Thursday October 5, 2023 From Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving
Ownership “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” — James 1:17, NIV
Fundamentally, we either consider the material things in our life—our money, house, property—as owned by God and belonging to God, and we manage them for God’s purposes, or we view them as owned by us. If they are owned by God, then our tithes and offerings represent our returning to God what belongs to God already. What we keep also belongs to God, and we feel obligated to spend it wisely and not frivolously, and to invest it in ways that do not dishonor God’s purposes. We try not to waste money or to live more lavishly than we should. We spend responsibly, allowing our relationship with God to form our minds. We manage God’s resources as faithfully as we can.
But if we believe that our material resources fundamentally belong to us and that we entirely possess them ourselves, then we can do whatever we please with what we own, and our tithes and offerings are giving something that belongs to us, to God. God should be grateful for our generosity in giving a percentage for God’s purposes rather than our feeling grateful for the privilege of using what belongs to God.
Think about the possession of land. Suppose we hold legal title and own land according to civil authorities. In the larger span of the earth’s history, does our patch of soil actually belong to us, or are we temporary stewards? The land didn’t begin with us and doesn’t end with us. The land we claim to own has existed for millions of years, was used by humans for millennia before us, and will remain for eons more after we are gone. For the ordering of civil life, we rightly say we own the property and it belongs to us. But our mortality assures that we are only the temporary stewards, managers, and keepers. At our dying, what will the things we own mean to us? Whose will they be? People live and perish, but purposes are eternal. With that understanding comes a profound and humble sense of responsibility about how we use the land. It’s temporarily ours to enjoy, but we do so with respect and awe, because ultimately everything belongs to God, and not to us.
This concrete example applies to all of the temporal elements of our lives—our possessions, our wealth, even our bodies and minds. Which perspective is truer, more ethically sound, more aligned with reality? That it all belongs to us and we can do whatever we want? Or that we are the temporary beneficiaries, and we find meaning in using what God has entrusted to us to the highest purposes? Which perspective fosters better decisions and deepens a spiritually grounded sense of community and responsibility? The wisdom revealed in Scripture and tradition for more than three thousand years is that those who practice from the perspective of a steward find greater happiness.