In this fourth installment of the series “Being the Body,” we’ll look at the major conceit of most of us in the Western Church. I believe this fallacy prevents us from becoming the real community of Jesus Christ on Earth. If we can get over this lie we’ve believed, great things will happen in our midst.
The Scriptures say this:
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein….
—Psalms 24:1 ESV
[King David praising God before the assembly of Israel:] “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you….”
—1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV
“The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,” declares the LORD of hosts.
—Haggai 2:8 ESV
“Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine….”
—Ezekiel 18:4a ESV
“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
—Romans 14:7-8 ESV
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price…..”
—1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a ESV
Here’s the short summation: you and I own nothing. We don’t even own ourselves. It’s all the Lord’s.
But do we Evangelicals, so enamored of our supposed political and economic power, truly believe that? The way we live would suggest otherwise. Yet for us to embody the fullness of Christ as His Body, we need to realize an important truth:
#6 – Real community can only come about when we understand that everything God has given us must be in play for others at all times, especially for those within the community of faith.
If we truly believe the Scriptures above are true, then we have no right to ever withhold needful things from others. Sort of explodes our fallacious notion of “mine,” doesn’t it?
If our current church culture is any indication, no lie from hell can outdo our allegiance to “mine.” We may talk about original sin and point to the lies children tell as proof, but a sixteen-month-old child whose first words consist of “mine” is just as convincing a proof of original sin as lying. Unfortunately, though we discourage the lying, we smirk at the grab for what’s mine. “Isn’t that cute, hon? He’s destined to be a corporate raider some day!”
As we know, “mine” knows no boundaries. It doesn’t stop at the expensive items like cars or houses. Our love for what we convince ourselves is ours extends down to the most insignificant things.
The Bible says this:
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
—Ecclesiastes 5:10-12 ESV
We can’t stop accumulating wealth can we? Fifteen years ago, everything I owned in the world could fit into the back of a Honda Civic Hatchback. If it all got stolen, I wouldn’t miss it.
A self-examination: If you’re reading this and are married, isn’t it amazing how much more stuff you’ve picked up since saying, “I do”? It costs money to insure all that accumulation, too, because we all worry what might happen to it. Not so much that we would lose it, but that once it was all gone, people would treat us differently. We wouldn’t be as affluent. People might actually think we were—God forbid—poor!
How many of us reading this sleep a little less comfortably at night than we did when we owned nothing? That sleep largely suffers for one enormous reason. Few of us, deep down inside, can rest assured that our church communities would draw alongside us should we suffer financial ruin. We fear that our churches are not convinced of the following:
“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit.”
—Leviticus 25:35-37 ESV
God did NOT say that He Himself would rain down food, shelter, or clothing, but that this help should come from the community of faith! The act of true fear of God within a believing community is that we cover the needs of our brothers and sisters.
Just this weekend I heard from yet another brother in dire financial straits. (We’ve never met face-to-face, but I know him from his online writings.) The broken-record response from his church? “Sorry, we won’t help you.” They have the financial resources, so they could help; they just won’t. They love money more than they love this brother or their own community.
I have one word for that: sickening. Are there any churches left that fear the Lord?
We watch faithful brothers and sisters in Christ go through bankruptcies and other financial disasters without lifting a finger to help, then we excoriate them for it. There’s not a person reading this right now who doesn’t have a decent, hard-working family in his or her church enduring financial hell. What are we doing for them? Anything? Or are we blaming them instead, trying to find a reason for their ruin much the same way the Pharisees sought to find a reason for the original blindness of the man Jesus healed?
Do we know that it’s for the glory of God that we help our brothers and sisters in their time of need?
Folks, if the rest of the world around us still wants to cling to “mine,” it means that those of us who understand that it’s all the Lord’s are even harder pressed to pick up their slack. We have to decide that we value Christ more—and subsequently the ones He died to save—than we value material wealth. We must desire to live like this:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
—Acts 2:42-47 ESV
If it means we do without a 60″ plasma TV so we have funds to help a family who can’t pay their electric bill, then we do without.
If it means we don’t go out of town on a vacation this year so we can pay the rent of a family hit by unemployment, then we don’t go. (And our children learn a valuable lesson about what is important in God’s eyes.)
If it means that we eat canned soup the rest of the week so we can make a weekly feast for all those in our church who can’t even afford canned soup, then we eat canned soup the rest of the week.
If it means that we have to sell something of “ours” so that a family in our church can keep a roof over their heads, then we sell it.
Because we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Because we believe that He died and rose again to forge a community of saints who will live forever in Paradise.
Because our reward is in Heaven, not in this life.
Because we know that unless we start living that way, we will never see revival in our churches or the kind of Christian community that brings healing, peace, unity, love, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The kind of community that has the lost taking notice.
Putting what God has given us into play means more than handouts, too. It means we open our homes to others because those houses are God’s. It means we give our time and effort to help others, because we don’t own time and effort, either. It means we don’t hold exclusive rights to our family members, making other families our family, too. When we finally realize that we own nothing, what we can give to others is magnified a thousandfold. And community is built.
We’ve believed the lie of “mine.” But there is no “mine.” It’s all God’s. And His command to us is that we give what He’s given us to those in need, especially those in the community of faith. Because that’s what the Body does, it looks after itself. If the heart is sick, the whole body is sick. All suffer together.
And when we look after each other, all rejoice together, too.
Posts in this series:
- Being the Body: The Necessity of Community in the American Church
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 1
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 2
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 3
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 4
- Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 5 (Conclusion)
17 thoughts on “Being the Body: How to Forge Real Community, Part 3”
Americans gave over $250 billion to charity in 2005. Holiday retail sales for this year are expected to be twice that.
What does that say about our priorities?
I’ll defend us a little. Americans simply outdo everyone on the planet when it comes to total personal giving. Factor in American corporate, government, and church giving, and the number gets even larger.
However, we also consume more than any country in the world. So while a few nations are richer than us in per capita income, no people blow money on themselves like we Americans do. In most cases, “giving till it hurts” is foreign to our vocabularies. We may give a lot, but that “lot” isn’t even close to what we could give. We don’t give if it means we have to do without something. We keep that buffer in there so we can still consume like crazy, with our giving relegated to “mad money,” if that.
When I lived in Silicon Valley during the Internet boom, a widely-trumpeted study showed that Silicon Valley families gave only 2% of their income to charitable organizations, the lowest metro area contribution number in the country. All those fortunes being made in the Valley, yet people were stingy.
The lost are stingy. Christians are never to be stingy. We’re supposed to give until it hurts because our savior did so.
My heart is breaking over this brother in need that I mentioned. He doesn’t live anywhere close to us for me to help locally, but I’m racking my brain trying to figure ways to help him. A simple payment error any of us could’ve made turned into a nightmare for him and his family that could cost them dearly. And not a single offer of help from his church. Shameful!
My brother-in-law shared with me the story of two families that became the backbone of the old post “The Anti-Church,” wherein the church those families were in would not help them keep their homes during a horrible cycle of repeated unemployment, but rather spent $80,000 on a new sound system for the church. A few months ago, when we were visiting, he showed me the ghastly home one of the families was forced to move into when they lost their first home. I believe the house had been abandoned before they moved in. It leaned to one side, had broken out windows, and may have been a hundred years old from the look of it. One look and you’d say, “Haunted house.” Simply awful. Rats wouldn’t live in a place like that.
That house stands as a testimony against the so-called believers from that family’s old church who must drive past it every day. It cries out against their misplaced sense of what was right to do when someone in their midst needed help.
God have mercy on us if this is how we actually live what we supposedly believe.
“My heart is breaking over this brother in need that I mentioned. He doesn’t live anywhere close to us for me to help locally, but I’m racking my brain trying to figure ways to help him. A simple payment error any of us could’ve made turned into a nightmare for him and his family that could cost them dearly. And not a single offer of help from his church. Shameful!”
1. contact your friend and get his mailing address.
2. write a check and send it to him.
His need is far more than any one individual can cover. He needs the support of many people. Can I count you in?
You can count me in. Set up a PayPal account for him, perhaps, or let me know where to send the check.
Friend of Aslan
I would like to share a brief testimonial, if I may.
I serve a good church on the backside of nowhere in southern VA. A giving church. We only average about 100 on Sunday morning, so we are a pretty small blip on the radar screen. However, not once have they turned down a request for benevolence. They have given in the thousands of dollars and even gave to my family over $3,000.00 to pay a medical bill not covered by our medical insurance.
One man, a former drug addict, moved into our little community for a time. He quickly joined the church and not long afterwards, he asked for benevolent assistance. Folks responded, even against theirbetter judgment. Their acuity was better than mine and they even gave to him two more times. Nevertheless, he has gotten his life back together, moved back out to TX with his dad, having reconciled with him. I think had our little church not responded so generously, he might still be in the pig trough.
I agree with everything you have shared in this post, Dan, but just wanted to share a glimmer of hope that there is at least one church out there that understands this need.
May God bless you. I appreciate very much the Sanctum.
Yes, some churches are good at this. Some muddle by on it, too. Others don’t care at all.
I think all of us, even in the churches that do well, can do better. We need to stop thinking as individuals and start thinking in terms of community. When one suffers, all suffer.
My own little country church raised over $13,000 for a visiting missionary in just one weekend. So yes, I know some churches do well. Still, we tend to think of our benevolence in terms of what individuals give, not what the community gives. If we were to change our thinking, we’d do well. But getting Americans to think that way is majorly countercultural. Still, I think the Lord commands us to do it.
I do not think I am following your point in the return comment. Pehaps I am an incurable optimist or just plain naive. I do have faith that the church can indeed accomplish God’s purposes in the world, flawed as she is. There is a rugged individuality that characterizes most church members (I wouldn’t deny that nor try), and by deafult the church itself, to the Body’s detriment, but can you not accede that some churches are cultivating true community, and actually do a good job at it?
I am not meaning to be impertinent, just trying to be realistic. Thanks for entertaining my comments.
May you be blessed indeed,
For me, the wrestling over this truth that all I have belongs to the Lord comes back contentment – learning to be content with whatever – and, of course, that my very life belongs to Him. Shamefully – it isn’t just my material possessions that I tend to hoard, but my time and energy, as well. Many years ago I read about a church that had 2 bulletin boards side by side. One was labeled “Needs” and the other was labeled “Blessings”. If any one in the church had a need, they were encouraged to post it on the “Needs” bulletin board, and those in the church with a particular skill or possession they would share or part with, could post that on the “Blessings” board. The congregation was encouraged to check the “needs” board often to see if they had what some one else needed. I was impressed. On the other hand, we left a church for the first time ever about 4 years ago. It was a denomination where both of us had been raised, but we no longer could support their increasingly theologically liberal direction. The straw that broke the camel’s back for us was when the pastor insisted on a new parsonage. The one that had been used for years was modest, but certainly more than adequate. We would have lived there, and so would many others in the church, but…… The church secretary was a widow, struggling to make ends meet and asked for full-time employment by the church because she desperately needed more money. The church told her they could not afford to give her full-time work, but the next month turned around and gave the pastor $1500/month to purchase a new home. The old parsonage is used for meeting space, but most of the time it sits empty. Excellent series, Dan. Blessings ~ Patricia
When I worked for a development agency several years ago I had a discussion with one of the policy makers of the organization about the concept of “good works.” His take was that anyone could “do good”; that any persons actions could result in “good.” My take was that only a Christian, and then only one acting on the promptings of the Spirit, could “do good” in that only those actions undertaken by the Holy Spirit would be truly “good.”
If we take that argument further, then only the Church under the direction of the Holy Spirit can do good in their community, amongst the body of believers, and in their families.
Which leads us to this issue…How can a believer in Christ turn away anyone in need, much less a fellow believer?
In 1 John 3:17, The Apostle of Love writes that if anyone has material possessions, sees his brother in need, and does not help, then it is questionable that the love of God is in him. Further paraphrasing, John writes that we need to show our love in action, and not words, and that by doing so, we can know that we are in the truth. Later, in chapter 5, he says that he is writing these things so that we may know we have eternal life. So here’s the crux: If we who call ourselves the Church don’t act like we are saved, how do we know we are?
I once worked for a church in a fairly wealthy area. One day I walked across the parking lot and counted the SUV’s parked there for a MOPS meeting. I counted $1.5 million in vehicles. I would call that material wealth. Most of us in the US would be counted as wealthy, or more so, as the ‘rich, young ruler’ that Jesus sorrowed over. How hard is it for us to know we are saved, because we have material possessions that blind us to how we can meet the needs of others? Read Isaiah 58 and question what we call sacrifice, worship, prayer and fasting.
The Bible tells us that we must put the brother in Christ first, but yes, you’re right in saying that we should not turn anyone away if we can help it.
Concerning the fellow I mentioned in the story who was facing a financial challenge: He has decided to pursue another direction. To those who volunteered to help, Thanks. Perhaps this other direction will be good for him, too.