A Compassionate and Smart Investment
It could be both compassionate and smart to help starving children. According to UNICEF USA, in Yemen, a country in the southern Arabian Peninsula, “an estimated 85,000 children under the age of five have died from starvation or disease since the war started there three years ago.” They say it is “the worst humanitarian crisis…since World War II.”
There are many things you and I could spend our money (and prayers) on. Why should we spend our money to save starving children--especially outside of the US? Why not invest in a new house, or a new car, or more presents for our own children or grandchildren?
In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
I believe that when we physically feed hungry people, or when we spiritually feed people with the Word of Life, Jesus Christ, we are investing in what Jesus called “treasure in heaven.” So, based on Matthew 6:20, you could argue that helping those who are starving (physically or spiritually) is not actually selfless, but that really it is “a good investment” which is in our enlightened (and eternal) self-interest.
I believe that is what Jesus is saying in Luke 16:1-8. There he told a parable of a manager who worked for a wealthy employer. He discovered he was about to be fired, and since he knew that the power he had soon would be non-existent (just as all our worldly wealth soon will be non-existent), he let those who owed his boss money settle for half of what they owed, so that when he no longer had a job, he would still have friends to take care of him. Jesus says that this manager, while dishonest, was at least shrewd in an earthly sense, but that many Christians are far less shrewd in a heavenly sense. “The master (Jesus) commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:8-9) What did Jesus mean? He meant that we Christians should know that all our power and wealth in this world will soon have vanished, and so we ought to use our power and wealth before they vanish by investing them in that which can never be destroyed. After all, Jesus said, “as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it to me.” (Matthew 25:40).
But Protestant Christians like me have been taught (and I believe) that we are not saved by good works. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” But have you read the next verse, Ephesians 2:10? “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” As Martin Luther said, we are saved by grace alone, received through faith alone, but faith never stands alone---true faith will always result in good works. As James wrote in scripture, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17)
In Matthew 19:16-23 we read that a rich man came up to Jesus and asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The man shared he had always done that, and so he asked Jesus what else he lacked. Jesus answered, “‘If you want to be perfect (the Greek word means “complete”), go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” Matthew tells us, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” But he should have been happy that he had a lot of perishing resources that he could transform into eternal treasure by giving them to the poor!
If you know—I mean really know—that God gave you salvation for free—you couldn’t earn it--then you will want to bestow free gifts on other helpless people. And if you realize that all your money and power will soon be worthless, then you will want to invest them now in God’s eternal kingdom, where, as Jesus promised, “you will have treasure in heaven.”
Winfield Casey Jones is a retired pastor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column first appears in the Pearland and Friendswood Reporter News. (UNICEF USA and Save the Children are two of a number of groups which help Yemeni children.)