This is part of a series that I’ve been working on for a while about the kind of values that could shape a community seeking to follow the way of Jesus.
Previously I’ve argued that whilst most communities are defined by belief, I think it’s more important to be clear about the kind of people we want to be, and about how we live out this new ‘kingdom’ we find in the teachings and example of this God-man who we simply can’t ignore.
This is what should hold us together, not correct belief (orthodoxy), but correct living and acting (orthopraxy). Here I’m clearly being influenced by Jesus’ words found in what’s known as the ‘Sheep and Goats’ passage. Have a look – see what you think – what does Jesus seem to be saying here?
Back to the point of this post…deeper thinking on the theme of generosity (find some initial thoughts in this post) hoping to root these ideas a little bit.
The value we’re thinking about is this:
Living generously – we are all about generous living, not living beyond our means. It says that what is ours is yours, but don’t worry about feeling like you have to give back. Generosity is about trying to say yes more than we say no, about seeing the needs of those around of us and working out how we can act, with compassion to help meet those needs.
Looking through the Biblical record, generosity appears to be built into the ‘system’ – generosity to your family, your community, the weak, the poor, but also those in most need (widows, orphans and aliens). Laws are established early on which make this much more than just ‘if you’ve got anything left over’ – you’re instructed to do this, you’re commanded to be this. It’s a repeated refrain throughout the rest of the Jewish scriptures – called ‘justice’ – more important even than religious sacrifices!
Fast forward to the New Testament and Jesus places it at the heart of his ministry – generosity as a way of being summed up by the teaching referenced above (the sheep and goats). The new community formed in the early days of the church kept this at the heart of what held them together:
…all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. (Acts 2)
This is radical: being part of this community demands generosity.
Later on, a story is told of a couple who end up dead (not murdered!) because they lied about sharing the profits they’d made from selling property!
Astonishing stuff. We’re talking here about something much more than a few quid in an envelope, or even a monthly direct debit. Costly giving. Perhaps even painful?
What we seem to have here is a commitment to look after each other, or what we’d grandly call ‘social responsibility’ nowadays. We are not alone. We are together. Where there is a need, we are to be held responsible if that need is not met.
Eyes open, not shuttered. Looking at, not away.
Not for any kind of reward or comeback, not to make certain our place in some kind of afterlife…but because to be human is to be connected to those around us.
For good reason the following teaching of Jesus has often been called ‘the great commandment’:
Love your neighbour as you love yourself….
Generosity is love in action.
But massively complex.
A whole new way of being alive and doing life.
It scares me to even write this, because I know how far away from this I am at the moment, and how much living like this would impact not only me but my family. It could even lead to a degree of voluntary suffering.
Nothing to take lightly.
Much to think about.