Wednesday, April 12, 2023

“That’s All I Need … I Need This!” (Money 3)


[A]ll who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

(Acts 4:34-35 NKJV; see also Acts 2:45)

    When Steve Martin’s character in the movie “The Jerk” exhausted all of the wealth he had accumulated, he became destitute. He was forced to leave all of his wealth behind. He rationalized his situation by proclaiming that he really didn’t “need” all of that wealth. Walking out of his mansion, he listed a few basic items and said “That’s all I need.” A second later, he saw something else that he wanted to keep and exclaimed “I need that! And that’s all!” Thus, he continually did as he left the mansion. What did he actually “need”? As mentioned in the previous post, for Luke, the use of money to handle the “needs” of each believer is an acceptable and positive use of money. In this blog, we consider what might constitute actual “needs.” Fifty years ago, some very close friends of ours announced to my wife and me that they were not going to acquire anything except that which they actually “needed.” It could be argued that what we actually “need” is almost nothing. We do not even “need” to live. Therefore, we do not need anything that sustains life, such as water, food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medicine, health care, etc. Of course, we “need” Jesus and his grace to save us, but that does not cost us any money. It cost Jesus dearly, but He gives us this gift of salvation freely.

Nevertheless, Luke, in Acts 2:45 and 4:34-35, describes the (quasi-communist?) practice of the early church to pool all of their possessions and distribute them to the believers, as they had “need.” Acts 6:3 even names the (distributing) office of the first seven deacons the office of “need” (χρεία the same term as in 2:45 and 4:35). Taking care of believers’ “needs” became too big a job for the apostles, so deacons were chosen to care for the believers’ “needs.” Note that the church’s “needs” ministry was for the well-being of the believers, not for poor people in the general public. In Acts 20:33-34, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he had not coveted their gold or silver or apparel, as he ministered to them, but his own hands had supplied whatever “needs” he experienced. He mentioned “apparel” as a need, but shelter and food generally are considered the equal of clothing, in terms of needs. This practice, said Paul (in verse 35), was an “example” for the elders. Paul, therefore, did not practice any type of voluntary “communism,” as some have suggested was the case for the early church in Acts 2-6. Following Paul’s example, it is good for us to work with our hands to supply our own “needs.” Paul tells the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 3:10 NKJV): “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Of course, Paul encouraged free-will “offerings” on the part of his gentile churches to assist the Jerusalem church in their times of need, but this was not a quasi-communist practice. It was much more of a quasi-capitalist practice, where those who are financially successful freely donate assistance to the less fortunate. Luke 3:10-14 (NKJV) supplies John the Baptist’s prescription for freely donating to the less fortunate:

So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

Luke 5:31 (NKJV) records Jesus answering his critics for eating with publicans and sinners: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” It is a simple deduction that Luke understood that health care was a need, just as the saving grace of Jesus was a need of publicans and sinners. Luke 9:11 states that Jesus cured those that had a need of healing. Along with Jesus’s gift of salvation, our needs include medicine, health care, and health insurance.

In Luke 10:42 (NKJV), Jesus corrects Martha who had complained that Mary was not assisting her with serving a meal. Instead, Mary had chosen to sit at Jesus’s feet and listen to His teaching. Jesus answers Martha: “One thing is needed; and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” It may sound self-serving, but I justify my expenditure of years and years, along with huge sums of money, spent to pursue education in biblical studies at Lincoln Christian University, Indiana University, the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin, and Purdue University. The student loans were quite large and I only finally paid them off after I turned 71. Did I need to spend that money? I appeal to Jesus’s answer to Martha. Do Christians need to support and learn from teachers in the local churches and Christian colleges? I think so. There are such individuals as “autodidacts” who teach themselves Christianity, and that is certainly good, but even they need to buy (or borrow) books. Furthermore, they might not be able to readily distinguish between Bible-believing scholars and liberal, skeptical scholars (wolves in sheep’s clothing). They need devout Christian mentors to guide them. Paying for

the teaching and guidance of Christian leaders is a worthy need.

Before Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He sent his disciples into Jerusalem to borrow a donkey upon which He would ride in his triumphal entry. Luke 19:31 and 34 (NKJV) record the instruction to tell the donkey’s owner: “The Lord has need of it/him.” The donkey, of course, served as Jesus’s mode of transportation. Transportation is often a need. We may debate whether our transportation need involves a wheel chair, a bicycle, a golf cart, a taxi, a new automobile, an SUV, an electric car, a train fare, a plane ticket, or even the purchase of a private Jet or helicopter. The individual Christian should be free to justify his/her transportation choice on the basis of stewardship. Jesus lived His entire earthly life in a country the size of New Jersey. He, therefore, walked much of the time (probably, a healthier approach), but he also rode boats across the Sea of Galilee and, as mentioned, He rode a donkey into Jerusalem. His pregnant mother Mary, we believe, rode a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem before His birth, and the two of them, no doubt, rode a donkey from Bethlehem to Egypt and back.

In Matthew 6:8 (NKJV), Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer with the caveat: “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” “Daily bread” would, no doubt be among those things, therefore, that are considered needs. Whether one’s “daily bread” consists of simple sliced bread or an extravagant cuisine is another matter of personal stewardship.

Regarding shelter, Luke 9:58 (NKJV) quotes Jesus: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” This quotation might be mistaken to indicate that, for Jesus, shelter was not a need, but John 1:38-39 (NKJV) clearly indicates that Jesus had lodging/shelter: “‘What do you seek?’ They said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), ‘where are You staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’” Once again, considerations concerning how elaborate one’s home might be pertain to the issue of stewardship. Churches, incidentally, which ask you to give money to their ministry, face a similar dilemma when it comes to the buildings that house the church activities. How elaborate is too elaborate? Would less elaborate quarters diminish the ministry of the church? What is the stewardship involved?

Clearly, the list of items upon which we spend money in the 21st Century far exceeds the list of what we might term “needs.” And, even those items that might be termed “needs” vary greatly in terms of elaborateness. Our meals, our clothing, our health, our shelter. Luke provides some discussion of stewardship, which we will consider in the next post. The sum of money entrusted to stewards in Luke’s various discussions is rather large. 21st Century Christians often are also made stewards of large sums of money. Even those whom we might consider “poor” among American Christians are extremely wealthy by comparison to the “poor” in Jesus’s age. Does this mean that we all are actually the “rich” upon whom Jesus pronounced “woes”? We’ll look at that, next time.

Meanwhile, I leave you with two hierarchies pertaining to “needs” in the 21st Century. The first hierarchy is a financial planning triangle I taught to my clients when I was in the financial planning business. On pages 157-158 of my book Making Offers They Can’t Refuse: The Twenty-One Sales in a Sale, I describe it:

Virtually all financial experts refer to this as the financial triangle. Notice that it is divided into three layers. The bottom layer is marked “safe.” The middle layer is marked “low-risk.” The top layer is marked “high-risk.”

… You need to build your financial future the same way you would build a house. You don't start at the roof and build downwards; you start at the foundation and build upwards. … [The first level] is the foundation.  It is marked “safe.” Before you begin to invest in low-risk areas such as mutual funds, there are four areas which financial experts encourage you to keep absolutely safe. I use an acrostic. I use the letters of the word “s-a-f-e” to help you remember them.

The letter “s” stands for “sickness.” You need health insurance to pay for doctor and hospital bills so that, if there is a special surgical procedure or medication or treatment that would save your life, they can perform it.  The money will be there.  If your sickness results in disability, so you can't go to work, you need an income to replace the income that you lost.

The letter “a” stands for “after 65.” According to social security statistics, only 10 out of 100 Americans born 65 years ago are well-to-do today. … [M]ake certain that, when you reach age 65, you will be one of the ten.

The letter “f” stands for “fatality.” When you are married and have a family, you will need at least ten times your annual income in life insurance. In other words, if you make $40,000 per year, you will need $400,000 in life insurance. …

The letter “e” stands for “emergency funds.” You need a savings account of some variety. Experts say that you should save up at least two or three months’ income, in case of an emergency. …

Once we have set up the “safe” level for you, you may consider yourself free to invest in some of the low-risk, and, eventually, maybe even high-risk areas.

That “safe” level comprises those matters that financial planners deem to be “needs.” You may not ever invest in low-risk or high-risk areas, but you need to take care of the “safe” level.

The second hierarchy is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Starting, once again, at the bottom rung of the hierarchy, such basic needs as food, water, and sleep are mentioned. Think of a poor individual seeking any kind of job that would provide enough money to provide food and shelter (somewhere to sleep). The worker might even accept a dangerous job (coal mining, off-shore drilling, policeman in New York, etc.) to receive an income that would meet these “physiological needs.” But then, that worker realizes that s/he needs safety, as well, so the worker bumps up to Maslow’s second tier of needs. He could lose his health in the coal mine. S/he could lose his/her life as a police officer. He could lose his family with an off-shore drilling job that kept him away from home. The prospect of a loss of family moves him to his third-tier set of needs: love and belonging. Perhaps, an individual would even pay money (or accept a lower income) to be able to spend more time with his/her family. Or, perhaps, an individual would accept a lower income in order to gain more esteem (the next tier in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). We have a “need” for the respect of others, for the sense that we are achieving something. Finally, one might throw away one’s entire career in order to do what one believes one is “meant to do,” what s/he was “put on earth to do,” what s/he has the “aptitude and desire for.” This final need is the need for “self-actualization.” When someone experiences a mid-life crisis, this need may be the culprit.

Maslow’s list may go beyond what Luke would count as “needs” in Luke and Acts, but I believe the list is worth considering. After all, we know that we need food, water, and sleep, but if health is on Luke’s list of needs, wouldn’t safety be, also? Love is a need that prompted God to give his only begotten Son for the world. Jesus praised (i.e., blessed) his disciples in the Beatitudes, so He surely thought they needed to receive esteem, even though the world may not have esteemed them. Jesus, above all men, understood what He was “meant to do,” what He was “put on earth to do,” and he paid an ultimate price to be self-actualized. What do you actually “need”? Give consideration to these things.

In the next post, the subject of stewardship.

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