On Stuff and Stinginess

“I hope that everyone gets to rich and famous and have everything they ever wanted so they could see it isn’t the answer.”

This quote, most often attributed to actor Jim Carrey, has become a popular meme on social media over the last few years. Its frequent sharing is rather revealing about where we imagine our true treasures to be. Most of us, in fact, understand that we have about as much chance of becoming rich and famous (and “have everything we ever wanted”) as we do of living on Mars in our lifetime. So it doesn’t hurt to adopt this sentiment, as we don’t run much risk of finding out for ourselves. And yet accepting our own financial meagerness or even “making do” with a middle class existence doesn’t seem to eradicate the dream of having more, does it?

How much will be enough? “Just a little more,” we think. But to chase “enough” on earth is to, as Solomon says, “chase the wind.” We can take some important cues from Solomon in this regard. As one of the most powerful and most prestigious kings in all of history, he had more than he could have ever dreamed. In Ecclesiastes 2:4-11, he recounts all the material goods he had managed to acquire. Mansions, gardens, lakes, servants, livestock, silver and gold, concubines, art, and artists! In the end, he calls the entire work of accumulation “futile” (v.11). Why?

Well, he says, in Ecclesiastes 3:11, God has put eternity into our hearts. This is that God-shaped hole we hear so much about. Because we are made in God’s image, we were made for eternity, to carry the glory of the infinite. Because of sin, we are fallen. The glory is obscured; the hole is a wound. We feel the ache, but we don’t know how to heal ourselves. And yet we try. With pleasure, with achievements, even with religion! But especially with stuff. We throw anything and everything into that God-shaped hole, the eternity inside of us, but none of it will fill the void. You cannot satisfy the infinite with the stuff of earth. No, only eternal glory can fill an eternal space.

In 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, Paul speaks to the glory of God granted to poor sinners in the good news of the sinless person and atoning work of Jesus Christ:

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God granted to the churches of Macedonia: During a severe testing by affliction, their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed into the wealth of their generosity. I testify that, on their own, according to their ability and beyond their ability, they begged us insistently for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints, and not just as we had hoped. Instead, they gave themselves especially to the Lord, then to us by God’s will. So we urged Titus that just as he had begun, so he should also complete this grace to you. Now as you excel in everything—faith, speech, knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love for us—excel also in this grace.

I am not saying this as a command. Rather, by means of the diligence of others, I am testing the genuineness of your love. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.

Notice that Paul is not just speaking to the application of the gospel to our souls but also to the implications of that gospel to the souls of others. The Macedonian Christians were impoverished and afflicted, and yet they shared all they had with others in need. It turns out that this glory poured into our hearts fills us up and then overflows! It is big enough to satisfy our every need and at the same time too big for us.

For Paul and the Macedonian churches, spreading the love of God through sacrificial generosity made perfect sense. God the Father had been generous with them in his amazing love despite their rebellion. God the Son had been generous with them in his atoning substitution despite their sin. God the Spirit had been generous with them in his gifts and comfort despite their weakness. What person impacted by all that grace could turn around and be stingy toward others?

In Hebrews 10:34 we read how the Christians “accepted with joy” the confiscation of their possessions, because they knew they had “a better and enduring possession.” This is exactly what Paul is getting at in 2 Corinthians 8. He knows that once someone finds the treasure of Christ, all earthly treasures become comparatively paltry. This doesn’t make money or material possessions unimportant, but it does make them un-ultimate. Like the Macedonian churches, we can be generous with others precisely because the generosity of God with us satisfies our deepest needs, liberating us from our idolatrous wants and prompting us to improve the lots of others. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19), and we give because he first gave to us.