Home » Meditations

Rabbula of Edessa: Diligently distribute

“Let the person who has ears listen!” Mark 7:16, cf. Matthew 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22.

“For [Rabbula] wisely understood in his soul that the decorations of this world and the anxiety of riches, like briars and thorns, choke the seed of the word of God in the unwary, and it does not produce fruits [cf. Matt. 13:3-9]. Because of this, he labored to hurl from himself all the hard burden of the chains of riches [cf. Matt. 19:16-30], so that the word of God that he received might easily sprout up within him and yield fruits thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold [cf. Matt. 13:18-23; Mark 4:3-20]. Thus with joy he accepted the command of our Lord: “Whosoever does not leave behind all his possessions cannot be my disciple” [Luke 12:13-21; 14:26-27, 33]. He diligently distributed and gave all that he had to the poor so that his righteousness would stand firm forever. He even sold his estates and he properly distributed to the needy the money he received from their sale, so that, by the means of them, his deposits to the heavenly treasury, along with their profits, might mount up. There his treasures would be kept safe for him. He set free all his slaves, both those born in the hours and those bought by money, and he provisioned and sent away in peace each and every one of them. He instructed, taught, and brought some of them to the monasteries…”

Rabulla of Edessa (c. 350-435) in The Heroic Deeds of Mar Rabbula, translated by Robert Doran in Stewards of the Poor: The Man of God Rabbula, and Hiba in Fifth Century Edessa (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 2006), 71-72, 76-78, 85-86, as recounted by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 149-150.

If you are unfamiliar with Rabulla of Edessa, the final generosity champion cited in this exploration of wealth and poverty in early Christianity, then join the club. I had not heard of him either.

Rhee adds helpful background about this heroic character (xlv-xlvi): “Rabbula not only gives all his wealth, but channels all the private contributions to and accumulated wealth of the church in Edessa to support widows, orphans, the poor, and the sick. Rabbula argued that Christians ought to give away their surplus, living on only what is necessary in life; whatever the church receives from these faithful should be used to provide for the needs of the poor. His love for the poor is highlighted by restoring the hospital for the men and building one for the women of the city. Though idealized, the Life shows Rabbula in action, in actual engagement and interactions with the poor, as their patron – praying for them, caring for them, and comforting them through his touch, especially the lepers. This is how the church serves the welfare of the city.”

In reflecting on Rabbula and the example of prominent saints of the first five centuries, the Spirit led me to meditate on today’s Scripture, which was cited in one of the texts associated with today’s reading. It is the most repeated expression in the New Testament. I cite it along with today’s post from Rabbula of Edessa with this admonition: I can’t make you join me in following the example of these joyful and diligent distributors, but can say this, if you do, you won’t regret it, now and for eternity.

“Let the person who has ears listen!” That, of course, includes everyone. May our lives and churches follow their example.

Read more

Leo the Great: Unfaithful and unjust

Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. Though while they live they count themselves blessed — and people praise you when you prosper — they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life. People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish. Psalm 49:16-20

“But those are unfaithful and even unjust to themselves, who do not want to have forever what they value worthy of their love. However much they add to their wealth, however much they store and accumulate, they will leave this world helpless and needy, as David the prophet said: “For when he dies he will take nothing away, nor shall his glory descend with him” [Psalm 49:17 (48:16 LXX)].

If any would be kind to their own souls, they should entrust their goods to Him who is a faithful trustee of the poor and a most generous payer of interest. But an unrighteous and shameless greed, which, pretending to offer benefit while it deceives them, does not trust God whose promise never fails, and yet trusts people who make such hasty bargain. While they regard the present more certain than the future, they often and deservedly find that the desire of the unjust gain is the cause of not an unjust loss.”

Leo the Great (c. 400-461) pope and doctor of the church, in Sermon 17.2 delivered 17 December 444, translated by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 146. This is the second to last post in a two-week sojourn through Rhee’s collection of early Christian writings. Thanks to all those who have expressed appreciation for this adventure in antiquity.

Rhee puts this sermon in context (xliv): “In the mid-440s Leo instituted a special collection for the poor as a united effort by the Christians in the city of Rome intended to counter an ostentatious pagan festival. This provides a context for his selected sermons. Leo followed Augustine in his basic orientation to wealth and accepted it as God’s good gift not to be shunned but to be used and managed well on behalf of the poor, through the church, to the spiritual interest of the possessor.”

The ancients collectively help us grasp what understanding must accompany riches. To hold them justly is to give generously to God’s workers for distribution to those in need, which is how we entrust goods to the only faithful Trustee and Payer of interest. To hold them any other way is to be unfaithful and unjust toward ourselves. To store and accumulate what God intends to be put in play is the desire for unjust gain. In plain terms, tilting the balance toward yourself, does not help you, it hurts you.

Be kind to your soul. Don’t shipwreck your faith, as the Apostle Paul put it (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9). Or, in the words of Jesu, don’t try to gain the whole world, and in so doing, lose your soul (cf. Mark 8:36). You who are good at earning wealth, become even better at distributing it. Who knows, perhaps God will heap even more in your coffers to dispense. If you get this profound idea and grasp your role as simply a manager for the Master, you will take hold of life in the economy of God.

Read more

Augustine of Hippo: Show mercy

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7

“Although the haughty rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day, died and was tormented in hell, but if he had shown mercy to the poor man [Lazarus] covered with sores who lay at his door and was treated with scorn, he himself would have received mercy [Luke 16:19-31]. And if the poor man’s merit had simply been his poverty, not his goodness, he surely would not have been carried by angels into the bosom of Abraham who had been rich in this life. This is intended to show us that on the one hand it was not poverty in itself that was divinely honored, nor on the other, was it that riches were condemned, but that the godliness of the one and the ungodliness of the other had their own consequences…”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) Letter 157: To Hilarius based on the translation by Peter C. Phan in Social Thought (Wilmington: Glazier, 1984), revised and expanded by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 120-121.

As I near the end of this two-week journey of exploring wealth and poverty in early Christianity, I again am struck by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus yet again. It’s becoming more clear to me. With it, Jesus seems to illustrate a core beatitude: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

Taking hold of life in the kingdom of heaven is not about doing works that win salvation. It’s about knowing Christ and those who know Him show mercy even as they have received mercy. They exhibit godliness. Many say we cannot be more like Christ when we give. I think an even stronger act of generosity is showing mercy, because showing mercy inverts everything the world celebrates.

Rhee adds a helpful note along these lines (xli): “In the classical Greco-Roman understanding, the rich person, the person with possessions and status, was considered to be the good person, the virtuous one; the one without possessions or social status was, therefore, considered to be not virtuous. Augustine inverts the paradigm. People do not become virtuous by their possessions, but the goods (e.g. riches, positions, honor, etc.) become good in the hands of the virtuous only as the latter make good use of the former for the sake of the true (heavenly) life…”

I was recently having coffee with a Denver Seminary student who was struck by the candor of his professor. In a class discussion about justice and the inequities in this world, the student ask the professor, “Why don’t so many Christians show mercy to the poor?” The professor, without flinching, replied, “They simply don’t know God. They may think they are a Christian, but their actions show otherwise.”

So the question each of us needs to ask ourselves is this: Do my actions show I know Christ?

Read more

Ambrose of Milan: Redemption

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him. Acts 10:37-38

“People’s riches should work towards the redemption of their souls, not their destruction. Wealth is redemption if one uses it well; it is a snare if one does not know how to use it. For what is people’s money if not provision for their journey? A great amount is a burden; a moderate sum is useful. We are pilgrims in this life; many are walking along but we must make a good journey in order to have Christ as our fellow-traveler who spent His life on earth doing good…

Happy are the ones who have been able to cut out the root of vices, avarice. Surely they will not fear the balance of justice. Avarice generally dulls people’s sense and perverts judgments, so that they think of profit as piety and money as reward of prudence. But great is the reward of piety and the advantage of moderation; the possession of these virtues is sufficient. For what do superfluous riches profit in this world if they do not assist in our birth and impede our dying…

Let your people seek the riches of good works and be rich in character. The beauty of riches is not in the purses of the rich, but in their support of the poor. In the weak and needy, riches shine brighter. Let the wealthy learn to seek not their own interests, but those of Christ’s, so that Christ may seek them out and bestow His possessions on them. He spent His blood for them, He poured out His Spirit; He offers them His kingdom.”

Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) in Letter 2: To Bishop Constantius (before Lent 379), translated by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 112-113.

Rhee adds these helpful notes (xl): “Ambrose believes that the earth and its resources are the common property of humankind in the sense that all human beings have a “natural right” to make use of them; private ownership is always contingent and limited its use for the common good, particularly for the poor and for the good of the possessor’s soul.” In plain terms, he was not trying to rob people of riches but help them use and relate to them rightly, following God’s design.

My mind stuck on the word “redemption” today. In Scripture we see that theme often. The Apostle Paul calls us to redeem time or exchange less useful activities for more useful ones because of evil days in which we live (cf. Ephesians 5:16). To go about doing good like Jesus requires us to redeem or exchange saving for ourselves for sharing with others, consumerism for contentment, and to put it bluntly, abandoning useless ways for useful ones.

Black Friday sales have started already. They are everywhere. Redeem the resources God has entrusted to you to accomplish kingdom purposes. Do this with the same urgency as racing to buy a gift that is only available for a limited time. You may think I am crazy today, but you may thank me, or rather, thank blokes like Ambrose, when you get to the eternal kingdom. Sure the days are evil, but life in the kingdom starts now and only gets better!

Read more

John Chrysostom: Robbery is taking and keeping

But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.” Luke 16:25-26

“The rich man [Luke 16:19-31] has not committed a sin of injustice against Lazarus, since he did not rob him of his possessions. His sin consisted rather in not giving part of his own possessions. Now if the one who does not give part of his possessions is prosecuted by the one whom he did not pity, what forgiveness can he obtain who steals possessions of others, since those whom he has oppressed will encircle him on all sides? He will need no witnesses, no prosecutors, no proofs, no evidence – but the facts themselves, as they appear before our eyes… Thus, not giving part of one’s possessions to others is already a kind of robbery. If what I am telling you sounds rather odd, do not be surprised… A robbery is taking and keeping what is not one’s own.”

John Chyrsostom (c. 349-407) in “Homilies on the Rich Man and Lazarus” based on the translation by Peter C. Phan in Social Thought (Wilmington: Glazier, 1984), revised and expanded by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 87-88.

Rhee adds these helpful thoughts (xxxviii): “The essence of riches is its usefulness to the common good and use – the alleviation of the sufferings of the poor of the society. Thus, a sin of omission (not sharing or giving alms in proportion to one’s wealth) is just as wicked as a sin of commission (robbery or usury); both form a crime of inhumanity as they destroy the human bond of solidarity and interdependence.”

While I have read the rich man and Lazarus story in Luke’s Gospel many times, Chrysostom reminded me today that my actions reveal my beliefs. If my actions reveal that I am either taking from others (sin of commission) or keeping the fruit of my work for myself (sin of omission), I reveal that I am not a disciple of Jesus and destined to join the rich man. Our actions reveal our beliefs and shape our eternal destiny.

Consider the actions of John Chyrsostom. Rhee notes (xxxvii): “John also led churches to organize relief efforts for widows, orphans, virgins, beggars, homeless immigrants, the sick, and the poor through church-administrated orphanages, hostels, and hospitals.” What we do shows whom we serve. John Chrysostom, in his homilies and his humble service, showed that he was not a robber; he was rich toward God. What do our actions show?

Read more

Gregory of Nazianzus: It is impossible to surpass God in our giving

Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. Ecclesiastes 11:2

“Let us now follow the Word. Let us seek our rest in the world to come, and cast aside our surplus possessions in this world. Let us only hold on to what is good from all these things: let us gain our souls by acts of mercy; let us share what we have with the poor so that we may be rich in the abundance of heaven. Give a portion of your goods to your soul, not just to your body; give a portion to God, not just to the world. Take something away from the belly and consecrate it to the Spirit. Snatch something from the fire, store it far from the consuming flame below. Seize it from the tyrant, and entrust it to the Lord.

Give a portion to the “seven” — that is, to this life — and also to the “eight” — to the life that you will receive after this. Give a little to Him from whom you have received much; even give your all to the One who has given all to you. You will never surpass God’s bountiful generosity, even if you hand over your entire property and yourself in the bargain. Indeed, to receive in the truest sense is to be given to God. However much you contribute, there is always more left over; and you are never giving away what is your own, since all things come from God.

Just as it is impossible to step over your own shadow, which moves along exactly as far as we do and always reaches out the same distance before us — just as the height of a body cannot exceed the head, since the head is always above the body — so, too, it is impossible to surpass God in our giving. For we never give Him anything that does not belong to Him or that outshines His munificence…”

Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 329-390) in Oration 14: On the Love of the Poor translated by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 81-82. The three Cappadocian Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus, cared so deeply for the poor and the sick that they helped construct some of the earliest hospitals.

Rhee adds this helpful note, citing Brian Daley (82): “Gregory apparently takes the number ‘seven’ here to refer to life in this world, created in seven days, and ‘eight’ to refer to the new creation, bringing with God’s ‘eighth day’ of resurrection.” Basically, Gregory calls us to live not for this life, but for the life to come through how we live, give, serve and love others.

When we follow the Word and grow in generosity we discover that “it is impossible to surpass God in our giving.” Don’t be inspired today, be deployed. Go, make a plan and share surplus possessions right away. Don’t leave them to children. Give your kin an inheritance that will not fade away by instilling in them a deep faith that is worth more than money. Show them how to be “rich in the abundance of heaven.”

Read more

Gregory of Nyssa: Grudging uncharitable heart

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

“God Himself is the prime Author of beneficence, the rich and generous Provider of all that we need. But we, who are taught in every letter of Scripture to imitate our Lord and Maker — we snatch everything to our own enjoyment, assigning some things to ourselves to live upon, hoarding the rest for our heirs. Merciless as we are, we care nothing for the unfortunate, we give no kindly thought to the poor. We see a fellow human with no bread to eat, no food to sustain life itself; yet far from hastening to help, far from offering that person a rescue, we leave him like a once sturdy plant to wither unwatered pitifully away under a scorching sun — and this even if we have wealth to overflowing and might let the channels of our abundance run forth to comfort many. The flow from one river-source brings richness to many a spreading plain; so the wealth of one household is enough to preserve multitudes of the poor, if only a grudging uncharitable heart does not fall like a stone to block the passage and hinder the stream.”

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394), the younger brother of Basil the Great and Bishop of Nyssa in Cappadocia, also known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers, in On the Love of the Poor based on the translation by Peter C. Phan in Social Thought (Wilmington: Glazier, 1984), revised and expanded by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 73-74.

Rhee notes (xxxvi): “[Gregory] describes the destitute in general and emphasizes again their dignity, sharing the image of God. This common humanity as natural kin warrants common and equal sharing of resources with one another against one’s exclusive and absolute ownership.”

Two statements along these lines stuck with me. Perhaps they did with you as well. The first generalizes how people relate to possessions from God: “we snatch everything to our own enjoyment, assigning some things to ourselves to live upon, hoarding the rest for our heirs.”

Times sure have not changed much. Whether in the fourth or the twenty-first century, people claim “private ownership” when God owns everything. While God’s Word does allow for “private property” it is always, always, always owned by God and to be stewarded according to His purposes.

Here’s other statement that hit me, perhaps because I am a fly fisherman: “The flow from one river-source brings richness to many a spreading plain; so the wealth of one household is enough to preserve multitudes of the poor, if only a grudging uncharitable heart does not fall like a stone to block the passage and hinder the stream.”

We must neither “snatch everything to own enjoyment” nor “fall like a stone to block the passage” of provision God supplies for us to share. Let us imitate the generosity of our Lord and Maker. Ask God to guide you in putting to work whatever surplus you have for His glory.

Read more

Basil of Caesarea: Heavenly sowing

Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers His righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12

“Imitate the earth; bring forth fruit as it does; should your human status be inferior to a lifeless thing? The earth brings forth fruits not for its own pleasure but for your service; you can reap for yourselves the fruit of all generosity because the rewards of good works return to those who offer them. If you give to the hungry the gift becomes your own and comes back to you with increase. As the wheat falling on the ground brings forth a gain for the one who scatters it, so the grain bestowed on the hungry brings you profit a hundredfold hereafter. Make the end of harvesting the beginning of heavenly sowing, “Sow for yourselves unto justice,” the Scripture says [Hos. 10:12]…

“I am not doing anything wrong to anyone,” you say, “I hold fast my own, that is all.” Your own! Who gave it to you to bring into life with you? You are like the one who takes a seat in a theatre and then keeps out newcomers, claiming as his own what is there for the use of everyone. Such are the rich; they seize what belongs to all and claim the right of possession to monopolize it; if everyone took for oneself enough to meet one’s own wants and gave up the rest to those who needed it, there would be no rich and no poor.

Did you not come naked out of the womb, and will you not go back naked to earth again [cf. Job 1:21]? Whence came the riches you have now? If you say from nowhere, you deny God, you ignore the Creator, and you are ungrateful to the Giver. But if you acknowledge they came from God, tell us the reason why you received them. Is God unjust when He distributes the necessaries of life unequally? Why are you rich and another poor? Surely it is that you may win the reward of generosity and faithful stewardship, and the poor the noble prizes of patience…”

Basil of Caesarea (330-379) a.k.a. Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, also known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers, in Homily 6: “I Will Pull Down My Barns” edited and translated by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 58-60.

Rhee adds this helpful background (xxxiv): “In 368, a catastrophic drought and famine…struck Caesarea and its surrounding area, resulting in massive crop failures and a severe food storage throughout the region…In Homily 6: “I Will Pull Down My Barns” (c. 369), Basil displays his homiletic efforts to open the local granaries during the famine as part of institutional relief… Basil describes the poor as victims of injustice and addresses his audience as the rich who willfully deprive the poor of grain, intent to make a profit while taking from the poor whatever they have.

Practically in modern settings today, we can “make the end of harvesting the beginning of heavenly sowing” by making giving to meet the needs of a neighbor the first thing we do with any surplus money beyond what is necessary for ourselves. Sure we must give to our local church and to ministries that do the work of God, but we must not forget to love our neighbor. With Basil we must not view any money as our own, especially any surplus, but put it to work to benefit others so that we too may “win the reward of generosity and faithful stewardship.”

Read more

Lactantius of Rome: Abundant works of mercy

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, cf. Exodus 16:18

“God who created human beings and gave them breath of life wanted all to be equal. He instituted all the same conditions of living for everyone; He made us all capable of wisdom; He promised immortality to all; no one is cut off from God’s heavenly benefits. Just as God distributes His light equally to all, sends forth His fountains to all, supplies food, and gives the sweet rest of sleep to all, so He bestows equity and virtue on all.

With Him no one is a slave and no one is a master; for if He is the same Father to all, we are all His children with equal rights. No one is poor in God’s eyes except the one lacking justice; no one is rich except the one full of virtues; moreover, no one is excellent except the one with goodness and innocence; no one is most renowned except the one with abundant works of mercy; no one is more perfect except the one having fulfilled virtue in all degrees.

Therefore, neither the Romans nor the Greek could possess justice because they kept people distinct in different levels from the poor to the rich, from the humble to the powerful, from common people to the highest authorities of kings. Where people are not all equal, there is no equality; and inequality excludes justice of itself. The whole force of justice lies in the fact that it makes equal everyone who comes into this human condition on equal terms.”

Lactantius of Rome (c. 240-320) in Divine Institutes 5:14, based on Peter C. Phan translation in Social Thought (Wilmington: Glazier, 1984), revised and expanded by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 50. Lactantius served as spiritual advisor to the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine, and tutor to his son, Crispus.

Christianity lived out with generosity in every generation always leads to Christian sharing that brings equality. This is not about communism, socialism, capitalism, or any other political ideology. It’s about viewing and treating people as God views and treats them. When one person is hungry and the other has surplus, God’s design for His people since providing manna for them in the wilderness has always been for them to share. That’s Christian justice.

I titled today’s post “abundant works of mercy” because that’s the core issue in play. The fact that each of us has received mercy from Christ, means we have not gotten what we deserve; that’s mercy. To get what we don’t deserve, that’s grace. And to dispense surplus to the needy, especially the undeserving, with grace and mercy, is justice. Christian sharing that brings equality won many in the ancient world and is the only answer for ours too.

Rhee adds these helpful thoughts (xxx): “The key to achieving and acting out Christian justice and aequitas [equity] in the present (in his society) is service to fellow humans… Lactantius debunks a deep seated Greco-Roman custom of reciprocity and patronage… Christian generosity and charity should be directed to “the unsuitable” as far as possible, “because a deed done with justice, piety and humanity is a deed you do without expectation of return” (6.11).

Thus, equality in the present is something that is true irrespective of social and economic distinctions but demand that the works of justice be directed to the poor and desperate (“the needy and the useless”) entirely irrespective of their worthiness and reciprocity. Well before the passionate arguments of the Cappadocian Fathers and John Chrysostom in the East, and Ambrose and Augustine in the West, Lactantius championed the humanity of the needy and the useless.”

Read more

Cyprian of Carthage: Without delay and in abundance

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will reward them for what they have done. Proverbs 19:17

“What the adversary tried to take away, let Christ receive; your property must not be retained now or loved; by which you have been both deceived and conquered. Such wealth is to be avoided as an enemy, to be fled as a thief, to be feared by its possessors as a sword and poison. What has remained should be of benefit, only to this end that the crime and sin may be redeemed by it. Let your good works, be done without delay and in abundance; let all your wealth be expended on the healing of the wound; let us lend our goods and means to the Lord, who is to be our Judge. Thus faith flourished under the apostles’ time; thus the first people of the believers kept Christ commands — they were prompt; they were generous; they gave all to be distributed by the apostles…”

Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258) in On The Lapsed 35, edited and translated by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 41. I shot the new header photo on my evening walk last night with my wife and our dog.

Rhee adds this commentary (xxvii): “As the sign of true repentance, the (wealthy) lapsed should apply themselves frequently to “almsgiving, by which souls are freed from death” (35; cf. Tob. 12:8). Cyprian urges them to invest their earthly goods and riches with their Lord, their coming Judge, a practice that could allow them to be readmitted and reconciled to the church.”

A time of peace between instances of persecution may have caused Christ followers in the third century to become complacent in their faith. Rather than participate in a community of sharing, many appear to have stored up treasures for themselves. It sounds similar to America in modernity. Prosperity contributes to the tendency for Christians to assimilate to the culture, rather than functioning as a caring community.

Cyprian beckons followers of Christ to do good works “without delay and in abundance” like the first believers by holding nothing back. Ironically, people focus on how much people give and God focuses on how much we hold back. What we retain impacts us like poison and betrays our misplaced trust. We can gain the world and lose our souls in the final judgment, but when we distribute it to the poor, we can be sure of reward from the Judge.

This is not about earning salvation through almsgiving. It’s about generosity serving as a sign of genuine faith. Cyprian seems to echo James who said that faith without good works is dead (cf. James 2:17), and that faith with good works is alive and reflects the pattern the apostles set forth for us in obedience to Christ. Wealth was good then, and is good now, only insomuch as it is used according to God’s purposes.

Read more
Page 1 of 30512345...102030...Last »