Gen. 3:14-24, 1 Jn. 4:7-21, Lk. 9:12-17
The Bible opens in mission (Gen. 1:27-28), and the mission is predicated on abundance not scarcity (Gen. 1:29, 2:8-15). The mission of the Church rests on an even greater abundance in the inheritance and authority of Jesus (Mt. 28:18-20, Rom. 8:32). Sin is the assumption of scarcity of goodness, justice, and mercy in the world. Grace is the assumption of abundance. Because of the Fall, there truly is enormous need, suffering, and injustice in the world, but the Christian mission is grounded in the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. This must not be an excuse for apathy or laziness, but it is the ground of faith-filled, prayerful, audacious action.
The Texts: When Satan tempted the man and the woman, he tempted them with the thought that God was withholding some good thing from them (Gen. 3:5-6). This is what the devil does: he tempts you to focus on what you do not have (scarcity) despite the abundance you have been given. And this temptation is ultimately an invitation to see God Himself as greedy, hoarding, and reluctant to bless. But the first two chapters of Genesis prove that God is overflowing, generous, open-handed. Resisting temptation means keeping your eyes fixed on the abundance of God, believing that any good He withholds from His children is for an even greater good. Despite the cataclysmic results of sin entering the world (and death with sin), one of the most shocking aspects of the story of the Fall is how merciful God is: there will be sorrow, pain, enmity, and yes, even death, but God does not destroy the serpent on the spot or kill Adam and Eve immediately, but rather promises that one day the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), and God sends his children out of the garden clothed in the skins of animals (Gen. 3:21). This scene emerges as one of the most gospel-filled passages in the Old Testament. God is just, but also full of love and compassion for His sinful and rebellious children.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and provided propitiation for us (1 Jn. 4:10). Literally, propitiation means “covering” – in that opening scene God provided literal “covering” for the nakedness of Adam and Eve, but it was simultaneously a pledge that the nakedness and shame of sin would be covered by the death of another. Adam and Eve sinned and immediately cowered in fear. Sin doubts God’s abundance, and perhaps most viciously, it doubts God’s goodness in the face of sin and failure. Then, by believing in scarcity, we run away from God’s abundance. It’s a sort of self-fulfilling lie. But there is no fear in God’s love (1 Jn. 4:18). God’s love is super-abundant, super-efficient. And to the extent that we continue to live in fear, we do not yet fully grasp God’s love. Frequently, we fail to live out the mercy and mission of God in our lives because of fear. We are afraid we won’t know what to say or what to do. We are afraid we won’t have enough money. We are afraid it will be too messy, too difficult, we will fail, etc. But John has the audacity to say that knowing the love of God gives us boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world (1 Jn. 4:17).
Ministries of Abundance
Throughout the Bible, God’s people are required to serve, give, love, share out of their abundance. You cannot give what you do not have. But a central part of understanding God and the way that He made the world is this principle of abundance and apparent (or temporary) scarcity. When the disciples saw the crowds of thousands of people, they saw a need that their meager supplies could not meet. But Jesus told them to provide food for the thousands (Lk. 9:13). And He took their meager supplies, gave thanks for them, and gave them to the disciples to give to the multitude (Lk. 9:16). And everyone was filled, and there were twelve baskets left over (Lk. 9:17). They could have easily filled many more hungry bellies. Perhaps the greatest threat to the ministries of mercy and mission in the Church are various places where assumptions of scarcity creep into our thinking and action. These assumptions creep in whenever we believe or act like the goodness of God is a zero-sum game – that the provision of God is a pie chart, and the bigger a slice that one person gets the smaller another gets. If you go into a messy situation assuming that there is only so much mercy and justice to deal out, that there are only two fish and five loaves, you will make an already bad situation worse. Remember, there is no situation so bad that you cannot make it worse.
But our mission is the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed to all the world. And the gospel is God’s abundance, centrally in His Son, who has entered into our “scarcity.” He took our isolation, our anger, our fear, our grasping upon Himself, and when all our debts were completely paid, He rose without any deficit and was inherited all things. Our task in mercy and mission is to receive and believe this good news: that in Christ we will never lack anything we need (2 Cor. 8:12).
- Faith means risk. If you are not risking anything for trusting in Jesus, you are not really believing in Him. This applies to giving your time, your money, starting businesses, sharing the gospel, loving difficult people, training your children. If you are risking nothing, you do not believe in God’s abundance.
- Distinctly Christian applications of mercy and mission believe and act believing in the abundance of God and understand how God often provides His abundance in and through apparent or temporary scarcity. In the “scarcity” of the cross is the abundance of grace for the world. This the pattern for our ministry: a scarcity of wisdom causes us to use what we have and to ask God for more, a scarcity of patience should drive us to use what we have and ask God for more, a scarcity of money should drive us to give what we have, trusting God for more.
- When we look out at our world full of deficits: broken families, racial tensions, economic oppression, malnutrition, loneliness, addictions, sexual exploitation, depression, the first and most audacious thing we must believe is that everything we need for all of it is found in Jesus Christ.