As in much that I believe, I am here particularly indebted to John Wesley – more specifically (in this particular post) to his sermon on The Use of Money.
1 Timothy 5:8 is a famous passage among U.S. Christians of a certain political persuasion. Quoting from the KJV (which is how I first learned it): “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
I find it curious how many Christians aspire, in their spending, to be no worse than an infidel. What lofty goals we aspire to!
There is a place where Jesus talks about the relationship between our behavior and that of unbelievers, too. It is found in Matthew 5:43-48. In these verses, Jesus suggests that loving those who love us is a minimal standard, understood by all to be good manners. But in a verse that haunts those who follow in John Wesley’s theological footprints, Jesus instead suggests: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” And one of the examples he gives, just a few verses before, to demonstrate what he means? “Love you enemies; pray for those who persecute you.”
It strikes me that this verse in 1 Timothy was meant as a corrective: do not take food out of the mouths of your own children to give to other children. In case there were any question about it, this verse makes it clear that it is not a virtue to deny your own children’s needs in order to supply the needs of others.
However, for those of us who believe that God loves our children better than we do, and further that God loves every other child no less than our own dear ones – that is to say, for Christians – it would be equally perverse to prefer to give our children luxuries that are unneeded, and perhaps even dangerous to their salvation, when doing so prevents us from providing food, shelter, and the like to those in need – even to those we do not like very well, even to our enemies.
In the age of advertising, I believe that we have become more confused than ever about what our selves, our children, and our other loved ones truly need, and what instead serves an insatiable desire born of a God-shaped hole in our hearts. I am sorry to say that in this, I fear that I too have become no worse than an infidel…