“In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3, NKJV).
Several years ago a younger visitor commented about his modest aspirations for a house. “I don’t want anything fancy, just a simple place kind of like your house.” Though I would agree that my house is not fancy, it represents many years of saving and working and is likely the largest and last house I will own. I was a little shocked at this example of the next generation’s definition of “starter home.” Of course, that particular individual may not be a true representative of his generation.
Many of us have enjoyed singing the old song, “Mansion over the Hilltop” with its opening line: “I’m satisfied with just a cottage below” and its proud claim “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop,” which asserts the Christian’s hope of a glorious eternity in Heaven. I must confess that I question our sincerity when we claim satisfaction with only a cottage here on earth.
One reaction to conditions in less developed countries that never changes no matter how many times I visit them is the simplicity and sparseness of the living conditions of so much of the world’s population. Two or three (or more) generations will live in a simple house, often of only one or two rooms, with no basement, attic, or closets, and with little furniture. Cooking is done over a fire in a dirt oven (sometimes no more than a hole in the ground) or a propane burner. Sanitary facilities, if any are provided, are a hand pump in the yard and an outhouse. Until fairly recently the majority of these houses in rural areas had thatch or grass roofs; now many of those have been replaced with zinc (tin to us).
Jesus’ promise of a dwelling place in heaven in John 14 is rendered in the King James tradition as “many mansions.” More modern translations use the word “rooms” making the metaphor of heaven as a house more consistent. There is nothing in the text to suggest that these dwellings are lavish, large, or otherwise luxurious, though other descriptions of heaven do carry those implications (Revelation 21—22). John simply asserts that Jesus’ followers will have a permanent home in heaven which is being prepared by the Lord and to which he will personally escort them. What those dwellings will consist of, and how they are to be furnished is left to each believer’s imagination.
When I tell you that the house or apartment in which you are living would be considered by most citizens of Nepal or Bangladesh to be a mansion, you will likely think that I am exaggerating. But consider: Almost all of us have indoor plumbing, often with multiple bathrooms, heating and air-conditioning, well equipped kitchens with refrigerators, ovens, and other appliances, roofs which do not leak, much comfortable furniture, reliable electricity which rarely is cut off, considerable storage (which is mostly filled with extra possessions), and many other amenities. Such a house may not be very large, nor expensive by our standards, but is completely out of reach to most of the world’s population. “Just a cottage?” Not exactly.
My point is not to make us feel guilty because God has chosen to bless so many of us in this country (and a few others). It is rather to impress upon us how blessed we are and to suggest two appropriate reactions.
First is gratitude. We should thank God every day for our blessings and appreciate just how countless those are. We take for granted what many in the world don’t even hope for, because they don’t realize some of those things even exist. God has certainly been good to us, and we need to realize it and love and thank him accordingly.
Second is responsibility. Our houses and possessions are not really ours. They are gifts from God for which we are accountable and over which he has given us responsibility. When his audience asked John the Baptizer what they should do he replied, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). If we have more than is necessary for our well-being it is good and right for us to share some of the excess with those who are in need. John teaches that the love of God in us requires us to share from our abundance (1 John 3:17).
Paul taught the principle of equality; that those with excess should share with those in need so that neither would be burdened (2 Corinthians 8:13-14). It is noteworthy that this instruction is given to people in Achaia, that they may share with the poor of Jerusalem who were in another country far from them. Furthermore, the recipients of the Corinthian Gentile Christians’ gifts were Jews – that is of a different ethnicity from the givers. They were still fellow-Christians and “neighbors” for whom the Corinthians demonstrated love. How can we refuse to respond in similar ways?