God and Money
The United States was primarily an agrarian economy when it was founded. It became an industrial economy in the 19th century. It became primarily a service economy in the 20th century. We are a capital-intensive economy. It costs about $100,000 of capital investment to create and sustain one job today in the United States. Therefore, we live in a non-agrarian economy that is very capital intensive in which one usually provides for his family and/or himself and/or herself by working for someone else who has provided the capital to create the opportunity to work. This creates real tension for a Christian business person that can only be resolved by understanding whose kingdom we live in. This will be developed later.
A good question is: what is the inheritance (wealth) that a Christian may reasonably plan to pass on to his children in the context of Jubilee? I believe that the maximum responsibility of a father includes providing his children with the education needed to provide for their family in the context of today's capitalistic economy, helping his children acquire their first home, and possibly helping them purchase their first car--all in such a way that they don't enter adulthood laden with debt.
Let's summarize wealth in the Old Testament. Modest wealth within context of God's Jubilee economy is a sign of God's blessing. God's Jubilee economy provided every family with the equal opportunity to own and pass on to the next generation modest wealth, but it eliminated the opportunity to become exceedingly wealthy. The Israelites were not content with modest wealth and acquired great wealth by oppressing fellow Israelites, by permanently acquiring their inherited lands, and by reducing their fellow Israelites to permanent servitude.
This is very important to understand, because so much of today's wealth and prosperity gospel is based on the misunderstanding that wealth as a blessing in the Old Testament was unlimited. It was not. It was modest wealth within context of God's Jubilee economy.
God condemned those who became exceedingly wealthy and denounced their attempt to worship Him with their wealth as an abomination. God was so disgusted with Israel that He allowed them to be defeated militarily and exiled to foreign lands.
Wealth as a Sacrament
In order to transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament attitude about wealth we need to look at wealth as a sacrament in the Old Covenant. God showed His grace to Israel by: delivering them from slavery in Egypt, giving Israel the "Promised Land", and giving each family the land (the capital) the family needed to provide for itself. The land and its produce together resulted in modest wealth which was a sign of God's blessing--a kind of sacrament. God's salvation was a deliverance from physical slavery and oppression and the Promised Land was the particular physical place of God's blessing on this planet.
In the New Testament, wealth is turned upside down. God shows His grace to you and me by: delivering us from slavery to sin, adopting us as sons and daughters, and welcoming us as citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do the good work in the Kingdom that God prepared in advance for us to do.
God's free gift of Jesus' incarnation, death and resurrection is the source of our wealth. As the apostle Paul says:
We were saved by grace (the free gift of God) through faith; and not even faith was from within ourselves; it also was a gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
It is highly significant that Jesus was sold for money (30 pieces of silver) under the world's money system.
Wealth in this world is no longer a sign of God's blessing. The only wealth that is a sign of God's blessing in the New Testament is the forgiveness of sin and an abundant new life as citizens in the Kingdom of God.
The wealth of this world is thus reduced to money. Since money has no place per se in God's work of salvation, money is no longer directly related to the form of wealth that is a gift of God. Money now refers primarily to the idea of exchange--Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver.
Wealth expresses primarily the idea of abundance. Jesus said:
I have come so that you may have super-abundant life. (John 10:10)
The apostle Paul said:
Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him. And through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:15-22)
This transition of the meaning and form of true wealth for a Christian is very important; it is very critical. If you are to understand the New Testament's constant diatribe against material wealth and riches, you must understand that God's grace (His good giving) is no longer signified by a place in a physical Promised Land on this planet. God's grace is totally represented by the gift of Jesus and new life in the Kingdom of God. Wealth is no longer what comes from a place in the physical Promised Land. Wealth is Jesus and new life in the Kingdom of God.
Kingdoms in Conflict —- The Conflict Between the Economic Systems of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the World
Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy) defines "kingdom" (or "queendom") as the realm where my choice determines what happens. It is the range of my effective will--whatever I have the say over is my kingdom. This having dominion is the core or likeness of the image of God in us. It is the destiny for which we were formed-–to reign. In the creation covenant, our job description was to collectively rule over all living things–-plants and animals.
Continued on next page
More by Perry Bigelow
- A Developer's Perspective on Healthy Communities
- The Builder-Developer as a Steward of God's Resources
- Builder of the Year Acceptance Speech
- Building and Development Philosophy: Cultural and Environmental Sustainability
- 13th Annual Affordable Comfort Conference
- 1st Annual National Green Building Conference
- Bibliography - Neighborhood Planning, Community & Ecology
- The Spirituality of Sustainability
- Stewardship of Creation
- God and Money
- Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
- Excerpts from "Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community"
- Devotional - Listening to God Daily
- Bibliography for "God and Money" and "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger"