Monday, December 18, 2017

Giving Away Someone Else's Train Tickets

One of my favorite holiday movies is White Christmas with Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Near the beginning of the movie, Wallace and Davis go to see a sister-act as a favor to an old friend and intervene  when the sisters are exploited by a hotel manager. In order to help the girls get away, Phil Davis gives the Haynes sisters a set of train tickets so they can leave town. Of course, Davis doesn't tell his partner that he gave away their tickets and Wallace is furious at first. It is one thing to give away your things to help somebody else. It is something else entirely for another person to give away your things for you. In the end, Wallace comes around and is glad that his partner gave away their tickets, but Wallace's reaction displays a line that some Christians don't know how to walk.

At the end of Acts chapter four, when Peter and John have finally been released after their arrest for healing a lame man, the passage shares with us that "All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had." (Acts 4:32, NLT). Sometimes, I think we make the mistake of reading this verse to say, "And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they took from each other what they needed." There is a very big difference between those two statements.

As believers we are called to share with those in need. We are called to disciple new believers and to lead by example. But we are not called to force other people to do the right thing. One of the reasons that religious freedom was written into the American constitution was that a group of God-fearing men realized something very important - no person can force another person to change their heart. History has demonstrated time and time again that we cannot force other people to accept our own beliefs through the use of force, pressure, or intimidation. We may change their behavior, but we can never change their heart.

As Christians, we cannot force people into sharing. We can only teach them by example. We can share out of our own wealth of learning and materials things, but we should not force anyone else to do so. Jesus taught that we are to hold ourselves to a very different standard than the standard to which we hold other people. Jesus gave this advice for judging ourselves. "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters" (Matthew 12:30, NIV) but told us "for whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:40, NIV) when judging others. 

As believers we must have hearts that are willing and eager to obey the teachings of Christ and to lead in generosity and charity by example, not by decree. 

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