I think we can all agree that the Bible says some pretty crazy stuff. If you don't agree, go check out 2 Kings 2:23-24. Yet, of all the bizarre and backwards stuff we find in Scripture, Paul's instructions to the church of Ephesus in Ephesians 4:28 has to rank up there, especially coming from an American perspective.
"Thieves must give up stealing; rather, let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy." (NRSV)
In the midst of instructing the Ephesians on how to conduct themselves as new followers of Christ, Paul nonchalantly mentions that the purpose and motivation behind their hard work should be that they will have something to give away.
Apparently, Paul didn't get the memo. You see, we're supposed to be teaching our kids to work hard in school in order to get into a good college to get the respectable degree to qualify for high paying job for the purpose of fulfilling our own needs, wants, desires, and dreams. We're supposed to punch the time clock and put in hard hours of work in order to earn money to spend on ourselves - not to give it away! God might have spoken to Moses through a burning bush, but Paul must have been smoking some bush when he wrote this stuff down (and yes, that's an illicit drug reference in only my second post).
The reality is that, for most of us, it's really difficult to give stuff away - whether it's our money, our possessions, or our time. Most of us growing up weren't conditioned to give sacrificially. We might have been taught to share our toys, but our parents wouldn't have been very pleased if we gave our toys away (after all, they spent good money of those). Not that we would ever give away our toys, because one of the first words to ever leave our lips as a child was "MINE!"
"Well, maybe Paul was just talking about those individuals who were stealing? They had to give out of punishment." That would be nice, except for the countless other passages that instruct Jesus followers to look after the needs of others before their own, like Philippians 2:4, "Let each of you look not to your own interest, but to the interests of others." (NRSV)
Once again, we're confronted with the tension that seems to constantly exist between the principles of our society and the calling we have as Christians to live dramatically different than most of the developed world around us. I say "developed" because in many second and third world cultures, generosity and giving are as natural as breathing. I remember a story one of my college roommates told me about going overseas on a mission trip. He told me, "You can't complement anything in their home (speaking of the people in the other county). Not even what they're wearing; because they will literally turn around and give it to you. They find more honor in giving than in possessing."
And we're going overseas to teach them about Jesus?
Tonight at Overflow (our Wednesday youth service), we're talking about generosity and the call of every Christ follower to live a life of giving. It's a tough subject, especially when you're reading stories like the "Rich Young Ruler" in Matthew 19:16-22 and most of the kids have iPhones - including the youth minister. I'm certainly not coming from the perspective of someone who personifies generosity (if you complement my truck, I'm not handing you the keys). But we have to begin to deal with the tough words of Jesus (and Paul), not hide from them or pretend they don't exist. Even if it costs us.
No matter how crazy that sounds.