Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want.
Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and will be repaid in full.
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
There is a long history in the faith community of using what we have been given for the benefit of others, the sharing of which brings benefits both to the giver and the receiver. This weaving together a social network of shared responsibility and mutual obligations helps to ensure all have access to the gifts of creation and benefit from effective stewardship. A self-centred approach to resource management, which is what the above scripture passages are dealing with, creates karenartificial social divisions and is a wasteful approach to using the gifts granted to us, gifts given with the expectation that we would not use them for limited, selfish ends. The resources we have to offer may be raw materials, time, skill, money or common humanity but we are expected to offer what we have for the benefit of others and be willing to accept such offerings when we need them.
We are expected to show some wisdom in what we do with our gifts. If we sell something, there is an obligation to ensure that what we sell isn’t used to harm others. We may sell children’s toys to raise money for the homeless, but if the toys are painted with a lead based paint, our effort to raise money to meet the needs of others will create long term harm. Our efforts to do good should be in harmony with our desire to build a better world for all those who share in creation, not cause harm to some in order to benefit others.
I am surprised to have ended up with a stewardship role within a number of organisations who need revenue from investments but also want to use such investments to provide positive social transformation. There is a need for money for pension plans, to have staff to meet the needs of users of the service, to directly relieve poverty. But there is an equally strong desire to have investments support fair labour practices, strengthen communities, encourage sustainable resource extraction policies and help encourage economic development that meets human needs. The earliest Christian communities practiced this ideal; the Jewish world in which it was nurtured had such a vision woven throughout its scriptures.
In using our shared resources in ways to benefit others as well as to ensure that our resources are themselves sustained we join in the work that the earliest apostles did of pooling resources and sharing what they had with all according to their need. There wasn’t a miraculous social healing occurring or even promised to those gathered in Jerusalem, but communal responsibility for the well being of all was clearly an expectation of the faith community, and a responsibility especially lived out by those entrusted with the resources of the community as a whole.
Social investing directed to meeting human needs is truly in the spirit of the earliest Christians. It leads to healthy food being more readily available, for housing to be build for the homeless, for employment opportunities for the marginalised, for havens for victims of violence—it meets human needs in some of the most direct ways possible. It can only occur with the sharing of resources from many sources.
The surplus resources of a single congregation doesn’t have the same impact in the world as the combined resources of a multitude that have a shared vision.
This work isn’t limited to the Christian community. There are those from other faiths and from secular backgrounds that are passionately committed to making a real difference in the world, demanding that their wealth be used in ways in harmony with their values. However it is to me a key requirement of the Christian faith, something that determines if one is truly committed to a faithful life, that one’s resources are used to build up the shalom kingdom.
The wealth we gain is tainted by the world around us. Profits come about from extracting surplus value from those who labour. Manufacturing most products leaves a permanent scar on the planet. What we gain from our connections to the world as it is should be used to build the world as it was intended. We don’t eliminate our communal guilt, but we can transform it into a joyous responsibility that brings us closer to the divine.