A one pound coin met a twenty pound note and said, "Hey, where've you been? I haven't seen you around here much."
The twenty answered, "I've been hanging out at the casinos, went on a cruise and did the rounds of the ship, back to England for a while, went to a couple of horse racing meetings, to the mall, that kind of stuff. How about you?"
The one pound coin said, "You know, same old stuff ... church, church, church."
“The rule is not to talk about money with people who have much more or much less than you.”
At the risk of violating this principle, I’m going to talk about money.
Money matters – it makes the world go round, or so the film Cabaret would have us believe! But does it?
There are usually a number of ways we see money:
1. Money is evil – a necessary one maybe but evil.
2. Money is good
3. Money is neutral – money in and of itself isn’t bad or good, it’s what we do with it.
I won’t embarrass you by asking which of them you would agree with.
In fact I’d argue that none of them are completely right!
I want to give you a few biblical tools for seeing money in a Christian perspective – or indeed any issue in a Christian perspective!
The best place to start is always at the very beginning – ‘a very good place to start’ (I must stop watching my wife's Sound of Music DVD – I should point out at this point, that though I have quoted two musicals – I don’t actually like musicals!)
1. Creation, fall and redemption
The big biblical story.
Creation – God saw that it was good
Fall – it’s not the way it’s supposed to be
Redemption – God in Jesus has and is putting things right.
How does this relate to money? It wasn’t created in Gen 1-2, isn’t it a human invention?
When we think of money today, most of us would think of coins and notes, but it wasn’t always that way many things have been used as money:
“Amber, beads, cow, drums, eggs, feathers, gongs, hoes, ivory, jade, kettles, leather, mats, nails, oxen, pigs, quartz, rice, salt, thimbles, umiacs, vodka, wampum, yarns, and zappozats (decorated axes).”It arose out of a need to trade and barter. Something in creation was attributed an agreed value. It is a response to the laws and norms that God has established in creation, norms for the way life should be. These include norms for economic life.
These norms can be violated by extravagance, dishonest competition, ripping each other off, oppressing and making money out of the poor.
God as creator is the source and sustainer of all things and that includes the economic aspect of life – as the verse we had read earlier says ( 1 Chronicles 29:10-14):
Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all.
He rules over all – do we believe that? He rules over finance, money, economics and economic theory. Yet, why do we act as if he doesn’t? Why the gap between belief and action?
In the fall creation is disrupted and distorted. The different aspects of life are often reduced and one becomes more dominant than the others. Many have idolised the economic aspect – money becomes everything, the bottom line is how much does it cost? How much is it worth? How much profit is there in it? Economic growth becomes an idol. It doesn’t matter who or what is sacrificed at the altar as long as it results in progress which is measured in economic growth.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story: we have redemption. Jesus comes and redeems all things. Money and economics can be redeemed. We don’t have to bow down before consumerism. Money needs to come under the lordship of Christ.
The tendency among far too many Christians is to fall into a dualistic view. We make some aspects of creation more important than others – we call some things spiritual and others secular or natural. This is a distortion of God’s good creation.
What was the first thing God asked humans to do? It wasn’t to pray or evangelise, or read the Bible activities evangelicals usually think of as spiritual it was to tend a garden. We need to re-evaluate what we regard as spirituality.
Related to creation and fall is the concept of structure and direction:
2. Structure and direction
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Everything in creation has a structure, economics, banks, finance etc. That structure is rooted in creation and is good. However, everything in creation is claimed and counterclaimed – as C S Lewis put it:
"There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan."
God’s creation is good – then came the fall and disrupted the good creation, its pulled in opposite directions. Jesus comes to redeem and restore it.
The way we use our money is a matter of direction – do we use it obediently to God and his norms, or do we use it for our own ends?
Nothing in life is neutral – as Bob Dylan sings we have to serve somebody- and that includes what we do with our money – money matters!
A woman and her ever-nagging husband went on holiday to Jerusalem. While they were there, the wife died. The undertaker told the wife, "You can have him transported home for £5,000, or you can bury him here, in the Holy Land, for £150." The woman thought about it and told him he would just have him transported home.
The undertaker asked, "Why would you spend £5,000 to get your husband home, when it would be wonderful to be buried here and you would spend only £150?"
The woman replied, "Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance."
You see – money isn’t everything. There is more to life than an economic aspect!
Remember the three options:
1. Money is good
2. Money is evil
3. Money is neutral
What then is the Christian response?
The answer is 1 and 2 – money is good and money is evil, not in and of itself (its structure) but depending on its direction the way in which we take it.
Money is to be used obediently or disobediently, faithfully or unfaithfully, there is no middle ground. As Bob Dylan sang: we gotta serve somebody…
How can we redeem our use of money – I want to briefly look at three examples, banking, the theory of economics and our own use of money.
Banks (I've nicked this illustration from Mark Roques)
Bob Lavelle is a banker of an unusual bank in downtown Pittsburgh. He lends to people who are considered ‘high risk’ at the lowest practical interest rate. In complete contrast to the economic ideology of the world.
He aims to help his high-risk customers become low risk. He wants them to become good stewards of their homes and neighbourhoods. He lends money to them so that the poor blacks in Pittsburgh can become homeowners.
He has about 450 clients – 150 of them are delinquent, he visits these personally and discusses ways in which he can help them to help themselves – he doesn’t give up on them.
If Bob sold the bank tomorrow he would be a rich man. Since its inception the bank has seen its working capital go from $500,000 to $17 million.
He is making a difference (and a profit!) by redeeming economics and banking and by transforming the lives of the poor and oppressed.
Economics – do we know what a Christian view of economics is? Where do we get our economic theory from Adam Smith or Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx or …. Is it a choice between free market economics or neoclassical economics or Keynesian economics?
How do we help Christian students studying economics at university? Do we leave them as prey for the secular ideologies of the world? It requires hard work and hard thinking, most importantly it requires a transforming of the mind – to think through these issues in a Christian way.
One Christian economist is Bob Goudzwaard – read his stuff.
On a personal level
Have we bought into the myth of more is better? What about our chequebook or credit card statement – does it give away the fact that we are Christians? Could it be used in a court of law as evidence that we are Christians?
We need to be set free from the idolatry and ideology of worldy economics so that we can be free to give.
In which direction are we moving with regards to money and finance?
Money does mater to God – it needs to come under his lordship. We can’t serve both God and mammon.
The most subversive act we can do with money is not to save for a rainy day, but to give it away, to sow it for the kingdom. Remember where money comes from:
For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.