Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jesus and Money: Can Jesus be Trusted?

Luke 12:31
(2009 – 11)
Bob Rakestraw

There is richness and depth in the promise of Jesus in Luke 12:31: “Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (NRSV). This posting will surely not exhaust the depth of the verse, but it will draw together our thoughts on the text by concluding the question we began to consider last time—“Jesus and Money: Does the Promise Really Work?” For this posting I ask the same question in a slightly different way—“Can Jesus be Trusted?” Last time I offered three reasons why it may seem to some people that this promise of Jesus is not true. In this piece I offer three more explanatory points that I hope are helpful.

1. We Are to Accept God’s Sovereignty

We easily forget that our God is the Sovereign Lord, and does what he wills according to his own good pleasure. We become very uncomfortable when our wants and then our needs begin to dwindle. Our necessities may not be coming in, or we are getting close to that point, and we then begin to doubt God. Even though my wife, Judy, and I have found the promise of Jesus to be consistently true during the forty-plus years of our marriage, we have had to rest in his sovereign care and accept that he works in his time and ways, not ours.

Over the years, Judy and I have gone through a foreclosure on our house, lost money that we had saved for our later years due to economic turmoil, and have often had very little money to buy even a few groceries. For several years we did not own a car. I received a heart transplant that has led to chronic rejection and numerous difficulties in daily living. I can truthfully say, however, that God has provided all of our basic needs every day of our lives. R.V.G. Tasker says it well: “His servants may not grow wealthy as the world understands riches, but they will not lack” (The Gospel According to St. Luke [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974], p. 215). You may lack money to buy junk food, excess food, restaurant meals, questionable entertainment, unnecessary clothing, cigarettes, and other non-essentials, but you will never lack for your daily bread and other daily needs.

2. We Are to be Givers to the Kingdom Work

We may not be giving to the needy as we should be. When times are tough, we instinctively want to hold on to the little we have. We assume God does not want us to give, or give much, when we are in difficulty. But this is one of the three mandates from our Lord in Luke 11:31-33. “Strive for his kingdom” (v. 31); “Do not be afraid, little flock” (v. 32); “Sell your possessions, and give alms” (v. 33). We are not to give only when we are comfortable in doing so, but consistently, through easy times and hard. We may need to give less when our income is less, but we are to never stop being cheerful givers. If you are down to two loaves of bread, and you discover that your neighbor has none, give one of the loaves to your neighbor. Don’t be foolish or boastful in your giving, but be merciful and joyful, trusting in God.

New Testament scholar Alfred Plummer has some fine words on this last point.

“[There is here] no condemnation of possessions as sinful. As Bede points out, Christians are not commanded to retain nothing for their own use (for Christ Himself had a purse out of which He gave alms), but to take care that fear of poverty does not interfere with benevolence. Almsgiving is not to be a mere giving of what we can spare. Nor is it merely for the sake of the receiver. It is also for the good of the giver, that his heart may be freed from covetousness. The attempt to keep the letter of the rule here given (Acts 2:44-45) had disastrous effects on the Church of Jerusalem, which speedily became a Church of paupers, constantly in need of alms (Romans 15:25-26; I Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:4; 9:1).” (The Gospel According to St. Luke [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, Fifth Edition, 1922], p. 329).

3. We May Have to Endure Persecution

Sometimes God in his own wisdom, and for our ultimate good, allows his children to suffer severely. In the words of D.A. Carson: “I think the major exception to this pledge [Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31] occurs when Christians are suffering for righteousness sake. Some are martyred by starvation and by exposure. The overwhelming importance of the kingdom may require self-sacrifice even to this ultimate degree” (The Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978], p. 93). This brings up the matter of God’s sovereignty again, applied to extreme cases. I am reminded of the biblical account of God’s people who suffered greatly: “They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, (Hebrews 11:37-38, NIV).

Such special cases, while grievous, do not negate the overall promise of Jesus. Some promises in the Bible may be overridden by the will of God in specific instances. God’s people have for centuries placed themselves in the care of the Lord, knowing that if outward circumstances turn sour, God will never leave them. If God allows suffering for his children, it is for their ultimate good throughout eternity, and for the growth of the kingdom of God here on earth (Hebrews 11:32-40). While we must never forget the persecuted church, and need to give to and pray for their care, we are not to live our daily lives focusing on possible exceptions, but dwelling rather on the general principle behind all of God’s promises: our heavenly Father continuously watches over his children with tender care, and provides all our needs as we strive above all for his kingdom and righteousness.

Ultimately, all of the matters in these six postings boil down to a simple threefold formula, already mentioned above, in Luke 12:31-34: strive for God’s kingdom, do not worry, and give cheerfully to the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth. Here is true peace, true joy, and true satisfaction in life. Here is freedom from anxiety, a reason for living, and a wise heavenly Father to trust in every circumstance. I close with a section of scripture that has become more and more special to me as the years have passed. May you make these words your own, all of your life.

“Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NRSV)


Rosemary said...

Wow, Bob. How relevent is this posting. Thank you for your honesty. You and Judy have had to rely on God's mercy and grace in ways that we do not experience and we are asked to rely on God's mercy where others aren't asked to go. I guess it is the "giving up of ourselves" that takes a lifetime and beyond to learn.

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

Hi Rosemary,

Always good to hear from you. Your words are so "on target." Judy and I were just praying for your family this morning. Our walk with God really is a very individual thing, yet we are all grateful for the communal aspect. Thank you for being my friend, as well as my sister!