“Maybe God gave us the excess not so we can have more but so we can give more”.
This is attributed to David Platt, an American pastor and author of a book called Radical. He is a mainstream Shane Claiborne without the communal living and hand made clothes. His book has been part of a movement to allow American conservative evangelicals to feel free and safe to talk about the gospel in the context of society, injustice and peace rather than sex, abortion and how we get to heaven.
I haven’t read his book so I don’t know if this quote comes from it and I don’t want to deter anyone from exploring Platt’s important message that the American dream is not an expression of the gospel. He encourages Christians to think deeply about how their time, money and selves are resources for the Kingdom of God .
Has God given us a wasteful amount of abundance in order that we may be generous givers? Does excess mean what’s left after the school fees, the mortgage, the holiday, the two cars, the kids’ clothes, the new TV, the 12 hour days and weekends packed with stuff to do? Is excess what is left over when I done playing with what I have been given? Shouldn’t we be thinking about why all the excess and the cost of acquiring it?
Scripture doesn’t teach that people are made rich so they can give it away. It teaches that if you strive to be rich you need to rethink your life. If you do carry on towards wealth you are required to embed those riches in the whole community and not just in yourself. If that isn’t what you signed up for, tough. Jesus teaches that the disciple’s journey is about losing the life they thinnk they want for the one that will last an eternity. Jesus’ followers learned that life is a process of being trimmed, pruned, shaped and reshaped.
We are like clay in the hands of a master potter.
My wife is a gifted ceramicist. When she starts a project, she looks at the lump of clay and sees what she is going to form from it. As she works she knows there will be clay left over because to make arms, legs, teapot spouts or whatever, you have to trim off clay to get the shape you saw before you started.
We might think the clay she has trimmed off is now waste, but it’s not. She does not begin with “too much clay than I needed”. That clay was, if you will, given away so that a teapot can take its shape. The scraps and trimmings go back in the bucket to be reused for new and beautiful works of art and learning and experimentation. In the end when working in clay there is no “excess”, only clay to be worked with.
Giving works the same way. We don’t give from excess, we give from ourselves. As we do so, we begin to take our proper shape. I fear all those who have said amen to the quote may be saying amen to what allows them to feel better about the prosperity they have and may feel culturally entitled to rather than a process of being shaped for the Kingdom of God.
Giving is not a transaction involving what is left over after I have met all the needs I believe I have. It comes from knowing that I am the better for giving being a regular part of my life regardless of whether I live in poverty or wealth. Excess is a condition we create; it isn’t a gift.