Growing a Culture of Generosity – Responding to God’s Generous Grace
Week 2. 1Timothy 6:6-10. Live Within Your Resources
Living within our resources is an idea that, on paper we’d all agree is sensible. After all who would suggest that it is an intelligent decision to take something worth £15 to the checkout when we only have £10 in our pocket? Of course in reality it’s not quite that simple, but in principle, the point stands. In practice however the point doesn’t stand and that may be due in part to the complexity of our financial transactions. We’re no longer constrained by what we have in our pocket or bank account as there are many other sources of finance available to us.
The statistics are quite scary – unsecured personal debt is still rising and a large percentage of the population regularly spend over an above income levels. This is worth some Christian reflection as there are strong cultural forces at work that often lead us down a path that we acknowledge is far from sensible.
In his book, The Money Revolution, John Preston offers some thoughts on debt (pg22), pointing out that debt is considered by Jesus to be a fact of everyday life. So this session is not about dismissing debt as evil – it’s more about examining the cultural forces at work that lead us to take unwise decisions with regard our spending patterns.
Q - Why not begin by identifying some of the cultural forces and attitudes that influence our expenditure?
- The illusion that happiness is derived from the acquisition of ever more material goods
- The notion that high price equals high value
- The idea that self worth is directly linked to economic status
- The suggestion that contentment is always just around the corner
There are many more...it’s good to identify these influencers, and it is also good to think about which of these cultural influencers exert a hold, conscious or sub-conscious, over us. Perhaps it may be helpful to spend some time praying through any of these influencers and attitutdes that we feel we have taken on board, asking God to help us to be freed from them.
In the passage of scripture above Paul writes to his young charge Timothy about handling his resources. We’re not sure who Paul has in mind as he writes these words but it’s fair to suggest that this issue may have been something that Timothy himself found difficult to get right. Alternatively it may have been that there were individuals or groups within his care that found this a tricky issue. Either way, the problem must have been real and immediate otherwise Paul would not have mentioned it.
Paul frames his thoughts to Timothy in an interesting way, and it’s helpful to look at this as we start. Rather than simply denouncing material resources he suggests a framework into which they can be fitted. And within this framework material resources lose thier power to control and destroy. Paul is saying, much like Jesus, that financial transactions, credit, debt, etc are a part of life and not wrong in themselves, but that understood and used wrongly they can enslave and destroy.
So Paul wants Timothy (or others in his care) to be free from the destructive influence that use of material possessions can bring. He wants to ensure that thier attitude to material resources is one that brings freedom and, the magic word, contentment.
Q – What do we think or feel about this?
Q – Does the way we handle our own material resources free or enslave us? In what ways is this the case?
Q – As we think about using our material resources do we do so from a place of contentment or a place of un-rest, hoping that contentment is just around the corner?
Let’s take a walk through what Paul has to say:
V7 – The things that money can buy, the things that we can exchange for material resources, promise a great deal. All around us there exists a cultural pressure to look to new things to find the contentedness that is so illusive. And after each new thing dissappoints we’re told to look for the next thing – perhaps it’s a cumulative effect?
And so we’re encouraged to over-reach ourselves, overspend, take on loans, buy now and pay sometime in the future. But Paul says that we need to see these ‘things’ which we can exchange for our material resources in the cold light of reality. Not one of them will last. Not one thing will we be able to benefit from when we’ve left this world. There may be some temporary pleasure along the way and that’s fine, nothing wrong with that, but let’s not pretend that these things can give any more than that. Keep some sense of perspective says Paul, see these ‘things’ for what they are – and alter you perspective on how you use your resources accordingly.
Q – How easy do we find it to keep this perspective? Do we find ourselves getting sucked in to the myth?
V8 – The things that we really need in life are relatively few. In a modern, complex, affluent western society this may seem far from the truth – but people transcend cultures and all around the world people live with far less than us. Paul says actually the bare minimum we need is food and clothing, and although other things are desireable, we’re wrong if we think they are essential. The implication being that it is perfectly possible to live a happy, fulfilled, and content life with just these things.
Q – now that’s all a bit desert father-ish and a bit extreme isn’t it? But it may be worth pressing this and asking why? Is it only extreme because our culture is so different, and if that’s the case is there still a valid point behind all of this even if we’re not actually going to go and live in a cave and sell all our possessions?
V9 – Paul lays out a little flow diagram of where we go if we accept the cultural assumption that says loads of things and lots of material resources lead to contentment. It’s interesting to note that this very same cultural pressure has always existed – we’re not the first to have to battle it!
He says it goes like this. First of all you believe the lie, that lots of things will lead to happiness and contentedness. Then what happens is that you start to crave more and more material resources in order to get hold of these things. Then we may be tempted to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do in order to get our hands on the resources that we think we need. By this stage we’ve fallen into the trap and we’re ensnared. From this point, like a rabbit in a trap we begin to thrash around (act foolishly) until eventually, like the rabbit, we realise that it’s too late and we’ve fallen into ruin and destruction awaits. Now that’s quite stark isn’t it? Paul doesn’t pull any punches on this one, he wants us to realise the starkness of the choice we face. We can either adopt an attitude to things and material resources that leads to enjoyment of what we have, and a content and blessed life. Or we can adopt an attitude to things and resources that leads us down a path that leads to ruin and enslavement.
Q – This is a tough question. Which path are you on? Do you need to turn around and start walking another one?
Q – Is there someone you need to draw alongside who is on a path to destruction? How can you steer them away from this and into the path of freedom and contentment? This could be a child, another family member, a friend etc etc.
Next Steps:Moving on to page 26 of The Money Revolution why not take some time to do as the book suggests and complete a review of your spending etc.
Ministry and Response:We can fit this teaching into the broader context of Jesus’ life and work. In Christ we find freedom. Freedom from sin and death, freedom from guilt, freedom from fear...freedom from anything that would enslave us. And money, the love of material possessions, the need to acquire, is no exception. Jesus promise of fullness of life was genuine and real and is even able to reach into our wallets and the motivations and fears that lie behind the way we use our material resources.
It might be that you want to spend some time praying for anyone who feels trapped by thier spending patterns or debt. Perhaps it might be good to pray for each other, praying for contentment rather than acquisitiveness.
· Can you offer any practical help to those with un-manageable debt?
· Are you gifted in financial planning and management and can you help someone get a budget together?
· Can you offer some of your spare time to one of the Christian debt relief charities? Christians Against Poverty for example?