How might we consider the rewards and punishments presented throughout the Scriptures without getting caught up in the heretical prosperity gospel where human self interest attempts to disguise itself in righteousness?
Dr. Andy Geleris, author of Money and Salvation: An Invitation to the Good Way, discusses the contrasts in sowing abundantly and sowing sparingly. He explores St. Paul's appeal to the Corinthians to sow generously, offering what the Lord provides, so that material resources might be transformed into spiritual blessings.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And Father Timothy Lowe, former Rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, joins me as co host. Hello, Father Timothy.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:28
Good morning, Hollie. Dr. Andy. Good morning.
Dr. Andy Geleris 0:31
Hi, Fr. Timothy. Hi Hollie.
Hollie Benton 0:33
And as Father mentioned, we are happy to welcome today's guest, Dr. Andy Geleris. He serves on the board of directors for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative and for FOCUS North America. His book, Money and Salvation: An Invitation to the Good Way, is finally hot off the press and can be ordered from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. So welcome, Andy, and congratulations on the publication.
Dr. Andy Geleris 0:58
Thank you, Hollie. I appreciate that.
Hollie Benton 1:00
Andy, you are going to be speaking at the upcoming sixth annual Orthodox Leadership Conference, September 2022, at St Vladimir's Seminary. The theme this year is Money - The Gospel Changes Everything. And we have you to thank for that provocative theme. Could you say just a few words about this topic that is near and dear to your heart on how the gospel does change everything when it comes to money?
Dr. Andy Geleris 1:25
When we are born into this world, we look around us and we have a lot of material things around us. I was thinking recently, when we use the terminology to be born again when in John chapter three, when Jesus says that we must be born again the first time he says it is to say that to see the kingdom of God. And then again, he says we must be born of water in the spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God. There is such a temptation from the world around us to focus on our material things. But Jesus offers us the opportunity to transform our material things into spiritual blessings. And that's what I'm trying to talk about.
Hollie Benton 2:05
So Andy, you suggest that we take a look at St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians specifically 2 Corinthians 9:5-15. In chapters eight and nine, Paul is asking the Corinthians to share in the collection he's about to take up to Jerusalem, as a last call to the leaders to fully endorse the gospel. This is in the midst of the overarching purpose of St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians which was to address their problem with realized eschatology, that's what we call it today. The Corinthians imagined that their experience of the spirit was the sure sign that God's kingdom had already come. They perceive themselves as spiritually mature or already perfected, and therefore free from any kind of authority. Consequently, even free from God's final judgment, and in so doing, it seems that they functionally deny Christ's resurrection and his second coming. So in a way, it seems that Paul isn't just picking up a collection of money for the Jerusalem authority, but asking the Corinthians to functionally submit in obedience, and repent from their sin of presuming their freedom from God's authority. So here's that short passage right now starting at verse five. "So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren to go on to you before me and arrange in advance for this gift you have promised, so that it may be ready not as an exaction but as a willing gift. The point is this he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance so that you may always have enough of everything, and may provide an abundance for every good work. As it is written, He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor, his righteousness endures forever. He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints, but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience and acknowledging the gospel of Christ. And by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others. While they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift." So thank you, Andy, for choosing this passage. You and I I have talked offline about this compelling passage and we're struggling together to understand what Paul means when he uses words like sowing and reaping. Would you agree that the two different ways that the passage could be understood is on the one hand, he who gives money generously will reap God's abundant blessing? And perhaps another frame of reference, He who walks according to the Lord's instruction, will reap God's abundant blessing? Are there any risks in presuming that Paul is talking only about money here? Are there any problems in presuming that Paul is speaking more generally about the Lord's commandments? What exactly is Paul asking us to sow especially when it sounds like the Lord Himself is the provider for every good work?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 5:47
You know, this reaping and sowing, it is basically a wisdom saying. It is just a truism that everybody universally would understand. And that's what Paul's appeal is, I think, is to this basic principle of truth. And he's applying it now to a way of life that he's envisioning for his communities and challenging them. What I find interesting here is Paul is with the Corinthians seems to be appealing to their sensibilities instead of ordering them as he would be their father in the Scripture. So this is an interesting take on St. Paul here. He doesn't want to compel or coerce or urge them, but in fact, everything about the Scripture is commanding us to do things. And so he's challenging them by giving them freedom, as opposed to just giving them instruction and commandments, which then means it's on their head, like everything else, they have to make the choice. And I think when it comes to ultimately, this thing that we have, is just making a choice, to do or not to do to walk or not to walk. And I think certainly the background here is that this specific appeal has significance in weight, and hence Paul's approach as a colleague, not as a father instructing his children. So let's see where it takes as Andy talks about it.
Dr. Andy Geleris 7:17
It's clear that in different places in Scripture, God, Jesus, the prophets, talk about different aspects of God's heart for us and his desire for us and what we should obey. In some places, he talks about how we should obey him with regard to money. In other places, he instructs us how to obey about different aspects of life. The thing that is incontrovertible is that hundreds of passages of Scripture refer to God's blessing and reward for different aspects of our obedience. You know, one thinks of Deuteronomy 28, which says to the people of God, if you obey me, I will bless you in this way. And if you don't obey me, you will have these problems. Psalm 1 talks about it. The Beatitudes talk about that, blessed are you, blessed are you over and over again. I fear that the prosperity gospel, which is a heresy, and all heresies are, or most heresies at least are based on some element of the truth of the gospel, but they're distorted. I think it's become a boogeyman. For Christians, I've talked to priests, "Oh we can't talk about God's blessing, God's reward, because it gets too close to the prosperity gospel," or at least it's even in the back of our minds. But the thing I've been thinking about, it depends where we think about receiving the rewards. I think the main place where we receive awards is in eternity. Now, of course, eternity begins now. It's not a discontinuity. Eternity starts now, and continues on into the time beyond time. There are rewards now, but the greatest rewards will be in the life of the kingdom to come. And this morning, I was reading this interesting passage from the Gospel, "Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For Heaven and Earth will not pass away. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches them, he should be called great in the kingdom of heaven." The interesting thing there for me is that there is a least and a great in the kingdom of heaven. And focusing in on this passage, 2 Corinthians 9:6, I need to do a shout out here to Ginny Nieuwsman. I've read this chapter many times in the past, but recently she challenged me on 2 Corinthians 9:6, he's sowing and reaping. And it just rocked my world because they began to see that it is a synergistic cooperation. It's not just God's grace. You know one of the great passages about this is in Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by the grace of God, you are saved by faith. And this not of yourselves. It is the gift of God that no man should boast." What could be more crystal clear than that our salvation is the gift of God that no man should boast. But look at what the next verse says, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, that he created beforehand that we should work in them." It's a synergy. Even the good works that we're able to do are provided for us by God. But if we do not synergistically cooperate with the good works that God sovereignly provides us, the gift of God is meaningless. As in all things in the Christian life, the synergy. And I would say that this passage, "He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly," Paul's offering them an opportunity. And I think clearly, he's talking about money. He's raising money for the poor in Jerusalem. If you will, God in his sovereignty is offering them an opportunity and the work that God has prepared beforehand for them to walk in. And it's their choice. Let me add one additional thing, I don't want to go on too long here. But perhaps there are differential rewards, and differential places in heaven. And I think here of what Paul wrote, it's from 1 Corinthians 3. "Now, if anyone builds on this foundation, which is Jesus Christ with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay straw, each one's work will become clearer for the day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test each one's work of what sort it is. If anyone's work, which he has built on endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire." As I reflected on it I began to think, you know, there's differences in heaven. You know, there's a certain arrogance that I might feel to think that when I get to heaven, I'll have the same place as some martyr who's poured out his life and sacrificed and suffered and was tortured. I mean, that's, that's extremely arrogant of me. And I think it's something that makes many of us become lukewarm. We think, you know, the goal of life, if I can just make it to heaven, and escape the clutches of held, you know, I can do anything else I want, as long as I make it, I'm okay. I'm not sure that's how it is. You know, imagine that we have a store room full of jars of jam. Some of the jars are enormous, they contain many, many gallons of jam, these are huge jars. And then other jars are just small, they only contain a cup of jam. So all of the jars are full, if you will, we can draw an analogy here. And I know this is a poor analogy, I hope people listening to this will forgive me for this, but suppose that the jars are all full, they're all full of the fullness of God, to the capacity of our own individual hearts to receive it.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 12:56
You know, we can speculate about heaven, least, greatest, etc, etc. I'm always interested in Paul's argument, finally, what does he want? He wants us to give totally and completely generously. He's appealing to them to be generous, the symbolism of supporting the Mother Church, if you will, the community in Jerusalem, that to realize there is the one gospel and we are sharing in the one gospel of life. We can speculate about heaven, place, part, tears, whatever. For myself, I always find that a bit of a distraction, because ultimately, the issue is about almsgiving. Giving generously, openly, freely we have received, freely give, and whatnot, and entering into the depth of that, and then completely trusting the details up to God. Because ultimately, to give unconditionally means we're giving up power as well. What we've assumed as ours, as opposed to understanding it as all belongs to God. Paul also wants us to invest in the other, the human being, okay, the human being, so meeting the needs of the saints, of others. So I'm very cautious about how I give money these days, because there are some things that I don't want to support if it doesn't have to do with the individual, the person. It's not just about money, it's about investing our blood and the blood of others in the name of the gospel of Christ and his unending sacrificial love. So that's why I think sometimes we're unwilling as priests to talk about the prosperity gospel, the issue of rewards, what are you going to get back in return? Even though as you say, it filters through a lot of Scriptural passages. It's because ultimately, I can't speak for you, but my human selfishness can really disguise itself as righteousness sometimes when it's just self interest, seemingly appearing to do the right thing for all the wrong reasons. But ultimately, I get exposed as a fraud. There's some slippery slopes here. And so that's why some of us might be concerned about the prosperity gospel at times and it's slipperiness.
Hollie Benton 15:00
So what do we value? What do we truly value? As you quoted from 1 Corinthians, "The fire will prove and test the quality of each work." Of course, the stronger material of costly stones and silver and gold stands the test of fire more so than wood or hay. When it comes to what we value, parish councils will spend hours and hours discussing the gold on our buildings. The greater the financial investment or risk, the longer the meetings, but is it the gold that endures forever? Is it financial wealth? No, we hear even in today's reading that "His righteousness will endure forever." His righteousness is the only thing of value and it provides for any act of righteousness and obedience that we might do. Will we spend as much time in our parish councils talking about serving the poor and those in need in our communities? If someone struggles to get up the church steps, do we spend as much time visiting them and caring for them, or will we not put in the effort until the parish council is finally asked to consider putting in a ramp or an elevator because now finally, the financial investment, the money that we really care about is finally being considered. Is the access ramp, gilded in gold, going to stand the test of fire? Or is it the acts of righteousness in caring and visiting the one with the handicap, assisting them up the stairs and maybe just installing a basic ramp? So yeah, I know the temptations of self righteousness. On the one hand, if I assume that sowing generously means just being nice to people, I might protect my bank account from going all in on Paul's appeal to sow generously. And on the other hand, if I assume that sowing generously means giving a large financial gift and I can write a check for $1,000 and get St Paul off of my back and maybe feel good about myself, I'm protecting myself from going all in on Paul's appeal to sow generously in every act of obedience and mercy and real sacrifice.
Dr. Andy Geleris 16:51
Mercy and alms are the same thing. And I mentioned how much we neglect the topic of almsgiving and mercy giving even though it's it's one of the three spiritual pillars of the Orthodox faith. We talk all the time in our churches, we have retreats on prayer, we have retreats on fasting. But we talk very rarely about almsgiving. I fear that it's this boogeyman, this fear of the slippery slope, of the prosperity gospel, which is really not a prosperity gospel, it's an evil that's in all our hearts, because it shows our attachment to this world and this world's money and this world's possessions. The purpose of our lives is to grow into the likeness of God. And as it turns out, one of the most astonishing characteristics of God is his mercy. The mercy is actually to the degree that any of us ever find salvation. It's that and so the purpose of God's spiritual discipline, it's a discipline, it takes effort and work on our part, just like prayer takes effort, and fasting takes effort. So when we do alms, what happens? We grow, increasing in the likeness of God. Some of the fathers have said, what it does is it increases the capacity of our hearts, to experience the love of God. That's the goal of almsgiving and I would say that when Paul talks about, "He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly," listen, God loves everybody, Paul says, "But God shows His own love toward us, in that why we were still sinners, Christ died for us." So before we did anything, before this synergistic relationship again, there is nothing more that God can do to show us that He loves us. But what can change in our lives and the purpose I would say for the commands, all the blessings, all the promises of rewards that God talks about, what the purpose of those promises are, is that we grow in our capacity to experience the love that God already has for us. Maximus refers to this and St. Sophrony says, they talk about hell, and they say the difference between heaven and hell is not whether God's love is present. God's love extends into every corner of the universe, and always will. The difference between heaven and hell is that people in heaven have expanded the capacity of their hearts, to experience his love in a glorious way. And people who are in hell have shut themselves off from expanding capacity of the heart so that even though God loves them, they experience His love as torment. Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are His workmanship created for good works, which God has prepared beforehand for them." Paul's offering an opportunity here. Every opportunity we have for almsgiving, and by the way, one of the things I think God wants most from us is a predisposition to mercy, a predisposition, if you will, even to financial giving. We can go through life and if you see somebody ahead of us in the checkout line, at the grocery store, we see they're a little short of money. "This is a great day for me," we can think, ma'am, or sir, I have a few extra dollars here. Can I just pay what you're a little bit short there? I'm sure it pleases God but what it does, it makes me more like God because that's what God's doing for me all the time.
Hollie Benton 20:00
Well, thank you, Andy for this. It's always a delight and a challenge to open the Scripture and discuss it. I think that's what it's meant to be. Last week we had Fr. Evan on and he said, you know, the Gospel is a disruptor. So it's meant to do that kind of work in our lives.
Dr. Andy Geleris 20:24
Well, thank you, Hollie. And thank you, Fr. Tim. I feel like we're almost just getting started with the conversation and then we have to come to an end.
Hollie Benton 20:31
Transcribed by https://otter.ai