If you meet someone new, in most instances, one of the first things you ask them is, “What do you do for a living?” Innocuous enough, it’s just small talk. There is, of course, a stream of follow-up questions, assumptions and stereotypes that follow. Less innocuous. As the individual cogs within society, we are looking for ways to box in and categorise people, to answer for ourselves the question of what we can expect from them.
Our society has accepted capitalism as the economic lingua franca. Capitalism, at its essence, is the pursuit of an enlarging a wealth base (a kingdom of sorts) for oneself – in a word: profit. Whilst generosity can occur within the model of capitalism, it is certainly not inherent. And the metrics by which we measure esteem and wealth are intertwined in such a way that it becomes difficult to know which we are measuring. Just look at how we respond to people stuck in cycles of poverty and how much we love the story of someone who pulled themselves up out of poverty by their bootstraps. We are even looking to place ourselves within this system. How do we fit? How should we relate? Should we fade back or push forward? All of this is based on our assessment of the players in the room, ourselves included. Aside from the obvious danger of bias that should be weighed and minimised, is this practice problematic?
Jesus left a clear and obvious example of how to relate to people of diverse background, and socio-political and economic standing. We are to show kindness, love and generosity to everyone. We are to share everything we have, willingly.
It has always struck me how the Gospel of grace is so contrary to the debit-credit society in which we find ourselves: “It’s our turn to have you over for dinner”, “I’ll fetch your kids today if you can fetch mine tomorrow” and “I’m not going to invite them to our wedding; they didn’t invite us to theirs.” Whatever you hope to receive, you need to earn it or, at least, pay it back. Jesus’ message of forgiving 70 times 7, or giving someone the shirt off your back when they sue you for your coat, and Paul’s exhortation to love with no record of wrongs teach us a higher way. A way that is distinctly other-centric. Certainly we cannot live this life of grace by our own human effort. Our sinful nature looks for retribution and reparation. If, however, we have an understanding of receiving something that we can never repay, we can surmount these natural inclinations. By an overflow of the abundance that we have received from Christ’s sacrifice, we can strive to see this grace flow from our lives. To love unconditionally. To give freely, expecting nothing in return. Not to chase after the debts that are owed us. I will say it again: this cannot be done in our own strength. But when we find ourselves submerged in grace, we start to speak the language of grace. Perhaps even this grace can become our economic lingua franca.
But what about the metric by which we measure concepts like prosperity? Jesus has promised us prosperity (“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full....” John 10:10; NIV) and so what we consider prosperity to be, has significant bearing. In this capitalist society, I’ve already outlined that we automatically think of material wealth when we think of prospering. In fact, if you look up the definition of prosperity, you will find it specifies material or financial gain. Should we, as Christians, use the same definition?
In 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Paul writes, “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do what is good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and willing to share, storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of what is truly life.”
The New Testament is littered with similar exhortations not to be preoccupied with material or financial wealth. Consistently we are encouraged to measure our wealth in treasures we have stored up in heaven (“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also....” Matthew 6:19-21; NIV). This would, therefore, not even include our physical bodies or health. This would be relationships, moments of kindness and generosity.
Let us prosper in the fruit of the Spirit. Let our lives be opulent with the evidence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. When we spur one another on to greater fruitfulness, let these be the measures that we use, not that which will be destroyed by moths and rust. Surely the Lord intends us to be fruitful and to prosper, and when we delight ourselves in Him, we certainly will be.
Women of Reverence welcomes guest contributor Sarah Dlamini.