READ : Proverbs 11:24-25
One man gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. A liberal man will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
“One man gives freely, yet gains even more. Another withholds unduly but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
Here is a lesson in what we might call “biblical economics.” It sounds different from our conventional wisdom, doesn’t it? According to this revolutionary math, people get richer by giving and poorer by hoarding. When they give, they gain. When they grasp, they lose. How in the world do we make sense of that? How does that kind of arithmetic add up?
HOW TO BE POOR
Let’s look at the negative side first. A man or woman who withholds unduly, says the proverb, comes to poverty. Suppose that you have plenty of this world’s goods. You have sizable investments and lots of money coming in. You are by any financial measure very, very comfortable. You happen to have a relative in the community who has fallen on hard times. He’s had a lot of sickness in his family and has recently lost his job because of a plant closing. He really needs help but he’s not the kind of person who finds it easy to ask for it.
Someone suggests that you might tide him over this rough period with a loan or provide some needed items for his children. But you decide against it. It’s not your problem, you say. You’ve worked hard for what you have and he’ll need to do the same. As far as helping this man’s family is concerned, you have your own to think about and you want to make sure that they are well cared for. And so, although you have ample means to give this relative a lift, you’re unwilling to do anything for him. You withhold what you have unduly because you have the means available and would never miss what you gave him.
Now it may seem that you’ll be better off if you close your heart to this man’s need. Common sense would tell you that you’ll have more for yourself if you keep what you own. But the word of the Lord is that you will come to poverty.
You may scoff at that. You may say that it doesn’t worry you a bit. You’ve been operating that way for years, you say, and your assets are still in good order. “What do you mean I’ll come to poverty? It hasn’t happened to me yet.”
Well, maybe it hasn’t, in terms of dollars and cents. That could happen further down the line, but you may have lost a great deal already. Remember King Midas? He had gold in abundance, and enjoyed counting it every day. Not content with that, he made a wish that everything he touched might turn to gold. As the story goes, his wish was fulfilled. He was overjoyed. Now he would have even more to clutch and count. Then one day he touched his child and saw that precious little one turn to gold before his eyes. Now he had more gold than ever, but he had lost a son. Midas, was it worth it?
When you had the means to give and refused to do it, you lost something. When you put your prosperity above the need of someone else, you became a poorer man or woman. How many people there are who have bartered loving relationships for added wealth, who have neglected their children to increase their standard of living, who have lost a chance to be a friend by keeping too much for themselves.
It happens not only with money and material means. It happens with your talents and abilities. You have a chance to use some gift of yours to enrich others, to do them good, to build them up. But you don’t want to be bothered. You won’t put yourself out for them. You won’t waste your abilities on people like that.
Do you know what will happen to you as a result? Something of that ability, something of that potential, will be lost. A gift is like a muscle. Stop using it for a while and it gets weaker. A song the children sing in Sunday school has that telling message:
You have a talent, use it for the Lord,
if you do not use it, you will surely lose it.
You have a talent; use it for the Lord.
The deepest poverty that comes from our selfishness lies within us. It’s possible, as the poet says, to become rich in things and poor in soul. We keep amassing things, keep collecting for ourselves, but soon all that abundance clusters around an impoverished life and an empty heart.
Jesus told a little parable about that. I happened to be reading it just this past week.
The fields of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” Then he said, “This is what I’ll do: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones and there I will store all my grain and my goods, and I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years, take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.”
Then the shattering blow fell. God said to him, “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” “This is how it will be,” said Jesus, “with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
Our prosperity, says Jesus, can make fools of us. Bigger barns, bigger bank accounts, all for what? What good is it if we lose our souls, lose ourselves in the process? If greed doesn’t make paupers of us while we live, it will surely do so when we come to die. Then the pathetic shallowness of our lives will come to light. We thought about making ourselves comfortable rather than about the needs of others. We were rich for ourselves but not toward God. Now at the end of the way, we have nothing, nothing at all.
HOW TO BE RICH
But there’s another side to this proverb, a side filled with joy and surprise. Here’s a man who gives freely, yet gains even more. Here’s a generous man who by his generosity comes to prosper. Refreshing others, he finds himself wonderfully refreshed. Recently I returned from three unforgettable weeks visiting Christian believers in the Soviet Union. My wife and I went along with John and Helen Sergey. John is our Words of Hope Russian language broadcaster and has established strong ties with believers all across the Soviet Union. We went on a preaching tour to ten cities in five different republics. During the space of three weeks, John and I each preached some 17 times. The trip was both exhausting and exhilarating.
One of the things that stands out for me now is the amazing hospitality of these Russian Christians. Most of the ones we visited have relatively little of this world’s goods, but they were exceptionally lavish with what they had. They spared nothing in the meals they prepared for us, delicious food in great abundance. They showered us with gifts of various kinds. If we looked at something we liked in a store but decided not to buy it, they would go back later to the same store and purchase that item for us. No expense seemed to them too great for the joy of their guests.
What dawned on us more and more was that money meant very little to these people. Spending it on others and celebrating with them seemed to be a chief part of their happiness. Are they rich as a result, these carefree givers, these extravagant hosts and hostesses? I would say that they are. They enjoy fewer freedoms than most of us and their lot for the most part is decidedly more limited. But what they have they give with extraordinary gladness. They sing with heartwarming fervor. They hunger for the hearing of God’s Word. We had the distinct feeling while there that they have something many of us seem to lack.
I had an interesting conversation with a stewardess on our plane ride back from Moscow. She made an interesting comment about Russians. “They’re very religious,” she said, “they don’t have anything else.” I think she said that with a note of pity in her voice. “Poor, wretched folk,” she seemed to say, “they have nothing but religion. All they have is God.”
I can picture now in my mind’s eye an evening service in the republic of Moldavia. It was a warm Wednesday night and thunderstorms were rumbling through the area. This had been a work day and people there did not usually go to church on Wednesday nights. Who would come out for the preaching service led by these Americans? When we came into the church, we saw a beautiful sanctuary that normally holds about 1,200 people. Every seat was jammed. People were standing in every doorway. The entire center aisle from the back door to the pulpit area was completely filled with standing worshippers. Over 2,000 people crowded into that church. I watched the ones standing, squeezed together in that center aisle. For two and a half hours they stood. Perhaps it wasn’t hard to stand — they could scarcely move! Throughout the service they kept on listening, singing, weeping, eagerly attending. They stood through three sermons, innumerable choir numbers. No one seemed impatient to leave. I never saw anyone checking his or her watch because another appointment was pressing. This for them was life.
Sometimes it seems to me that for people I know here in America, religion, church, Christianity is like the “dessert” of life. You know, the ice cream and cake with which we top off an otherwise full existence. I had the distinct feeling that for these people, these believers in Russia, it was the bread. It was the very staff of life.
I wonder if that may be related to their generosity, to the uncommon freedom they show from the materialism which dogs many of us. These who were relatively poor in things, and remarkably ready to give them away, seemed wealthy in spirit.
I feel sure, however, that the connection between those things has never occurred to them. They give, they share with joy and abandon. They delight to meet the needs of their guests.
Sometimes I have heard this idea of “prosperity through giving” presented in a shrewdly calculating way. Offerings to God or the ministry the speaker represents are touted as the best of investments. They are like planting a seed of faith that will yield a harvest of abundance. Some zealous ministers of this persuasion have even been taken to court by disgruntled parishioners who found that the advertised formula didn’t work. After they gave and failed to receive a rich return, they demanded to be compensated by the church.
What God’s Word speaks about is miles away from that mindset. The proverb talks about giving from a heart that cares, out of a response to grace. There’s scarcely a thought with the truly generous of what the potential yield will be. Their giving is the overflow of a heart that can do no other.
This is faith-giving indeed, but faith of a different sort. Faith in the Bible sense of the word is not the confidence that I will get back everything that I’ve given with interest, but the sure trust that God will always be my sufficiency. In generous giving we reveal that our hearts have been touched by grace. We know how much we have received from the Lord. We’re eager to share it. Knowing that everything is ultimately His, we hold it all with a light grasp.
Sometimes in remarkable ways, God does provide financially for those who give liberally of their means. He does multiply the potential of believers who spend their gifts for others. But most of all, He fills the hearts of people who have learned from Him what it is to give. He loves, we are told, hilarious givers. He makes Himself real to them. Whatever they have of wealth or talent, He makes them rich beyond measure in the gift of Himself. Don’t pity them, those whose chief portion in life is to know God. They are the wealthy ones. As they walk through the world enriching others, they are marvelously refreshed.
The secret, friends, lies in knowing the God of grace. He so loved the world that He gave, gave His only begotten Son. Christ so loved us that He gave His life for us. When we put our whole trust in Him, when we surrender in faith to His lordship, we learn to be generous. The biblical appeal runs like this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, for though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor that you through his poverty might be rich.” He became poor to make us rich, but oh, how rich He is now, rich in the joy of seeing His people redeemed! May we find grace in Him to follow His way, becoming poor that many may be rich, rejoicing to give, and knowing that He always remembers those who forget themselves in serving Him.
PRAYER: Oh, God, the great Giver, You crown the generosity You create in our hearts with grace upon grace. Teach us through trust in the Savior to be really generous people and to discover how You give Yourself to those who give themselves. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.