Below you will find chapter one of my book The Generous Soul. It is free for you to read or reference in teaching, but not to print or download in any format. Note that footnote references appear as full sized numerals in the text rather than superscripts.
the theology of missional giving
what does my stuff have to do with God?
“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.”
1 Chronicles 29:11, 12 (NKJV)
“God created the universe not as an object of academic scrutiny but as an arena in which he can display something of his nature and intentions.”
creation has its privileges
“For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. Every bird of the mountains and all the animals of the field belong to me. If I were hungry, I would not mention it to you, for all the world is mine and everything in it.”
Psalm 50:10-12 (NLT)
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.”
Psalm 24:1 (NLT)
“Give. It. BACK!”
“I’m telling Mom!”
Who can forget those days, either from personal or parental experience? The desire to have and control displays itself at an early age. From the living room at home, to the church nursery, to the middle of the toy store, there is no place greed will not rear its green head. Some people eventually mature to an understanding about sharing and giving, while others grow old grasping and clutching. It is a battle each and every day of our lives to become givers rather than takers, rivers rather than reservoirs.
This tendency to grab and hold comes from our inherent feeling of ownership. Kids fight over dolls and action figures that barely have any temporal significance and none for eternity, while adults strive for bigger and better cars, houses, and toys of a different kind, which rarely have even the temporal significance we have attached to them. The late pastor-theologian A.W. Tozer addressed this condition:
There is within the human heart a tough, fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets things with a deep and fierce passion. The pronouns my and mine look innocent enough in print, but their constant and universal use is significant. They express the real nature of the old Adamic man better than a thousand volumes of theology could do. They are verbal symptoms of our deep disease.9
The more, more, more mindset was evidenced by the 1980’s bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” which was later edited to end with the single word “nothing” reflecting a more realistic view of time and eternity. Even so, the updating was a mere echo of Jesus Christ’s warning in Luke, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (12:15, ESV).
As this chapter is being written (August 2010), Americans are being reminded in a rude way of the things we think we own but do not. Actual home repossessions have risen dramatically over the last three years of this economic downturn. In 2008, more than eight hundred thousand homes across the U.S. were repossessed. In 2009, the number was more than nine hundred thousand, and 2010 is projected to exceed one million.10 These are not foreclosure filings, but actual repossessions. In neighborhoods all across the country, “home owners” are face to face with the fact that we do not own our homes until the last payment is made; until then the mortgage holder owns it. (Or, at least, some combination of speculators, banks and investment houses trading in mortgage-backed securities bundled with pork belly futures, shampoo bottles and coconut milk.)
You want to own it?
There are several ways to become an owner: create something, buy something, receive a gift, or inherit something are a few of them. If I walk into my basement, use my tools and my lumber to make a bench, it is mine until I give it away or sell it. It is mine because I created it. (And with my carpentry skills it is likely to remain mine for all time.) If you go to your local mall and give money in exchange for a book, item of home decor, or clothing, it becomes yours by right of purchase. It no longer belongs to the store; it belongs to you until you give it away or sell it. If a relative dies and leaves a pristine 1965 Mustang to your brother-in-law and a less-than-pristine 1977 Pacer to you, the Pacer is yours (until you convince your brother-in-law of the benefits to him of a straight-up trade).
The Bible records in its opening verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1, NASB). By virtue of creation, God owns everything in the universe. He created it; it belongs to Him. The farthest star and the nearest atom are His alike. The widest mountain and thinnest blades of grass bear the indelible imprateur of His ownership. Given the vastness of our universe, it should come as no surprise that the record of God’s creation activity is not limited to the initial book of the Bible. Ken Hemphill writes,
“[The word created] so permeates the Bible that it is found dotted throughout the Scripture—twenty times alone in chapters 40-66 of Isaiah. If you read that section, you will discover that the prophet was intent on distinguishing between Israel’s God as the true Lord of history—its Creator—in contrast to the Babylonian practices of idolatry and astrology.”11
The reasons for such an emphasis should not be lost on us today. Though the existence of an all powerful God was questioned even in ancient days,12 naturalism since Darwin has set its deity-denying sights on the anything that hints of God’s special creation of the universe. If special creation by the biblical God is removed, then there is no God to make a claim to ownership anyway, so everyone may as well live as they wish.13
Question and question time
The Old Testament book of Job records a rather blunt sermon God once preached to His servant, the man named Job. Throughout the course of a brutal Q&A in chapter 38 of that book—which proved to be substantially more Q than A—God repeatedly staked His ownership claim on creation by reminding Job who had made it in the first place. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who set its measurements? Since you know, or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone?” (vs. 4-6); “And I placed boundaries on [the sea] and set a bolt and doors, and I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; and here shall your proud waves stop’?” (vs. 10, 11). Nor did God stop with His earthly creativity. In the second half of the chapter, He went NASA on His quieted questioner: “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation in its season, and guide the Bear with her sons? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens, or fix their rule over the earth?” (vs. 31-33. All verses NASB). God claims ownership of everything by way of creation and He is not outside the bounds in doing so.
Through the next several chapters of Job, God claimed authority over animals, weather patterns, and humanity. And why should He not? He created all that is seen and unseen; the visible world of our habitation and the invisible world of His. From sub-atomic particles and strings (if indeed they exist) to the massive star R126a1, which is suspected to be 265 times larger than our sun.14 It all came from the creative power of His Word.
In the Psalms, God reminds us of the reality of His ownership: The cattle on a thousand hills belong to Him.15 The gold and the silver belong to Him.16 In other words, the substance for our subsistence belongs to God not to us. The sources of our food belong to Him and the sources for our finances belong to Him. We created none of it, He has not placed any of it up for sale, therefore, we own none of it; we merely use it by His grace. The church father, Irenaeus, recognized that all things come from God, saying, “God is the commencement of all. He comes from no one, and all things come from Him…Among all things is included what we call the world, and in the world man.”17 And, despite the sorry condition of the world’s economy at present, there are no liens on God’s property.
But what about me?
At this point someone might argue, “But God did not build that house I just flipped. Neither did He work hard to close that business deal at the end of last week. Can He really claim ownership of all the things that have happened since the end of creation?” He can and He does, rightfully so. We cannot claim to be productive in business or successful in moneymaking apart from God. In the Old and New Testaments, God makes it plain that those abilities are graciously given from Him. Moses warned the children of Israel by way of this reminder,
“In the wilderness He fed you with manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”18
Blaise Pascal addressed this thorough dependence we have on God: “All things on earth show man’s wretchedness and God’s mercy, man’s helplessness without God and man’s power with God.”19
The apostle James recognized the tendency within us to regard our business dealings as our own. His pastoral admonition to the scattered early believers reads,
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16; NKJV).
James does not merely suggest that we should give priority to God in our business dealings, but that to not do so is evil arrogance. Why? Because God is owner, therefore any productivity in business, agriculture or other moneymaking comes from His hand alone.
Though his name, for many, is not instantly recognizable today, the late R.G. LeTourneau credited God for everything about his very successful business. Called the “Mover of Mountains and Men,” LeTourneau was the holder of 299 inventions related to bulldozers, earthmovers, oil drilling, logging equipment and others. During World War II, his companies produced 70 percent of all the U.S. Army’s earth-moving machinery. With a heart beating for the Kingdom, he often spoke of God as the Chairman of his Board.20 Despite his wealth, LeTourneau recognized who owned it all.
Ownership in the parables
Consider how the parables of Jesus portray God’s relationship to humanity as it concerns ownership: God is always the owner of the land or vineyard, while we are pictured as tenants, workers, or managers. In the parable of the unforgiving servant,21 God is the king who has full authority over the possessions of a debtor servant. In the parable of the unjust steward,22 God is the rich man who demands an accounting from His servant. In the parable of the two sons,23 He is the father who owns the vineyard and tells both of his sons to work in it. In the parable of the faithful servant,24 God is the man who went to a far country, leaving his servants with authority over his house. In the parable of the talents25 (one of the most well known), the owner delegates financial responsibilities to some of his servants, with varying results.
Just the start
While this is not a comprehensive review of the Bible’s teaching on this subject, it is representative of the whole. In other words, “There’s more where that came from.” One would be hard pressed to read the Bible and conclude that we own anything. God owns it all; we own nothing at all. When Jesus spoke of the poor in spirit, He revealed the meaning of true possession. He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”26 A.W. Tozer explains, “[The] blessed poor are no longer slaves to the tyranny of things. They have broken the yoke of the oppressor…. Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things. ‘Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’”27
In addition to God’s ownership by virtue of creation, He has an ownership claim by virtue of His sustaining power. It is to this truth that we now turn.
End of Chapter 1