Households: earning a living, spending, saving, giving

 

A. Texts

Purpose of work

  • Original calling: Gen. 2
  • Great commission: Mt. 28.20 (and Mt 6.31-33)
  • Vanity of work: Ecc. 2.24 (Ecc. 2.11)

Link between work and earning

  • Earning comes directly from God: Ex. 16.31-35; Dt. 6.18; Mt. 6.30-34, 7.7-11; 

Relation to wealth

  • We are stewards of God's wealth – nothing is ours: Gen .28.13; Lev. 25.23; Agg. 2.8; 1Cor 4.7
  • Responsibilities of rich people: Dt. 24.19-22; Lk. 6.24ss, 12.33; James 1.9-11, 2.5-7, 5.1ss; 1Tim. 6.17s; 2Cor 8.12-15; 1Jn 3.17
  • Caution against putting trust in wealth: Lk 12.18-21, 14.26-33, 16.19-31; Mt. 6.24, 10.23ss; Jer 9.23-26
  • Love of money versus contentment: 1Tim 6.6-10; Lk 3.11; Phil. 4.10-13
  • Quickly acquired wealth is dangerous: Pr. 13.11

Relation to saving

  • Wealth in the Promised Land comes from the abundance of the land, not the hard work of the Israelites: Ex. 3.8; Dt. 6.3-5; 8.1-20 (look also at the many texts about 'honey' in Dt)
  • The link between worry / fear of future and saving/ investing: Mt 6; Luke 12.16ss; Mk 4.18s; 1Jn 4.18

Tithe / Offering

  • Church in NT always gives, never lends: Acts 2.42-47, 4.32-35, 5.1-11; Lk. 12.33; 1Cor 13.3; Ecc 11.1s
  • Also: Ro 13.6s; Luke 19.11-27; 1Cor 9.4-19; Gal 6.10; 1Tim 5.17s; Lk 14.12-24; Lev. 27.30ss; Dt. 14.24ss

Wisdom in all domains of life, including projects, work, and money

  • Wisdom is given to all who ask for it: James 1.5; 
  • There is wisdom (and economic rationality) in abandoning earthly possessions to follow Christ: Mk 10.29-31; 2Cor 9.5-8; Mt 6; Luke 18.29-30 and Luke 14.26-33
  • Doing nothing that we cannot imagine Christ doing: Jn 5.19, 8.28; Mt. 6;

Interest and lending

  • No interest when lending to the poor/ the brother: Ex. 22.25; Lev. 25.36s; Dt 23.19; Neh 5.1-11; Ps. 15.5; 1Jn 3.17
  • Limited collateral: Ex. 22.25; Lev. 25.35-37
  • Considering what is loaned as 'lost': Lk 6.30-34;Dt. 15.2s, 24.10-13; Ex. 22.8; Mt 18.21ss;
  • See also paper A4 Lending and borrowing in this series

Role of Church in education about finance and work / calling

  • 1Tim 6.17; …

A few points to note about Text

  • I have found no text linking work to saving; in Proverbs, wisdom is always better than / opposed to riches
  • There is no positive text about wealth in the NT

 

Provisional Derivative Social Principles (for the Christian community)

  1. The purpose of work is the realization of our personal calling as creatures made in image of God, and to glorify God 
  2. Earning comes from God and might be decoupled from work 
  3. A part is to be given back
  4. Thinking that wealth comes from (hard) work is perilous
  5. Rich people have special responsibilities and special warning. In the NT, riches represent a hindrance to entering the kingdom of God. In the OT, many accusations are levelled against the rich because they do not take enough care of the needy. From a positive perspective, rich people are called to look after the ones in need and to share.
  6. Growth of wealth can cause the human heart to grow in pride and shrink in trust. As true and ultimate security is always in God, we should not put any trust in possessions. We should rather learn to content ourselves with what we have, as long as we have food, clothing, and shelter.
  7. God expects wisdom in all domains of our lives. This wisdom is first about acknowledging God's love and providence for our lives, and seeking God's direction for our daily business. Our foremost preoccupation should be God's kingdom. This can be the mindset of a Christian active in many types of jobs and companies, as long as he/she is employed there as an answer to a call to contribute to God's kingdom. 
  8. We should not save/invest based on worry and fear of the future. Our future is in God's hand. God's love casts out fear. There is a fine line between prudent provision for the (near and foreseeable) future and idolatry of wealth: much might have to do with attitude rather than the absolute (or relative) amounts of wealth to amass. Saving seems to be a result of work (and foremost of God's blessing), but not an aim or purpose for it. There is no support for 'general saving' in the Bible, but regularly God asks for some saving in specific situations (e.g. the story of Joseph).
  9. Lending should not be burdensome to the borrower. The NT Church always gives and never lends. In the OT, rules about lending are very strict and ensure that the borrower can continue working (to be able to eat / pay back?), and to be clothed at night. Pledges are chosen by the borrower, and interest is strictly regulated and in most case forbidden. Interest-bearing credit for consumption is probably not permitted.
  10. The church has an educative role in household finance issues. Paul is educating (and exhorting Timothy to educate) the church all the time. This includes issues such as the purpose of life, priorities, and the management of wealth (and management of poverty). 

 

Applications - What are the issues at stake?

Issues are multiple. Three examples:

First, by putting too much weight on 'earning' (and preparing for retirement) as one of the purposes of work, the risk is to fail to hear God's calling for us. This pressure to earn precludes many possibilities of work for God's kingdom. Not that 'work for God's kingdom' does not mean only being a missionary or a church worker: the banker, butcher, and brewer can also work for God's kingdom, so long as in doing that they are primarily motivated by God's kingdom. Furthermore, they are free to quit or change a job in the case of unsustainable ethical conflict – or simply if God calls him to go somewhere else. 

A second issue is the question of what to do if one has amassed some wealth. Throughout the bible, God puts first relationships with him, with members of the (Israelite or Church) community, and even with those outside the community of God’s people . If one has wealth, one can ask whether these savings should be invested through relationships with known borrowers rather than through impersonal banking structures. In any case, the motivation behind it should be advancing God's kingdom. The rich person's recurrent question should be: "How can this money be used for the kingdom of God?" This does not necessarily mean only giving to missions or the work of the church. It might be wise to keep wealth for a specific purpose God has given us, or commit it to a business that is contributing to God's kingdom (such as, for instance, some social entrepreneurship projects).

A third issue is that the risk in lending-borrowing relations seems to fall more on the borrower than on the lender. Again, this might speak against traditional bank saving that guarantees specific interest, and in favour of investments that do not burden the borrower and leave most of the risk on the lender's side.

[Michael Gonin, 2014]

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