Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Jesus and Money: Does the Promise Really Work?

Luke 12:31
(2009 – 10)
Bob Rakestraw

Here is where the rubber meets the road! I have been considering the Bible text, Luke 12:31, for the past several postings, and now I must face the toughest question: Does the promise of Jesus in this verse really work? When the Lord says, “Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well” (NRSV), does he intend this literally and in all cases? In the context, as we have seen, “these things” refer to the food, drink, clothing and other necessities of daily living. Can we count on this promise, however difficult our circumstances may be?

Identifying the Problem

It is important to think about Bible promises that are verifiable in experience. If a verse teaches that everyone who sincerely receives Christ becomes a child of God (John 1:12), we may rejoice in this, and do what it says, but we cannot “prove” in some mathematical sense that this really happens. If we read that Christ died for our sins (I Cor. 15:3), we may celebrate that, but we cannot know this is true by objective calculation. But some scripture texts are verifiable (to some extent, at least, keeping in mind that spiritual truths can never be fully reasoned out or proven through science).

The scripture verse we have been considering for the past several blogs is a text that may be verified in experience. Jesus spoke of those who strive and become anxious about how they will obtain their daily necessities. He urged them to stop worrying and to seek God’s reign. If they did so, Jesus said, he would meet all of their needs.

For some people, however, this raises a difficult question: Does the Lord’s promise expressed here really “work”? Have the people of God over the centuries found these words to be true? God is making a huge commitment to his people, and he intends for this text to be a trustworthy guide for our lives.

I know that numerous Christ-followers have experienced the full blessing of these words. My wife and I are two of them—for forty-two years. I know many people personally who have followed the principle in this verse and have not lacked the essentials of life. I have heard numerous testimonies to this effect. But what about those who are not receiving the daily necessities of life? I know that many people around the world—including some who call themselves Christian—are suffering from malnourishment, unclean water, and terrible housing conditions. How are we to think about such people and such circumstances in light of Luke 12:31 and Matthew 6:33?

I hesitate to tread on such difficult terrain, but these questions must be addressed. Every promise in the Bible, properly understood, is meant to be believed and trusted, and the fulfillment of God’s Word should be evident in real life. Here are some possible reasons or explanatory points for those occasions when it seems that Jesus has not been true to his word.

1. We Are to be Christians

It may be that the ones in need are not really believers in Jesus. Luke 12:31 is clearly a text for Christ-followers. Note how Jesus in chapter 12 first addresses the disciples (vss. 1-12), then the crowd (vss. 13-21), then the disciples again (vss. 22-53) and then the crowd again (vss. 54-59).

While all people are children of God by creation, not all are his children by adoption. This verse applies to those who have been adopted into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ. Mercifully, God often does supply the needs of non-Christians, especially through his people’s efforts. But the crimes against humanity, especially by corrupt political leaders and warlords, are a major source of hunger and poverty in this world. God grieves over this even as we grieve.

2. We Are to be Dedicated Christians

Another reason some people may think that this verse is only “pie in the sky,” and not a workable promise, is because they are not fulfilling the first half of the verse. After Jesus urges his disciples to stop worrying and striving about their food, drink, clothing (and no doubt other basics of life) he makes a sharp contrast: “Instead, strive for his kingdom.”

Some people—perhaps many who go by the name “Christian”—may be praying and pleading for God to supply their needs, yet they do not intend to change their selfish, sinful way of life. They may not even realize how far removed they are from the kingdom values of Jesus. The may be praying for a better job, a better car, a better apartment or living conditions, and when God does not seem to be answering, they may conclude that this promise is not true. The truth, however, may be that they are not seeking the kingdom above everything else. They are seeking first the necessities (and sometimes the luxuries) of life, and then perhaps think about God’s will (if they think at all about it). Jesus wants to reverse this order.

It struck me recently that Luke 12:22-34 is not teaching us to pray at all. It is good to present our requests to God (Philippians 4:6-7), but this text is urging us to do three things instead: (1) do not worry (vss. 22-30, 32), (2) strive for the kingdom (v. 31) and (3) give to the needy (vss. 33-34). Your Father knows your needs, and it is his good pleasure to give you the kingdom—material and non-material needs. We simply need to receive the provisions he has promised to supply, while concentrating on the three orders from our Master.

3. We Are to Expect Suffering

Some Christians forget (or never learn) that we are to expect trials and suffering in this world. Jesus is promising to supply all of our needs, not all of our wants. He often does fulfill many of our desires as well, if they are in accord with his best intentions for us. Our needs may not always be met according to our timetable, however, but they will come in God’s timing. Along this line I offer the following from D. A. Carsen.

”Some have been privileged to experience pressure to the point where they have had absolutely no recourse but God. I know a couple who, some years ago, were serving a small, lower class church in Montreal. On Christmas Day, the man distributed food packages, gathered by the church, to the destitute in the vicinity. He returned home to his wife, and both of them thanked the Lord for the food with which he had provided them—one can of beans. One half hour later they were invited out to a Christmas dinner” (The Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978], pp. 93-94).

In our next posting I expect to present some further explanatory points concerning the seeming failure of Luke 12:31. In the meantime I ask you to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. If you are not yet a Christ-follower I urge you to read one of the four gospels and the rest of the New Testament, with a heart seeking God’s truth. Seek and you will find. If you are a believer in Jesus, seek him and his kingdom daily, and give to those in need. Finally, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

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