Blog - Mirroring God

In Two Minds Over Money

Saturday, September 22, 2012

John C. Knapp writes about "the Christian community’s long-standing ambivalence about money.” Yet he goes on to say that, "the subject of work cannot be fully addressed apart from the making and spending of money.” (How the Church Fails Businesspeople, pp. 45, 67). Some of our double-mindedness arises from an uneasiness over the disparity between haves and have-nots.

If you work for pay, you probably make less than Bill Gates but more than a miner in Zimbabwe. Is that unfair? If you see economics as a zero-sum game, then you may at the same time resent those with more and feel guilt over those with less. In zero-sum thinking, as in gambling, there is only so much money in the pot. One party wins at the expense of the other, the loser.

Does God endorse zero-sum economics? Did he, as in a Monopoly game, issue the world a fixed amount of wealth and leave it for all of us to fight for our share of it? Was it unfair for the rich man in Nathan’s parable to own "a very large number of sheep and cattle,” while the poor man had just one ewe lamb (II Sam. 12:1-3)? Should someone have taken X-number of animals from the rich man and given them to the poor man so that each would have had equal flocks and herds?

Nathan—and ultimately David—did not object to that gap but to the rich man’s confiscation of what belonged to the poor man. The wrong was not in the rich man’s wealth but in his greediness and "grabbiness,” in his exploiting the man who had less.

God has not left us with a zero-sum game. His is not an addition-subtraction universe but one of multiplication. The original pair, told to multiply, have become around 7 billion. Plant a single kernel of corn and you can harvest hundreds. Buy a cow and a bull, and in time you can own a herd. In Jesus’ parable, the servants with five and two talents invested and doubled them. By contrast, the third servant—who buried the one talent and ended with just one—saw the world through zero-sum lenses.

Legitimate work also multiplies. When Paul turned animal skins into tents, his labor increased the value of those skins. When a carpenter takes wood from a tree and makes a house, his work multiplies the worth of the wood. When a FedEx driver delivers a computer to a school, the machine has more value to the students than when it sat in a manufacturer’s warehouse. A bird in the hand is worth . . . .

So, generally speaking, those willing to plant more, work more, and invest more typically end up with more. That’s not unfair. It’s just the way God’s universe works. "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (II Cor. 9:6). Our wealthy God, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, is the one who gives "the ability to produce wealth” (Deut. 8:18).

It’s also true that in our sin-damaged world, some people have no seeds, no land to plant them in, no physical or mental capacity for work, and nothing to invest. For the care and benefit of such people, God calls those who have been able to multiply resources to give generously. Without that increase, there would be nothing to give. So there’s no need for us to be double-minded about wealth. Whether it comes via wages, salaries, or investments, it is not the goal but the means; it is not for hoarding but for blessing.

Comments (3)

Laura (9/23/2012 7:44:15 AM)
Thank you for writing out this Biblical truth in a way that is so understandable.
Arthur (9/26/2012 11:19:03 AM)
This commentary is relevant in this season of economic hardship, which indicates that the have-nots should be cared for from the blessings of the haves.
John Clum (9/26/2012 2:39:48 PM)
Good thoughts, Larry. Well-taken point about David and Nathan not being critical of the spread of wealth but the greediness of the one who had much.

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