GETTING YOUR BILLS UNDER CONTROL (Proverbs 13:7; 20:13; 22:7; 24:30-34)!
Paul the Apostle once said, “If a man refuses to work, then don’t feed him!” (2 Thess. 3:10). In out western welfare culture culture, that sounds harsh and unfeeling. To let someone go hungry just seems to be cruel. But to understand just what Paul had in mind we need to know the background of the instruction he gave to the Thessalonian church leaders. Certain people were not working because they supposed that the Lord’s return was so close, that any effort was doomed to produce only short lived gains. So why engage in an outlay of work and effort for something that will not last? However, these same people were relying on the largess of people in the church for meals and food. The early church emphasized corporate gatherings for meals and shared meals in their homes. There were apparently some who were taking advantage of this arrangement, eating but not contributing to the work of the church or to the welfare of other believers. Paul’s instruction comes from the Old Testament, if a man is unwilling to lay out some effort then he should not be carried by everyone else and so reinforce his laziness and unwillingness to work. The book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about the lazy and imprudent man. The diligent people of Thessalonican church were in effect having to support those who refused to make an effort. Furthermore, the ones who were not working had a tendency to be busybodies, mind other people’s business, because they had too much time on their hands (2 Thess. 3:11-12). If you know anything about Paul you will know that this didn’t sit well with him at all! Even though could have made his living from the ministry, and be supported by it, he often refused to take advantage of that right, and worked at his trade as a tent-maker to support himself and his evangelistic team as they preached the gospel and planted churches (2 Thess. 3:6-9). Paul, as they say, was no slacker, and this meant he had no patience for lazy people, and expected the people around him to pull their weight!
Before we go on, we must say that Paul was not at all heartless. As a Jew he took the responsibility that God gave to his people for the poor and needy seriously (cf. Gal. 2:10). Paul’s churches, like the church in Jersualem, emphasized offerings for the needy, concern and compassion to one another, and had a fund from which they helped widows (1 Tim. 5:3). However, he said that younger widows who were liable to remarry and others who had family support should not be put on the support list, because they were likely to exercise their option to remarry and their families had to the primary obligation for their welfare. This would save the church from using resources on those who didn’t really need it (1 Tim. 5:3-8, 11-15). Apparently to be put on the list, Paul required a pledge from the widows to support the church with their efforts and labor (1 Tim. 5:9-10, 12). This balance between practicality and compassion, is typical of Paul and his approach to people in need. Generosity was vitally important, and Paul expected to the poor to be treated with love and dignity (1 Cor. 11:17-34). Paul soundly rebuked the Corinthians church for humiliating their poor members at the love feasts and Lord’s table. Nevertheless, Paul set common sense boundaries where selfless generosity was expected and everyone was to make some kind of effort in as far as they were able to do so.
Paul is not being cruel when he says a man who won’t work should not be fed. Rather, he is expressing a principle that people should take responsibility for themselves and everyone ought to make an effort commensurate with their ability to contribute to the work of the church and to meeting their own needs and the church was to selflessly look out for those who experience a shortfall or run into difficulty. However, the generosity of the church and believers is not something to be taken for granted or exploited. Those who can, should work to feed themselves and take care of their families. It is not the church’s responsibility or of believers to provide the primary resources for people who are able to work and should take c are of themselves. The Old Testament rebukes laziness and the slacker, and Paul found no reason to reverse its pejoratives against them! In one place Paul said that the one who used to steal must stop stealing and go to working to provide for his own needs and through generosity the genuine needs of others (Eph. 4:28). This was Paul’s view of responsibility, that those who could should! And those who could should also be a blessing through generosity to those who are in need, and who genuinely could provide adequately for themselves reasons they cannot overcome without help. Nevertheless, if follow the Pauline logic out, those who receive help are not expected to idle or passive, but must find some way to contribute and be useful to the church and the kingdom of God. Everyone is to make a contribution in whatever way they are able. No one is a receiver without being a giver in some way or another. There are simply no non-contributors in the body of Christ, the church.
Where did Paul get this notion of generosity balanced by self reliance, personal generosity, and everyone making some contribution to the work of God? Paul saw people who were genuinely in need because they could not help themselves as candidates for the generosity of the church. The church can and must see to it that it as far as is possible it provides help to those who are genuinely in need. But we are all supposed to engaged in being busy and productive in support of ourselves, our responsibilities and the work of the kingdom of God through contributing to the church, and to do it at whatever level we are able. Secondly, feeding you and your family is no one else’s job, it is first of all your responsibility. Paying your light bill, water bill, gas bill and credit card debt is not first of all the church’s responsibility or of someone else. It is yours. But when you are in genuine trouble the church will help. However, the help of the church does not imply you may be a passive recipient; you must make a contribution by engaging in serving God and helping others (cf. 1 Tim. 5:9-10). Those who refuse to work or are lazy can expect not to be fed!
Paul got this perspective on the importance of a good work ethic and generosity from the Old Testament, where God both expected his people to labor for their bread and be generous with their resources to help others. The law required this of his people Israel (cf. Ex. 22:25-27; Lev. 25:39-40; Deut. 15:7-8; Prov. 14:31; Amos 2;6-8). God promised that he would bless their efforts with extraordinary success and abundant provision so that there would be “no poor among you.” That is, God’s idea was through hard work and generosity all of hos people would be amply provided for.
The book of Proverbs actually turns these principles into propositions. One writer notes that he passed the farm of a lazy person, and found it rundown and unproductive, badly in need to repair. He said this taught him a lesson, that laziness and procrastination will lead to financial ruin and poverty. If you don’t work, it is likely you wont eat. In fact, he says, laziness has a way of sneaking up on you and robbing you of your resources and time until it is too late to remedy the loss (Pr. 24:30-34)! On the other hand, one writer of the Proverbs says, if you are not lazy and are willing to work and make an effort you will not only have enough to feed yourself, but more than enough to share generously with others who are in genuine need (Pr. 20:13). The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 was both industrious and generous, and therein lay her virtue! One of the core biblical principles from the Old Testament that those who make the effort to work and diligently serve God will bless with success. God does not bless laziness or inattention to our responsibilities. The principle that we reap what we sow carries forward from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and if we sow sparingly with little effort, we are liable to reap a small harvest (2 Cor. 9:6). It is not other people’s fault that we do cannot meet our obligations when we have made no effort at providing for ourselves. But God promises aid and success for those who make do their best in faith. It is hard to ignore the straightforward teaching of the Bible on this topic! (We must say that God blesses us all more than we deserve. We are not suggesting a divine quid pro quo, but rather that as a matter of habitual attitude and practice, they lazy should not expect the blessing of God on their inactivity and unwillingness to engage their effort, but those who are diligent can expect that God will bless them with success.)
Having said all of this, it is easy to get into trouble with money. In that cryptic proverb about a rich man acting poor and a poor man behaving as though he is rich, we get an insight in the strangeness of human nature (Prov. 13:7). We have all heard of or know a person who is well off, but drives a beat-up pickup truck or wears raggedy old clothes, so that no one knows they have money. Sometimes such a person is tightfisted and mean, unwilling to share, ungenerous and unwilling to part with their money. Such a person violates the biblical principles of generosity and sharing out of the abundance of their means. The Old Testament is full of rebuke for such and ungenerous person. (Not all people with money are ungenerous, so let us not jump to conclusions.) However, sometimes a person may be poor, but tries to put on an air of being rich, living beyond their means and making and extravagant show of their lifestyle. They may misuse their credit card and incur unreasonable or unsustainable debt. Such a person cannot be generous because they have tied up their resources in debt and creditors! Neither of these two extremes allow for generosity, but for entirely different reasons. If God values generosity in his people, both the rich and the poor, each must overcome the impediments to it. The rich must learn to give out of their abundance, and the poor need to get control of their finances and get his bills and obligations under control so that they may give freely within their capability. This is the New Testament, Pauline model of responsibility and generosity.
In our culture, often this means getting a handle on credit card debt, and managing our wants and desires so that they do not determine our financial position and leave us without resources to bless others and honor God. When the writer of Proverbs says that the debtor is slave to the creditor, he means that the debtor can barely make a move without considering how it effects his standing with the creditor and puts him in danger of default or the confiscation of his property (Prov. 22:7). Until the debt is paid off, the options are limited. Even today, the one who owes money is slave to the one who lent it, whether it is a credit card, payday loan, loan shark or a friend. Such debt incurs liability that impacts our ability to honor God with our giving and generosity. The number one reason people give for not giving is that they don’t have it to give. If you probe just a little below the surface, you will often find that it because they are over extended in someway.
Wouldn’t it be nice to get out from underneath that heavy burden of obligation and debt, both to live free and to be able to act generously in a way that honors God and blesses people in the church? Over the next few weeks we would like to plan a money management and personal finance class, to talk about responsible use of resources, how to deal with debt and how to put yourself in a position to better honor God through giving and generosity, so that you can fulfill the full potential of what God desires to do in your life. If you are interested we would like to sign you up! If you join us for that course and make a pledge to apply its principles, we will offer your the Malachi 3 pledge, that if you give to God through the church, and do not experience a change in your life and the blessing of God upon your situation over a period of 90 days, we will refund 100% of what you gave!
God called on all of his people to give generously, starting with 1/10 of the income, no matter how poor or rich they were. Everyone in this way has a chance to serve and honor God. In this God has promised to bless to his people, so that those who trust him by giving are more likely to see the hand of God multiply their resources to meet their needs as they bless others (cf. Mal. 3:10-12). The reason for this is not that we give to God to get back from God (quid pro quo), but that when we acknowledge God is our source and ultimately we depend upon him, our surrender becomes the open door for God to work through us in extraordinary ways for his glory and the benefit of others (cf. Christopher’s sermon next week). As we work and make the effort, God blesses it with his favor so that every need is met, and through generosity we might become a blessing to others. There is a principle here, that God can bless those who put their trust in him and step up to be generous givers.
However, the whole enterprise of giving and becoming the generous people God wants us to be can be destroyed by poor financial management and over-indebtedness. This is something we want to help you overcome through the teaching, encouragement and support of the church. Even when we fail, God generously helps us by clothing and feeding us. But to be truly free and fulfilled, and to enter into the place where we can actually become a resource for God to bless others. we have to tame our desires and get control of our bills. But how? Keep your eyes on this space! Here are some questions we will answer: Why is giving important? Why 10%? Is it a law or am I free to choose? If God is all powerful why does he need me to give? What happens to my church offerings? What is the difference between tithes
and offerings? How can I afford to pay my bills and tithe or give generously to God and his church? Does giving have anything to do with becoming debt free? How come a great many people do well in life and never give?