When we had our first baby, Megan, I was blown away by the generosity of people in our street. Next door gave us a mountain of baby clothes, even though they’ve got a full house, with 13 grandchildren in and out. Our new neighbours on the other side, who we’d spoken to a handful of times, seemed to have bought something new for the baby every time we saw them. And it’s not just a baby thing. I’ve been put to shame as I’ve received far more practical help and love from those in my street than I’ve given.
We’ve been reading through Exodus as a family recently, and have reached the practical laws in chapter 21 onwards. It seems there were to be no boundaries for the Israelites in their concern and compassion for others. Foreigners were not excluded (22:21). Personal grievances were not to prevent aid (23:4-5). As much as I would love to just obscure the moral teaching of the Old Testament law under a blanket of redemptive-historical-fulfilment mumbo-jumbo, the truth is those laws reflect the heart of our generous God. Jesus was clothing himself with that law as he went about ministering grace to those in need, and summarising it’s teaching in the always-challenging parable of the Good Samaritan.
So why am I such a stinge-meister? Why am I so slow to seek out need around me? Why is generosity an effort rather than a knee-jerk reaction?
I’m pretty convinced it’s middle-class arrogance which needs to be confessed, gouged out and nailed to the cross. Truth is, I think of myself more highly than I ought. I see my time as valuable, my schedule as set in stone, and others as either resources to aid me, or obstacles in the way of my plans. I have an entitlement mentality rather than a grace mentality. I’m empowered, I’m self-sufficient, I’ve never needed the help of others – why would I put them in the awkward position of having to accept my help? As much as I’d like to be able to let myself off the hook by saying my gospel ministry is important and doesn’t leave time for much else, the truth is, people don’t listen to hypocrites round here.
We need to have so much deeper an experience and awareness of grace. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). I thank God for the ordinary, unsaved people around me who he has used to convict me of my sluggishness to show the grace I’ve received, and my over-inflated view of my own importance. I pray I would walk more closely with my Saviour and not just study but imitate his example.