do believers have to share and give to the poor?

Recently, at the Subversive1 blog, there has been a very interesting dialogue between blogger Keith Giles, and Thomas Crisp, a professor of Philosophy at Biola University.  The two became friends because of a shared “passion for issues of justice and following Christ into community with the poor.”

Recently, Thomas wrote a paper, “Jesus and Affluence,” which borrows from philosopher Peter Singer’s premise that if you can prevent a bad thing from happening (without sacrificing anything nearly as important), it is wrong not to do so.  The implication is that if this is right, our massive spending on luxury and frills is morally wrong.  Not only that, he suggests that the argument fits in with Jesus’ teaching on wealth and poverty.

After reading Thomas’ paper, Keith asked to interview him on the implications of these arguments.  The hour and a half interview is printed on Keith’s blog, here , here , here , and here.

Following are a few quotes from the interview.  Be sure to go to the blog posts and read the entire interview.  And please share your thoughts and reactions in the comments here.  Thank you!

…in the parable when the Rich Man asks if Abraham can send Lazarus back to warn his brothers – that what he wants his brothers to be warned about is not to live the way he lived, (ignoring the poor)…..The whole point seems to be, if you ignore the poor as the Rich Man did, you’ll end up on the wrong side of the judgment. So, the whole point of the parable is not to live as this man did; not to amass wealth for yourself and ignore those living in poverty around you.

The original context of the command to love your neighbor as yourself is taken from Leviticus 19 and it shows up after a series of specific commands like, ‘be sure to leave extra on your fields after the harvest so the poor can glean from it’ and ‘don’t trip a blind man or curse a deaf person’, ‘be sure to pay your laborers on time’, ‘rebuke your neighbor so as not to partake in his sin’, and all kinds of commandments about how to treat one another well in the context of community. After this long list of such commands you finally get this “so love your neighbor as you love yourself’ … the neighbor-love command there is meant to be a summary of all these other commands.

The Old Testament version of Shalom as you find it in the prophets, in the Law, in the Psalms, is as a community in which there is enough. There’s enough food for everyone, there’s enough safety from harm, there’s enough justice for all, there’s enough celebration where everyone is included and people care for each other… The community has no Shalom (peace) if certain people are not also being fed, or sheltered, or clothed, or welcome….In the true Shalom community, the poorest of the poor must be included in the “enough”. The vulnerable, disabled neighbor is included in the “enough”. There’s only real Shalom (peace) when everyone is included in the community and shares in the “enough”.

I’ve been in conversations with people before who will say that going to this extreme of putting people in motel rooms or buying them food or letting them sleep on your couch, those steps are secondary and of lesser importance. What those people really need is the Gospel. … But, if what you’re suggesting here is true and if Jesus is really summarizing these Levitcal commands and all of the Law and Prophets with the command to “Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself” then it seems the love command is really about showing actual compassion and demonstrating a love that results in shared food, shelter, and clothing. It’s not consistent to share the message of the Gospel without also seeking the Shalom of the whole person….I think that’s why it makes perfect sense for Jesus to say, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” and why at the Judgment Jesus will say, “You fed me when I was hungry and you clothed me when I was naked”.

In Acts chapter two we see thousands of people who have not only taken Jesus as their promised Messiah, but they’ve embraced the idea of God’s Kingdom as coming today and they’re living in a community of true Shalom…..their response to the poor around them was to risk their own poverty and identify themselves with those who were suffering. Whereas in our culture we see ministry to the poor as finding ways to lift the poor up to identify with our wealth….To go down, to humble ourselves in order to risk our own poverty so that the poor might have enough isn’t very popular. We’d rather “eradicate poverty” and find a way to give every homeless person a job, a nice car, a cozy apartment, a big screen television, etc. That’s our goal. Our compassion doesn’t include letting go of our stuff.

It’s not just economic. It’s also social. When Jesus says, “when you have a banquet don’t invite your rich friends and relatives because they could pay you back” Pay you back in what? It’s not just that they might invite you to their house, it’s that they raise your social status. Instead, Jesus says we are to invite the poor, the blind, the lame, and others who would only lower your social status.

…being that I’m not single, I’m married, I’ve got two teenage sons who depend on me. I don’t want to drag my family into poverty. The reality of following Jesus into this kind of radical love and sharing is scary. It seems kind of impossible to be honest.

The love command only asks us to put the Shalom of others on par with my own Shalom. It’s mainly about pursuing needless luxury while there are people suffering in my community. I see the love command calling me to a point where I no longer put my Shalom above that of others. If I divest myself of my needless luxuries I will get to a point where I’m not putting my Shalom ahead of others and I am still able to feed my family.

I mean, for those first disciples when they heard Jesus say the things we’ve already looked at, they understood it to mean an actual liquidation of everything they owned in order to walk to the next town, sleep under a tree and eat whatever they could find. Jesus was homeless and his disciples, according to Peter, gave up all they had to follow Jesus. So, are we getting off easy by saying now that what Jesus wanted was only for some kind of equilibrium in the community where everyone is content with “enough”?

The goal is not destitution. It’s not so that we should become homeless. It’s about radical simplicity. I think that’s what Jesus calls us all to.

In Western culture we think it’s about giving more. We think of writing checks but I think it’s really more about what we’d call sharing that Jesus is wants. It’s not just giving money apart from relationship with those who are poor. Really, I think it’s knowing their names and understanding their struggles and making them your own. Then it may still involve sharing money, but it goes beyond a percentage tithe and becomes more about meeting a specific need for a specific person. It’s sharing not just giving. Because you could write a check and not really engage with another human being in a meaningful way. To me, it’s almost like the Widows’ Mite, where writing a check for $100 to an impersonal organization is less impactful than sharing $20 with the person right in front of me….People are drawn into relationship. So, if I’m going to seek that for my brother as well as I seek it for myself, I’m not just going to give them food or money, but I’m also going to draw them into relationship if they’re lonely, I’m going to draw them into my church community, and around my personal table for dinner. It means – to pursue the idea of Shalom – I both give my money away, and that I have people around my dinner table. You can’t separate those things.

It seems that there is an allowance for maintaining some level of wealth but keeping it with an open hand so that as you encounter poverty you are free to share that with others.

I think it’s actually an ethic of simplicity that Jesus calls us to. He saying we need to get rid of all the stuff that’s extra.

I think that if we’re willing to take one moment at a time, one day at a time, and take up our crosses daily and learn from Jesus how to die to ourselves and allow Him to show us how to love the way He loves and how to give the way He gives and how to forgive the way He forgives, He will do it. He is faithful when we are not.

I think to sell one’s possessions and follow Jesus and give all one’s stuff to the poor is for the community, not just one person. I think whenever we do this we never do it alone. It’s always in community.

The Gospel is about moving into relationship with the poor, it’s about moving into community with other believers, it’s about becoming less self important and less selfish and less independent, but more dependent upon God and others for life.
In the Western mind, Jesus is there to help me get that new car or grow my business or buy a bigger house. That’s what Jesus, my co-pilot, will help me do.

When I interviewed Dallas Willard he called it Vampire Christianity. Because people only want enough of Jesus’ blood to get saved but they have no intention of actually following Jesus or putting His words into practice. They don’t want to be humble like Jesus. They don’t intend to suffer like Jesus. They don’t want to hang out with the poor or the outcast like Jesus. They only want His blood to get saved so they can go ahead with their life without Him.

Yeah, can you imagine meeting a Jew who didn’t know or follow Moses? Or a Muslim who didn’t really follow Mohammed? How can we say we’re followers of Jesus if we’re not actually following Him?
It’s especially startling when you look at how Jesus says, “If you don’t do the things I’m saying, you’re not my disciples.”

The one thing Peter, James and John required was caring for the poor, and that was the one thing that Paul himself was eager to do. In other words, if we agree on anything we agree on this; We should care for the poor. It was unanimous. So, Paul would never say that caring for the poor was legalism or works.

Wow!  What do you think?  Go and read the full interview (all four posts) and then come back here and share your thoughts.  Thank you!

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One thought on “do believers have to share and give to the poor?”

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