Friday, March 16, 2007

True or False?

Here's a true/false question I put on my most recent test in business law:

Based on the New Testament's examples and teachings, Christians in a business dispute should be primarily concerned with the money that they have been given by God to steward.
Now, I actually don't think the question is that hard. The fun part, I think, is that it raises other questions for Christians in business (not that I expect the students to remotely think about them during an exam): If building and maintaining my stack of cash shouldn't be the primary objective when in a dispute with others, is it ever supposed to be our primary objective from a New Testament perspective? Is money supposed to be our main goal in planning our advertising? In product design? In customer service? In family relations? "Wait a minute," you may say. "Of course not in family relations, but the other examples are different. They're business, and the reason to be in business is to make money." Really? So, if we spend the bulk of our time at work week to week and year to year, whose servants are we? Another way to look at it would be to talk about whom we are called to love. If we say that family relations are about the good of each person (love) and money is a mere object in comparison to their importance, how do we biblically keep that kind of priority structure within our biological families alone? If I owe the same duty of love to all, how then can it be a cheapening of family relations to make them primarily about money and not with other relations? On what basis do we make actions in business that clearly affect other people about (our) money instead about their good, biblically speaking?

You may say to me (as some students have implied), "But T, none of the economic activities you mentioned would happen at all if not motivated primarily by money." I'm sure there are a lot of activities that wouldn't happen without money being the primary motivator (I'd be happy to see a lot of those ads go, to be honest), but there would still be a whole lot of services and goods produced at God's leading and inspiration alone. There would even be ads, though it would interesting to think about what form they would take. It's interesting to think about what activities would disappear and which ones would emerge if God was the Master behind all activities, if Love was our master even in business. We give money too much credit and God too little if we think that nothing productive would happen without money being our main objective. Jesus didn't just talk in parables, he fed the multitudes; he restocked the wine at a wedding; he healed the sick. Paul talks about doing something useful (for others) with our own hands, and he practiced the same. God gave the Israelites the wisdom of letting their soil rest before science revealed the reason. Just imagine what would happen--and what wouldn't--if serving Jesus' agenda was our primary objective in all our activities, including whatever we might get paid for doing.

Further, I don't see how a 'business is about money' attitude is compatable with the idea of God calling us or leading us to our work for the good of the world, let alone compatible with a gospel of the inbreaking governing of God. Either God calls and continues to lead or money does, and whoever is leading will shape and color the whole activity. My thinking here is essentially based on Jesus' statement "You can't serve both God and money" [at the same time]. Money, of course, tells us, as God does, that it must be given top priority--it is the bottom line, the plumb line, for deciding whether an endeavor as successful or not. This is how money has made even God's people its ambassadors and instruments rather than God's for the bulk of their lives. It is this single dynamic that I think is at the root of all kinds of issues that plague the Western Church as a whole and make the international Church so shocked at the severity of our dualisms. We just trust money more than God for life in this world. Money, in our estimation, gets things done. Jesus may be lord in heaven, but money is lord on earth. This is what our lawsuits, our ads, our schedules and our spending scream to the whole world, as routinely as the earth and stars speak of God's beauty and power.

The only solution to Money's current leadership position that I can think of is to individually increase our personal appreciation for what God does right now in the physical world, and decrease our faith in Money. Money doesn't actually make the world go 'round--God does. Money doesn't actually keep me and my family on this earth, but God does. Money doesn't actually give me my brain and everything else I have to use in the world, but God does. Money doesn't actually control the billions of intangible things that keep my life (including my business) from falling apart. God does. Money didn't lead me to my wife, to my current business and professorship, and it didn't give me my daughter. God did. To reimagine an old Psalm, "I look up to the high rises and skyscrapers, hosting the earth's powers. Does my help come from there? No. My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth." Maybe as we think about all that God does in this world, in our own lives, out of mercy alone--really take some time to wonder about it--we will begin to trust his ability to take care of the practical things and then make his leadership, his reigning, our primary concern. Then, maybe, the activities of the world--even the economic ones--will slowly take a very different shape and character.


steven hamilton said...

thanks for that T! i love your beringing that Psalm into the very now: "I look up to the high rises and skyscrapers, hosting the earth's powers. Does my help come from there? No. My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth."

awesome. truly.

Kyle said...

So you are one of those T or F profs huh?

T said...


John Husband said...

Hey T,

It took me a long time to read through this post. I have it open every time I open my browser. (Neat feature of IE7 btw that you can open multiple webpages every time you open your browser.) Anyway it got em thinking. Thats what blogs are supposed to do right? I was thinking, does God make every good thing happen? Is any good thing a result of the crass drive of greed? Would we have cell phones if there wasn't the profit motive? It realy could be a revolution of thinking if we say God makes every good thing come to pass. Therefore money need not factor into the equation in Christian thinking. I know this is an exaduration of what you may have been saying. But I feel like it takes your thoughts to their logical conclusions, no? The more I think about it. I do not believe we can just take money out of the equation. Money doesn't make the world go 'round but the Bible talks a little bit about the subject (second only to salvation I think.) So the need is for money to be in it's proper place that is after God and not before.


T said...


Thanks. I think your question about whether we'd have cell phones without greed gets to my point exactly. Would people who gave themselves, trusted themselves to the provision and leading of God (i.e., the kingdom of God) do anything that we typically think of as productive? Would people who trusted Jesus' words in Matt. 6 still do creative and helpful work? I would argue absolutely. I think people who were motivated by God in all they did would indeed lead productive lives. (Take Paul, for instance.) Worship does not equal singing. Worship is reordering our whole lives around the rightful center. What would our economy look like if God was leading all or even most people (including entrepreneurs) in their work? Cell phones? Probably so. Improper use of sex to sell whatever? Not so much. Respected employees? If Paul is to be believed, definitely. Like I say, it is interesting to think about what would result economically from more people actually restructuring their life's work around God's leading and purposes. People who actually trust the provision Jesus talks about might actually be able to turn the other cheek more easily, too (and a lot of other stuff Jesus talked about).

And I agree, the Bible does talk about money a lot. It just doesn't have a lot of nice things to say, at least Jesus and the NT writers don't. I think it's significant that when Jesus, the highest and best revelation of God, talks about it, he talks to people as if he's talking to addicts. Our attachment, not our wise stewardship, is his regular concern. Money, according to Jesus, is God's rival for winning human devotees. I think he's right. It's our love and trust of money that makes following his other commands seem impossible. He pegged the 'one master' issue.

I don't know what you mean by 'taking it out of the equation.' Maybe you can elaborate. I'm not talking about not having any money, and I am talking about 'putting it in its place.' I just think we've got a lot of work to do in that regard. I think we've told a bunch of addicts to be good stewards, and get the logical results. I think it's fair to summarize Jesus as saying "Stop organizing your life around money. It's far less secure than you think. Make God's leadership your primary concern--it's your best bet for this life and the next. He'll make sure your needs get met."

steven hamilton said...

our desires and addictions drive us to so much...if we re-centered Christ in our lives and lived outward from Him, indeed, i agree with T, we might still have cell phones, but would we still have atomic microscopes without the power of war driving our inventions and research? what might it look like to have the Kingdom of God driving our creativity instead of greed or war or [insert most anything else]...