I was asked how living amongst poverty has challenged how I see wealth. How should we live in a consumer society? How does seeing my neighbour living from hand to mouth affect how I spend the money I have?
I find 1 Timothy 6 v 17-19 helpful.
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they make take hold of the life that is truly life.” NIV
The first thing I notice in these verses is the heart attitude towards wealth that we should have. In the UK it is easy to put our hope in wealth. We have insurance for everything. We expect to live a long and healthy life. We expect free health care. We have a benefits system to protect us from abject poverty. It is easy to think we do not need God. My neighbours here in Ecuador start their prayers by giving thanks for another day of life. They see disasters often and people have to depend on their family to survive. They do not have insurance and often have to pay for medical treatment. They know their lives and destinies are in God’s hands. I think we have a lot to learn about living each day depending on God, rather than ourselves and our wealth, living each day giving thanks to God for the multitude of blessings that He sends our way as He “richly provides everything for our enjoyment.” Instead of taking it all for granted, or even wanting more and more, and living discontent with our lot.
The second thing is a call to generosity. My Ecuadorean neighbours are very hospitable. If someone shows up at the house at a meal time, the meal is made to stretch. When volunteers come to visit from the UK, even the poorest will share what they have with the strangers. The amount of money someone has is viewed as destiny, largely. People are not generally jealous of those who have more, but those who do have are expected to share with extended family members in their times of need. People in a community give of their time in “mingas”; work parties where people come together to do a communal job such as clean up the street or paint the local school. How much more should we, who have been given abundantly more than we need, give and share generously with others. Do we view what we have as ours, or acknowledge that every good gift comes from the Father above? Naturally, this sharing will start at home with our own families, churches and communities. But in today’s connected world, it must surely extend to helping others further afield in the UK and abroad. It does not just relate to money, but to time and talents as well. We should be asking ourselves questions such as “How much should I be giving away?” Or perhaps more telling, “How much should I be keeping for myself?” “Do I really need to buy this …” Or maybe, “Should I work less hours in paid work and keep time for voluntary work too?” Or “Should I serve as a volunteer for a time?” Or “Am I using my God-given talents to help others?”
Sometimes, we are reluctant to give or share because we fear we will not be left with enough. God is a God of abundance. He loves to generously give. The more we practice giving, in whichever form that takes, the more we will experience the overwhelming generosity of God towards us.
The final verse reminds us that we need to keep in mind this present age is not all there is. An eternity is coming that is much longer and more important. Money, possessions, the latest gadget or convenience, is not true living. It is as we learn to live in a way that is laying up treasure in heaven, becoming more like Jesus, that we are “Taking hold of the life that is truly life.” We are set free from the worries and cares of consumerism. We learn to be content knowing we are truly loved. To live in peace. To live loving our neighbour and our enemy. To take care of the planet and the resources it contains. To be confident that God will care for us and provide for us. From this position of true security, generosity will flow naturally to those around us.