1 Timothy 6:9-10a “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
There has been a lot of secular media attention lately given to churches known for preaching what has become known as the “prosperity Gospel.” In its crudest form, the prosperity Gospel teaches that if you give to God, God will make you rich. In a culture always looking for the next get-rich quick scheme, such a message has a large appeal, and since those who literally “buy into” the message provide the churches who preach it with large sources of funds for staff and advertising, the message is easily spread to ever larger audiences.
As much as that crude version runs against everything Jesus taught and lived, there is a more subtle connection between faith and money that makes the overall message much more complicated to refute. It has been absolutely true in my life and in the lives of countless others that when I give to God, God pours back in what I have given away and then some. There are many Bible passages that speak to that kind of divine economy. “Give and it shall be given to you--good measure, pressed down, and shaken together and running over.” (Luke 6:38) The message that God is generous, wants us to live happy and prosperous lives, and responds to our giving with an outpouring from heaven is true.
But that is a different thing than saying that God wants us to be rich. The reason the divine economy works the way it does is because a generous giver is an effective channel for God’s resources. The purpose of God pouring more resources into our lap when we give some away is so that we might give still more. It is God’s reassurance that if we will keep sending God’s resources out into a hurting world, God will both provide for our needs and keep giving us more than we need so that we can give what we don’t need away.
As Paul writes to Timothy, his young protege who is pastoring churches in Paul’s absence, he reminds Timothy of the dangers of loving money. The gifts we receive from God are not given so that we might store them up and become rich. They are given so that we might share God’s abundance with others in order that everyone might have enough. We are like a water pipe, designed to deliver water to the city. When we are an unblocked channel and the water flows through us freely to the people, the city manager continues to direct water our way. If our pipe should become clogged and the water coming in never gets to its intended destination, the water to that pipe is shut off until it can be fixed.
When we begin to think that God’s blessings are for us to store up so that we can have an ever grander standard of living, we are falling into the temptation and trap that Paul speaks of. Greed is knocking on our door, and if we let it in, it will consume us like the cancer that it is. John Wesley taught the early Methodists to “gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” He understood that the reason for accumulating wealth was to have more to give away, and he lived that out in his daily life.
Churches that teach about God’s abundance and generosity are right. If you give…of money, time, talent or whatever…it will be given back to you in overflowing measure. But churches that teach that the overflowing measure is to aid us in becoming rich are sorely mistaken. If the giving channel is blocked or slows to a trickle so that we can save up more for ourselves, God will redirect the flow to a more open vessel.
Generous God, teach us how to be an open channel for your blessings. Amen.
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