Three Exemplary Jesus Practices about Money and Work

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.


Excerpt from Chapter 8, pages 184-197



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.


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.

Three job sectors. Our job tasks range across a wide spectrum, classified into three main working sectors: public (working for government), private not-for-profit (civic, moral, and religious organizations that rely on donations for all or part of their operating budgets), and private for-profit (various small and large businesses in the marketplace). Table 8.1 provides estimates of the percentages of the 2010 U.S. total workforce. Musing on these differing percentages yields insight about two issues.  First, some may wonder, with so much greed in the for-profit sector, how can Christians affirm business? Of course, a greater number of cases of greed and corruption will likely occur in the for-profit sector due to the vast majority of people working in this sector. Such evil also occurs routinely in other sectors since greed is a matter of the human heart (Mk 7:21-22), as reported somewhat regularly in the news.  Second, one need not be a rocket scientist to recognize a basic economic principle: a much higher percentage of the workforce is essential in the business sector (currently around 80 percent) to sustain financial support for the continued existence of the other two sectors. Can Christians recognize how important good businesses are for creating the wealth that sustains charities and government services?


Table 8.1 Three Sectors of the United States Total Workforce—2010 Data


Jesus and business. Do we realize that Jesus worked at a “secular” job for most of his young adult years? We might have expected a different career path and preparation for the one who would be Messiah. As was customary for boys in that day, Jesus was probably apprenticed alongside his father Joseph.  His former neighbors knew Jesus by his previous trade: “Isn’t this the tektōn?” (Mk 6:3; Mt 13:55). Tektōn has been rendered as “carpenter” since William Tyndale’s English Bible translation (1526). Yet Ken Campbell suggests “builder” as a more accurate translation. “In the context of first-century Israel, the tektōn was a general craftsman who worked with stone, wood, and sometimes metal in large and small building projects.”10

If apprenticed at the customary age of twelve, then Jesus spent at least eighteen years as a builder, six times as long as his public ministry (see table 8.2). Tradition suggests that his father Joseph died a few years prior to Jesus entering public ministry. During that time, then, Jesus headed up the family building business, implying Jesus’ primary responsibility for financially supporting the family (Matt 13:55-56). Darrel Bock notes, “Only artisans or other craftspeople had the ancient equivalent of small, independent businesses. They constituted a minority of the labor force.”11 For Jesus’ family to work in a trade indicates they were in the lower middle-income class of that day.12


Table 8.2 Jesus’ 18 years in the Building Trade

Almost 50% of Jesus’ parables have a “business setting” (see Table 8.3). Perhaps some aspects of these stories had a personal connection. For example, when teaching on the cost of discipleship, Jesus mentions one should have the funds at the start to complete a tower (Lk 14:28). Might Jesus have built a tower for a customer but never have been fully paid?

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.

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” ( 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 (

7 Darrell Cosden,  A Theology of Work (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2006 [2004]), 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 <>.

25 William Peel and Walt Larimore, Going Public with Your Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).

Have our latest content delivered right to your inbox!