– by David Cloete
It is truly an amazing thing to achieve something – it is even more amazing is if you’re the first to do so. As one born in the mid-to-late 80’s, my generation is probably among the first in most black households to attend university. It’s an incredibly humbling feeling to know that you’re the first in an entire family-line, spanning three or more generations, to attain a university degree.
Nearly impossible to achieve
all your dreams
Coming from a family that barely owned anything, you can imagine the many dreams and aspirations one has after attaining a university degree. But it doesn’t take long before reality sets in, right after you receive your first salary and realise that with “black tax” looming over your head, it’s nearly impossible to achieve all your dreams. For many young black graduates, this becomes an unbearable emotional and financial burden, but for many others it’s a joy and privilege to financially and otherwise serve their families and communities after they’ve graduated from varsity. That is, by being an inspiration to the young, by helping a less fortunate family from the rural area, by helping their child to apply for varsity, and being an emotional and spiritual support to that child once they get accepted. Also by finding bursaries for underprivileged kids, visiting schools or NGO’s in the community and offering to assist however you can, remembering an elder or widow in the community who often helped your parents or grandparents by regularly financially supporting them, and supporting your parents and putting your own siblings through varsity.
The struggle: The black salary
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah right, where does the money, time, and resources come from to achieve all this? I’m out here struggling to feed myself, let alone my own family, on this black salary.” And you’re probably right. Many white South Africans don’t realise that the salaries that black South Africans earn feed more mouths than their own. The word ‘family’ in the black community breaches the walls of your own immediate family. But it’s a sad thing when even young black graduates forget this concept and become so inward-looking that they barely/cease to support their own families and forget the broader communal principle of Ubuntu because they’re so concerned with “making theirs”.
The reason: God’s sovereign purpose and the hope of glory
What does the Bible say about all this? In order to answer this question, it will be worth our while to consider firstly God’s purposes in, through, and for our lives. The reality is that you were not born into a black family by accident! God did not allow you to be born in a time just before or when South Africa was liberated from apartheid so that you could attend to a university by accident, nor did He open the door for you to earn the current salary you earn today by chance, as little as it might be. This was and is part of His sovereign plan for your life because unlike us, and our personal self-centered happiness paradigm, God has a personal holiness paradigm. His purposes for and through your life, in the place and with the family he called you to, are for your holiness, sanctification, obedience to Him, and ultimately your salvation and the salvation of those around you. 1 Peter 1: 1-2 puts it this way: “To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ…”
If God our loving Father in His sovereign wisdom chose all this for us, knowing full well of the struggles we’d face, and still did it for the purpose of sanctification, obedience to Jesus (1 Peter 1:2), holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16) and for us to proclaim His praises (1 Peter 2:9) in the midst of the messiness, then the question we ought to ask ourselves is ‘how does such obedience look?’
Let’s consider what Scripture says about our obedience to Christ from examples in our own context and black experience:
1. Concerning giving to your family
Scripture says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” – 1 Tim 5:8. 1 Timothy 5: 3-4 says, “If a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God”. Paul’s purpose is “so that no-one may be open to blame” – 1 Tim. 5:7, especially from those outside the church.
That is, so as to not make the Gospel unattractive to outsiders. Applying Godly wisdom and proper stewardship over our money, Christians have a responsibility towards their financially staggering relatives. For black people, their families may include members of the same clan. In addition to this Christ himself encouraged His followers to support their parents by obeying the command to “honour your father and your mother” in Mark 7: 9-13.
2. Concerning giving to our neighbours
Scripture says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphan and widows in their distress…” – James 1: 27. And our black communities are in no shortage of these. The New Testament church often gave to those in need. Indeed, they gave much by “selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” – Acts 2:45, and “sympathising with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your properties, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” –Heb 10:34. This attitude of self-sacrificial love and giving stems from a mature understanding of what we’re called for by God in Christ. It has the duel basis of God’s sovereign and revealed Will for the Church in a broken world and His saving purposes for those in need of the Gospel and our person sanctification. The early Church was able to love in the manner they did because they knew the Hope they had in Christ and thus joyfully obeyed the Lord with the little they had. I can imagine, it must have been hard for those who earned or owned much to give much of it away, but God’s Holy Spirit was sanctifying them by testing them.
The cost: discipleship rooted in Christ’s love
We’ll never have enough money, time, and resources to help others. But God has given us what we have, materially and spiritually, to live and share His Gospel in the places He has called us to live and grow up in. At the heart of our giving and self-sacrificial service is the love of God, which compels us. This love finds its ultimate expression in the self-sacrificial giving of Christ on the Cross for our sakes. 1 Peter 1:8 says, “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls”. This joy and love for Christ finds its expression in our willing obedience to verbally communicate the Gospel to lost sinners as 1 Peter 2:9-10 would remind us. In addition to this, this love and joy also finds expression in our “living such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the Day he visits us” – Peter 2:12. For how could we not share ourselves sacrificially in this manner since Christ gave himself for us so that we may “receive the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls”?
The warning: unbelief and the rejection of the Cross
Failure to live up to our calling as obedient disciples of Christ may lend itself to a kind of prosperity gospel that is rooted in self, unbelief, and a rejection of the proper theology of the Cross. Peter had such ambitions of prosperity that were contrary to God’s purposes. Mark 8:32 recalls Peter’s rebuke of Jesus who desired God’s Will when He spoke plainly about His death to reconcile the world to God. Christ desired to use His Body and Kingly position for the purposes of God for the world, but Peter had his sights on his own personal dreams and the prosperity of his own nation, the people of Israel. Jesus told him, “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns, therefore, “get behind me satan,” – Mark 8:33. When our ambitions are devoid of God’s purposes, regardless how noble they are, they’re downright demonic and humanistic! I’m sure Peter was genuinely concerned for the national life of his people who were oppressed by the Romans. But he forgot the millions of people and nations whom God loved just as much and who equally needed God’s saving grace in Christ. The application is clear; we ought to align our dreams, money, time, and resources with God’s purposes. Otherwise we stand in danger of forsaking the Gospel.
Are your desires for wealth and prosperity contrary to the purposes of God?
Are they focused only on you, your family, the pursuit of wealth, or a new business venture? What about the homeless, Christ-less, the spiritually and materially poor around you? If you gained money or wealth without the aim of using it mainly for the concerns of God, then your wealth is a curse, an expression of God giving you over to your desires. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son,[a] lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.” – Psalm 2:11-12.
JOY! Magazine (December 2017)