“There is only so much” or “There is enough to go around” — which do you tend to believe?
“The early bird gets the worm” or “There is enough to share” — which one tends to describe how you see material resources?
“Get your’s while you can” or “It is a blessing to share” — which is it?
The American worldview certainly holds that there is a limited number of resources and we are in competition with each other to get those. Of course, that belief shapes our perceptions and then we accept it to be unquestionably true. And if we count our needs in millions and billions of dollars, maybe this view is true. But when we think realistically, isn’t there more than enough to go around?
Walter Brueggemann, a favorite author of mine, calls this belief the “myth of scarcity.” Americans seem to believe it, but so did many in Israel in the Old Testament. That is why the rich got richer and the poor poorer and the prophets railed against social injustice. The prophetic imagination of seers like Micah dared Israel (and us still today) to believe that we lived in abundance.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Every man will sit under his own vine
and under his own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:3-4)
Hoarding is not necessary, because each can have his own. Brother does not need to compete with brother because we both can have more than enough. Jesus feed five thousand and there was still twelve baskets of bread to spare.
It is this same vision that guides Paul in today’s passage.
Someone who sows sparingly will reap sparingly as well. Someone who sows generously will reap generously. Everyone should do [give] as they have determined in their heart, not in a gloomy spirit or simply because they have to, since “God loves a cheerful giver.” And God is well able to lavish all his grace [gifts, including material resources] upon you, so that in every matter and in every way you will have enough of everything, and may be lavish in all your own good works, Just as the Bible says: “They spread their favors wide, they gave to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” The one who supplies “seed to be sown and bread to eat” will supply and increase your seed and multiply the yield of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way in all single-hearted goodness, which is working through us to produce thanksgiving to God. The service of this ministry will not only supply what God’s people so badly need, but it will also overflow with many thanksgivings to God. (9:6-12)
As the Corinthians get ready to receive Paul who will be looking for the contribution they had previously promised to give to the famine relief efforts in Jerusalem (9:1-5), Paul exhorts them to view this with a vision of abundance, not the myth of scarcity. So too for us. Anytime we are called upon to give to provide for those who are under-resourced at the time (notice that this passage is not talking about giving to meet the budget of the church) we will need the same perspective. We can be “cheerful givers” because the anxiety of competing for the same dollar does not need to rule our hearts. God is able to pour down blessings on us in such a lavish way that we will have everything we need (of course, “need” and “want” are two different words). We can also be cheerful givers when we acknowledge the result of unselfish living: “thanksgiving to God.” The myth of scarcity makes us turn others into competition and weigh the perceived right others have to our money. A vision of abundance makes it easier to melt our selfish hearts and uncurl our greedy fingers, and that is when praise and thanksgiving are born.
Today is Labor Day in America, a day we celebrate the worker, the most important cog in the machine of capitalism. Ironically, we celebrate the day by not working (and I am super cool with that!) We work to provide for ourselves and for others. Instead of turning this procurement of resources into a competition, can we dare to trust that God will provide all that is needed and that he might be using us to provide for others for a time?