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The dark side of giving: Our resources must honor God, not exploit the poor

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. — 1 Timothy 6:6-10, New King James Version

‘Money is the root of all evil.” That’s one of the great, misquoted passages in the Bible. Many of us use it to argue against wealth and a desire to make money. But Scripture does not argue that money is the root of all evil, it argues that the love of money is the root of all evil.

Jonathan Holmes | In the Word

When I look at the state of churches and Christians across the country, I see a love and admiration of money that is toxic. Christians talk about the importance of helping those in need, but often the money they give becomes a tool to marginalize and exploit. Although the giver feels fulfilled, the giving itself reinforces poverty and undermines the work already being done in impoverished communities.

Like many Christians, I grew up understanding the significance of financial giving. We set aside a portion of what God gave us and gave it back. Christians with more resources than others gave more, and they were lauded as examples of selflessness. But I also saw a dark side to this philanthropy culture. I saw bigotry that mirrored the vicious stereotypes many of us have of mothers on welfare and incarcerated fathers. I saw paternalism and ignorance about the plight of the disenfranchised. I saw a refusal to interact with the most needy.

Our nation places too much emphasis on the size of our resources to combat society’s problems and not enough on the substance of those problems. Poverty exists in many forms, all of which result from broken relationships with the divine. It takes time and work for God to heal these broken relationships. Meanwhile, we celebrate the giver and assume that the giver’s money will solve the problem. It won’t.

Money is certainly important, and I applaud those who give truly, from their hearts, to the church and to important social causes. Giving, however, must be done responsibly, recognizing how it can help or hinder the intended recipients.

Following are two tips for effective giving:

• Learn about the people you are helping: I am not merely talking about research, though that is important. There’s a relational aspect to learning in which the giver seeks to build relationships with people from different social classes and conditions.

In his book “The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective,” renowned speaker and consultant Andy Andrews writes, “Remember, young man, experience is not the best teacher. Other people’s experience is the best teacher.” Learning what it’s like to be one of the people you’re attempting to help will make you an informed servant.

• Put the spiritual gift of giving in its proper place: Giving is one of many spiritual gifts in the body that Paul speaks of in Romans 12. He also talks about prophecy, ministry and teaching.

Our nation places too much emphasis on the size of our resources to combat society’s problems and not enough on the substance of those problems.

While money seems more valuable in our world than these other gifts, we are not of this world. Recognize and celebrate the gifts that believers of all income levels have in serving, teaching and contributing to the advancement of the Kingdom.

Giving is an important act of worship that all of us are called to do. Let’s make sure our giving glorifies God and blesses the lives of others. May our resources never be used to exploit the poor or to give us a sense of superiority over others.

May we all be loving, gracious givers.

JONATHAN HOLMES is a former benevolence minister for a Church of Christ in Chicago and a longtime advocate for racial and criminal justice in Illinois.  He writes a column on issues of race, class and faith at faithfullymagazine.com. Find him on Twitter @jdholmes1990.

Filed under: In the Word Opinion giving money

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