Yesterday I began a short three-part series titled “how to do good with your money.” You can find the first installment on our website. Since my thoughts will be unpacked over three days, let me provide the entire list of eight principles here:
THE WORST MAY YET COME
CHURCH BENEVOLENCE IS DISCIPLESHIP 101
THE CHURCH AND THE DISCIPLE HAVE DIFFERENT JOBS
YOU CAN DO MORE WITH THE PEOPLE NEARBY
WISDOM COMES IN GROUPS
THE SECULAR WORLD MAKES US SHORT-SIGHTED
IT IS A GODLY THING TO CARE FOR FAMILY
THE LOCAL CHURCH IS GOD’S FAVORITE NON-PROFIT
As the series title suggests, my goal is simple. By the end of this short series I hope we all will be better equipped to bless the world with our money.
We start with a principle that might be a little difficult to comprehend at first. It’s somewhat abstract. I know. But please press-on. Read it twice, if you must. Because it’s extremely important to grasp.
3. THE CHURCH AND THE DISCIPLE HAVE DIFFERENT JOBS
Local churches are made up of individual believers. Together we aim to carry out the Great Commission as a corporate body. Now here is the important part: while there is overlap in our roles as the church and as individual disciples, we must not lose the distinctions here. I have personal duties as an individual Christian that the church as a whole does not share. It is my personal duty to honor my parents, love my spouse, and raise my children. The church might help me, but these duties are mine to execute.
On the other hand, the Lord’s Great Commission to make disciples is given to local churches. The duties of preaching & teaching, baptizing, and holding the Supper – these responsibilities are given to us as a church; not to us as individuals.
Therefore, when we think about serving the material needs of our community in the face of a pandemic, we must remember that the individual Christian enjoys a much wider latitude for doing this. We are free as individual Christians to love and serve our neighbors during this time in ways that the church should not. It would be a wonderful display of compassion for an individual disciple to provide homemade masks to their neighbors. Just this morning, I heard of the wife of a pastor in London making masks for doctors and nurses in that city. That warms my heart. A part of me regrets not having better sewing skills.
But here is the point I wish to make: it would be unwise for local churches to engage in the same activity – without some effort to make disciples; without some form of evangelism. And its unwise for these reasons: 1) the Great Commission (and the book of Acts) direct us to focus on the spiritual needs of our world; 2) we risk underfunding true gospel work as we divert money toward a humanitarian crisis; and 3) it is more attractive to our flesh and to the world to build houses for the poor than to initiate actual gospel-conversations with them.
All this to say: please continue to look for creative ways to practically love and serve those in need around you. But we must all guard against the temptation to direct our church’s efforts toward these practical acts of service. The Great Commission that we are called to obey as a church does not include these acts.
What then shall individuals do as we face this pandemic? That brings us to our next principle…
4. YOU CAN DO MORE WITH THE PEOPLE NEARBY
Even as we attempt to meet the urgent material needs of people around us – Christians should always have an eye on the soul. It is true that we should be moved by the suffering of the world, but as John Piper once said: Christians should care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. And Jesus put it very radically when he said: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
And as we keep our focus on the spiritual needs, even as we try meet the material needs, I think we begin to see the primacy of physical proximity. When our ultimate goal is the spiritual good of the world, it seems best to focus on the people closest to you. By closest, I mean relationally and geographically.
Consider the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Our Lord didn’t just show-up moments before his crucifixion, ready to die as our substitute. Christ lived with us for thirty-odd years. He allowed people to witness his birth, see him grow-up, take on a trade, and work with hands as a carpenter. By the time he called his first disciples, Jesus was well known. We do not follow an anonymous Savior. Furthermore, Jesus’ ministry among his disciples––as he loved and served them––this spanned not weeks or months, but years.
Therefore, let me encourage you to focus first on the neighbor next door or down the road; on your family member who is still unbelieving, or on the parents at your kids’ school. Give your attention first to those nearby before you attempt to help those far away or with whom you have little to no relationship.
Making a true difference in people’s lives takes time and relational effort. It generally requires geographical closeness. Note these words from the apostle John:“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face…”(2 John 12).
Among the many lessons we will learn from our various forms of lockdown, this one will standout: God has made us all embodied creatures and no form of communication is a fair substitute for being in the presence of another.
Thus, as we aim to do good with our money in this time of great need, look first to those who are nearby.
5. WISDOM COMES IN GROUPS
Here is our last principle to consider for today. It is a general biblical principle, but it applies well to our discussion. Moreover, it's quickly forgotten by us western people. It doesn’t take much to realize that we need a lot of wisdom to be effective in the face of so much need. There are countless organizations that ask for our money. And there are multiple non-profits that advocate for real needs. This can be overwhelming. Disorientating even. Furthermore, we can easily make unwise decisions about what to fund. The question then is: where does one find such wisdom? Hopefully a series like this is helpful. But I am sure there are personal questions about this subject for which I will fail to provide a direct answer. Thankfully, God supplies us with a multitude of wise counselors in our local church. Just as we should seek counsel on who we intend to marry, what job might better suit us, it is also wise to make big financial decisions with the counsel of others. Hopefully, you have developed close relationships with other members such that you can lean on them for counsel. As you seek to do good with your money, let me encourage to use others as a sounding board for your thinking on the subject. Use these resources that God supplies. He will be glorified, and you will be helped. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). That is it for today. Tomorrow, God-willing, I post the last installment in this series. I have kept the best for last: we’ll consider the blind spots of our western society, and the importance of family.