Three Exemplary Jesus Practices about Money and Work

Table 8.3 Jesus’ Parables Set Within Business-Related Contexts

Can we conclude Jesus understands the business world as an insider? He probably worked as a sub-contractor alongside other artisans, completing projects, and handling finances—negotiating bids, purchasing supplies, and contributing to family living expenses.  For those many years Jesus worked with his hands in masonry and carpentry, in good and bad weather, getting paid and not getting paid. Jesus can identify with the ups and downs of a business workday. For a few years, he had responsibilities for day-to-day operations of running what we’d call a small business. And consider that this day job—where he spent a good part of his young adult years—contributed to Jesus’ character formation to become the kind of person we read about in the Gospels.

Reflecting on the three-sector workforce framework (table 8.1), we can discern that Jesus affirmed each one. He implicitly acknowledged government has a legitimate role, by paying taxes himself (Mt 17:24-27; see also 22:21), by not requiring Zacchaeus as a chief tax collector to change his profession (Lk 19:2-10), and by including the tax collector Matthew as one of the twelve disciples (Mt 9:9, 10:3; he wrote the gospel of Matthew). Regarding the private, not-for-profit sector, Jesus lived on the donations of others during his three years of public ministry (Lk 8:3, Mk 15:41, Jn 12:6). Finally, Jesus worked in the for-profit sector in the building trade. Similarly, the Apostle Paul affirms each sector: he worked as a tent-maker (Acts 18:30), on occasion paying for his companions’ needs (Acts 20:33-35); he accepted financial support from churches (2 Cor 11:7-9, Phil 4:15-16); and he relied on the benefits of his Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37-38, 22:25-27), accepting government funding and personnel for his trip to Rome to receive Caesar’s judgment (Acts 25:10-12, 27:1-2).

Jesus quoted the common business proverb “workers deserve their wages” (Lk 10:7, Mt 10:10) and extended the application to the not-for-profit sector, when he commissioned his disciples for their itinerant ministry. Since Jesus affirms the value of each of the three working sectors, can we conclude that Christians are able to seek God’s kingdom values with a good job that seeks the common good within any sector?

Furthermore, Jesus acknowledged to the Father, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do” (Jn 17:4). He carried out this messianic responsibility in such an excellent fashion, that the Father “exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11). Amen! I think we can infer from his messianic work, that Jesus also gave this same kind of excellence to his job as a builder. Yet, despite Jesus’ own role in dignifying work in the business world, Christianity generally has not had a favorable view of business.

 

The “Sunday-Monday” Gap. What is the connection between our worship of God on Sunday and “secular” job on Monday? Such “secular Monday” labor has often been viewed primarily as a means of making money to support “God’s Sunday” ministry. Beyond that, there’s a continuing concern about business among most clergy. David Miller explains that, “Many business people are hungry to know how to integrate their faith into work. Unfortunately, most clergy don’t know how to help these parishioners, and they often show benign neglect, or even outright hostility, toward the marketplace.”13

As a card-carrying member of this group—having been a pastor and now a seminary professor—I become aware of my limiting core belief only late in life. Scott Rae and Kenman Wong note in their business ethics textbook, “The weight of historical Christian thought seems to lean against wholehearted participation in business”14 From her study of 65 Evangelical chief executive officers, Laura Nash reported that, “Many evangelical CEOs  . .  . felt that the clergy were unable to acknowledge the legitimacy of their roles as businesspeople or to see that the problems of business go beyond financial accountability.”15 Have we ever asked those employed in the for-profit sectors about their honest perceptions on this matter? I acknowledge that the church cooperates with the business sector in various ways, such as applying helpful business leadership principles. But these efforts do not address this deep-seated “Christian-cultural” unease about business itself.

Several factors contribute to this long-standing disconnect. Christian philanthropist Ken Eldred notes, “The Church tends to have a skeptical view of the role of faith in business, and many in the Church have difficulty making the connection between the two. A subtle divide exists between the Church and business, between business schools and seminaries, and between realms considered sacred and secular.”16 On this last point, A. W. Tozer (d.1963) clarifies this underlying tension, when writing about our relationship with God.

One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas, the sacred and the secular. As these areas are conceived to exist apart from each other and to be morally and spiritually incompatible, and as we are compelled by necessities of living to be always crossing back and forth from the one to the other, our inner lives tend to break up so that we live a divided instead of a unified life. . . . This is the old sacred-secular antithesis. Most Christians are caught in its trap.17

Yet this false dichotomy has become entrenched in an institutional way in the church. Isn’t there an implied pecking order of value within our Christian culture about kinds of work? A “calling” to so-called “full-time Christian ministry” (missions, pastoring, teaching at a seminary) are often perceived as having greater value to God than those roles without such a calling (e.g., business owner, plumber, homemaker). Sadly, such hierarchical valuing negatively impacts believers in business. John Beckett, Chairman of R. W. Beckett, shares,

For years, I thought my involvement in business was a second-class endeavor—necessary to put bread on the table, but somehow less noble than more sacred pursuits like being a minister or a missionary. The clear impression was that to truly serve God, one must leave business and go into “full-time Christian service.” Over the years, I have met countless other business people who feel the same way.18

Geoffrey Bromiley bemoans the “unfortunate distinction between the laity and the clergy, or the secular and the sacred, or the secular and the religious, or the people and the Church, which has caused so much mischief in both doctrine and practice.”19 Can we affirm that all believers are called to full-time Christian ministry as we labor in different job sectors?

I’ll summarize the key points about work before proposing some practical formational implications. This summary helps provide a background for our discussion of money in the next section.       Creation is good and thus physical matter is good. Work is normative for humans, part of our design and destiny. Work has eternal intrinsic value. All good labor is equally pleasing to God.  There is no hierarchy of ultimate job valuations among the three sectors: for-profit, not-for-profit, and public.  Jesus affirmed work within each sector. A robust and substantial for-profit sector is required to sustain the not-for-profit and public sectors. Many of us earn money through our labor to meet our material needs and so we can share with others. Workers are worthy of their wages and businesses must make a profit so wages can be paid. Some jobs are more spectacular, others more mundane, and people may wish they could have done other kinds of work. Regardless, in doing good work, we each can cooperate with God for kingdom values and purposes, being empowered by the Spirit of God. We can infer, from our study in chapter five, that Jesus himself exemplified such daily living at his building job.

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