Should Christians Share their Surplus?
Most of us believe that we have worked hard and earned what we have - our home, our land, our automobiles, and our money, fine jewelry, etc. We believe these things are ours and by golly, we have the right to do whatever we want to with what is ours! That’s what the Bible says that God wants for us, isn’t it?
No, the Bible never says that God wants us to just live for ourselves and do whatever we want with our money! God gives us the freedom to do what we want with our possessions but He asks us to do everything to His glory. (1 Corinthians 10:31) Actually the Bible has a lot to say about what God wants us to do with our money and possessions. We will only have time here to go over a few Bible passages and thoughts regarding this subject.
One of many Scriptures tells us: “You are not your own but you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) Scripture tells us that we are here in this world for a bigger purpose than just to be entertained and take care of ourselves, but we sometimes forget that! We are reminded here in the passage above that we don’t even own our own life but we have been bought with a price – the blood of Jesus.
Another passage in Scripture gives us guidance as to what to do with our surpluses – our extras. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none: and whoever has food must do likewise.) (Luke 3:11) This was part of the answer that John the Baptist gave to the crowds when they asked him what they should do in the way of reordering their lives to prepare the way of the Lord.
Of course we live in a different era than when John the Baptist lived. There were few in the middle class then, only the wealthy and the poor. Today most of us have several coats. But do we sometimes shop for shopping’s sake? Should belonging to Jesus change the way we shop? What obligations, if any, do our excess belongings and finances place on us? How do we define “surplus” in terms of our own possessions? Is there a point at which the amount of our belongings and finances becomes sinful? Each one of us, as Christians, has to seek God’s guidance for ourselves and work these issues out in our own lives.
The story in Luke 12:16-18 also speaks to this issue of how we are to spend or use our money. The story tells of a rich man who had a bumper crop- far in excess of what he needed or could use- but he decided to keep it all. No giving to the hungry people living around him or the poor at his gates. He tore down his barns and built bigger ones. God was so displeased with him that the man died that very night! The story ends this way: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) So we learn from this story that God expects something from us. That we should be “rich toward God.” Scripture tells us that when we do something for someone in need we are doing it for the Lord. (Matthew 25:40) So we become “rich toward God” by helping others it would seem. A question we can ask ourselves: Are our lives “rich toward God?”
Jesus told this story after He had instructed his followers to: “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed: for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (vs.15) I don’t believe this parable (from Jesus) is teaching that it is wrong to store grain in big barns for future use or to have a savings account. All through the Bible we are encouraged to save and plan ahead. (Luke 14:28, Gen. 11:4-9, etc.) But this story is teaching us that if we have a surplus to share some of it.
Here is a Bible story where God is with Joseph as he encourages Pharaoh to store Egypt’s surplus grain in big barns. The story begins with Pharaoh being troubled because God has given him a special dream. Pharaoh sees seven fat cows in his dream and they are eaten up by seven skinny cows. Pharaoh knows that his dream is special and has a meaning and he asks his wizards and astrologers for the dream’s meaning.
Joseph asks God for the dream’s meaning and God gives Joseph the gift of interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. And Pharaoh realizes that Joseph’s God is the true God. Joseph tells Pharaoh that his dream means that Egypt will have seven good years with plenty of food and good harvests. The seven fat cows are seven good years. And then Egypt will have a drought and seven bad years will follow. The seven skinny cows are seven bad years. The crops will fail and there will be little to eat, perhaps causing thousands of people to starve. (Genesis 41) God also gives Joseph the wisdom to advise Pharaoh to save up grain during the seven good years in order to have enough to feed his hungry people during the seven bad years. I believe this Bible story is telling us that storing grain in barns or saving money isn’t wrong in itself. The motive behind it makes it good or bad. Pharaoh stored the grain for the future good of the Egyptian people. His concern for his people would make him “rich toward God.”
Leviticus 19:9-10 is another passage that also speaks to the issue of what to do with our goods or surplus. Let’s read it: “When you reap the harvest of your land you shall not reap to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard: you shall leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)
God was instructing His people not to save everything for themselves. To trust Him to take care of their needs. To leave some for the poor and hungry in their neighborhoods. We are not an island but God has put us in community. Scripture teaches that sharing and giving is part of living righteously. The Leviticus verses quoted above give a specific way in which charity was given: by leaving the gleanings of the harvest for the needy to gather for themselves. But there are many ways to give.
God wants His people who have resources to help provide the needs of those who do not have enough. Giving is part of serving Him. Everything we have has been given to us from God. (James 1:17) Perhaps when we have more than we need, God has blessed us with a surplus so that we can give to those who do not have enough. And we become “rich toward God.” Being a Christian is not just about attending weekly services: It is about the way we live our lives.
Many of the thoughts and Scriptures in this blog were taken from the Wired Word for 6/7/2015.