As I launch this blog, I want to cover some basics that will explain my fundamental beliefs about my faith and my view of economics. For starters, a natural first question for a reader might be “Why would a Christian spend so much time thinking and writing about economics? The poor soul must be really preoccupied with mammon.” Well, here is why: God is God over all things and not just our precious little hearts. This includes our heads, our hands, our feet, our backs and all other body parts that we use in his service. It seems to be a fundamental law of the universe that when we put our bodies toward productive activities it is not too long until money enters the scene. So herein lies the tension, we are not to love money but in the process of serving the Lord he gives us money.
Your Work Exists in a Marketplace
We as Christians ought to be cognizant of the fact that our actions have both eternal value (measured by God’s approval or disapproval of our actions) and temporal value (typically measured in greenbacks). There are things that have high temporal value but almost no eternal value, and vice versa. Those who focus solely pursuing wealth are those that Jesus rebukes for worshiping mammon. Those who focus solely on serving others without regard for themselves still need to make a living. But the fact is these methods of valuation are not mutually exclusive. Many of the things we do in order to obtain a material benefit actually produce a blessing for others. Many of the things we do in order to bless others end up bringing us a financial return (dare I say a profit?). God designed the system to work in this way. I think, at least in part, that is what he meant when he told us “pursue first the Kingdom and the rest of these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). The point is that we should not pursue wealth for wealth’s sake. We should pursue great results (products, services, children, whatever) and God will bless those efforts if he wishes.
Now there is no question that the New Testament encourages us to focus on our eternal home and cultivating the characteristics that will be approved once we get there. Jesus says, for example: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-21). Also see Galatians 5: 22-23, Colossians 3:1-2.
This does not change the fact that God gave us a playbook, approximately 834 pages long (at least mine is) instructing us in how to live wise and fruitful lives while on this earth. Once we are made God’s people through Jesus blood, he wants us to contribute on earth through faithfulness, perseverance, hard work, and mortifying our sins daily. As you do this, inevitably you will be interacting in the economic marketplace daily. You are receiving a paycheck aren’t you? You are spending it on things that you and your family want and need, aren’t you? Sure you could hold your holy little nostrils shut every time you make a deposit at the bank, but wouldn’t you rather know how to manage your money in a faithful way? Wouldn’t you rather have a mental framework for understanding why the economy functions as it does?
God Can Give Prosperity
When we examine the entirety of the Bible we find that God has a lot to say about money and even about wealth. The number vintage Biblical heroes who were wealthy in their time is noteworthy. Abraham had more livestock than he knew what to do with (Genesis 13:2). David was revered not just for his earthly accomplishments but also for his wealth (Chronicles 29:28). Similarly Job, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Solomon are all named as men of affluence. Further, it is clear that these men didn’t get rich dishonestly. God thought of wealth as a blessing when he gave it do them. Consider, if money and possessions were a curse, wouldn’t Job’s days emaciated and covered in boils have been the real blessing and not the days when God returned his possessions two-fold? (Job 42:10). God revealed and promised to David to not let him suffer perpetually, but that he would receive both temporal and eternal blessings for obedience (Psalm 34:10-12; Psalm 23:5-6; Psalm 25:12-13). Not to mention, one of the primary themes of Proverbs is advice on how to build wealth through hard work and integrity. “The blessings of the Lord makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” (Proverbs 10:22).
At this point you may say, “Well, yeah but these guys are all from the Old Testament. God changed all of that when he sent Jesus. Now aren’t we are supposed to forsake wealth and follow him?” Well you are certainly right that we are supposed to forsake all things in favor of Jesus. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t supposed to continue working. Consider Paul’s words in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Consider that Paul himself continued his vocation even while he ministered (Acts 18:3). Furthermore, there were faithful followers of Jesus in the New Testament period who were well off and who were not rebuked for their financial position (1 Timothy 6:17-19; Matt 27:57). Importantly, Jesus himself spoke favorably of responsible management of resources (Matt 24:14-30; Luke 14:25-34; Luke 16:10-13).
Lastly, a point that I think is frequently missed, on occasion Jesus himself used wealth and valuable possessions in parables to serve as analogies for heaven and forgiveness. Think of the pearl of great value, the parable of the workers in the field, and the parable of the talents, to name a few (Matt 13:46, Matt 18:21-35, Matt 25:14-30). Those who want to overly spiritualize Jesus’ parables would say that these are just stories about salvation and we should not get caught up on the symbols. But if wealth were categorically a bad thing, these would certainly be strange choices for symbols, wouldn’t they? A common saying in English is “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” The saying itself implies that applies are sweet. If we used the same hermeneutics as some Bible commentators, we would conclude from this saying that we should all avoid bad company and apples while we are at it. They are just a symbol for good character after all.
On to the Next Topic
Throughout the Old Testament and continued into the New, there are certainly had no shortage of sharp words for those who worship wealth. I’m not trying to dodge this reality in the least. I’ll explore this topic and harmonize it with this one in a future post. Fear not, this blog is not intended to be a blanket approbation for all things Western capitalism. If you are a fan of free markets enjoy for now but don’t get too comfortable.