What to Do with a ‘Surplus’

Full disclosure: I am friends with the author of the book I am reflecting on today.

The older I get, the more I try to see what the Bible really says about a topic. I try stripping away pre-conceived notions or popular opinions to get at a more balanced view. Sometimes the common reading is proved to be accurate, sometimes I find new layers to uncover. No matter where the digging leads, however, I always find myself slightly uncomfortable at the reality. God’s Word is not intended to just be an ancient text scholars talk about, it’s meant to press in on your life and push you toward holiness.

One area that ranks high on the list of uncomfortable topics is what the Bible says about money. In a key section of 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul talks at length about generous giving. With Surplus, Bryan Elliff dives into those passages and parses out what is being taught. The historical context was that a collection was being made among Gentile churches in eastern Europe to benefit Jewish churches in the area of Palestine. Paul, writing specifically to the church at the ancient city of Corinth, was making sure they would follow through on a previous commitment and explaining why generosity among Christians was so important. Elliff breaks down the two chapters in bite-sized chunks and works through the apostle’s various arguments. The point that Paul makes to the church back then, Elliff applies to the church today: be generous with your surplus.

By “surplus”, Elliff means any funds that go beyond what we need to survive from week to week. It is the extra money we put away into savings or retirement plans. For most people in Western society, surplus is important, almost sacred. What this book questions is whether it should be held so highly and whether or not Christians have become stingy with their giving. Paul at one point boasts of another church giving “beyond their ability” and yet having unencumbered joy. Would the Corinthians dare stretch out their financially secure necks that far, too? Will Christians today do that? The root of biblical liberality is in Jesus, who gave up everything to secure our salvation. If He gave up so much for us, why should we not give up much for Him and the people He died for?

A topic like this calls for discussion (and there are plenty of questions at the end of each chapter). One could think of counter-arguments or stipulations to wrestle with regarding the text’s message, but one thing does stand out clear: God expects generosity from His children. As the passage notes, “God loves a cheerful giver.” It’s easy for me in my current situation to think up excuses and figure this doesn’t apply to me. But it does. That makes me uneasy, but that’s not bad. It’s the healthy danger that comes from considering what the Bible says.

Quick Critique:

This little book is a challenging look at a biblical understanding of money and how Christians should use it. The chapters are short explanations of a chunk of text with some application. Study questions at the end help the reader think through the chapters’ contents in a deeper way. Worth picking up and reading a couple times!

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