The next aversion in this series of posts is about taking care of our families, and there’s a bit of hand waving we have to do around the word “families.” It’s somewhat about relatives, with a special emphasis on those closest to us. I’ve heard this aversion several times when I’ve mentioned the idea of spending too much money on our personal lifestyles. The response is along the lines of, “Well, Paul clearly says that if I don’t provide for my family, I’m worse than an unbeliever.” True enough. The verse being quoted, plucked from its context, is:
And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8, NRSV)
I’m certainly not going to argue with this, especially since it is in the middle of Paul talking about a number of guidelines for taking care of others; most notably widows. What I find interesting, though, is that if we read a bit further we encounter Paul saying something that nobody, to date, has ever bothered to mention to me when he or she speaks of providing for his or her family:
Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. (1 Timothy 6:5-8, NRSV)
So, I’ve wondered from time to time, if we could ask Paul what it means to provide for family in a Christian way, and if a Christian should be content with food and clothes, what is expected in terms of provision? Personally, I distaste trying to slice and dice verses in this way, but if we are going to quote 5:8 in an effort to defend our wealth, shouldn’t we also consider 6:5-8 along with it?
To be fair, I need myself to be willing to read further, for Paul also says,
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share… (1 Timothy 6:17-18)
And so it appears that there were indeed rich Christians, and Paul doesn’t tell them to become poor. He does imply though, that they need to be generous and ready to share, and this is after he notes:
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. But as for you, man of God, shun all this… (1 Timothy 6:9-11, NRSV)
To summarize and place things into the present, personally I would include shelter and medical care as part of providing for my family; although admittedly this is a bit beyond what Paul was literally saying. And apparently it’s okay to be rich, given that you take care of your relatives, you’re not arrogant, you strive to do good, you’re generous, and you share. (I understand that all these are open to interpretation (and subsequent misuse), too. More on this, probably, in a future post.)
But all in all, my point is about the aversions we tend to have. I still think the larger context of the passage begs us to reconsider what we’re dealing with when we use “providing for my family” as a license (which is to say, excuse) for excesses in our lives. Plain and simple, anything beyond necessities is beyond the scope of what Paul meant when it came to providing for our families. So, no: I don’t consider my kids’ Wii, computers, toys, plethora of clothing, cell phones, mp3 players, DVDs, CDs, pets, music lessons and instruments, sports lessons and equipment, orthodontics, educational trips and summer camps to fall under the biblical idea of provision. My children are materially spoiled, because I let them be, because I am. They are children. They are innocent. My problem is greed; greed for myself and for my family. But I’m not going to be obtuse and hypocritical, and claim that to the contrary I’m simply following Paul’s admonition to take care of my family. Such a claim would be a selfish and gross manipulation of scripture, beyond what even I can bear. To live in wealth and claim, “Hey, man, I’m just following Paul” is, simply, ludicrous.