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The inventive mechanical genius of Robert Gilmour Letourneau’s (1888–1969) led to the development of almost three hundred patents in the field of earthmoving. Though he dropped out of school with only a seventh-grade education, his inventions would dominate the large construction equipment used by the Allied forces during World War II. His sister challenged him at an early age to get serious about serving God, which he thought meant becoming a preacher or a missionary. But after he prayed with his pastor about his calling, the pastor told him, “God needs businessmen too.” Letourneau’s decision to become “God’s business partner” motivated him to eventually give away 90 percent of his vast earnings to charitable projects all over the world. He said, “I shovel money out and God shovels it back, but God has a bigger shovel.”
Perhaps, like me, you have heard stories like this before. On the one hand, you might marvel at how God has used the generosity of Christian men and women to give of their time, treasure, and talent to the glory of God. On the other hand, I don’t think many of us believe we have any realistic opportunity to emulate such a person and even wonder if these stories simply belong to the “good ol’ days.” Moreover, we may question the value of using such gifts outside the local church, since Scripture specifically highlights doing good “especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
Though we should indeed make sure we are caring for the needs of our brothers and sisters first (Deut. 15:7–8; 1 John 3:16–18), Paul doesn’t allow us to minimize generosity to nonbelievers. He writes: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:9–10). The clarion call remains to do good to everyone as God gives opportunity. How often do we think about how the providence of God has been so aligned as to give us opportunity to shine the light of Christ into the world’s darkness through our God-given gifts?
We must first consider the abundant supply that is God Himself. The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). Famously, John’s gospel states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). James tells us that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17). God causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust in His beneficence (Matt. 5:45). If these considerations aren’t enough to humble us in wonder, Paul asks in 1 Corinthians this piercing question: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (4:7).
In responding to God’s generosity, we mustn’t get stuck on giving money alone. Each of us possesses the time on earth that God has given us as a resource to steward. He has also given us specific talents, whether they be cooking a meal, singing a song, designing a landscape, caring for a grandchild, constructing a building, diagnosing a disease, teaching a math lesson, or sweeping a floor. Consider the good we can unleash in granting our forgiveness to someone who has wounded us deeply. What about the sacrifice of our time and attention in being “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19)? Are we a people who are prayerfully using our various talents so that others may be blessed? Do we know the reality of what our Lord Jesus taught when He assured us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)?
I think that at times we may get stuck in extremes as we think of how to give our gifts outside the church. We might embrace cultural retreat like the monastics or a “Christ against culture” mindset. Or we look to the opposite temptation of social gospel liberalism, which has been called “Christ in culture” thinking. Let’s be clear: neither escape from our culture on the one hand nor developing more access to soup lines and clean water on the other hand can usher in the kingdom of God without the call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We must hold on to the tension of proclaiming the gospel in Word and living it out in deed. The world is always watching Christians, a fact that bears strongly on the giving of our time, treasure, and talents.
God doesn’t need flashy or sophisticated programs. I am moved to see members in my own church who sacrificially give of their time at a local pregnancy center, where they pray and share the love of Christ with fearful and often desperate mothers-to-be for the cause of life. Likewise, I am grateful for those in my church who give of their time and talents teaching the Bible’s ethic of work in an organization dedicated to helping men and women find meaningful vocations. Jesus openly and pressingly calls on Christians to a life that rises above that of the common human instinct to give to those who can give back or to those who are close to us in kinship and creed (Matt. 5:47; Luke 14:12–14). It is when our giving makes no sense to the world’s economy of giving and being repaid in kind that the world scratches its head and is beckoned to behold the economy of God’s kingdom, where beggars who have received bread go running to the hungry with gifts of mercy and kindness.