From Consuming To Sharing
Embracing Our Ability to Change Things
by Chris Seay
Nothing is so inconsistent with the life of any Christian as overindulgence. — The Rule of Benedict
Freedom. It is a beautiful gift. As Christians, we know that Jesus came to free us from the law and the oppression that comes with religious regulations. We love to call out with the apostle Paul a slogan often quoted on these matters: “‘And where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is liberty.”1 And as Americans, we unapologetically make a spectacle of our freedom.
I have come to believe, however, that our Western understanding of freedom is not at all what Jesus came to bring us. We have allowed our love of freedom to become an excuse to live a life marked by self-absorbed consumerism.
I find it interesting that we use the term “consumption” not only for the act of eating but also the for goods we buy and use.
As we obsess over the newest technology and the latest fashions, we find the majority of our income is spent on what we love most—ourselves—while the world is hurting.
One billion people lack access to clean water, and 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation.According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to extreme poverty.Out of 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty.2The wealthiest nation on earth has the widest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.3
As Christians who are called to love the least of these, we need to realize that poverty is not just a problem, it is our problem. When we contemplate what is happening globally, we might likely agree that a large percentage of our income should be diverted immediately to care for those in greatest need. We could easily determine that 50 percent or more of our annual income should be given away. After all, if 80 percent of the world lives on less than $10 a day,4 surely we could survive on some multiple of that number. But the challenge comes when we try to transition from sharing a very small percentage of our income to radical generosity. We face bills, rent, student loans, luxurious habits, long commutes, and scores of other problems that overwhelm us and often translate to a shut down, and we change nothing about our lifestyles at all.
We need to follow the example set for us by the people of God in Acts, who shared all that they had—a striking portrait of the church getting on her feet and discovering her unique identity. One of the church’s shining features was her focus on sharing with anyone who had a need. It was as if Jesus had told them, “I will provide everything that you need; the only obstacle is that some of you will have too much and others will not have enough. IÕm counting on you to sort it out.”
This model did not start with Jesus; it goes all the way back to the Israelites and their life in the wilderness. Paul in his letters echoes the model offered to the children of Israel as an ethic for us all to live by. The kingdom is a place where everyone has enough.
In Exodus, God’s plan for gathering manna is laid out:
When they used a two-quart jar to measure it, the one who had gathered a lot didn’t have more than he needed; and the one who gathered less had just what he needed. Miraculously, each person and each family—regardless of how much they gathered—had exactly what they needed.5
Paul explains to us that this lesson was not just for God’s children in the wilderness:
The objective is not to go under [financially speaking] so others will have some relief; the objective is to use this opportunity today to supply their needs out of your abundance. One day it may be the other way around, and they will need to supply your needs from what they have. That’s equality. As it is written, “The one who gathered plenty didn’t have more than he needed; the one who gathered little didn’t have less.”6
Our problem seems clear. We have not been sharing our manna equally.
The Scriptures prescribe a remedy to our consumerism and selfishness: fasting. 7
Augustine said our fasting should always nourish the poor: “Break your bread for those who are hungry, said Isaiah, do not believe that fasting suffices. Fasting chastises you, but it does not refresh the other. Your privations shall bear fruit if you give generously to another.”8 In other words, if you pass on dinner, don’t simply leave your plate in the cupboard; give your portion to someone who has none.
In the developing world, 28 percent of children are underweight or have stunted growth. In the industrialized world our problem is exactly the opposite. Obesity in children rises year by year. In 1980 fewer than one out of ten people were obese. This number has exploded; most recent surveys indicate one out of every two people is either overweight or obese.9 It is not hard to do the math and know that what the world needs right now is for Christians in the industrialized world to take less and share more, as the (prophet) Isaiah demands. What can you and I do about it? I say we should take 40 days and participate in this kingdom experiment of taking only what we need and sharing the rest.
1. 2 Corinthians 3:17.
2. State of the World’s Children, 2005, UNICEF.
3. “Log Cabin to White House? Not Any More,” The Observer, April 28, 2002.
4. Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, “The Developing World Is Poorer than We Thought, but No Less Successful in the Fight against Poverty,” World Bank, August 2008.
5. Exodus 16:18.
6. 2 Corinthians 8:13Ð15.
7. Isaiah 58:6Ð10.
8. Augustine of Hippo, quoted in Lynne M. Baab, Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 55Ð56.
Chris Seay, A Place at the Table, Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2012. Used by permission.