By Moishe Rosen
If you're old enough to remember the Saturday Evening Post as a
weekly publication, you probably remember the young men who solicited
door-to-door for magazine subscriptions. One of my friends had three
copies of the Saturday Evening Post delivered to his home every week.
His mother, a tenderhearted soul, had not wanted to discourage the
first young man who came to her door, so she had bought a subscription
from him. A couple of months later, another young man came along with
an even better story and an irresistibly cheaper subscription offer.
Finally his sister had encountered a third salesman, who so charmed
her that she decided she ought to have her very own subscription. No
one in that house really read the Saturday Evening Post, but they all
had bought the magazine from high-pressure salespeople because they
wanted to be nice.
I have always been sales resistant. I don't know if it stems from
being a child of the Great Depression, from my Jewish culture, or from
being born in Missouri, the "Show Me" state. Whatever the reason, I
learned at an early age to resist all high pressure and all
impositions except from those who had the right to impose on me --
parents, teachers and the rabbi -- and occasionally the next-door
neighbor. (He had the right to ask my brother and me to be quiet when
we got noisy.)
I learned to respond immediately to those who had the right to
ask anything of me with "Yes, sir" or "Yes, ma'am" and then to carry
out their request with dispatch. Still, coming from a poor home, I
learned to investigate the value and necessity of each purchase, and
being Jewish I also learned to ask, "Is this the right thing for me as
a Jew?" I also followed the maxim "If you allow it, people will walk
all over you." I figured that everyone had to protect himself against
Then I became a believer in Jesus, who seemed to teach that we
ought to let anyone impose on us any time. He said if anyone wanted
our coats, we should offer our cloaks also. But that didn't bother
me, since I didn't have a cloak, whatever that was. Jesus also said
if anyone asked us to walk a mile, we should walk two miles, and if a
person slapped us we should turn the other cheek, and we should
forgive those who used or abused us.
As a new Christian, I pondered those statements. Frankly, at
that point I asked myself how this whole thing made sense. After all,
if we let everyone use us or our services and take what we had, soon
we wouldn't have any time, energy or resources for God, ourselves or
anyone else. How could we ever accomplish anything or have anything
if we always let others impose on us and take what we had? Finally I
came to the only conclusion faith would allow: the Scriptural
injunctions were intensely practical and practicable, and I just had
to sort out what it all meant. If God said, "Give," I ought to give.
The questions were when, how much and to whom -- decisions that
entailed a high degree of responsibility on the part of the giver.
As I struggled with these questions, I came to several
conclusions: While most believers would give lip service to the adage,
"It's more blessed to give than to receive," few suffer from a habit
of overgiving. Through selfishness or a false sense of prudence, most
of us tend to undergive, and this hampers our spiritual and social
lives. Giving less of oneself or one's resources usually stems from
one of two flaws -- greed, or lack of confidence in God's provision.
Most people readily recognize greed as a destructive spiritual force,
but the second flaw, lack of trust, is more subtle. It hides under
various disguises like insuring family security and being judicious
and economically astute.
As followers of Y'shua and his teachings, we ought to be giving
people. While we are not under Old Testament Law, the Hebrew
Scriptures provide some very definite guidelines about giving and
receiving. In Bible times the rich were to look after the needs of
the poor. God commanded the Israelites to leave the borders of their
fields "unharvested." They were not to go back and retrieve what they
had missed during the first gleaning. For the poor, gathering those
remnants of a rich man's harvest was hardly a road to prosperity. A
person had to work very hard to glean just enough to fend off
starvation. God, through Moses, could have commanded the farmers to
harvest their entire fields and give a certain portion of the profits
to the poor. Instead, he ordered a system whereby the poor still had
to labor for what they received. Here we have an unspoken social
contract, and a concept that is reiterated in the New Testament, where
Paul admonishes, "if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2
God's provisions are like that. He gave the miracles of the
manna and the quail in the wilderness, but the Israelites had to stoop
and gather what he provided. They could not expect food to appear in
their eating bowls at mealtime, nor leave empty pots outside their
tents to be filled from heaven. They could not point their faces
skyward, with open mouths, like nestlings waiting for the mother
bird's predigested food.
You will not find the popular slogan "God helps those who help
themselves" in Solomon's book of wisdom, nor is it even theologically
correct. Those who say that really mean "I am justified in seizing
what I want for myself. God will help me if I take the initiative,
even if it means getting grabby." This mindset encourages greed
rather than trust in God.
Maybe we should rephrase that adage to say, "God helps those who
trust in his providence and are willing to participate with him in
receiving his help." I see this in the miracles of Scripture.
Through Elijah, God filled the widow's jars with oil, but first she
had to gather those vessels herself. At Cana Jesus turned the water
into wine, but the stewards at the wedding first had to fill the jugs
with water. God could have filled the jugs with wine the same way he
filled the widow's jars with oil, but he wanted the stewards to
participate. Again, Jesus could have produced instant loaves from
heaven to feed the multitudes, but he chose instead to multiply the
scant resources of a little boy's lunch.
God's provision usually involves the receiver's conscious self.
God wants us to be properly grateful, but he does not trample on our
dignity. We know that he gives to us materially and spiritually
because he loves us, and his love makes us people of value.
In trying to maintain the dignity of the poor and needy, modern
society often refers to them as welfare "clients." Such language
deters us from understanding and acting on their need because it plays
down their plight. The jobless, the hungry and the homeless are
desperate. There is never anything dignified about desperation, nor
should there be if it deters a potential helper from offering the
necessary aid. Desperation calls for immediate action. We tend to
respond more quickly to those in desperate straits, whereas we
deliberate longer about those who insist on maintaining their dignity.
False dignity is harmful, but real dignity enables a meaningful
relationship. Nevertheless, the concept fails if it camouflages a
person's plight and leads to disregard of his or her needs. We know
that God wants us to give materially to people according to their
needs, but we must also remember that participation in solving their
problems is part of their need. That is proper dignity properly met.
We should give of ourselves and our substance in such a way that the
receiver feels a sense of participation in solving his need problem.
One rabbi pointed out that the highest form of charity involves
giving a person the chance to earn what he needs. Thus he is not
shackled by a sense of worthlessness or feelings of obligation to a
benefactor he cannot easily repay. A frustrated sense of obligation
could lead the needy recipient even to despise the benefactor, who
becomes a constant reminder of that person's weakness.
In all of our giving we ought to embrace the true concept of
"charity," which is love in action. If we love the person who would
impose on us, we find it no burden or imposition to give. The key to
giving without feeling imposed upon is love -- God's love -- the
unselfish AGAPE love that he lavishes on us through Christ. He loves
us because of who we are. If we find our motivation for giving in him
rather than in ourselves, and our manner of giving according to the
way he gives, we will fulfill the law of love. Then no one will be
able to impose on us.
Jesus said, "Freely ye have received, freely give." What we have
received through God's love we ought to take joy in sharing with
others. This includes our time, our material possessions and our
knowledge of him because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts
by his Holy Spirit.
Reprinted from the "Jews for Jesus Newsletter," volume 3:5749
Computers for Christ - Chicago
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