Three Exemplary Jesus Practices about Money and Work

Klaus Issler

Excerpt from Living into the Life of Jesus: The Formation of Christian Character by Klaus Issler © 2012.

Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515.  www.ivpress.com

 

Excerpt from Chapter 8, pages 184-197

 

Chapter 8: THREE EXEMPLARY JESUS PRACTICES ABOUT MONEY AND WORK

You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up

 hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other.

You can’t worship God and Money both.

Matthew 6:24 – The Message

 

Jesus regards our attitudes about money as very important in the formation of our character. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21, Lk 12:33). This verse comes next, “If your eyes are generous, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are stingy [lit. “evil eye”] your whole body will be full of darkness” (Mt 6:22-23, Lk 11:34, emphasis added). 1 R. T. France summarizes that, “One indication of a person’s spiritual health is their generosity or lack of it in the use of their material possessions.”2 When was the last time we thought about our reputation regarding our possessions on loan from God? Do we lean toward being more tight-fisted or more open-handed?  It’s ultimately God’s money we’re managing, so shouldn’t it be easier to give away someone else’s money? Loving God means developing a proper attitude about money, as noted in the verse at the beginning of the chapter.

This chapter’s purpose is to explore Jesus’ life and teaching on these matters and offer suggestions for our formation. Yet Jesus’ teachings on money have been perceived as difficult to harmonize and difficult to discern the meaning of, reminding us of the challenges of interpretation raised in chapter one.  Also, clarifying an understanding of a biblical view of money requires some idea about a biblical view of work.  Consequently, the initial section of the chapter explores the subject of work, which in many cases is the means we engage to earn money for our material needs.  Aspects of the discussion on work and money may seem new. I invite readers to work through the whole chapter before drawing preliminary conclusions.  Perhaps record the questions that come to mind and note which items were addressed and which items need further study.

Due to space limits, I’ll our focus on the potentially good aspects of the topic as related to our formation. Andrew Perriman notes, “We cannot ignore the fact that wealth is a positive resource. It is a hazardous resource, certainly, but within a redeemed community there should be the wisdom and grace available to handle wealth responsibly.”3 Only brief comments are mentioned about the dangers of money. On that issue, please consult relevant sources cited in the notes.4

Part one (chapters one through three) of this book focused on our core worldview beliefs—how these can help us or hinder us from living more into the life of Jesus. Over the past seven years, I’ve experienced some perspective shifts regarding Jesus’ view on money and work that have been liberating. From this journey, I’ve identified two particular gaps of my own for discussion later in the chapter: the “Sunday-Monday” gap and the “Money is worldly” gap. Some insights are helping me move forward, but I’m still on the way.  This chapter has three major sections, exploring the topics of work, money, and giving.  These particular areas relate to three exemplary practices from Jesus’ own life: doing our work well, trusting in God’s provision while wisely using money on loan from God, and giving generously.

PRACTICE 1: DOING OUR WORK WELL

Work is a permanent feature of humankind’s design and destiny, not the result of the Fall into sin. Work was initiated in the Garden of Eden (Gen 1:28, 2:15) and it will continue into the next age, as we serve and reign with God forever (Rev 22:3,5). Dallas Willard suggests some distinctions among four key terms helpful for this discussion (the terms were displayed in concentric circles, the first term as the smallest circle; so a later term incorporates and includes the previous term):

  1. Job: What I am paid to do, how I earn my living
  2. Ministry: That part of God’s special work in my time that He has specifically allotted me
  3. Work: The total amount of lasting goods that I will produce in my lifetime
  4. Life: Me. My experience and who I am5

Accordingly, when the term work is used in the following discussion, it includes a reference to our ministry and our job as well. Furthermore, there are an increasing number of academic contributions toward a theology of work for all believers in Christian thought.  Two of these resources will be cited in the following section.6

 

Work’s Instrumental and Intrinsic Value. Darrell Cosden, summarizing his scholarly book-length treatment, proposes the following technical definition of work. Note that various factors are clustered around three particular dimensions.

Human work is a transformative activity essentially consisting of dynamically interrelated instrumental, relational, and ontological dimensions: whereby, along with work being an end in itself [ontological], the worker’s and others’ needs are providentially met; believers’ sanctification is occasioned [instrumental]; and workers express, explore and develop their humanness while building up their natural, social and cultural environments thereby contributing protectively and productively to the order of this world and the one to come [relational].7

Hints about these three dimensions are included in the definition: the ontological dimension includes the transcendent, transformative and eternal value of work as an end itself—that work is greater than the sum of its parts—an activity that can be “permeated with the ethos of [God’s] sabbath”8 (Gen 2:2, Heb 4:9-11); the instrumental dimension involves both material sustenance needs connected with economic issues and personal spiritual formation/sanctification through work; and the relational dimension aligns with the opportunity for self-expression and flourishing as well as for broader societal development and matters of social justice.

Work is a continuing “community” endeavor, a fitting follow-up topic to the last chapter. Work is never accomplished solely as an individual performance, but requires the collaboration, coordination, and trust, of many, such as suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and of course, customers. Also, we cannot fail to mention resources from the material world and the dynamics of its physical laws that contribute to work–all provisions from God. Without these varied partnerships, work cannot be sustained.

As a blessing of the New Covenant, believers are indwelt and empowered by the Spirit to serve the common good in cooperation with God (Ezek 36:26-27; 2 Cor 3:6). Miroslav Volf proposes “work in the Spirit” as the foundation for a biblical theology of work, expanding the use and scope of our spiritual empowerments beyond the local church, rather than relying on the traditional concept of vocation. “All human work, however complicated or simple, is made possible by the operations of the Spirit of God in the working person; and all work whose nature and results reflect the values of the new creation is accomplished under the instruction and inspiration of the Spirit of God (see Is 28:24-29).”9 Yet even those outside of God’s family, being created in the image of God, are animated by God’s power with the divine gifts of natural abilities. The point is that Jesus’ followers have greater potential to work for the good of all as we partner with the Spirit.

Regardless of our occupations as plumber, trash collector, teacher, mechanic, or pastor, we cooperate with God in doing good work.  The apostle Paul uses the analogy of a physical body with many members with implications for the division of labor: not all can be the eye; some will be the foot, knee or internal organs. “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22).  Each member, regardless of function, is important for the functioning of the body. “The whole body. . . grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:16). Of course, one motivation to work is to make money to provide for material needs and share with others (Eph 4:28, 2 Thes 3:6-13). But there is more.  Labor—as a permanent feature of our human design and destiny—also involves other instrumental and intrinsic values. If we wish to bring all of our life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ then our day job must be included too.

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