Questions About Contentment
- Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The Bible says, "He who gives to the poor will lack nothing" (Proverbs 28:27). The person who always wants more is never happy with what she has, but the generous person's happiness is not tied to the amount of money in her wallet. That's contentment.
What is the difference between frugality and generosity?
Frugality (i.e., living simply) is a first step that may or may not lead to generosity (i.e., giving to others), but the two are sometimes confused with each other. We have all heard sayings like, "You'd better eat your vegetables, because there are millions of starving children in Africa," or "With the money you spent on that sweater, you could have clothed an orphan in India." These statements reveal a measure of compassion for those who suffer in poverty. But by merely cleaning our plates or dressing down, we do not actually relieve the suffering of others. A dollar saved is not necessarily a dollar given. There is great wisdom in frugality (Proverbs 27:23-24), but it is sometimes done for less than charitable reasons. Cutting back our present spending only to store up for future expenses may be prudent planning, but it can hardly be called generous giving. In fact, it is the opposite of generosity, which gives freely in confidence that God will provide for the giver's future needs. Frugality is a good beginning, but the next step, which is taken by those who have received from God's generosity, is to take the money saved by curbing one's lifestyle and to give it to God and others.
Should I scale down my lifestyle in order to increase my giving?
Probably so. Dietitians tell us that scaling back on eating (especially certain rich foods) is the best way for us to shed pounds. In a land that is as calorie rich as ours, it is rare that exercise alone will do the trick. In a similar way, scaling back consumption is often the best way to free up our income for giving. Many Americans live far beyond their means, amassing debt that cripples their giving. Many others consume every dime in spending or saving, leaving precious little to give away. God has not called most of us to live like paupers, but neither are we given permission to concentrate solely on ourselves rather than the needs of His Kingdom. As the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, many of us have been especially blessed so that we can be a blessing to those in need—not to make us all poor, but so that we can work for equality (2 Corinthians 8:13-15; 9:11 .
Similarly, in Luke 16 Jesus tells the parable of a rich man who lived in splendor, health and safety and was well dressed, religious and respected. But he ignored the poor in his community in order to provide for his own comforts and security. As the parable goes on to show, such callous disregard for the condition of others is a sign of God's judgment on us, for the Bible continually calls us to look at our own status and gauge our ability to respond accordingly (Luke 3:7-11; 1 John 3:16-19; Acts 4:34-37). The truth is that for most of us, changes in our spending habits can be made, whether gradually or suddenly. Like the Corinthians and the rich man in Jesus' parable, we must consider why God has blessed us: Is it for our own consumption, safety and comfort? Or has God (also) blessed us so that we can be a blessing to others?
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