Jesus. Real Life.

Posts tagged “love of money

Replay: “Sure, I’ll manage that for you . . .”

Love that green

Love that green

(This is an old post that maybe helps understand some of the more recent topics . . . enjoy)

 

It’s unfortunate to me that the word that best encapsulates current evangelical teaching on money is ‘stewardship.’ I totally dig the reasoning that God owns everything, therefore, I must steward his stuff, not mine. However, we’re running by a few steps that Jesus camped out on. I think it’s fair to say that whenever Jesus talked about money, he talked like he was talking to a group of addicts. As always, I’m open to hearing some disagreement on that point, but I don’t think the guts of his message was “steward it”; the guts of his teaching seems to be “put it down, and then take my hand.” Now, what happens when you tell a group of addicts to ‘steward’ the object of their affection? . . . Something very similar to what we have now in American churches, I think. Of course, our whole lives become an issue of stewardship (being a good, trustworthy servant) eventually, but we’ve got to give up ‘stewarding’ our very lives before we’re even a student of Jesus (again, according to Jesus). The first issue that must be dealt with, and repeated as necessary, is our white-knuckle grip on our lives, our dreams, our cash. Jesus’ counsel is not to steward it, but to lose it, and follow him.

I know this has big implications. But the first issue to be dealt with when it comes to money isn’t stewardship or tithing, but attachment, at least according to Jesus.


A Story . . .

Scot Mcknight has asked a question that made me think of this recent story from the downtown community of West Palm Beach, in which we are planting a church.  First, Scot’s question:

What are the major differences between “Christianity” and “following Jesus”?

And now, the story.  My partner in planting, Chris Tress, lives downtown and occasionally walks the streets just to talk to people.  A man approaches him. 

“You straight?” he asks Chris.  [This is basically short hand for asking if Chris wants drugs or not.  An answer of “I’m straight” is a “No, thanks.”]

“No, man; I’m straight.” Chris answers. “I’ve got Jesus, man.  I don’t need drugs.”

“Oh, I’m a Christian, man,” he responds.  “I’m a Christian,” he repeats.

“You are?  You’re out here trying to sell me drugs.  Look, Jesus says, ‘If you’re not gathering things together with me, you’re scattering them apart; If you’re not working with me, you’re working against me.’ 

“Jesus said that?!” the man says with genuine surprise. “Is that in the King James?”


Caution: Don’t Read (part II)

“Yeah, those bits from Jesus were tough, but what do you expect? He’s perfect. Nobody else, not even people that love Jesus, would say or do anything like that.” [If that’s your best defense against the stuff in the previous post, again, don’t read any further–the following was written by actual people who trusted Jesus and his words.]

  • “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root [a] of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith (A) and pierced themselves with many pains. 11 Now you, man of God, run from these things; but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, (B) endurance, (C) and gentleness.”
  • “Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. (AQ) 45 So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. [j] 46 And every day they devoted themselves [to meeting] together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, (AR) 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.”
  • “But know this: difficult times will come in the last days. (A) 2 For people will be lovers of self, (B) lovers of money”
  • “For an overseer, as God’s manager, must be blameless, not arrogant, not quick tempered, not addicted to wine, not a bully, not greedy for money”
  • “Your life should be free from the love of money.”
  • “Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant (E) or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, [a] who richly provides us with all things (F) to enjoy. 18 [Instruct them] to do good, to be rich in good works, (G) to be generous, willing to share”
  • “But the one who is rich [should boast] in his humiliation, because he will pass away like a flower of the field. (A) 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and dries up the grass; its flower falls off, and its beautiful appearance is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will wither away while pursuing his activities. (B)”
  • “Therefore, it is already a total defeat (F) for you that you have lawsuits against one another. Why not rather put up with injustice? (G) Why not rather be cheated?”
  • “And I say this, brothers: the time is limited, (S) so from now on . . . those who buy [should be] as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it. For this world in its current form is passing away. (U) 32 I want you to be without concerns.”
  • “For we brought nothing into the world, and [a] we can take nothing out. (B) 8 But if we have food and clothing, [b] we will be content with these.”
  • “You ask and don’t receive because you ask wrongly, so that you may spend it on your desires for pleasure. (A) 4 Adulteresses! [a] Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. (B) 5 Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit He has caused to live in us yearns jealously? (C) [b]”
  • “Do not love the world (W) or the things that belong to [d] the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. Because everything that belongs to [e] the world— 16 the lust of the flesh, (X) the lust of the eyes, (Y) and the pride (Z) in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world.”
  • “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but shuts off his compassion from him—how can God’s love reside in him?”
  • “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: although He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”
  • “And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.”

Is it just me, or do even the conservatives read the New Testament a little less literally when it comes to money?


Caution: Don’t Read

An interesting self-inspection: I’m wondering if what we really love and trust has anything to do with how we ‘interpret’ these bits from the gospels, mostly from the Man himself:

  • “No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot be slaves of God and of money.”
  • “[Jesus] instructed [the apostles] to take nothing for the road except a walking stick: no bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts”
  • “Don’t be afraid, (A) little flock, (B) because your Father delights (C) to give you the kingdom. (D) 33 Sell (E) your possessions and give to the poor. (F) Make money-bags (G) for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure (H) in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
  • “He also said to them, ‘When I sent you out without money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ ‘Not a thing,’ they said.”
  • “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of the unrighteous money so that when it fails, they may welcome you into eternal dwellings.”
  • “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and scoffing at Him.”
  • “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! (A) 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.'”
  • “Blessed are you who are poor, because the kingdom of God is yours. . . .But woe to you who are rich, because you have received your comfort.”
  • “As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit.”
  • “Someone from the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, (Z) tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ 14 ‘Friend,’ [d] He said to him, ‘who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ 15 He then told them, ‘Watch out and be on guard (AA) against all greed (AB) because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.’ “
  • He also said to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid. 13 On the contrary, when you host a banquet, (L) invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. (M) 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid (N) at the resurrection of the righteous.’ “
  • “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (X) 29 If anyone hits you on the cheek, (Y) offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks from you, and from one who takes away your things, don’t ask for them back. . . . If you do [what is] good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? (AB) Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do [what is] good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. (AC) For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil.”

I told you not to read it.


Oh, the logical consistency of Jesus

One of the assignments I gave my business law students last term was to read every passage in the NT that had some logical bearing on how to handle money or business issues, quote in full the passages that struck them, and give a brief comment on those passages as well as any themes that emerged. I highly encourage anyone to do this, that is, if you’re a person who wants to be loyal to Jesus and also have to use money. Of course, I then had to grade these collections, which meant I got to read a lot of these scriptures several times, along with my students’ reflections. I really never believed my own teachers when they talked about how much they had learned from teaching a class. Now I do. I can’t really go into everything I got out of that experience in one post, but one important aspect is the logical connections between so many of Jesus’ teachings.

Jesus says to love our enemies, even to love them by giving to them. He says to respond to takers with even more giving.*

He says in another place that to be his disciple, we have to be willing to give up all that we have, even our own life. If we don’t we can’t be his disciple.

He says in another place, we can’t serve, pursue, God’s interests and Money’s. We’re going to have to choose whose instrument we’re going to be, which master we’re going to trust and obey.

He says in yet another place that the message of God’s governing of earth, the good news, can be heard but rendered fruitless–producing nothing in a person–by the worries, cares, and desires of this life.

He says people who don’t really know God are constantly concerned with things to wear, eat, and use, but that we should be concerned with letting God lead again, and all that stuff will be taken care of by God’s undeserved kindness.

There are more, but do you see the connections?

*Incidentally, it is this feature of Christ’s teaching that hasn’t exactly caught fire among his “followers.” It also happens to be God’s plan for overcoming evil. So I guess loyalty to money = no fruitful loyalty to God = evil keeps on truckin’.


True or False?

Here’s a true/false question I put on my most recent test in business law:

Based on the New Testament’s examples and teachings, Christians in a business dispute should be primarily concerned with the money that they have been given by God to steward.

Now, I actually don’t think the question is that hard. The fun part, I think, is that it raises other questions for Christians in business (not that I expect the students to remotely think about them during an exam): If building and maintaining my stack of cash shouldn’t be the primary objective when in a dispute with others, is it ever supposed to be our primary objective from a New Testament perspective? Is money supposed to be our main goal in planning our advertising? In product design? In customer service? In family relations? “Wait a minute,” you may say. “Of course not in family relations, but the other examples are different. They’re business, and the reason to be in business is to make money.” Really? So, if we spend the bulk of our time at work week to week and year to year, whose servants are we? Another way to look at it would be to talk about whom we are called to love. If we say that family relations are about the good of each person (love) and money is a mere object in comparison to their importance, how do we biblically keep that kind of priority structure within our biological families alone? If I owe the same duty of love to all, how then can it be a cheapening of family relations to make them primarily about money and not with other relations? On what basis do we make actions in business that clearly affect other people about (our) money instead about their good, biblically speaking?

You may say to me (as some students have implied), “But T, none of the economic activities you mentioned would happen at all if not motivated primarily by money.” I’m sure there are a lot of activities that wouldn’t happen without money being the primary motivator (I’d be happy to see a lot of those ads go, to be honest), but there would still be a whole lot of services and goods produced at God’s leading and inspiration alone. There would even be ads, though it would interesting to think about what form they would take. It’s interesting to think about what activities would disappear and which ones would emerge if God was the Master behind all activities, if Love was our master even in business. We give money too much credit and God too little if we think that nothing productive would happen without money being our main objective. Jesus didn’t just talk in parables, he fed the multitudes; he restocked the wine at a wedding; he healed the sick. Paul talks about doing something useful (for others) with our own hands, and he practiced the same. God gave the Israelites the wisdom of letting their soil rest before science revealed the reason. Just imagine what would happen–and what wouldn’t–if serving Jesus’ agenda was our primary objective in all our activities, including whatever we might get paid for doing.

Further, I don’t see how a ‘business is about money’ attitude is compatable with the idea of God calling us or leading us to our work for the good of the world, let alone compatible with a gospel of the inbreaking governing of God. Either God calls and continues to lead or money does, and whoever is leading will shape and color the whole activity. My thinking here is essentially based on Jesus’ statement “You can’t serve both God and money” [at the same time]. Money, of course, tells us, as God does, that it must be given top priority–it is the bottom line, the plumb line, for deciding whether an endeavor as successful or not. This is how money has made even God’s people its ambassadors and instruments rather than God’s for the bulk of their lives. It is this single dynamic that I think is at the root of all kinds of issues that plague the Western Church as a whole and make the international Church so shocked at the severity of our dualisms. We just trust money more than God for life in this world. Money, in our estimation, gets things done. Jesus may be lord in heaven, but money is lord on earth. This is what our lawsuits, our ads, our schedules and our spending scream to the whole world, as routinely as the earth and stars speak of God’s beauty and power.

The only solution to Money’s current leadership position that I can think of is to individually increase our personal appreciation for what God does right now in the physical world, and decrease our faith in Money. Money doesn’t actually make the world go ’round–God does. Money doesn’t actually keep me and my family on this earth, but God does. Money doesn’t actually give me my brain and everything else I have to use in the world, but God does. Money doesn’t actually control the billions of intangible things that keep my life (including my business) from falling apart. God does. Money didn’t lead me to my wife, to my current business and professorship, and it didn’t give me my daughter. God did. To reimagine an old Psalm, “I look up to the high rises and skyscrapers, hosting the earth’s powers. Does my help come from there? No. My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.” Maybe as we think about all that God does in this world, in our own lives, out of mercy alone–really take some time to wonder about it–we will begin to trust his ability to take care of the practical things and then make his leadership, his reigning, our primary concern. Then, maybe, the activities of the world–even the economic ones–will slowly take a very different shape and character.


"Sure, I’ll manage that for you . . ."

It’s unfortunate to me that the word that best encapsulates current evangelical teaching on money is ‘stewardship.’ I totally dig the reasoning that God owns everything, therefore, I must steward his stuff, not mine. However, we’re running by a few steps that Jesus camped out on. I think it’s fair to say that whenever Jesus talked about money, he talked like he was talking to a group of addicts. As always, I’m open to hearing some disagreement on that point, but I don’t think the guts of his message was “steward it”; the guts of his teaching seems to be “put it down, and then take my hand.” Now, what happens when you tell a group of addicts to ‘steward’ the object of their affection? . . . Something very similar to what we have now in American churches, I think. Of course, our whole lives become an issue of stewardship (being a good, trustworthy servant) eventually, but we’ve got to give up ‘stewarding’ our very lives before we’re even a student of Jesus (again, according to Jesus). The first issue that must be dealt with, and repeated as necessary, is our white-knuckle grip on our lives, our dreams, our cash. Jesus’ counsel is not to steward it, but to lose it, and follow him.

I know this has big implications. But the first issue to be dealt with when it comes to money isn’t stewardship or tithing, but attachment, at least according to Jesus.