economically successful. Theirs is a vending machine god wherein we insert our change and expect something back! It’s a spirituality that pays in material wealth. Not only is this untrue, it’s unhealthy and toxic.
Through love and generosity we have the opportunity to starve the mammon spirit to death in our Church, when instead we feed it by supersizing everything, building mansions for God, and promising prosperity to the faithful.
Someone pointed out that there are two crises in the world: dehumanizing poverty and dehumanizing consumerism, and that the Church is responsible to devise and caretake solutions to both. In Oriented To Faith Tim Otto wrote, “One of the most devious and dangerous aspects of a consumer economy is that it teaches us to see ourselves as bundles of unmet needs—needs that must be satisfied by consuming products, services, and people. . . . We go through life thinking that what we really need is a newer handheld gadget, an updated kitchen, or a faster car. To say nothing of thinking we need new and improved people— a different spouse, different children, different friends.”
Paul’s idea was entirely different from that of entitled money mongers of his day (and ours). By proposing an equitable consumption of manna / money he debunked the theology which promotes an expectation of prosperity through faith. He suggests a society whereby some may gather more and others less, but those with more are obliged to help those with less. This is in direct contrast to the present reality that 80 people in the world now own 99% of the world’s wealth. I wouldn’t have a problem with that if it weren’t true that almost half the world (3 billion people) were “living” on less than $2 a day and if children weren’t dying of poverty related causes at the rate of 30,000 a day – 210,000 a week, almost 11 million each year!
They say that my city of San Francisco has the most extreme gap between rich and poor of any city in America. The well-off live in a monetary universe that the poorest of the City’s citizens can only read about – that is, if they can afford a newspaper! There’s nothing wrong with possessing billions, but there is something wrong with keeping it for yourself and not sharing it somehow, somewhere, and with someone(s). Again, I’m not advocating socialism, but a biblical voluntary spirit of generosity among the upper class toward the under class.
“Jesus taught that a lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one’s spiritual compass, the heart. . . . If you have been assigned the goods of this world by God and you don’t share them with others, it isn’t just stinginess, it is injustice. . . . People changed by grace should go, as it were, on a permanent fast. Self-indulgence and materialism should be given up and replaced by a sacrificial lifestyle of giving to those in need.” Tim Keller
I appreciate the old adage to “love people and use money, and not the other way around.” Since I had nothing to do with it, I don’t apologize for being born in privilege. What I do apologize for is my lack of understanding and concern to do precious little with that privilege to help those who weren’t as fortunate as me. What little I can do with the manna / money I’ve gathered may be just a drop in the ocean, but, as Mother Teresa said, “If that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less.”
*I’m aware of the challenge of sorting out the difference between a “hand out” versus a “hand up,” i.e. providing relief to people who need rehabilitation and/or development. I recommend a great book on the subject, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor by Steve Corbett.
Setting aside those valid concerns for the moment, my point is to advocate a generous and egalitarian spirit required of all Christians at all times with all people.
Though I’ve already exceeded my “ish-timated” allotment of 5 posts, I plan one more to wrap things up. Given the length of this essay it seemed wise to try to tie it all together in a summary conclusion. Please indulge me one more to synopsize. I was taught in preaching class to say what your about to say (introduction), say what you need to say (body), and then say what you said (conclusion).
- What’s your take on a Church and a world that exist without such economic extremes?
- What is the Spirit telling you these days about your “drop in the ocean”?
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