Thesis: There is a tension between being generous people & responsible stewards.
1. Illust. "The Good Woman of Szechwan" is a play by Bertolt Brecht. The play captures the tension between being generous and being responsible. Shen Teh is a poor Chinese woman who one day shows hospitality to three strangers. They are gods and reward her with money to buy her own store. But Shen Teh is too naive. People take advantage of her because she is so nice. Remembering what it is like to be poor, she uses her wealth to feed the poor and some of them take advantage of her also. To save herself from bankruptcy she develops an alter-ego, a tough-minded uncle who is a hard-nosed businessman. He straightens things out and Shen Teh becomes her vulnerable and trusting self again. What is interesting about the play is that it has no conclusion. Brecht leaves it unresolved. As the play ends the chorus chants: "Our bewilderment is great indeed. There's only one solution comes to mind: That you yourselves should ponder till you find, The ways and means and measures tending, To help good people to a happy ending. Ladies & gentlemen, in you we trust: The ending must be happy it must, it must, it must!" (From a bulletin article by Ken Durham, Falls Church, VA)
2. We are constantly reminded of the tension between being generous and being responsible stewards.
a. Watching TV: Images of poor, starving children.
b. Walking in DC: Old woman in lawn chair holding tin cup out for money.
c. Bible Class: "Sell everything you have and give to the poor" (Mark 10:21) or "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (Matt. 5:42).
d. Illust. I was reminded of this last verse this week visiting in one of your homes. The local rescue squad came around and one of you gave $35.00. More than what I usually give and I asked why. "Because that's what they asked for." Me: "What did you give last time?" Person: "$25.00 < pause > "Come to think of it, they'll probably ask for $45.00 next time!"
3. This AM we want to explore some issues involved in giving to the poor.
a. Jesus and the early church.
b. Reasons for not giving to the poor.
c. Poverty and Proverbs: Striking a balance.
I. JESUS AND THE EARLY CHURCH.
A. Giving to the poor was a significant part of Jesus' ministry.
1. Identifying mark (Luke 4:18-19; 7:18-23).
2. Command to disciples (Matt. 19:21; Luke 12:32-34).
3. Criteria for judgment (Matt. 25:34ff.)
B. Giving to the poor was a significant part of the ministry of the early church.
1. Identifying mark (Acts 2:42-45; 4:32-35).
2. Touchstone of individual piety (Acts 9:36; 10:1-2).
3. Ongoing concern of the church (Acts 11:27-30).
II. REASONS FOR NOT GIVING TO THE POOR.
A. There are reasons for NOT giving to the poor--they are usually reasons arrived at by experience.
1. Illust. Within the first few months of my first ministry a man came to our Wed. PM Bible Study and asked to speak with the men afterward. Gave us a story about how he had just come here from an Asian country, was opening a restaurant, was trying to sell some land back home, and would be bringing his family over ASAP. I passionately convinced the men to give him $150.00. The next morning, he was gone!
2. Examples such as this (or winos buying another bottle or gov't housing degenerating into slums) is enough to make us "shut up those bowels of compassion" and not give anything!
B. Do you suppose it was any different in Jesus' day?
1. Suppose all the poor people Jesus helped immediately became responsible, put braces on kids' & started saving for college?
2. Suppose every prostitute Jesus touched forsook her trade?
3. Only one leper in 10 returned to thank Jesus--that may illustrate the general response to Jesus' ministry (& ours!)
4. The Scriptures and the example of Jesus still stands.
III. PROVERBS AND POVERTY.
A. Poverty does not disqualify one spiritually (Prov. 14:31).
1. "Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God" (Prov. 14:31).
2. One can be poor and pleasing to God.
3. Poverty may actually be a blessing! (cf. Matt. 5:3 with Luke 6:20).
B. Poverty is not desirable (Prov. 10:15; 19:4; 22:7).
1. "The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor" (Prov. 10:15).
2. "Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man's friend deserts him" (Prov. 19:4).
3. "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender" (Prov. 22:7).