Several months ago I started on a journey to give away my book a chapter at a time. This is still in the process–through a few fits and starts–it is not far from completion. In case you need to catch up before you start Chapter 8, follow these links:
the eschatology of missional giving
how does this deal end, exactly?
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
“The LORD knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever.”
Psalm 37:18 (NKJV)
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain what he cannot lose.
“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”
Revelation 21:7 (NKJV)
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”
Matthew 25:34 (HCSB)
Too many of God’s children live as if their only inheritance is on earth and miss the chance to add to their inheritance in heaven.
Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken inherited some money. Charlene inherited a lot of money. Her father, Alfred Heineken, who died in 2003, left her a fortune of more than seven billion dollars, made from Holland’s premium beer which bears his name.162 No matter what you think of beer, seven billion dollars is a lot of suds.
The three sons of Ingvar Kamprad stand to inherit a pretty large amount of money, too. They sit on the board of IKEA, the furniture company founded by Kamprad, who is their father. If things go as they hope, each will inherit billions of dollars.163 That is an awful lot of flat-boxed furniture.
The four heirs to Sam Walton’s fortune, built through the success of the Wal-Mart chain, each inherited billions of dollars at their father’s death in 1992. By 2004, his widow and their four children were worth an estimated twenty billion dollars each.164 That is a significant amount of groceries and clothes (and tools and tires and…).
Abigail Johnson’s family controls 49 percent of Fidelity Investments, the largest mutual fund company in America. In 2009, she was worth around 11.5 billion dollars.165 Even though mutual funding has not been kind to her of late it looks as if she has still enough shares to support herself.
Numbers like these can boggle the mind of a person who has wealth, and stagger the mind of the average person striving to make ends meet on forty thousand dollars a year. This kind of money gives rise to comments like, “I’d like to have that for just one day!” I admit, it sounds fun to me, too.
An inheritance that lasts
As it currently stands, most of the people on the planet are not going to have multiple billions of dollars handed over to them in some lawyer’s office a week after the death of one or both parents (or that “rich uncle” you have heard about). For those who follow Christ, however, there is an inheritance that awaits that will never shrink in size, is not subject to decay, and cannot be hit with “death taxes” no matter who occupies the Oval Office or is the majority party on Capitol Hill. It is this latter inheritance that stays in the mind, heart, and planning of the missional giver.
In addition to the presence of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our heavenly inheritance, the resurrection of Jesus Christ provides assurance, as well. The author of the letter to the Hebrews explains: “Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the first covenant” (9:15; HCSB). How did Jesus become the mediator if He died? Because He was raised from the dead. The Scripture continues, “Where a will exists, the death of the testator must be established. For a will is valid only when people die, since it is never in force while the testator is living” (v. 16). So what we have is this: An inheritance in Jesus Christ was established for all those who would be saved. This inheritance is eternal, reserved in heaven, cannot be corrupted, ruined, or stolen. The inheritance, however, could not go into effect until the person to whom it belonged died; after all, as we know, a will only goes into effect after the death of the testator. So, Jesus Christ died to guarantee the promises of the inheritance, then rose from the dead to become the executor of His own estate! Now, the Bible says the children of God are joint heirs with Christ,170 which means everything that belongs to Christ belongs to us. We have the same inheritance: “For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come-all are yours” (1 Cor. 3:21, 22; NKJV).
Apples and oranges
Let us not mistake this inheritance as if we are trading earthly “stuff” for heavenly “stuff.” There does not seem to be any kind of ratio explaining how keeping a smaller less expensive car gets a more prominent mansion in the sky or shopping at a less expensive clothing store translates to an angelic robe from Hart, Schaeffner and Marx. Realistically, the inheritance God offers is freedom from sin, the fruit of the Spirit, Christ-likeness, adoption, abundant life AND eternal life, joy in the presence of God, responsibility, “learning, activity, artistic expression, exploration, discovery, camaraderie, and service.”171 The Bible says that all good and perfect gifts are from God172 and that He gives us these things richly to enjoy.173 Joy is found not in hoping for heavenly “stuff,” but in knowing the God in whom eternal life is found.174 Paul, then, could say, “[We are] as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”175
Our eternal inheritance is a reason why missional giving should be crucially importance to us. The total of all the inheritances in the history of the world pales in comparison to just one share of the inheritance in Christ’s kingdom. There is nothing earthly that cannot be corrupted, defiled, stolen, or destroyed. Great works of art can burn, Faberge eggs can be stolen, stocks can lose worth, money can be devalued and fortunes lost. On the other side, the “least” in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than these. When we pay greater attention to temporal, earthly treasures we lose focus on our eternal, heavenly inheritance. A person who dies without Christ to spend eternity in the lake of fire would give Bill Gates’s entire fortune for one moment’s relief, while a person who inherits the kingdom of God would not trade all the gold ever mined for his or her eternal gain.
Laying them up
This truth about our inheritance expands upon these words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up your yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21; NASB). The same eternal security of our inheritance is promised by Jesus regarding our heavenly treasure. I believe the two are related; the treasure is a portion of our inheritance, the portion that we send ahead—by virtue of missionary management of the possessions God puts in our care. It is the principle and interest on our spiritual investment. As we are rightly related to God and to our stuff, treasures are stored in heaven rather than on earth, filling them with eternal significance and imbuing them with eternal security.
The idea of adding to our eternal reward is thoroughly biblical. Paul informed the believers at Philippi that their material obedience was not merely for his benefit, but also for “the profit which increases to your account.”176 Luke records the words of Jesus to the same effect: “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (14:13, 14; NIV).
The preference of an eternal reward over a temporal reward, as it relates to giving, is also clear from Scripture. Jesus said, “And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”177 A number of years ago, I worked for a company delivering overnight packages in Atlanta, Georgia. My job required me to spend many hours on sidewalks pushing a hand-truck or carrying small envelopes by hand. As is the case in many urban areas, I was constantly approached by people wanting money. And, strange as it may seem, most of them wanted to go to Birmingham by Greyhound bus; never Macon, Columbus, or Charlotte, always Birmingham.
When I first began to be confronted with those situations, I considered how to talk my way out of it without actually lying. Even though this was many years before debit cards became popular, I rarely carried cash, so most of the time it was not an issue. When I said, “I don’t have any money,” it was the truth. But on those rare occasions when I was carrying money, I would modify it like this, “I don’t have any money I can give you.” It was technically true (I could not give it to them since I had other plans for it), but I would use vocal inflections that made it sound more like I had no money at all. On other occasions when I had money and did not feel like arguing, I would usually reach for my right front pocket, where I carried my change and give some coins to the person in need. Then, I would always preach him a short sermonette about how this was really God’s money and they should spend it in a way that would please Him. I have always doubted the impact of such a sermon on a drunken man looking for “money for a ticket to Birmingham.”
Once, while working a late shift, I was sitting in the far left lane of a one-way street, preparing to turn left. It was a lazy, warm evening and I had the window down. I could see this fellow staggering toward my van like he was following the invisible blade of sidewalk sized pinking shears. He finally made it over to my van and slurred with great gusto: “Hey man, can I have a dollar? I’m not gonna lie to you; I’m a drunk and I wanna get something to drink.” What can I say? I gave the man a dollar for being honest and told him as much. Then, for some reason, he started spilling this story of how he had lost his family and ended up on the street an alcoholic. It was brief, since the light changed shortly thereafter, but I’ve never forgotten it. Giving him a dollar might not have changed him, but it sure changed me.
It was the words of Jesus that led me to give to this man expecting nothing in return. I never expected to get a letter from him with a buck tucked inside, nor did I. And, though I still do not carry cash very often, I have been freed from the need to vouch for how every gift will be spent since a different kind of reward awaits. Slowly I’ve come to appreciate the words of G.K. Chesterton: “I happen to think the whole modern attitude toward beggars is entirely heathen and inhuman…Everyone would expect to have to help a man to save his life in a shipwreck; why not a man who has suffered a shipwreck of his life?”178 This is not to say that the mere giving of money is always the best thing to do, but it is to say it is not always the worst.
Among the dusty streets of Cairo, Egypt, is a cemetery for American missionaries. Amidst the aging headstones is one for William Borden, a Yale graduate and heir to the Borden family fortune. In 1904 as a sixteen-year old high school graduate, his parents gave him a trip around the world including travels through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. This trip brought him into contact with many of the world’s hurting peoples and birthed in his heart a desire to be a missionary. After graduating from Yale and Princeton, he committed to go to the Kansu, a Muslim people group in China. Before reaching China, however, he stopped in Egypt to learn Arabic. It was in Egypt that Borden contracted spinal meningitis, and within a month was dead at the age of twenty-five.
News of William Whiting Borden’s death was carried by most major American newspapers. A biographer wrote, “A wave of sorrow went round the world…Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice.” His gravestone reads, “Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”179
My prayer is that American Christians would passionately embrace our roles as missionary managers and become missional givers. Far from leaving us barren, the rewards are eternal. “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”180
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