2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.”
James probably does not mean to set aside poor motivations for what we desire, what we see our neighbor owning that we want to own as well when he says, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” Most readers would agree since James just mentions killing, quarreling and fighting over things.
So what do we need from God? James begins his letter by reminding us to ask God for wisdom rather than for things. Seems many have forgotten this truth, asking and expecting personal wealth, so much wealth that it’s hard to understand the subsequent lack of generosity.
The so-called prosperity gospel promises that as long as we are generous to God, He will be generous to us. We give the whole tithe to the storehouse — supposedly the physical church we attend — and He will give us so much we will not know what to do with it all. Even if this is true, why then do we find so little giving to those outside the church, to the poor? Why is keeping up with the Joneses so prevalent in the wealthy megachurch?
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38, NIV)
The final portion of Jesus’ comment about generosity seems downplayed by the very rich megachurch. Jesus says that the measure we use is what is measured to us. His comment seems a warning to me, not a promise. Jesus is calling us to unmeasured generosity rather than giving as a calculated risk. Hence His use of the words, “pressed down, shaken together and running over”. He asks us to give so much that we are spent from that very giving. God calls us to give the “good measure.”
And James tells us to ask God for the wisdom to do what is right at all times. No one fights over wisdom.
A challenging aspect of reading the Word of God is understanding what was meant when it was spoken or written. An example of translation differences follows. What do you think?
Paul thanks the church at Philippi for its generosity toward the work of Christ’s gospel. The generosity of this church is inspired by God the Holy Spirit who will continue to “bring it to perfection.” He will nudge the church to aid the spreading of the good news of Jesus Christ.
5 so full a part have you taken in the work of Christ’s gospel, from the day when it first reached you till now. 6 Nor am I less confident, that he who has inspired this generosity in you will bring it to perfection, ready for the day when Jesus Christ comes. 7 It is only fitting that I should entertain such hopes for you; you are close to my heart, and I know that you all share my happiness in being a prisoner, and being able to defend and assert the truth of the gospel.
Or Paul recognizes that God has begun a work in the persons who move about in the church at Philippi because of their willingness to partner with him in spreading the good news. He knows that God “who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He feels this way about them because they “are all partakers with me of grace.” They, like him, defend and confirm the gospel.
5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. (ESV)
“Each person should give as he has decided for himself; there should be no reluctance, no sense of compulsion; God loves a cheerful giver.”
I’m certain you’ve sat in a church on a Sunday morning and listened to a pastor tell you to “bring the tithes into the treasury, all of them.” (Malachi 3:10) And to quickly assure you that there’s a great reward if you do so. Some people refer to this as the ‘prosperity’ gospel.
I prefer Paul’s exhortation here in his letter to the church at Corinth, in which he encourages each person to “decide for himself” without “compulsion” and without “reluctance” not only the amount to give but the time to give. Paul also tells the church “it is in God’s power to provide you richly with every good gift; thus you will have ample means in yourselves to meet each and every situation, with enough and to spare for every good cause.” (2 Corinthians 9:8-9) “You will always be rich enough to be generous.” (2 Corinthians 9:11)
Jesus warns that it is an error to honor the ‘traditions of men’ at the expense of taking care of your parents; to set aside the good you should do for your family in order to please a church. Instead, we should look to the needs of those who are our dependents. If our child is unclothed and hungry and we give our money as a tithe to God, He is not pleased. If our mother is in the least expensive nursing facility we can locate and we give our money as a tithe to God, He is not pleased. If our neighbor is losing her house to foreclosure, and we give our money [under compulsion, that is] as a tithe to God, He is not pleased. (Mark 7:9-13)
God repeatedly states that He wearies of our offerings. What He desires is a contrite heart, humble and cheerful in giving to others in need. Look first to our families, meeting the needs of those we love. Then look to our friends and neighbors, then look to the poor and disenfranchised.
Decide for yourself, without compulsion, with no reluctance. For God loves a cheerful giver.