If you had walked through the crowds at Occupy Wall Street, you might have heard singing. Sung to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” these lyrics floated through the air: “Solidarity forever, solidarity forever, solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong.” Written by Richard Chaplin and popularized by folk superhero Pete Seeger, the words express the burden of the poor in the face of excessive wealth.
The song speaks of solidarity—a unity or agreement of feeling or action, which knits together the lives of people with a common interest. The word has historically been a term associated with political agitation and protest, but I think Christians should look to embrace the concept of solidarity.
In James 5:1-6, we read a strong warning against those who possess excessive wealth. The wealth on display is kept back in unfairness and cruelty from the poor laborer. It is a wealth that, in today’s language, would involve dishonest tax returns, unfair wages for immigrant workers, holding back worker pensions and hoarding resources.
James reinforces the folly of such approaches by stating the obvious: Excessive wealth is wasteful because it is not eternal. Like American singer-songwriter Kristian Bush sings, “I’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.” We have come from dust—and, no matter how much we try to deny it, we and all that we own will one day return to dust.
The Christian leaves a passage like James 5:1-6 wondering two things: “How do I move forward?” and “How do I avoid regarding and using wealth in the wrong way?” The first step is to recognize that you actually own nothing. You are only a gift-receiver. You are not an owner but a steward. The Christian response to the poor is the belief that God has placed us in the world as stewards and caretakers of a creation belonging entirely to Him.
The way to destroy the wickedness of excessive wealth is by realizing that your bank account, tax returns and paychecks belong to God. He has simply given them to you so that you might take care of them in a way that brings honor to Him, righteousness to your home and hope to those in need. When you begin to realize that you own nothing, you will be free to give anything as need arises.
But how does this work? How do we live as if we really own nothing?
We budget for need first, giving second and want lastly.
Create a budget with your family that takes into account your needs: food, lodging, clothes, education, etc. Then consider needs of others that your family can help with the resources you have. After need and giving have been addressed, take a look at what your family wants. Michael Oh, the executive director and CEO of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, advocates for including your children when budgeting for wants and giving. This practice aids in training them to see the greater blessing of giving versus more accumulation.
We seek wisdom in our giving.
There are countless needs that we can meet with our resources. Exercise wisdom as you decide where to invest. I encourage you to consider some of our ministry partners as possible places to give. But regardless of where you decide to invest your time, energy and money, make sure that those who will be managing the money have a good track record, a clear vision and sufficient financial accountability.
We give when it’s sacrificial.
I was recently moved by one of our stories about the Chehayebs. In their story, Ross and Britni share how they were compelled to give to their church family, even under the weight of student loans. Regardless of where you find yourself financially in the present, you will one day have to debate whether you will give in a season where giving may sting a bit. Their story reminds us that it’s worth it.
As Christians, we recognize that everything we have has been given to us. We are merely gift-receivers, receiving every good gift and every perfect gift from God the Father (James 1:17). Knowing this, we can give freely in ways that are strategic, wise and sacrificial. It allows us to stand in solidarity with the poor in tangible ways.