THE FRENCH PHILOSOPHER DESCARTES said: “I think, therefore I am.” For many Singaporeans, though, the saying “I have, therefore I am” is perhaps more accurate.
Many of us, consciously or unconsciously, measure our success and worth by what we have: our homes, our cars, our investment portfolio, our fashionable clothes, the label on the bags we carry and the shoes we wear. We ascribe value to these possessions and these values are reinforced by the media, with media reports on people’s designer homes with walk-in wardrobes and state-of-the-art kitchens, and advertisements touting the most exquisite luxury products.
These messages are both pervasive and persuasive. And we start to believe that such material things are necessary, and will help us to be more fulfilled and beautiful, and happier. As a result, we are quick to judge others by their clothes (“domestic helper”), accent (“China national”) and possessions (“low class”).
How then can we live out our Christian values when we subscribe to these other beliefs? I suggest three foundational values which we must cling on to in order to counter these biases which can burrow deep into our consciousness.
First, we are all created in the image of God and our worth and dignity comes from that. From this foundational principle, we derive such values as the dignity of every person regardless of their socio-economic status or skin colour. Yet we often use all the accoutrements of possessions and status to assign value to, and the worth of another person, because our starting premise is “I have, therefore I am” rather than “fearfully and wonderfully made” in God’s image.
To the one with fine clothes, we say “Here’s a good seat for you”. To the one who is poorly or humbly attired, we say “You stand there” (cf. James 2:2-4). Are we not judging?
To our friends, family, colleague, peers, and even strangers post on our Facebook page the exotic places we visit, and the cool restaurants we dine at.
You may ask, “What’s wrong with that? I can afford it and I want to give my children a good life and a wide variety of experiences.” That is so, and no one begrudges it of you.
But consider this second foundational value – the virtues of giving and generosity which are not exclusive to our faith, but are clear Biblical commands.
God’s word exhorts us to give generously to others (cf. Deut 15:10; Ps 112:5; Prov 11:25; Luke 11:41). In his generosity, God has already given to us the greatest gift of all, eternal life through the death and resurrection of His only Son Jesus Christ.
As believers we have also received bountiful spiritual gifts, peace beyond understanding and unspeakable joy.
Can we share what we have in abundance with those who have less? Not just money or possessions but our time, effort and energy as well to reflect God’s character, and to acknowledge His over- flowing generosity.
Herein lies a third value. I am not just a person going on my own merry way to heaven, but a Christian who is part of a church. Christians have a duty of care that extends beyond our personal selves towards others. Within our churches are a wide variety of people, with different incomes, occupations and abilities.
Sharing our resources and spending time with others is part of being in community. As Christians who are privileged with education and material wealth, and called to be salt and light, we have responsibilities to live out God’s values (Matthew 5 – 7) serving our society so that it is more like the Kingdom of God.
Hence, since I am not my possessions, and you do not need things to define and shape your worth, we are all free as children of God, a community of God’s people, to be generous with all that we have.
Kwa Kiem Kiok is a local preacher at Trinity Methodist Church and teaches missions-related subjects at East Asia School of Theology.