‘as a matter of fairness’
13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
Is there a biblical call and example for Christians and churches with greater resources to share those resources with people and churches that have need? Has the personal pursuit of the ‘good life’ and the obsession with ‘bigger and better’ in American Christianity not only deterred Christians and churches from their obligation to the poor in general but also caused them to disregard the needs of people and churches in impoverished areas? The answer to both questions is resoundingly, YES!
When you are located on the border of a one of the poorest cities in the country, is raising money to remake your youth room really a legitimate home mission project? When you have a choice with your youth group to spend big bucks on a wilderness adventure or help in an urban mission project, which do you choose? When church growth demands more space, do you think about more bucks and buildings or alternatives that meet the need but share resources with poorer churches?
Perhaps some will say that my musings are driven by envy. I am not immune to that. I have in the past lived and ministered in insulation and isolation from the needy people and churches of this world. I have bought suburban property and built buildings without any regard to the needs of urban churches. Don’t get me wrong. I am not adverse to creature comforts. I enjoy as many of them as I can whenever I can. But, the gospel provokes an inner tension between what I have and what others need. I have not resolved the tension but I do seek theological and practical resolutions to work out this good gospel tension.
Believers and churches in poorer areas are not looking for charity. They are looking for community with and love from others within the church of Jesus Christ. What distinguishes the world’s charitable acts from the churches charitable acts is that the church seeks community with those to whom it gives. Whether it is giving to the poor outside the church or giving to believers and churches, the gospel goal is always community. In our giving to the unchurched poor we seek their inclusion in the family of God and their fellowship at the Lord’s Table. In our giving to poorer believers and churches we seek to demonstrate and advance the loving community which the church of Jesus Christ should model to a watching world.
When more affluent believers and churches disregard the needs of those with less, their self-interest undercuts the promise of the gospel. Our culture tells us that success is measured by how much more we have acquired for ourselves in life; the gospel tells us that success is measured in how much we have given away.
When we have seen and felt the emptiness of building personal and church empires and worldly monuments of success, then our use of what we have will always be in consideration of “do not forget the poor.”
When that happens, affluent Christians will not simply practice ‘arm’s length’ charity but will seek the kind of loving community in which ‘fairness’ is a biblical ideal.
As the gospel strips away our secular values of success, the day will come when more affluent suburban churches are tied to intimate community with urban churches and third world churches in which ‘fairness’ is a growing reflection of the gospel at work.