GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 603 • January 12, 2021
DOES ALL MEAN EVERYTHING?
More about giving: How Much Is Enough?
The last essay, about The Widow’s Mite, did what I expected, raised a few questions and comments pro and con and ranging from “great” to “how dare you” – and between the two some serious questions, such as “how much is enough” and “does all really mean all” in the Bible? It also does not sit well with some to point out that we are not always telling the truth in songs we sing but obviously do not intend to be taken literally by God or by ourselves and others who hear and even sing with us. Some examples on the point: “All to Jesus I surrender … I surrender all.” “Now I’ve given to Jesus everything…Now I gladly own Him as my King.” “I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold.; I’d rather be His than have riches untold.” “Take the world, but give me Jesus.” “We give Thee but thine own, what e’re the gift may be: All that we have is thine alone, in trust, O Lord, from Thee.” “Lord, I give myself to Thee, thine for ever more to be.” It seems as if just saying or singing the words is enough, even if our lives contradict what we are saying, We sing or say, “Jesus is Lord,” and do not hear Him asking, “Why do you call me Lord but do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus is Lord, whether I know it or not, but He is not my Lord if I do not obey Him and his gospel.
Let me repeat something said before: Neither Jesus nor any inspired writer in the Bible sets a required amount to be given. The widow who gave everything she had (in terms of money) was not commanded to do so, nor is there any hint that she was somehow bargaining with God – “Lord, you see how great my gift is; what can I expect from You in return?” We have sometimes encouraged that kind of action by implying that God will multiply our gift – you know, the more you give the more you’ll get, heaped up, pressed together, and running over; “You shovel it out to God and He shovels it back to you, and He has a bigger shovel” Expect God to give back more than you give – not 1% or 2% as banks are currently doing, but thirty, sixty, maybe a hundred fold.. Of course we are not greedy. We do not really expect an abundant return on a small gift or investment, do we? We are not like the apostles and disciples early in Jesus’ ministry, are we? “Lord we have left our jobs, our property, even our families to follow you. What then can we expect to get for it?” (Matthew 19:27). Lord, if we give ourselves in service to You, what will we get for it? What’s in it for us if we become Christians? We actually misuse and mis-state the Lord’s promises in order to persuade others to “convert,” to become Christians – dangling the pie in the sky carrot before the ox or donkey pulling the cart.
For shame! Are we not willing to believe that if we work and serve or give to Jesus that he will :give us what is right” in response and reward (Matthew 20:1-7, especially verses 4 and 7)? In that parable Jesus also noted that some contracted to work for a set amount, but were upset when the generous owner/master gave other a full day’s wages for even a little work – what was “right” in his sight was to be more than “just,” rather to be gracious and generous. Can we not be content to trust the Lord to do and give what is appropriate and right? Must we show our materialistic greed by singing, “I’m satisfied with just a cottage below, a little silver and a little gold. But in that city where the ransomed will shine I want a (mansion) gold one, that’s silver lined.” Not “I expect” or “God will give me” but “I want.”
For shame! Don’t expect God to concede to your demands. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25). Are you a contract-giver or one who gives and trusts that the Lord to whom you give will not cheat you of the appropriate reward?
If we learn anything from the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) let it be this: the Lord is investing in us who become His people, pledged to Him in service, and he expects us to make some effort to use what is entrusted to us for His benefit as well as our own. The master did not give his servants “talents” in the sense of abilities; he gave them sums of money to use according to the abilities they already had – a radically different interpretation and application of the parable than what is assumed by people who claim their ability/talents are “God given.” Tennis stars, business moguls, powerful preachers and great singer/song-leaders are not born, they are made by developing and exercising whatever talents/abilities/propensities they have. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. God didn’t give you an audience, and the audience you currently impress will not continue with you if you do not give them something worthwhile that gratifies and satisfies them.
Don’t misunderstand this. God certainly provides strength for the worker, seed for the sower, but He does not guarantee the size of the harvest or the results of one’s service, works, and gifts. He requires that his servants be active, doing what they can with what they have. The unprofitable the one-talent servant in the parable was not condemned because he did not manage to double the master’s gift or investment in him – the master did not set a precise goal which had to be met. He was displeased because no effort at all was made: nothing was gained, nothing was lost, nothing at all was done except to maintain the status quo, not risking loss of the initial deposit.
There is another important lesson to be learned from this parable about using what you have, wherever you are at any time, in order to be called a faithful well-doing servant. We will call attention to it as we continue this essay.
DOES “ALL” MEAN LITERALLY EVERYTHING?
No doubt we – even us Christians – tend to deal improperly in absolutes, especially with words that appear to be or can be taken to be absolutes. For example, the word all may be taken to imply everything – as in Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord’s and its fulness – everything in it. But all can be used of everything in a certain category. So, in the case of the widow whose example sparked this essay it is apparent that all here means all the money she, not everything she possessed or had access to. She gave all the money she had, even all that she had to live on. There is no reason to infer from this that she sold everything she had and put the whole sum in the collection box. There is no hint that other gifts given that day were not acceptable or accepted by God because they were only part of what the giver possessed at the time.
There is no example of God rejecting an offering or gift because it was not everything person possessed. Some persons were praised for selling property and giving the proceeds for the benefit of needy (even some indigent pilgrims) in and around Jerusalem (Acts 4:32-37), so that everyone’s needs were met. One couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sold some property and gave the funds to the apostles, but they held back a part and gave less than the actual sale price. For their deception both lost their lives and, by inference, their souls as well (Acts 5:1-11). Some seize on this example and claim these two died because they did not give all the money received in the transaction. That is not the truth of the matter. They died, not because they gave less than all but because they kept back a part while professing they were giving all. They lied and so they died, causing great fear and apprehension in the church.
But don’t miss this point: while the property remained theirs they could do as they chose with it, and even after it was sold the money was still under their discretion, theirs to use, give, or keep as they pleased. Their sin was in claiming to give and thus to receive credit and glory when actually they gave only a part, not the whole as claimed.
Remember the woman who used a bottle of very expensive ointment to anoint Jesus (Mark 14:3-9). She gave something precious, but there is no indication she gave everything she had. Jesus said she had done what she could and it would be remembers as an example for others and a tribute to her. Some over-zealous religious persons take “a vow of poverty,” a repudiation of personal ownership of anything in order to serve in a ministry for God and Christ. Is that necessary? No. Is it even admirable? Questionable. What motivates such action? Pride perhaps, or a false humility – not a requirement or even necessarily a good work for which God promises honor and reward. Suppose one sets up a trust fund for God, placing a sum of money to draw interest (as the Lord counseled in the parable of the talents – you could put it in the bank and let it draw interest to give to me at a later time). One is entitled to live and pay his own way as he goes, but deed his property and will his money to be given to the Lord’s work in some way at his death – a perfectly honorable and worthy deed trust. In fact it is a way of giving or dedicating all one has and will receive to the Lord, in effect improving upon the gift of the widow we have touting.
Here’s the last point: your prosperity is to be purposefully parted out – some as gifts to God, some for personal or family necessities, some for paying one’s obligations and living costs. Do it properly and do not leave out anything that should be included. God will surely be please with such stewardship.