I used to sing a song in church that went: “He said, ‘Freely, freely, thou hast received / Freely, freely give.” The lyrics were based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:
“These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them… ‘Proclaim as you go, saying “The kingdom of heaven is at hand’… You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff.’” (Matthew 10:5-10)
Jesus was speaking of ministering and teaching without demanding compensation. The disciples had received Jesus’s teaching and forgiveness at no cost to themselves. We have received the same, and even more in the Holy Spirit. These are eternally valuable things that no money could ever buy. How much more is this same principle applicable to the small things of life that are worth less?
As Clayton and I live in a place where the unmet needs of life are constantly within sight, I have been doing a lot more thanking in my prayers. And thinking. About how everything I have – and have ever had – was freely given to me.
I grew up on welfare and food stamps. Growing up, food was often brought to us in boxes from some church. The homes we lived in were on the charity of family. I attended private school on the money of some unknown donor (my mom always tried to guess who it was). I was able to go to church camps because of donations. I remember all the other kids’ parents sent them spending money, and I knew I wouldn’t have any. I wasn’t expecting any. But then they called me in and gave me an envelope and it had 5 dollars for every day of camp in it. I didn’t even know what to do with it. I felt so rich. That’s the thing about the way we received: I never felt that we received other people’s scraps. We were often given more than would have been acceptable to live on.
Our Christmas gifts were always donated, because our names were on those Angel Tree Donation lists. I remember my favorite jacket came out of a box full of free clothes on the street in San Francisco. I remember the first time we got a computer. I think we got it for free, or really cheap, and I was telling all my friends about it. My older brother told me not to tell people we didn’t pay for it, because that was embarrassing. I didn’t know. I just thought it was awesome that we had it.
We had so many stories like that. I don’t really think about them anymore. They just come tumbling out when I turn my memory back.
“Do not…enter the fields of the fatherless, for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.” (Prov 23:11)
My Redeemer has been strong. He gave me a husband, one who loves me and loves the Scriptures and works hard – at work and at his Bible – to provide for us. But even then, nothing we’ve had made any sense apart from God’s hand. The house we lived in, just before we came to Africa, was free. Clayton’s computer was free. Without a college degree, Clayton got a really well-paying job (at SpaceX nonetheless!), enough that I was able to stop working, and we still paid off our debts.
One time we were sitting at a booth in Coco’s and the waitress told us that our food had been paid for by some couple listening to our conversation about ministry. I know that seems like a small example, but the God who knows all the sparrows in the world also remembers that couple. He will “repay [them] at the resurrection of the just.”
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. (Prov. 19:17)
Even now, our livelihood as missionaries is paid for by supporters. Which means every single thing we have, including the coffee we drink in the mornings, is a gift we didn’t work for.
“He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47), and it seems to me that with all the things we’ve been given, it would be the height of ingratitude to then turn around and refuse to give whatever we can. God has often asked us both to be poor, and frankly, we are more at ease with that. The poor will never stand before God and give account for their poverty. I believe I have truly prayed Proverbs 30:8-9 (“Give me neither poverty nor riches…“). But in God’s sovereignty, He has lately given us much more than we need. It seems to me that the only safety in having received so much is in opening our fingers and letting the oil that falls into our hands pour right through them into someone else’s. Living on support, we may not have much money to give. But God’s bar is ‘Whoever has two tunics…and whoever has food” (Luke 3:11). I certainly have more than two pieces of clothing! And we almost always have extra groceries. And we have much more than that. We have time, and energy, and knowledge of God’s Word to give. We must not, as has been said, “give of our superfluity and draw back before the sacrifice of ourselves.”
There are, of course, both wise and foolish ways to give. I am not convicted to be a fool. But in our desire to avoid foolishness, there is a danger of failing to demonstrate basic Christian kindness. One thing Clayton told me from his study of Philippians 4:10-19 is that whenever excess exists in the church, it is because someone else in the church has need. We are not allowed to use resources in any selfish way we want simply because we think we deserve them. This is on the authority of the Word of God, and even if I’d never had any personal experience, I would still need to believe and act on it. But I have had personal experience – plenty of it. And if I have the world’s possessions, and see my brother in need, and shut my heart up against him, “how abideth the love of God in me?”
“A cruel hardness is abroad which talks philosophy and renounces giving alms for fear of disturbing our delightful social economy. Almsgiving, if we are to believe some men, has become a crime and the truly good man is he who never interferes with the work of the poor law. To these people it seems odd that our Lord should have commended anything so inconsistent with political economy as giving to the poor. According to the modern school, we may expect those to be blessed who see people hungry and give them no meat, thirsty and give them no drink, sick and in prison and never visit them, because hungry people should go to the parish and thirsty people to the pump. I trust, however, that the Christian spirit which is pitiful to the poor will never die out among us and that, notwithstanding all the difficulties under which we may have to labor, we may not be weary in well-doing.” (Charles Spurgeon)