Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
Bezalel and Oholiab and every able man in whom the Lord has put ability and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded. And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every able man in whose mind the Lord has put ability, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work; and they received from Moses all the freewill offering which the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the able men were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task hat he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work which the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let neither man nor woman do anything more for the offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained form bringing, for the stuff they had was sufficient to do all the work and more. Exodus 36:1-7
It’s hard to imagine a charitable organization turning away money because they had too much. We all get a variety of calls from charitable organizations trying to convince us to donate towards their cause and not letting us get a word in until they made their “pitch.” Can you imagine calling a charitable organization, instead of them calling you, and being told they had so much money they didn’t need yours? We can’t imagine it.
Imagine the church telling us that the congregation has collectively given too much in stewardship and not to send any more. We can’t imagine that either. To the contrary, many churches “nickel-and-dime” for many things—there is a tray as you enter the church, a tray passed before you leave (sometimes two), a tray in the hall, extra appeals at the holidays and the regular stewardship contribution. Churches not only don’t have an excess, they barely have enough to survive.
It’s hard to imagine an individual giving away money voluntarily because he or she has too much. Someone once said to me, “Is there such a thing as too much?” More money means more and better things. Ask your typical sports agent, all athletes are underpaid, even the ones who make $30M a year.
I recall a prayer from the Orthodox wedding service that prays for the couple to have “sufficiency for themselves so that they may give to those who are in need.” It is God’s intention for us to have more than what we need. It’s God’s intention for us to be able to give away what we don’t need to those who do not have sufficiency. The challenge, if you will, is to define what is sufficient. Is a condo at the beach “sufficient” or excess? What about a country club membership? A sports car? When do we cross the line from sufficient to excess?
There is nowhere in the Bible where it tells us to give away all that we have. Therefore it is not wrong to have something—a home, food, clothing, the necessities. What is more than necessary? I suppose that is an individual interpretation.
We are introduced to the concept of the tithe in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 27:32, we read: “All the tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.” I often wonder when I reflect on this verse what the demeanor of the people were as they approached the herdsman’s staff. Did they approach joyfully, or begrudgingly? Did they feel coerced or privileged?
In the Old Testament, the Law provided what was sufficient and what was spared. Whatever a person had, he was expected to utilize 90% of it and 10% was to be returned to the Lord as a tithe. The tithe was then used to support the work of the temple, some of which was charity.
The New Testament is not specific when it comes to a percentage of what is sufficient and what is excess. It is now up to the individual believer to decide. To put this in contemporary context, the tithe was like a fee. To belong required ten percent of one’s property be given back. To some that was probably a lot, and to others they probably didn’t feel it as much. In the New Testament, Christ makes us stewards of everything, temporary caretakers. He wants us to have sufficiency, but He also wants us to have a consciousness of generosity, to give generously of what He has given us back to the support of others.
I highlighted the words “what He has given us” intentionally. Here is where our understanding of generosity come from. Are we giving from what we have earned, or giving back from what He has given us? If we see what we have as strictly ours, we are more likely to hold onto it with a sense of entitlement. If we see what we have as a blessing from God, we are more likely to give some back with joy.
The best way to give is to give as we go, not wait until we have reached a ceiling. Many people have told me over the years, “once I reach a certain level financially, I’ll be able to give more,” or “once my kids are grown and gone, I’ll be able to do more.” The problem is that the financial level keeps rising so that there is no ceiling, and when the kids are grown and gone, that time is quickly replaced with something else. The best way to give is to give generously as we go. Generosity should be a way of life.
Preserve the sanctity of their home and give to them of the dew of Heaven and of the abundance of the earth. Keep their homes well supplied with grain, wine, oil, and every good thing, so that they may also give to those who are in need, and to all present here grant all petitions for salvation. For You are the God of mercy, compassion, and love, and to You we offer glory with Your Father who is from everlasting, and Your All-Holy, Good, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the Orthodox wedding service)
Grant to them a fruitful union, good children, and concord of body and soul. Exalt them as the cedars of Lebanon, like a fruitful vine. Bless them with all material gifts, so that in having sufficiency for themselves they may also abound in good works which are pleasing to You. And may they see their children’s children gathering like young olive trees around their table. And finding favor in Your sight, may they shine, like the stars in heaven, in You our Lord. For to You are due all Glory, honor, and worship, with Your Father, who is from everlasting, and Your All-Holy, Good, and Life-Giving Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the Orthodox wedding service)
God wants us to have sufficiency and to spare. Our judgment before Him will be based on how we define sufficiency and how much we’ve spared in service to others.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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