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ss nucleus - autumn 1995,  Dionysius Dialogues - Theft

Dionysius Dialogues - Theft

Nitpickerus and Dionysius debate the eighth commandment...

What is theft?

Nitpickerus: 'You shall not steal'[1] That's straight forward enough. What could be easier to understand and obey?

Dionysius: You underestimate it. The eighth commandment deals with our whole approach to money and possessions. The attitude we have towards material things demonstrates where our real priorities lie.[2] There are subtle ways of stealing which are as evil in God's sight as overt robbery.

Nitpickerus: Such as?

Dionysius: The theft of time. When employees start late, finish early, stretch breaks and waste time in between.[3] The theft of value. Profiteering,[4] overcharging[5] and misleading people over quantity[6] or quality[7] of purchased goods. The theft of unpaid debts. The theft of not paying for goods or services received. The Bible says that it's the wicked who borrow and do not repay.[8] The theft of unpaid tax or unpaid-for loss or damage.[9] But theft is more than just taking what's not ours. Theft also includes not giving what God expects us to give.[10]

Nitpickerus: So how much of our money should we give to God?

Whose money is it?

Dionysius: Isn't it rather how much of God's money should we keep for ourselves? In reality, everything belongsto God: our money, our possessions, even ourselves.[11] We are simply trustees, or stewards of his wealth.[12]

Nitpickerus: But I've worked very hard for what I've got.

Dionysius: Maybe, but who gave you the ability to produce wealth in the first place?[13] Your wealth is a gift from God. We're only asked to give out of what he has already given us.

Nitpickerus: But surely we mustn't neglect our own needs?

Dionysius: No-one is suggesting we do. Most of us don't have any trouble looking after our own interests. The point is that we should also look to those of others. [14]

Nitpickerus: But I don't have everything I need yet.

Needs and nest-eggs

Dionysius: Everything you need or everything you want?[15] Paul was content with food and clothing.[16] Jesus had nowhere to lay his head.[17]

Nitpickerus: lt's too risky.

Dionysius: Isn't it more risky to dishonour God?

Nitpickerus: Isn't it good stewardship to save up for the future?

Dionysius: I'm not saying that we should live without regard for the future. But this is best done by working diligently in the present[18] and looking after those possessions the Lord has given us.[19] This shouldn't stop us giving.

Nitpickerus: But isn't it wise to have a nest-egg tucked away just in case?

Dionysius: It's not wrong to prepare for anticipated seasonal shortfalls and cash-flow irregularities.[20] It's common sense. Nor is it wrong to save regularly orto store up for expected calamities. [21] It's when our saving and consumption blinds us to the present needs of others.[22] If we see need and do nothing when we have the means to help, how can we claim to have the love of God?[23] This is simply greed.

God will provide

Nitpickerus: But if we give to others, how will God provide for us?

Dionysius: That's up to him to decide. It may simply be through our own work.[24] In times of hardship it could be through family,[25] or other believers nearby or far away.[26] It could be through any means God chooses.[27]

Nitpickerus: Isn't that putting a burden on other people?

Dionysius: Not at all. It's simply expecting of them what they have a right to expect from us. It's only right that unforeseen needs should be met in this way. It's what the early church did.[28] Why shouldn't we follow their example? Meeting present need was their priority. If cash in hand was not adequate they sold assets. This is far preferable to storing up treasure on earth.[29]

Nitpickerus: But earth is exactly where most of the Christians I know have their securitv

Dionysius: I wonder why? If their security was in God I suspect they would live quite differently. God neither requires nor expects us to plan for every conceivable future eventuality. Rather he calls us to obey him in the present and leave the future to him.[30] The way to establish future security is to build up treasure in heaven.

Nitpickerus: And how does one do that?

Dionysius: Through giving.[31]

Nitpickerus: How much giving?

How much should I give?

Dionysius: That's for each individual to decide.[32] God's main concern is that our giving be generous, sacrificial,[34] cheerful, regular and proportionate.[35]

Nitpickerus: Can you be a little more specific Dionysius? For example, should Christians tithe? (give a tenth of their income) In the Old Testament the people used to tithe their crops, flocks and oil for the celebration of religious feasts, the relief of the poor and the support of the Levites.[36]

Dionysius: If Jews in the Old Testament tithed, then shouldn't we be doing at very least that?[37] If Christians tithed their income, the huge shortfall of money required for missions, Christian ministry and relief of the poor would be met overnight. God invites us to test him in this.[38] If we honour him, he will make sure our own needs are provided for.[39]

Nitpickerus: Even if we're poor?

Dionysius: In the Bible, we are told of poor people who did far more than tithe. They are commended to us as examples to follow.[40] Did God let any of them down?

Nitpickerus: What of the rich?

Dionysius: From those to whom much has been given, much will be demanded.[41] They are commanded to be generous and willing to share.[42] Paul lists greed alongside sexual immorality and idolatry it's a sin for which people were ex-communicated from the church.[43]

Nitpickerus: But I'm not wealthy. There are five hundred people in Britain with £25m or more.

Being Rich

Dionysius: Compared to 90% of the world's population Nitpickerus, you're filthy rich! You're healthy, well fed and educated, with a roof over your head. In a few short years you'll be rolling in money. Managing your finances well now will set the pattern for your whole life.[44]

Nitpickerus: But if l give away what little l've got, then I won' thave enough for myself.

Dionysius: Nothing could be further from the truth. In God's harvest, what you sow is what you reap.[45] Giving is the key which unlocks the floodgates of heaven.[38] God promises to supply not only what we need ourselves, but also to bless us so that we can bless others.[46]

Nitpickerus: So giving is a good way to get rich?

Dionysius: You mis-understand. God gives to us so that we can be channels of his grace to others.[47] It's not so we can indulge ourselves. If we really love him we will choose to live simply in order that others may simply live.[48] As we give, God provides, so that we can give more -that's how it works.

Principles of giving

Nitpickerus: I'd prefer God provided before I had to give.

Dionysius: That's not how he operates. He wants us to walk by faith. Give and it will be given to you'.[49] That's God's way. He won't let you down. Just trust him and see.[50]

Nitpickerus: So who should I give to?

Dionysius: Give to extend God's Kingdom.[51] Give to those serving God without an income. Give to those who teach you.[52] Give to those in need in the church both here and abroad.[53] Give to the poor.[54] Give secretly.[55] Give openly.[56] Just give. It's one of the greatest privileges we have as God's children.

Nitpickerus: Give. That's really radical. It certainly makes a difference from 'borrow, spend and hoard' Why is this so seldom preached about?

Dionysius: That's a very good question especially when you consider that half of Jesus' parables and one out of six verses in the New Testament are about the use of money and possessions. I suspect it reflects our own lack of faith and obedience.

Nitpickerus: I don't like to change the subject Dionysius but to be honest, my problem is not my millions in immobilised assets, but the size of my debt. Does God have anything to say about that?

Dionysius: Let's discuss it in the next issue of Nucleus.

References
  1. 1 Ex 2O:15; Mt 19:18
  2. Mt 6:21
  3. PrlO:5;11:18;Eph6:5
  4. Lv 25:37
  5. Am 8:5
  6. Lv 19:35,36; Dt25:13-16
  7. Am 8:6
  8. Ex22:14; Ps 37:21
  9. Mt 22:17,21; Rom 13:6,7; Ex2l:28-36, 22:5-15
  10. Mal 3:8,9
  11. Ps 24:1
  12. Gn 1:26-30; Mt 25:14-30
  13. Dt 8:17,18
  14. Phil 2:4
  15. Ec 5:10
  16. l Ti 6:6-8
  17. Mt8:20
  18. Pr 10:4; 28:19
  19. Pr 27:23-27
  20. Pr 30:24,25; Pr 10:5
  21. Pr 13:11; Gn 4l:46-57; Acts 11:27-30
  22. Ezk 16:49; Mt 25:41-46; Lk 16:19-31
  23. l Jn3:16,17
  24. Pr 28:19; 2 Thes 3:10
  25. 1 Ti 5:8
  26. Acts 11:29; 2 Cor 8:13-15
  27. Ex 16; 1 Ki 17:1-6; Mk 6:30-44
  28. Acts2:44,45; 4:32-35
  29. Mt6:19-21
  30. Mt 6:33
  31. Mt 19:21; Lk 12:32-34; 16:9; 1 Ti 6:18,19
  32. 2 Cor 9:7
  33. 2 Cor 9:11
  34. 2 Cor 8:1-4
  35. 1 Cor l6:1,2
  36. Gn 14:18-20; Dt 14:22-29; Lv 27:30-33
  37. Mt 5:17-20; Mt 23:23; Lk 11:42
  38. Mal 3:8-12
  39. Pr l9:17; 28:27; Lk 6:38
  40. 1 Ki 17:7-16; 2 Ki 4:1-7; Mk 12:41-44
  41. Lk l2:47,48
  42. 1 Ti 6:17,18
  43. l Cor 5:9-13
  44. Pr 22:6
  45. 2 Cor 9:6
  46. 2 Cor 9:8-11
  47. Mt 10:8
  48. 2 Cor 8:9; I Ti 6:6-8
  49. Lk 6:38
  50. Mal 3:10
  51. Lk 16:9
  52. 1 Cor 9:7,12; 1 Ti 6:17,18
  53. 2 Cor8:13-15
  54. Lk 12:33
  55. Mt 6:1-4
  56. Mt 5:14-16
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