Monday, December 21, 2009

Beyond Greed - A cure (Parts III & IV)

In Parts III & IV of Beyond Greed we learn the secret of moving beyond greed in our lives: contentment and generosity.

"Giving and contentment are two sides of the one coin. Together they represent the positive alternative to greed. If contentment calls a halt to the grabbing dimension of greed, giving addresses it's keeping aspect." (page 117)
Contentment is being satisfied with what you have. It is the opposite of greed. Hebrews 13:5 says,

"keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have".
Rosner helpfully describes three reasons why Christians ought to be content;

  • God himself is content. That is, God, in creating and redeeming us, limited himself. In creating, he made something independent of, or other than, himself. In redemption, he became poor, he was content with less.
  • God promises his people a secure future. Christians have a glorious destination awaiting. No matter what happens in this life, we, like the martyrs of the past, like Paul and like Christ himself, can be content knowing what joy is set before us.
  • We can trust his goodness. God is good, not vindictive, and we can trust that whatever is happening to us is not out of his control, and is actually for our good.
It is interesting here that two of these are the reverse of "misplaced trust", one of the aspects of greed explored in part II of the book. I wonder if contentment can also be found in loving and being satisfied in God (the reverse of "inordinate love") and in obeying and serving God (thus the reverse of "forbidden service".) And just as greed is bound up with pride, so is contentment bound up with humility.

Christmas is a difficult time to be content. Most likely you have been pestered for a wish-list. You have been bombarded with advertisements really stretching your capacity for contentment beyond breaking point. And all that shopping has set you dreaming. Let me ask you a question. If every present this year was a dud, every single one ... The sizes are too small. You already have that book. Don't they know you hate pink?! ... would you be able to respond graciously? Could you be genuinely thankful for the gift, not because the gift matters, but the giver does, and because you are already content.

Giving is not grasping hold of, or keeping, what you already own. It's sharing food and possessions with others. It's relinquishing your legitimate right to them for the sake of the good of others.

This is the most challenging part of the book for me. I may (or may not) have mastered contentment, but I am so content with what I have that I don't want to let it, any of it, go. It was this chapter that opened my eyes to the greedy and mean spirit in my heart. I was particularly challenged by the picture of the early church and by the visibility of their generosity and giving. That a greedy person was recognizable shows that while it is an issue of the heart, like faith, it will show itself in action.

So, be generous. Give. When in doubt, give. And, don't just give what is left over. Don't just match luxuries to yourself with gifts for others. Go without so that you might give. Become poor that you might give. That's what Jesus did.

Because that's the key to all of this. It's becoming like Christ who became poor for the sake of others (2 Cor 8:9). It's the gospel of grace; undeserved kindness. It's knowing all that God has done for me in Christ that enables me to be content and knowing how kindly and generously He has dealt with this sinner that empowers me to be generous. It's the gift of His Spirit; watering, feeding and pruning, day by day to produce this most precious fruit in me.

Let's pray that it will be produced abundantly in all of us.

I would love to hear your stories of learning contentment and generosity.


Anonymous said...

Alison wrote:

A thought just came to me - and I'll say up front that I haven't thought this one through much at all & not read Rosner - yet! I could be vaguely thinking his thoughts after him, with much less clarity! My thoughts have to do with the relationship between pride & greed.

God is a gracious & extravagant giver of good & lasting gifts (Luke 15;11ff, John 3;16, 1Peter1:3ff & 2Peter1:3ff immediately come to mind). These are gifts we so desperately need & yet so often we aren't "greedy" or, as the Bible expresses it, "thirsty" for them (Is 55:1, Matt 5:6, Jn 4:14, 7:37, Rev 22:17).

Rather, we dismiss or undervalue the gifts God chooses to offer us. And I'm wondering if the problem is that we're too proud to accept them - we'd rather not acknowledge to God (and ourselves), the depth & extent of our sin; our spiritual poverty, anorexia, frailty & dysfunction. We're too proud & not humble enough to be receivers of his grace, mercy, forgiveness & salvation.

Are we too proud to acknowledge that in reality we're the ones who are the "despised & forsaken" ones (Ps 119:141), the impoverished ones (2Cor8:9) - not Jesus in the stable!

So we don't think of Christmas as a time when we celebrate & humbly acknowledge that we are the impoverished receivers of gifts from God - gifts we cannot possibly reciprocate and don't deserve.
Instead, we substitute the humble receiving of God's gifts, for the much less confronting practice of receiving (maybe even demanding, requesting, expecting!?) gifts.

Sure, we can we can be generous & extravagant givers of gifts - but could that also be an expression of pride? In our wealthy culture, we have the capacity to give generously & extravagantly, and we can quantify, value & reciprocate, without feeling embarrassed, overwhelmed or humbled - but before God's generous gift giving, we can only be humbled, overwhelmed & thankful - we cannot reciprocate or place a value on the gift of his Son. And that assaults our pride!

Gift giving & receiving (even CMS, World Vision & Compassion gift vouchers !) can conveniently divert & distract me from facing up to the ugliness of my spiritual pride. Could gift giving & receiving be a convenient way for me to ignore the embarrassment of God's overwhelmingly extravagant giving to me?

What do you think Rachael?

Rachael said...

Hi Alison, and thanks for your comment... there is a lot to think about there.

I don't think that you are so much thinking Rosner's thoughts after him as before him, as this is where he goes in the last chapter, we he explores the idea that greed, or thirst as you say, is not wrong itself if it is directed in the correct manner. It is right to thirst after real, or what we usually call spiritual, riches; hence the name of the first edition of the book, how to be really rich.

What you say about giving extravagantly being a mask for pride is true. Often our giving has ulterior motives. Rosner, as well as some of the authors of the extra articles in beyond greed are clear that greed is a theological, or spiritual problem. It isn't just about what we do with our money and possessions as how we think about it. Accordingly, then, the solution is not, don't give, but to sort how the spiritual problem.

There are some thoughts for now. I'll keep thinking, too, and get back to you.