God and Money
The following are quotations from the writings of early church leaders as translated by Avila in Ownership: Early Christian Teaching to show how the early church fathers from 100AD to 350AD understood Jesus' and Paul's teaching on wealth, property and poverty:
He who holds possessions...as gifts of God...and knows that he possesses them for his brothers' sake rather than his own...is the man who is blessed by the Lord...a ready inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
"Make to yourselves friends from the mammon of unrighteousness that when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal habitations." (Lk 16:9) Thus Jesus declares that all possessions are by nature unrighteous, when a man possesses them for personal advantage as being entirely his own, and does not bring them into the common stock for those in need; but that from this unrighteousness it is possible to perform a deed that is righteous and saving, namely, to give relief to one of those who have an eternal habitation with the Father. (Clement of Alexandria)
Did you not come naked from the womb? Will you not return naked into the earth? (Job 1:21). Whence then did you have your present possessions? If you say, "By chance," you are godless, because you do not acknowledge the Creator, nor give thanks to the Giver. If you admit they are from God, tell us why you have received them.
Is God unjust to distribute the necessities of life to us unequally? Why are you rich, why is that one poor? Is it not that you may receive the reward of beneficence and faithful distribution...?'
You who make your own the things which you have received to distribute? Are you not greedy? Are you not a robber? Will not one be called a thief who steals the garment of one already clothed, and is one deserving of any other title who will not clothe the naked if he is able to do so?
That bread which you keep, belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy. Wherefore, as often as you were able to help others, and refused, so often did you do them wrong. (Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea)
For it is written: "Make unto yourself friends of the Mammon of iniquity." For him, then, who knows to use them, they are goods; for him who does not, they are rightly evils...They are goods if you bestow them to the poor, wherein you make God your debtor by a kind of pious usury. They are goods if you open the barns of your justice so that you may be the bread of the poor, the life of the needy, the eye of the blind, and the father of the orphan children.
Look at the birds of the air (cf. Matthew 6:26)...If there is enough produce from the abundance of harvest for the birds of the air who do not sow, yet nevertheless Divine Providence gives them unfailing nourishment, then indeed greed must be the cause of our need...We lose the things that are common when we claim things as our own...Why do you esteem your riches when God has willed your food to be common with others? (Ambrose, Bishop of Milan)
But we possess many superfluous things, unless we keep only what is necessary. For if we seek useless things, nothing suffices...Consider: not only do few things suffice for you, but God Himself does not seek many things from you. Seek as much as He has given you, and from that take what suffices; other things, superfluous things, are the necessities of others. The superfluous things of the wealthy are the necessities of the poor. When superfluous things are possessed, others' property is possessed.
Speaking through Haggai, the Lord said, "Mine is the silver and mine the gold" (Haggai 2:8), so that those who do not wish to share what they have with the needy...should understand that God commands this sharing not as being from the property of them whom He commands this sharing, but as being from His own property; so that those who offer something to the poor should not think that they are doing so from what is their own.
About leaving a large inheritance Augustine said:
He who made you, He Himself feeds you from the things which He has made. He feeds your children Himself, too. For do you entrust your children to your inheritance better than to your Creator...Why does such a one not give to the poor? (St. Augustine)
It is clear that the early church interpreted Jesus' teaching very literally. We should too!
How Citizens of the Kingdom of God are to use Money as aliens and strangers in the Kingdom of the World
I made a conscious decision to serve God and not to serve Mammon. This was my dilemma: while my citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, I still live on earth--in a foreign country that has an economy with rules that I must play by.
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. (I Pet 2:11)
This was my problem: How do I live as an alien and stranger in this culture and age and as a citizen of the Kingdom of God using this culture's Money without serving it. The answer is found in II Corinthians 8 and 9. I would strongly recommend that you spend several days meditating on these chapters. The context is that Paul is gathering a collection to take to the super-poor in Jerusalem. Paul uses the Macedonian churches (who were very poor but not destitute) as an example to encourage the Corinthians to give generously.
Let me read and comment on portions of II Corinthians 8 and 9
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace of God that He has given among the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they imploringly pleaded with us for the favor (grace--charis) of sharing (fellowship--koinonea) in this ministry to the saints. (II Cor 8:1-4)
Continued on next page
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