‘I am so happy I could cry! I am so excited that we might have the chance to go to Focus ! I can’t wait to see my children’s faces when I tell them!’ This was the reaction of one of the mothers in our congregation with two young children when she heard she would be given a bursary to come to Focus. At the end of the week she wrote, ‘It is the best holiday we have ever had as a family. I am so happy.’
A few months later she unexpectedly inherited some money from a distant relative. She gave extraordinarily generously. The amount far more than covered the bursary she and her family had received.
The apostle Paul wrote, ‘Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality’ (2 Corinthians 8:13–14).
I thought our church holiday/festival, Focus 2011 was again the best ever. It was amazing to have 3,700 people at Golden Sands in Mablethorpe for six days of worship, accelerated spiritual growth and community. It was a time of great fun, laughter and blessing.
For me one of the greatest blessings was that hundreds of people, who, this year were in the position like the family I mentioned above was in 2010, were able to come on bursaries or even for nothing. They could not have afforded to pay the full cost. Then on the last day of Focus we took up our offering and raised almost exactly the huge sum of money that we needed to cover the deficit. People gave generously.
As I read the New Testament passage for today I am reminded that this is the practical outworking of the New Testament principle that those who can afford give to help those who cannot afford – so that there might be equality (2 Corinthians 8:13–15). Rich and poor alike were able to enjoy Focus equally.
Our newspapers often come with a whole supplement on money and another on business. So much of our world is taken up with thinking, writing and talking about money, wealth and riches. The Bible also has a great deal to say about these subjects. However, what it says is so different to what our culture says on these matters.
Paul’s expression, ‘rich generosity’ (2 Corinthians 8:2), highlights the difference.
1. Fasten on your reputation far more than riches
Reputation is far more important than riches.
‘A sterling reputation is better than striking it rich; a gracious spirit is better than money in the bank’ (22:1, The Message).
It is better to do what is right than to make more money by cutting corners, dubious practices or greed. As Billy Graham has said, ‘When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, all is lost.’
Our culture values those on the ‘rich list’ far more than those dying of starvation in the poorer parts of the world. But the writer of Proverbs says, ‘The rich and the poor shake hands as equals – God made them both!’ (v.2, The Message).
The way of true riches is humility and the fear of the Lord (v.4a). This brings ‘wealth and honour and life’ (v.4b). It may sometimes bring material wealth. But the New Testament tells us that it always brings something of far more lasting value – spiritual riches in Christ.
Lord, help us to lead lives of the utmost integrity. Help us also to value people not on the grounds of their wealth but because of the fact that you are their Maker. May we focus our lives not on money, riches and wealth, but on humility and fear of the Lord.
2. Follow the example of the one who went from riches to rags
The singer Lily Allen ‘effortlessly reflects the zeitgeist’ as the Sunday Times put it. In her song, ‘The Fear’, she wrote:
‘I want to be rich and I want lots of money
I don’t care about clever I don’t care about funny
I want loads of clothes and *@1% loads of diamonds
I heard people die while they are trying to find them’
So many people want to get rich. There are numerous examples of people going from ‘rags to riches’. However, there are few who have deliberately chosen to go from riches to rags.
Yet, right at the heart of our faith is one who chose to do exactly that. ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich’ (v.9). This is the heart of the gospel.
The New Testament offers this picture of Christ as the example we are to follow. Our Lord Jesus Christ was as rich as it is possible to be. Yet for our sakes he became poor. Not only did he leave the riches of heaven for the poverty of an earthly life, but in that earthly life he chose to be born in poverty and die in the greatest poverty.
In fact, he died in the most extreme poverty imaginable. He came with nowhere to lay his head and hung, naked and in agony, on the cross. He did this in order that we might become rich – that we might have all the spiritual treasures of Christ. Jesus showed us what ‘rich generosity’ means: ‘Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us – in one stroke he became poor and we became rich’ (v.9, The Message).
The Macedonian churches followed his example: ‘The trial exposed their true colours: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could – far more than they could afford! – pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians’ (v.2–4, The Message).
Although they were extremely poor, they worked out how much they could give and they gave even more than that.
Paul urged the Corinthians to follow their example. There were many areas of their lives that were excellent (v.7a). Paul said, ‘see that you also excel in this grace of giving’ (v.7c).
Paul then expounds the New Testament principle that those who have should give to support those who have not (vv.13–15). We see this principle at work at Focus and on many other occasions, including the Alpha weekends. We invite those who cannot afford to pay to come for nothing (or for whatever they can afford). At the weekend we have an offering so that those who can afford to give help to pay for those who cannot meet the expense of the weekend away.
Lord, thank you for the example of Jesus, who though he was rich, became poor. Thank you for the example we see of so many Christians like the Macedonian churches, who out of their extreme poverty well up in rich generosity. Help us all to follow their example and to excel in the grace of giving.
3. Focus on the rights of the poor rather than riches
Isaiah speaks against a number of sins or potential sins. He warns against the occult (8:19 onwards).
When people tell you, "Try out the fortunetellers.
Consult the spiritualists.
Why not tap into the spirit-world,
get in touch with the dead?"
Tell them, "No, we're going to study the Scriptures."
People who try the other ways get nowhere – a dead end ...
A blank wall, an empty hole.
They end up in the dark with nothing’ (8:19–22, The Message).
He also warns against pride and ‘arrogance of heart’ (9:9). In addition he has much to say on the subject of riches.
First, riches in themselves do not satisfy. ‘On the right they will devour, but still be hungry; on the left they will eat, but not be satisfied’ (v.20). However much money we make, it will never satisfy the deep spiritual hunger in every human heart.
Second, he warns against making money at the expense of the poor (10:1–3). Injustice is at the heart of so much suffering in the world. ‘Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless’ (vv.1–2).
There are many countries in the world where we can see exactly this happening. A few people become very rich at the expense of the poor, the widows and the orphans. There are unjust laws and no justice for the people. Isaiah asks the question about the day of judgment, ‘Where will you leave your riches?’ (v.3d) All this money at the end of the day is utterly meaningless.
Into this world of injustice and inequality the prophet Isaiah sees a different kind of ruler arising. ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever’ (9:6–7).
There is a natural connection of thought with Isaiah 7:14. The ultimate fulfilment was, of course, in Christ. He is the ultimate in wisdom. He is the mighty God. He is the Everlasting Father. He is the Prince of Peace. His kingdom will last forever and it will be one of justice and righteousness. He became poor for our sakes. He came in humility. God gave him wealth and honour and life.
Lord, we worship you, the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. Thank you that you have shown us the path to true wealth, honour and life. Thank you that you have shown us what rich generosity really means. Help us as individuals and as a community to follow your example.
‘Train children in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not turn from it.’
Focus, our church holiday, was amazing as always. One of the many things I enjoyed was the family worship with Andy Piercy, leading the children’s songs each morning. There was so much fun, laughter and enthusiasm in those singing times. These weeks are very significant for our children’s faith. I am so grateful to all the people who took a week off work to be part of these teams. Their love and commitment help our children hugely to grow in their faith. It is, of course, primarily our responsibility as parents to teach and show our faith to our children, but a week like this is a huge boost. It was very encouraging to see that so many of these leaders had themselves grown up in the children’s work and were now imparting their faith to the younger generation. We can never underestimate the value of this work or the importance of the faith of all these children.