I have read many times about Jesus’ miracles of feeding thousands of people with only a small supply of food. In my mind, I always filed these events with Jesus’ other miracles. He healed people, He fed people, and all along the way, He demonstrated His power as the Son of God. I didn’t spend time considering what these miracles might mean for my life. For those of us in America who are wealthy, both by Biblical standards and compared to the rest of the world, it almost seems silly to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our pantries and refrigerators are generally full of food. Still I am sure that Jesus’ ability to feed many with a little must be a comfort to Christians in some parts of the world. There is a faith developed by dependence that we wealthy believers may never experience.
This week, one of my favorite of Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening devotions came up. He wrote about Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:12, “I know how to abound.” It is easy to look at this passage of Scripture and think it is only about finding contentment when we lack, but as Spurgeon pointed out, “The crucible of adversity is a less severe trial for the Christian than the place of prosperity.” He admonishes us that it actually takes more grace to abound, without dishonoring our faith. I find myself starting off 2020 in a better financial position than I have ever been in. Having savings and investing can be addictive. It is tempting to hoard one’s excess income. But while we must be wise to plan for the future, we are commanded not to store up treasure on earth. It is yet another balancing act of faith.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
As I was determining how to budget for my annual raise, I knew that some of it needed to be added to my giving. But as I decided how to allocate it, God seemed to be leading me to give even more of it than seemed prudent. It was a frightening idea. I was worried about overextending myself, but I felt God calling me to use the funds in a very specific way. After having decided to “sleep on it,” the next morning I was in Matthew 15 for my daily reading. In the last part of this chapter, Jesus feeds more than four thousand people with seven loaves and a few fish. God’s message to me was clear as I read. He was reminding me that He is not constrained by the rules of math or economics. He can take what I have and use it far beyond what I can imagine, if I will trust Him with it.
In the Gospel accounts of Jesus miraculously feeding the crowds, the authors emphasize His compassion for the people. The interactions with His disciples at these events indicate that He wanted them to feel the same way. He wanted them to be concerned with the peoples’ needs and to have a desire to meet them. I wonder what the disciples thought as they began to distribute bread on those occasions. I can’t imagine that they were without skepticism. If they were like me, they would have been upset that their own dinner was being handed out to others, and there was not likely to be any left over for them. I would love to know how it all went. I wonder whether there was a turning point in their attitudes and countenance when they realized that Jesus was miraculously making the bread supply sufficient. Was it enough to remove their own concerns from their minds? Did it result in more faith?
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
The New Testament doesn’t command Christians to tithe. It actually requires more than that; it instructs generosity and sacrificial giving. For most Americans, a strict ten percent may feel like a sacrifice, but it isn’t necessarily generous. We get caught up with thinking that we need certain things in our life, many of which are actually luxuries of affluence. But we are surrounded by so much wealth that it is difficult to recognize this. Jesus scolded the Pharisees for tithing legalistically while neglecting the more important matters of justice and mercy. Legalistic giving is not what God wants from us. He doesn’t want us to share our bread begrudgingly. He wants us to have the same compassion for others that He has, and from that, to give generously.
Giving is a discipline, but it is also a joyful expression of faith. We are instructed not to give reluctantly or out of obligation. What honors God is our cheerful giving. Further, He wants us to have faith that if we give sacrificially, He will provide for our needs. I have already learned in my walk with God that being miserly does not lead to wealth or financial comfort. Meanwhile, God has a way of making generosity profitable that can’t be quantified in a formula or captured in a budget. I am continually astounded at God’s faithfulness to me. I pray that I can respond with faithful obedience.