Living In Creative Antagonism To The Culture Around Us (Part 3)
How can we combat the pull of this worldview?
Embrace God's gifts and enjoy them. In verse seventeen of I Timothy 6, Paul says that God, "...richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" The world as we know it, even much if not all that Man has created out of it, comes from the mind, heart and will of God. He has not made it to be a curse, but to be a blessing.
This is the promise of God to His people Israel through the prophet Isaiah. “If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places— firm muscles, strong bones. You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again. If you watch your step on the Sabbath and don't use my holy day for personal advantage, If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy, God's holy day as a celebration, If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,' making money, running here and there. Then you'll be free to enjoy GOD! Oh, I'll make you ride high and soar above it all. I'll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.” Yes! GOD says so! Isaiah 58:9-14 (The Message)
God placed us in this world for a purpose. And, while pursuing that purpose, He supplies the wealth of the world around us. And, to us He says: enjoy my creation! But, the enjoyment of this world comes with conditions of use. Not because there is a limit to the joy that God wants us to experience. But, because He knows the source of true joy!
And so, Paul adds the defining touches to enjoying what God so freely gives. One, enjoy them by USING them to do good. "Command them to do good." But, what is good and how can we use wealth for good?
Maybe a place to begin is by asking ourselves, “What is a good deed?” A good deed is something that we do that resounds to the benefit of someone else, even, and most importantly, when I get nothing back for it. In I Timothy 5:10, Paul gives Timothy advice about how to handle widows in the congregations. In deciding which of the widows really needs congregational help, one of the criteria is widows who, “have a reputation for helping out with children, strangers, tired Christians, the hurt and troubled." (MSG) Look for widows who find it easy to do good deeds, we might say.
Why are such deeds so important? This is a question especially unique to people of the wealth of western culture, even Christian ones. We have defined faith so theologically that we miss the words of James, and wrongly conclude that they are in antagonism to the words of Paul. Faith for us has become so personal, and so one-dimensional, what I confess with my mouth, that we have failed to see the natural demand for transformation that comes with true faith.
The words of Jesus are clear in this case: good deeds are the power of the incarnated good. "Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand— shine! Keep an open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16 MSG)
Paul goes on to define what he means by good deeds in three ways. First, convert what you possess to the benefit of others: "to be rich in good deeds." Let your life grow in the abundance of actions that you take in the normal course of life that benefit other people. Or to put it another way, be in the habit of converting what you possess into actions that benefit other people. Notice that I say “in the normal course of life.”
If the transformation that begins with salvation means anything, it means that over the course of my life, learning to listen to God in His word, learning to respond in obedience as my first reaction and learning to therefore decide to do things in a Jesus way, I grow in a new default position.