Posts 7 and 8 of the Christians and Money Series discussed the hard factors (tangible) of economic realities, the shared economic baselines, and the 2 impediments of the sacred cows of social giving and inheritance. These tangible factors form the natural application’s structural framework to fulfill the RELATIONSHIPS’ goal of soul salvation mentioned in posts 5 and 6.
Post 9 deals with the soft factors (intangible) of relationship dynamics.
The illustration below shows that how the hard and soft factors form the wealth stewardship ecosystem. God’s alternative and Man’s ways have very different goals and means, although both appear to do “good” on the appearance.
These soft factors involve
- Discover the personal boundaries of oneself and the party in-need.
- Develop a hierarchy of priorities that’s clear yet adaptable to serve the goals.
- Be flexible with the Wayside ministry to suit various life circumstances. (Elaborated in Post 10).
Christians need the harmonized mindset of wise as serpents and harmless as doves to be effective stewards of God.
Jesus said in Mat7:1-5
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but does not notice the log that is in your own eye?
“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
In Mat7:1-5, Jesus drew attention to the undesirable nature of actions that attempt to change others’ circumstances while one’s affairs are no better or in worse condition.
While this was in-context of judgment, this principle where one settles their affairs before advising or imposing on others is valid in the area of love.
The 1st and 2nd Love Commandments in Mat22 impose an expectation on Man to love God and their neighbor. This outcome motivates Man to set requirements among themselves. The emphasis is to love God and love their kind, which this series of posts have identified as the RELATIONSHIPS issue that is why Man loves money rather than loving God and their kind.
However, this love demand has biased the reading of Mat22:39, which reads as follows: “ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The part glossed over is loving “yourself,” which is self-love. Self-love is settling one’s love affair before loving God and loving others.
Jesus recognized Man’s significantly inferior self-love experience and the need to be loved by another before loving others. For this reason, He gave a new commandment in John13:34 where Jesus offered love to humankind as both God and as a man. Jesus showed this love to restore the broken sense of self-love by offering loving acceptance in-place of abandonment. In this way, humanity finds the strength to love themselves, knowing that God as Man loves them to the point of death.
It is imperative to anchor in this healthy self-love according to God’s will as a pre-requisite to be free of the enslavement of money, which this post and the past eight posts in this series are attempting to foster.
For a deeper reflection on self-love, the reader can refer to the Self-love Series found in the blog “Relationship” section. I will include the links here once the series is complete.
To define one’s boundaries is to gain clarity on what one needs for healthy self-love. One’s boundaries are unique, taking the form of personal and environmental circumstantial factors.
Circumstantial Factors – Personal
Personal circumstantial factors are realities that occur leading to birth and early childhood (up to age 6, Berk, 2014). These factors comprise the person’s genetic make-up, temperament, and early childhood attachment. The person has no or very little control over these factors. In scripture language, they are part of the purpose of God. Purpose in the Greek describes the mandatory plan of God.
Circumstantial factors are essential regardless of which wealth stewardship model is adopted. The verse that lends weight to this claim comes from John5:19.
“Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the son also does in like manner.
The key phrases that support this observation are bolded. The word “unless” indicates a condition for action. That action “what the father is doing” fulfills the 1st and 2nd Commandment, which embodies God’s purpose and will. Thus the decision to love one’s neighbor and the manner to show this love is contingent on “unless one sees what the Father is doing.”
What does it means “unless one sees what the Father is doing?” It is notable that both the “see” and “doing” are verbs in the present tense. In other words, the wisdom concerning current circumstances determines the impetus for action. The following could be one possible framework for this wisdom
It raises the need to observe one’s current life circumstances for patterns or trends, especially in the following areas.
- Personality and temperament traits. Introvert or extrovert, meek or prideful, sober-minded or given to impulsivity, coping styles.
- The following events that shaped one’s life decisions or life trajectory
- Learning or developmental disabilities
- Major illness or death of loved ones
- The quality of early childhood attachment or lack of that thereof.
- Gifts and skills.
The pattern emerging over time and space usually forms themes within one’s lot in life. Commonly multiple themes coexist, but they manifest as primary or secondary and manifested or suppressed.
- A sad theme.
- A happy go lucky theme.
- A lonely theme.
- A social theme.
- A materially poor theme.
- A materially rich theme.
Whatever the life circumstances and themes may be, they are what the Father has DONE and STILL doing in each person’s life. To see these patterns and themes in one’s life is necessary before embarking on seeing what the Father is doing in others’ lives.
Patterns and themes form the boundaries of one’s life, and another’s life. Boundaries will feature later as key to be wise when doing good (remember the Christian character’s duality in post 7.
Circumstantial Factors – Environmental
Circumstantial environmental factors are events that occur from middle childhood up to the point of death. In these life stages, these events are increasingly within the person’s control. It is subjective to include middle childhood and late adulthood as circumstantial environmental factors. Middle childhood and late adulthood could also be part of the personal circumstantial factors due to the low levels of individual control over their events.
Central to what constitutes circumstantial environmental factors is the element of choice and the free will to make those choices. Such factors would fall under the will of God. The Greek meaning of will (Thelema) describes the desirable optional plans of God.
The following are examples of circumstantial environmental factors:
- The characteristics of one’s adult family relationships constitute circumstantial environmental factors. These relationships include parents, siblings, spouses, and children.
- Other nonfamily relationships that constitute environmental factors are business partners, significant peers.
- Major illness or death of loved ones
- Educational opportunities.
- Loss of employment.
These circumstantial environmental factors contribute to the reshaping of the individual’s circumstantial personal factors.
The significant difference between the Recipient’s (person in need of help) and the offeror is the scarcity of available information on the Recipient’s part. It takes time and mutual trust to construct the story of their life circumstances. The Recipient’s life circumstances likewise will produce emerging patterns and themes.
Commonly, such information is obtained indirectly by inferring observed clues and cues over time. Consequently, they are incomplete, an approximation of the facts, and subject to change.
The Holy Spirit is the believer’s helper in this instance. The Holy Spirit grants the believer access to God’s mind (1Co2:16). Because the Holy Spirit is the wisdom of God (2Co2:13), She helps Man to search out what God has concealed (Pro25:2). Life is one long continuous unveiling of God’s life parables for each individual. Therefore, the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and what She reveals are indispensable for Man to search out what God has purposed and willed for the Recipient.
Discovering the Recipient boundaries is a time-consuming iterative process, the test of patience that requires perseverance, and most importantly, the wisdom of a serpent and dove to navigate the mutual boundaries.
Combining the Personal and Environmental Circumstantial Factors (To be Wise as Serpents)
How does this testing meld with the boundaries mentioned earlier? In the course of stewardship, one needs to look for alignment between the following.
- Understand your boundaries and emerging themes.
- Understand your neighbor’s boundaries and emerging themes.
- Test God’s will in the various life context presented.
- Review the result of the testing.
- Observe the kind of patterns emerging from several testings.
This alignment is to explore the following in the course of the Wayside ministry.
- Identify areas of harmony and conflict where the boundaries interface and overlap concerning the 1st and 2nd Commandments.
- This harmony and conflict management is similar to what God has done concerning balancing His Love and Justice needs (see Post 6).
- Does it support loving God?
- Does it support loving self?
- Does it support loving the neighbor?
- In the context of the testing results, observe for patterns; they are God’s hidden message.
- Prayerfully; Seek scripture for guidance, seek the rest in your soul to confirm, and seek counsel from like-minded Christians in this order of priority. These 3 seekings support the focus and clarity of realizing God’s will observing how the harmony and conflict of boundaries resonate with God’s hidden message.
Ultimately, God’s balances His love and justice and His free will with Man’s free will. He decides the appropriate proportion of love, justice, free will for Himself, for you, and the neighbor in this balance. It is also needful to point out that the balance is not necessarily static with time and is often a moving target. The Wayside Ministry in post 10 will offer examples of how this balance of boundaries may look like in practice in the Boundary Concerns section.
Only God is qualified to oversee this unimaginably complex endeavor that occurs over time and space across countless lives, like interlinked webs, each of which is invaluable to God. Furthermore, God is not operating randomly; His 2 Commandments bind Him, and He has an overarching purpose-goal for His Kingdom and each individual.
In summary, the advice by Jesus to be “wise as serpents” and Paul to be “wise in what is good “is a partnership with the Holy Spirit in the process narrated above.
The verse that impresses me the most concerning being harmless as doves come from Phil4:8.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”
See the series on self-love for the reflection of this verse. The author’s opinion is that being harmless as a dove is more demanding than being as wise as a serpent. And the most demanding is harmonizing the serpent and dove needs. See the Boundary Concerns in the Wayside Ministry Section for guidelines on harmonizing the serpent and dove needs.
The recurring theme of this series of posts is RELATIONSHIPS.
RELATIONSHIPS are not only the focus but also the priority of God that drives His purpose and will. God is omnipotent and omniscient, sees the need for focus and priority; He does not spare Man this need. This section explores Man’s priorities in light of the RELATIONSHIPS.
This post has adapted (with modifications in non italics) the list of priorities from Elizabeth George’s book, A Woman After God’s Heart. My wife subscribes to this book’s many insights, which has blessed our marriage with harmony and effective partnership. The list shows the priorities in order of importance.
- Prioritizing God (1st Commandment and New Commandment) by focusing on internal soul growth (Post 6 shows that soul salvation best represents the 1st Commandment) to form a relational attachment with God. For attachment measures the quality of love with God. See the self-love blog series for the narrative of how self-love contributes to attachment with God.
- Prioritizing your soul salvation by prioritizing
- Your husband/wife
- Your children
- Your dependents
- Your home
- Your Wayside Ministry narrated in post 10 that engages with the various life scenarios.
- Prioritizing your other activities, including work, hobbies, socializing.
All the above priorities are expressions of the 1st and 2nd Commandments. God in the New Covenant has the relationship focus. God introduced Himself as Father (Mat5:16 ), Jesus as Elder Brother (Mat28:10), Jesus a friend (John15:15), Jesus as the bridegroom (Mat9:15), and the Church as the bride of Christ (Eph5:25-27). All these relationship facets are to fulfill the 1st and 2nd Commandments of love.
God naturally occupies the 1st spot in the priority list. After that, direct family members, wife, and children come next on this priority list. 1Timothy5:8 condemns family breadwinners who fail to provide for their household as having denied their faith in Christ and behaving worse than a non-believer. This judgment ranks among the most extreme ever passed by apostle Paul. Even the man in Corinthian Church who fornicated with his stepmother in 1Co5 did not receive such an indictment. Apostle Paul’s response in 1Tim5:8 is indicative of the importance God places on the husband in the context of that day, to fulfill his responsibilities to provide food and shelter for their family.
The Wayside Ministry comes at 6th position in the priority list. This list’s exception occurs when one does not marry and dedicate their lives to Christ, such as apostle Paul. In such cases, the simplified priority list looks something like this.
- Prioritizing God (1st Commandment).
- Prioritizing your wayside ministry.
- Prioritizing your home. This priority is about self upkeep, feeding oneself. E.g., Apostle Paul was a tentmaker (Act18:1-4), earning his keep while performing his duties as an apostle.
- Prioritizing your other activities.
This post has proposed that boundaries and priorities are the ways of the serpent sanctioned by God. They are circuit breakers or checkpoints of sober-mindedness that reminds both Patron and Recipient that it is the best effort and no one is forcing another in this relationship.
Post 10 will expand on how these boundaries and priorities feature in the Wayside Ministry Model.
1. Berk, L. E. (2014). Development through the lifespan (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River :NJ; Pearson Education, Inc.