By: Barbara Shantz, TWR’s Global Development Liaison: firstname.lastname@example.org
Texts: Matthew 22:35-40; Luke 18: 18-27
When speaking about stewardship in emerging nations, I’m often puzzled to observe local believers who trust that believers from the West have correct biblical answers for most things, including money. Worse yet is the observation that some from the West believe it, too!
These situations remind me of Matthew 22, in which we read a string of theocratic legal questions from human beings trying to match wits with Jesus or excuse themselves from His teaching. Building to a crescendo, verse 34 records a top lawyer of the Pharisees speaking up. Surely this will be the person who can outwit Jesus and show the preeminence of the religious experts of the day!
The question posed was this: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” The incarnate God responded without hesitation or parable: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” (ESV)
A good portion of my speaking time anywhere begins with assuring local believers that, although I may be from Canada, where there is a tradition of generosity and biblical teaching, I am no expert on how Christian generosity should be presented in the audience’s culture and country. EVERY country and culture is different and while I can offer concepts and ideas from situations in other countries, the local believers must, with God’s help, find the way forward themselves.
Jesus doesn’t stop at the first commandment; in Matthew 22:39-40 he goes on to inform His audience about the second great commandment: “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (ESV)
Wow. In other words, Christ speaks straight to the religious lawyer’s heart and skills, demonstrating that Jesus is quite familiar with the maneuverings all the way from Pharisee Technicalities 101 to graduate-level Legalism. ALL the law that the lawyer purports to know so well is based on loving God with heart, soul and mind and loving his neighbors as himself.
In Luke 18 we read about the rich ruler who came to see Jesus, apparently thinking along the same lines as the lawyer, that he had this religious stuff pretty much figured out. Jesus let the ruler know that while the man may have loved the Lord his God with all his soul and mind, there was still an area of his heart that needed work. The ruler needed to understand how to rule by distributing his wealth to the poor. Understandably, the wealthy ruler went away sad. Jesus then said to those standing by:
“How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (ESV)
Freedom in Christ is being collectively and individually confident that we are all equal before God (James 2) and that wealth alone does not denote godly wisdom or knowledge. Therefore, we are free to love ourselves as God loves us so that we can serve others from a position of healthy dignity.
Money is not the “blessing”; understanding and acting on the great commandments personify God’s true blessing in communities and nations while bringing us closer to our Lord’s heart. With God everything is possible, even finding ways to love ourselves enough to believe that God will help us fund the ministries He calls us to – with or without the West.