Sometimes we read stories in the Bible that we understand in theory but struggle to apply to our lives today – this has always been the case with Leviticus chapter 23, verse 22 for me. It tells us:
Let me level with you; I live in the Northern Suburbs of Brisbane, Australia, where there are few fields, and not a lot of foreigners looking to glean the edges of said fields. Whilst I understand the sentiment here (don’t be greedy, share with the poor etc.) I have often asked myself, “How do I apply this agrarian metaphor to my life in a concrete way?”
The pastor and the loco pilot
Recently, I read of a family who were living out this metaphor in a way that I could understand. A woman had become a train driver seeking to release her husband (a pastor) to practice his ministry without the need of a fulltime stipend.
Thea and Ben Pratt (you can read their story here) live mostly off Thea’s income, with Ben earning a part time wage but working (flexible) full time hours for the church. Ben, in explaining their motives, says:
That’s a pertinent application of Leviticus chapter 23 verse 22. What it teaches us is summed up in Ben’s own words: “live within your means and accept less than you may be entitled to.”
Live within your means
Of all the markers of faith seen in a believer, I think contentment is one of the most potent in our society. In a world that tells us to seek ‘more, more, more!’ The scriptures tell us, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews chapter 13, verse 5).
For the first year of our marriage, my wife and I did a woeful job of following this command. She was working fulltime, I was working part-time and studying fulltime, and we were stressing about money almost constantly. About 9 months into this we realised… for people who talk a lot about not seeking after worldly things (as Christians and proponents of generosity and missional living) we were doing a fantastic job of seeking after worldly things.
So, in our second year of marriage, we chose to simplify our life such that we were practicing what we preached, that we were ‘being content with what we have.’ Now, I work fulltime, Jane works casually, and looks after our son very fulltime (it’s more of a fulltime job than I could ever manage!)
We effectively live on one income, and we live within our means.
Accept less than you are entitled to
But the Pratts take this command a (necessary) step further: they accept less than they are entitled to. Not only are they living within their means, they are living within their ‘needs’.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 9 verses 6 to 8, the Apostle Paul talks of how we should give generously to those in need, trusting that God will provide all that we need. The difference between need and want is often quite huge – and so for some (I recognise that the Pratts and Jane and I make more from one income than many people make with two) it’s necessary to not only live off our own field, but to avoid ‘reaping to the edges’ of our own field.
‘Accept less than you are entitled to’ seems like an apt, contemporary rendering of ‘do not reap to the edge of your field.’
Give the rest to those who are without
The way this is applied for one couple is going to be different for another.
The Pratts, by not accepting the income that they are entitled to, free the church up to give more money to the poor, the widow, and the orphan (which sounds like a Cat Stevens album when you put it like that) but that’s not the case for many of us.
For some people, not accepting what they are owed will just mean giving more to their boss or their company, not the poor, the widow, and the orphan. In this case, the application might be “Live within your means, taking all that you need, and give the rest to those who are without.”
Rely on your field to take care of you and save ‘the edges’ for those who don’t have an adequate field. Continually consider (in prayer) whether you are living according to your means (taking all you can get) or according to your needs (reflecting on needs vs. wants) and increase how much you give from ‘the edges’ depending on the results of this.
In our world of ‘more, more, more,’ money has the power to be a mighty witness for Christ in the way a Christian lives and gives. It also has the power to render our witness impotent if we choose to live just as those who do not know Christ.
Brent Van Mourik is the Queensland Church Relationship Manager for Baptist World Aid Australia and is a registered pastor with the Baptist Union of Queensland. He completed a Bachelor of Theology with honours in New Testament through Malyon College in Brisbane, where he now lives with his wife, Jane, and his young son, Joshua. In his down time, he enjoys making and drinking good coffee, and developing his theology of disappointment, whilst putting into practice Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26 (“In your anger do not sin”) on the golf course.
Brent Van Mourik’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/brent-van-mourik.html