The Most Violated Bible Verse in the American Church

money-256281_640“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” I Timothy 6:8
This must be the most violated Bible verse in America.
I recently perused the Christian Living shelves of my local Christian bookstore
in an attempt to find a book on sound financial living
and not one of them started off saying,
“Do you have food for today and clothing? Be content. That’s all you need.”
I didn’t read all of them but their length and chapter titles
led me to believe there’s a lot more included in an American Christian portfolio
than just food and clothes.
This money thing is a serious struggle for me.
We’ve lived on the financial edge for most of our married life
for lots of reasons I won’t elaborate
out of respect for my partner’s greater need for privacy
but I sometimes get the feeling
I don’t have the “right” to moments of happiness or joy
because of our precarious financial state.
Choosing to be content
seems like a move in the wrong direction
mental health-wise,
an escape,
a dangerous delusion.
And it would have to come about
through supernatural means
because contentment is not currently in my natural wheelhouse,
nor is it encouraged by any aspect of my society.
And then,
I read about Pope Francis visiting the poorest barrios in Rio
and preaching the gospel to them
And then,
I sit in homes devoid of furniture, cable TV, and hope
watching honest people struggle to
escape poverty and public assistance
falling backwards twenty rungs for every one they manage to climb up
and I think
the gospel has to be bigger than this money thing,
bigger than debts, bills, investments, and long-range goals.
Jesus preached good news to the poor knowing there would always be poor people.
He didn’t say “the gospel will make this all go away”
He said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”
What does that mean when there isn’t enough money for the electric bill
or medicine
or safe shelter?
What does that mean when you work hard and you’ve tried everything you know to try
but you’re still not making it?
Isn’t being content with food and clothing a cop out? an escape from responsibility? a sign of mental illness?
And do I have the right to be content for this for my children, too?
for other people’s children?
According to many of those Christian Living financial books, a healthy financial portfolio is a sign of God’s blessing, a visible testament to wisdom and right living, evidence that one’s Christian life is on track
are there no believers living in the slums?
or in rental homes
or in homeless shelters?
We toss phrases at each other like
“You can’t out-give God”
and
“Our father owns the cattle on a thousand hills”
and
“God will provide”
and we tell stories, I have some of my own,
 of unexpected checks in the mail or strangers saying God told them to give you something you need or windfalls arriving at precisely the last moment just a week after the person had the faith to tithe
and those are true and real
but then,
I’m watching Pope Francis walk through the barrio where the sewage flows in the streets
and I’m thinking there aren’t enough unexpected checks showing up
and these people don’t even have real doors
so this whole poverty/money/contentment thing is much more complicated than the lines we pour out like sips of water to a chain gang.
And I think,
I’m not smart enough for this life
and if money and security are a sign of God’s blessing
Donald Trump must be a very holy man.
I want the contentment thing.
I want to honor God with all I have – my finances included.
I want to live by faith, not in a constant state of shame and fear and worry
and I want to know what Jesus means
for the families I see who are worse off than I am
hopeless for escaping terrible systemic, generational poverty,
or for the families in the barrio
who Pope Francis said to “hold onto hope.”
What is this hope?
I think for American Christians
the hope they have is that things can change
that Jesus changes things
but what do we do when we love Jesus
and our condition doesn’t change?
what if loving Jesus makes our economic situation worse – like it does for Christians in persecuted countries?
where are the cattle on a thousand hills for the Chinese believer who cannot get decent work
or education for his children unless he renounces Jesus?
If he should be content with food and clothes
shouldn’t I?
I want to know Jesus and understand the kingdom of God as something more
than a means to my best life now.
I want to know what it means
in the face of every day
that Jesus is my hope.
The prophet Habakkuk wrote these words:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.” 3:17-19
So there is joy to be had in Christ
even when there is no cash flow or
secured retirement
or escape from the wolves at the door.
To me, that seems like a greater miracle than the stranger at the door with a check.
Lots of questions in this post, I know.
I have very few answers this week.
How about you?

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34 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Cyn Rogalski says:

    Eucharisteo.
    Growing.pains.always.hurt.

    I’m so blessed by your writing Lori.
    I have more digging to do.
    Thank you.

  2. Joe Crowley says:

    Lori, Because of job, position in Haiti, etc., I can’t always respond but I’m in on this one, partly because I just had to respond to Missionary Flights International and one of their emails. MFI goes above and beyond to do what they can to get us our mail and other stuff. They do an excellent job! Now we have more Americans in Haiti, and the number is growing, who want to live like Americans in Haiti. Go away, stay away, and drop dead! Haiti doesn’t need you and we don’t need you!!! But, if you are content with what God gives you on any given day, please come and join us because you will survive and be able to make a difference where it is desperately needed!!! Can we coin the phrase “5 Star Missionaries”?

    Just wanted to add my soft touch to your blog!

  3. Ruthie Weil says:

    There is so much we don’t/can’t understand. God does not live in a nice neat American box…and thankfully, He does understand. And I trust Him with that.

  4. Yes. I have had this conversation with several people recently. We in America have a completely different definition of Christianity and God’s blessing than what it really is.

  5. Like you said, Lori, no easy answers. With the sheer numbers of Christians out there struggling financially or in persecuted spaces, with “bad things happening to good people”, I think it’s easy to wonder what’s going on.

    To honor you and the many I know who are in this struggle, I am tempted to keep silent… but instead I will attempt to share my heart, and what I see in America and in the scriptures. I pray iron sharpens iron and that encouragement and comfort are the result of this exchange. I think I’ll break this into separate comments, because I tend to be thorough… okay, fine — I’m long-winded!

    First, I have no disagreement in regards to the poor state of most American hearts, including my own. Too often we choose our own comfort and enjoyment over the needs of our fellow man. We would rather keep our cable TV than support a missionary. We would rather drive our SUV than send money to an orphanage or supply ten families with livestock or a well of clean water. If God is telling you to do those things and you’re ignoring Him for the sake of your own comfort, that’s wrong. Period. May God bring His chastisement and may we respond with repentant hearts and acts worthy of repentance.

  6. Then we come to the issue of scripture. When I look at the differences between how certain subjects are handled in the Old and New Testaments, I find that wealth and financial issues are one of the areas in which we see a contrast. However, I do not see a revision so much as an addition or admonition.

    Throughout the Old Testament, the old covenant, God makes it very clear: willing obedience leads to physical blessings. No question. No doubt. No interpretation or exceptions. Very straightforward. And every good Jew knows this principle. And bank on it. (Some of them, literally, ha!)

    Jesus and the apostles knew that something new was afoot. With the arrival of the Messiah and fulfillment of the old covenant and establishment of the new covenant, things were different. Better, actually. Now your disobedience wouldn’t cancel the blessings.

    However, now a new era of persecution had come. Persecution for His Name’s sake. Not because you screwed up. But because you were doing the right thing!

    Can you imagine how mind-boggling that would be for the Jews of Jesus’ day? “Guess what? You can do everything right, and God will be absolutely pleased with you… and you may still be tortured, killed, lose your homes, lose your family… but be of good cheer, because this world is temporary, and your life and the treasures you’ll gain with your obedience are eternal.”

    No wonder Jesus had to clarify a bit about riches and their true nature. Not because wealth was bad. But because the rules were changing, and what was central to the Jewish understanding of things was being flipped on its head.

    To me, we make a mistake if we treat the New Testament scriptures on riches outside the context of the Old Testament foundation and how Jesus needed to prepare the hearts of His followers to handle the coming persecution.

    • I’m with you so far, Teddi, absolutely.

    • Felicia says:

      I think what you’ve said is generally true – with Job being an obvious exception. His friends thought as you describe ‘good Jews’ would – that his affliction must indicate he wasn’t living in the center of God’s will. God disagreed. Pretty vehemently. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. I think ‘what was central to Jewish understanding’ was NOT equal to what the Old Testament teaches. The Jewish understanding of Old Testament teaching had been corrupted by teachers who (like Job’s friends) had a warped understanding of God’s priorities.

    • I think it’s important that we don’t judge another person’s financial condition because we don’t know the root cause.

  7. The scripture you quoted in 1 Timothy is good. And it’s not the only time that contentment is advised. However, when I view the sheer numbers of scriptures that counsel an expectation of provision and even of wealth when we are in covenant with the Living God, I cannot conclude that He does not intend abundance even in this area of physical things.

    And even though Jesus and the apostles had some things to say about how to handle it when you’re experiencing hardship, I do not see it indicated anywhere that those original principles outlined in the Old Testament were declared kaput.

    I don’t say this because I heard a preacher say it. I say it because I’ve prayerfully searched the scriptures on this topic and it is what I’ve seen for myself. That’s not to say I couldn’t be wrong, only to testify that I speak on my own behalf here, not as a mouthpiece for some despised “prosperity gospel” evangelist.

    • But abundance compared to what standard? God promises to take care of my needs but He doesn’t promise me an American middle class existence, right?

    • And sometimes I think others are struggling financially because God means to provide for them through other Christians who are ignoring the prompts to give generously or sacrificially. God is prompting someone to “be that unexpected check” and they are pushing down that prompt. So there is corporate responsibility on top of individual responsibility.

    • Yes! I agree on both points. What standard? We make a mistake if we judge God’s provision by American, human standards.

      We also mistake if we look for abundance without purpose. I believe abundance always has a purpose. To delight our hearts, yes. But also to rescue, provide, redeem.

      Which leads to your second comment — how many of us have “abundance” (more than we need for clothing and shelter and food) and yet do not use it to help others as God prompts?

  8. Here’s the thing: I see this no different as every other promise of God that has not yet found universal and complete fulfillment in the earth.

    * It is God’s will that none should perish — so why isn’t everybody saved?

    * Jesus said if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen the Father, and He went around healing people all the time.Sometimes it even says there were huge multitudes and he “healed them all”. The apostle Peter testifies that Jesus took those stripes for our healing. So why are so many Christians suffering from terrible illnesses?

    * Even if you don’t believe that God promises any physical benefits (like healing or provision), and you only believe He promises spiritual ones (like peace, love, joy, comfort, and other fruits of the Spirit), I ask you: Why don’t ALL Christians experience those things in their fullness? Why aren’t we at peace in the storms of life? Why aren’t we content in the midst of hardship?

    To me, these lacks are not a reason to lower our expectations. When my experience does not match up with what I see reflected in the Word, there’s only one side of that mirror that needs to change so that they both match.

    Me.

    And if I stop believing that my life SHOULD reflect what I see in the Word, I can guarantee that nothing will change.

    But if I keep believing, despite what I see, and if I keep drawing close to Him, and following His guidance, I believe (and I have seen in my own life) that things will continue to get better. Not so that I can be comfortable and become complacent. Not so that I can numb myself with delights and distract myself with luxuries.

    Things will get better to the extent that I am following Him and fulfilling His will. To the extent that I am doing His Kingdom work and He knows I can be entrusted with His resources. To the extent that the most important work of all — the saving of my soul, and the development of the image of Christ in me — will not be hindered by the fulfillment of those promises.

    He’s a good Father. And He’s the only one who can tell you (or any child of God out there) why He’s got you where you are… for as long as you’ve been there… and how to keep moving forward,

    from faith to faith
    from glory to glory

    onward and upward
    until we see Him face to face

    hopefully having stewarded well whatever He entrusted to us so we can hear Him say, “Well done.”

  9. Thanks for letting me enter this conversation. My apologies for the long discussion, the multiple comments. I hoped to make it easier to respond to specific thoughts in my overall discourse.

    One of my sisters is a single mom and missionary in Cairo, Egypt (going on 7 years there). My other sister serves with her husband and 3 kids full-time in Kenya, Africa (don’t recall… maybe 3 years or more there). They experience what you’re talking about all the time. I have dear, dear Christian pastors and friends who struggle and are on the edge financially and trust God every month for needed supply. My husband was out of work for 11 of the past 13 months. I’m not sitting pretty and out of touch. This discussion means something real to me.

    I love the opportunity to think deeply and discuss this in a meaningful way. I am open and interested to hear if others see the scriptures differently than I do. That’s one of the ways I learn — by listening to the Holy Spirit speaking through my brothers and sisters in the Body. 🙂

    Thanks again, Lori, from my heart. Love you!

  10. The Church is an assembly of broken things. Financial stress is one of the cracks. Jesus brings joy into a sparse home. The humbling realization that the Most High knows and cares and “has been there”. Psalm 84 speaks of those who have gone through the Valley of Tears (Baca). They have a resource, a point of identification, that will help and heal many. Oh when will the Church stop yacking about “Christian lifestyle” and focus on Christ until His aroma arrives?

  11. Dee Bright says:

    Lori, thanks for generating this great discussion.

    I have a missionary friend who works with some of the most impoverished and endangered people in South African slums. I asked him, “Is it hard for them, when they accept Christ, to have really bad things continue to happen to themselves and their loved ones? To see nothing change as a result of their new faith?”

    His answer humbled me to my bones.

    After a pregnant pause he said, “Dee, Jesus is their ONLY hope.”

    Quite a contrast to Western thinking. In who or in what do we put all our hope? What are our daily expectations compared to those of our suffering Christian brothers and sisters?

    Sure makes me stop and think.

  12. flutterbella says:

    For me this means that I am ok with what I have. It means that I am not constantly wanting more, but that I am thankful for what I have. For instance, now I am unemployed….this is not a cop out though…it doesn’t mean that I don’t want a job or money. It simply means that being jobless does not define me. I consider it a blessing to have food, a roof over my head, and many things that others in worse situations do not have.

    Most importantly that I recognize that God is my source. That while doing my best to find work, that I never forget that I am not responsible (completely) for providing for my own needs, because the Word says that God provides. Now that provision may not look like I expect or anticipate it to look, however knowing that God provides and not getting stressed and discouraged that my attempts don’t always work.

    Also that in whatever I may have abundance in that I give that away, even though I may be needing things in other areas. Trusting and not worrying, because doesn’t he say that he clothes us and provides for us?

  13. Felicia says:

    I’ve actually found it easier to be content and generous the less I’ve had. Somehow when I start to have a little more, I start feeling the need to ‘save’ to ‘hang on’…but when I can clearly see that every meal, every dollar, every good gift is coming from the Father, I’m more eager to share that and be a conduit of blessing rather than the dead end.

  14. krex_1 says:

    The love of money can be rooted in our hearts regardless of how much or little we have. In the ProJo this past Sunday there was an article that said being a millionaire didn’t make people feel secure anymore, the consensus was that it took $5 mil for someone to feel like they could do whatever they wanted… to feel “free”. What a trap for the 1% who may be able to achieve this, and for the rest who doggedly strive toward it!
    Thank God he has created us for greater things, things of eternal significance, that moth and rust will not destroy!

  15. elancee says:

    Thank you for writing this. I have often wondered where the line is between “casting my care” and taking personal responsibility. I so appreciate your willingness and courage to take on real issues of faith. Blessings!