Three Exemplary Jesus Practices about Money and Work
A formation approach to our job, our ministry, our work. Christians desire guidance for how to integrate their God life with their work life—especially those in the business sector. Ken Eldred suggests one integrative model that highlights a three-fold Christian ministry focus at the office: 20
1. a ministry at work: pointing those around us to God,
2. a ministry of work: serving and creating via work itself
3. a ministry to work: redeeming the practices, policies and structures of institutions.
Pointing others to God has been a traditional and important idea. Let’s also expand our horizons to include the other two, of doing work well, and also improving how work is done, regardless of our full- or part-time occupations as mother, as flight attendant, or as nurse. Doing our work well and interacting well with others around us not only gets the job done, but can help Jesus’ peace to dissolve the frustration and anxiety other ay carry, improving the relational interactions that are part of our work.
For example, what happens when people notice our good actions? Bill Heatley, an IT professional, wanted to invite God to operate in and through him. Specifically one way to do this was by looking for ways to appreciate and support his fellow colleagues, providing space for God’s love. Bill was involved in a project in which two departments were coordinating aspects of the project. His counterpart from the other department was a woman who was well prepared and “sweating the details”, so he could anticipate a productive meeting for the project. The only problem was that these two groups had an eighteen-month history of feuding and Bill was new on the job. In light of this history Bill “did three simple things: I prayed for her. I thanked the management in another meeting, and I sent an email to her boss expressing my appreciation for her hard work.” 21 The results were surprising—“the effect was immediate and beyond any reasonable explanations from my efforts.”22 Tension was eased and greater cooperation became evident between the two departments. As a result of this powerful experience, Heatley confessed, his God-confidence increased, encouraging him to look for more opportunities to make space for God at work.
We may not often see how doing good work may involve life-and-death circumstances. David Larsen shared with me how he greatly appreciated the smooth roads paved by the works department in Dallas, Texas. The pothole-free streets permitted an ambulance to transport his granddaughter, whose life was threatened by any major jostling, from one hospital to another without a mishap.23 Each day we have the opportunity to co-operate with God the Holy Spirit, fulfilling our design and destiny at work. Pastoral responsibility for equipping “God’s people for the works of service” (Eph 4: 12) includes teaching the wide range of ministries Eldred noted above to be kingdom representatives at work.24
Work prayer projects. Consider these prayer projects as a way to emphasize a formation approach at work.
a. Reflect on Jesus’ work as builder with stone and wood, probably doing this for eighteen years of his life. Talk with Jesus about your reflections. Do any insights have implications for your work?
b. William Peel and Walter Latimer propose we first build a platform of credibility with work colleagues so they’ll be more receptive to hearing about Jesus. We earn credibility to share the good news through developing a good track record in each of these three areas: competency (doing excellent work on the job), character (making wise job decisions of integrity), and consideration or concern (showing genuine mercy and compassion for our colleagues).25 Consider the past month at work. Does a particular event or person come to mind that awakens some further formational attention?
c. Envision yourself partnering with Jesus to do your work well, since Jesus is very interested in your job as part of his kingdom. Talk with Jesus about your work, how it’s going, about your hopes about ways to do it more excellently, and about new ideas to fulfill your company’s overall mission.
1 Alternate translation, TNIV; so also R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), pp. 261-62.
2 Ibid., p. 262.
3 Andrew Perriman, ed. Faith, Health and Prosperity (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster, 2003), p. 223, Report of The Evangelical Alliance [UK] Commissions on Unity and Truth among Evangelicals.
4 Among Christian scholars there are divergent views regarding a Christian perspective about money and business. Of course, there are common agreements, such as affirming the dangers of wealth, the importance for Christians to be generous givers, and the great need to care for and seek justice for the poor, locally and globally (see the “Oxford Declaration on Christian Faith and Economics,” Jan. 1990; first published in Transformation 7, no. 2, [April/June 1990]: 1-8). Yet major differences remain among Christian leaders on these matters, as is the case with other Christian doctrines.
One common view is championed by Ron Sider (Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, [1977; reprint, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005]). In this chapter I give voice to an alternative paradigm represented by the writings of, for example, John Schneider (The Good of Affluence, [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002]), Wayne Grudem (Business for the Glory of God, [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003]), Kenman Wong and Scott Rae (Business for the Common Good: A Christian Perspective for the Marketplace, [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011]), and Michael Novak (Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life,[New York: Free Press, 1996]).
Differences are evident in the biblical teaching about meeting the challenges of the poor. For example, Schneider emphasizes the great potential for good through the expansion of good business and wealth creation to benefit all in the world—including the poor—for God’s Kingdom purposes, whereas, Sider gives greater emphasis to reducing use of the earth’s resources and the redistribution of Christian wealth as the primary solution for addressing poverty.
5 Dallas Willard, “Some Steps Toward Soul Rest in Eternal Living,” Biola University Faculty Workshop, August 17, 2011
6 For an on-going project to study the Bible’s teaching about work, see “Theology of Work” (www.theologyofwork.org). For example, see “Ecclesiastes and Work,” which can be downloaded from their website. Another organization, The Acton Institute, promotes the integration of Judeo-Christian truths and business (www.acton.org).
7 Darrell Cosden, A Theology of Work (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2006 ), pp 178-179.
8 Ibid., p. 184.
9 Miroslav Volf, Work in the Spirit (1991; reprint, Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2001), p. 114.
10 Ken M. Campbell, “What Was Jesus’ Occupation?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 3, (September 2005): 512.
11 Darrell Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), p. 122.
12 Walter Pilgrim, Good News to the Poor (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1981), p. 46. Darrell Bock notes, “Fishing was a major industry in Galilee. [James and John] even had ‘hired servants’ (Mark 1:20), showing that they were among the closest thing to a middle class that existed at the time.” Jesus According to Scripture (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), p. 98.
13 “Scripture and the Wall Street Journal,” an interview by Collin Hansen, Christianity Today, November 2007, p. 33.
14 Scott Rae and Kenman Wong, Beyond Integrity, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), p. 73.
15 Laura Nash, Believers in Business (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994), pp. 279-80.
16 Ken Eldred, God Is At Work (Ventura, Calif.: Regal, 2005), p. 269.
17 A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, Penn.: Christian Publications, 1948), p. 117.
18 John Beckett, Loving Monday (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 69. Beckett was named Christian Businessman of the Year by the Christian Broadcasting Network (1999) and manufacturing Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young (2003).
19 Geoffrey W. Bromiley, “Vocation,” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 4:995.
20 Ken Eldred, The Integrated Life (Montrose, Colo.: Manna, 2010), p. 107.
21 Bill Heatley, The Gift of Work (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2008), p. 32-33.
22 Ibid., p. 32
23 David Larsen, personal communication, June 30, 2011.
24 For further study on work see Wong and Rae, Business for the Common Good. See Saddleback Church’s website for an example of such an equipping emphasis, initiated by Helen Mitchell <http://www.saddleback.com/lakeforest/adults/atwork>.
25 William Peel and Walt Larimore, Going Public with Your Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).