October 11, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 17:30 in the audio file.
Or, Or, A Contest of Gifts
Series: Centers and Circumferences Part 8
I have missed preaching about economics twice now; the first time was in March due to virus-lockdowns, and then it was rescheduled for last Sunday night, but I was laying flat on the floor. It’s part of our Centers and Circumferences series, concentrating on how Christ’s lordship ought to be the focus (center) and full-scope (circumferences) of every sphere of life.
I’m sure we could have moved some things around and found another evening for this message, but I’m tired of holding new wine in old wineskins, or, as my dad used to say, it’s like cash burning a hole in my pocket. I also think that this provides a providential excuse to talk about one of the defining dispositions of TEC. We see the errors of, and have come to repent from, dualism.
I haven’t used that word in a while. It’s not meant to scare anyone with academic sounding vocabulary. It refers to a wrong-headed evaluation of spiritual things over earthly things, an improper division between mind and matter. It refers especially to Christians who love the Bible but who ironically misread the Bible in order to defend their incorrect understanding of the Bible’s teaching about earthly things. Paul wrote that we are to think about Christ, not “on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2), and then he defined the earthly things as things such as sexual immorality, covetousness, anger, and lies. Then he gave instruction for how those who are richly indwelt by the Word (3:16) will behave as spouses, parents, masters and slaves (3:18-4:1). Apparently we “seek the things that are above” on earth in our relationships and responsibilities by doing “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3:17).
When I got serious about theology I got serious about how much more important it was to read theology than to make dinner. The only thing that could be better than studying the Bible was studying the Bible longer. The point of church was to gather up truth, as we line up in our pews like beakers in a lab, all trying to get our truth-tubes filled. That’s false.
While we love truth, we learn from Scripture that the collection of truth is only as good as our transformation by truth. Bible reading and study makes men obedient and fruitful.
A convenient nickname for this anti-dualism is Kuyperianism. Abraham Kuyper died 100 years ago; he taught and embodied with star-like energy the reality that Jesus is Lord of all, including all the things that so many Christians claim (or live like) are just secular or neutral, as if Jesus has no interest in those things. It turns out that a big reason that Christians, and their churches, have been so lost and tossed about in the last six months is because their theology never needed to be public before, certainly not political. We’ve been, as a flock, trying to pick up a three-dimensional worldview with our opposable thumbs, and economics is the next issue on the table.
I have some things to say about economics because I’ve had to learn on purpose. My message this morning is not primarily about household budgets, or cash envelope systems, though I enjoy Dave Ramsey as much as the next person with a burdensome monthly car payment. This is not about tithes or tariffs or pivot tables. I’ve never excelled at Excel. I think Solomon once wrote, “of the making of many spreadsheets there is no end, and much study of tax codes is weariness of the flesh” (think Ecclesiastes 12:12). But while we seek first the kingdom of God, what do we do when He adds “all these (other) things” to us, like Jesus says (Matthew 6:33)? Mature disciples are not the ones who think that the promise part of the verse never comes true.
Economics is the sphere of stuff and services, of producers and products and distribution and marketing and consuming. Economics is about exchange, interpersonal and international. Lots of times it involves money, but it’s more than dollars and cents.
Kuyperian economics is not Keynesian economics (not just in name, but actually in principle, since Keynesian focuses on demand-driven rather than supply-driven factors). Kuyperian economics is simply a way to get us to ask: in what ways does Christ’s claim of “Mine!” affect our exchanges?
The question is not beneath a Christian because, unlike what I previously believed, Jesus holds us accountable for how we care. It can’t be wrong if He’s the one who gives us goods to work with. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), and then He gives some the gifts of butchery and others the gifts of barbecue-ry and others the gifts to buy it, some 5lbs and others 2 and others 1. We don’t just spend what He’s given, let alone sit on it, we’re to turn a profit (Matthew 25:27). Earning on His capital through your talents, energy, inheritance, skills, education, personality, creativity, is what He’s going to ask you about.
He gives wealth and the power to get wealth. He gives work, and He gives governments to protect one’s work. If He really blesses a people, the government will not overtax and over-regulate their people. We are so far into the regulatory ditch that you’re required to wear a mask if your ditch isn’t six feet from the road.
What about our exchanges please the Jesus Christ as Lord? Here are eight Kuyperian ideas.
CREATE WEALTH AND BLESSING. Turn your five into ten (Matthew 25:20-21). Turn your one seed into an orchard. Turn your ideas into a job, maybe even a job for others.
We are after more than survival, certainly more than distraction. Good exchanges benefit more than one-self, and do more than achieve power over others.
It is possible that Netflix could make you more a interesting person and better equipped to serve others, or it could be confirming that you’re lazy. Video game playing, and commentating, is somehow a vocational opportunity these days. Is it the way Christ would have you to love your neighbor, provide an inheritance for your grandkids?
MONEY IS ONLY ONE KIND OF WEALTH. This is not about just things that increase the bottom line of some bank account. Paul said, “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” (1 Corinthians 9:11). He invested what he had, which were true goods of one kind, and anticipated an exchange of a different kind of good.
Of course, wealth isn’t never money. A fruit tree can grow and be healthy without fruit…for a while, but the point of a healthy tree is producing fruit. “Remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18). As wisdom said, “Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness” (Proverbs 8:18).
Some have wealth and the power to enjoy it, others don’t (see Ecclesiastes 5:19 compared to 6:2). Joy itself is a kind of wealth.
A prudent wife (Proverbs 19:14), wisdom itself (Proverbs 3:13-18), a good reputation (Proverbs 22:1) are better than financial riches. Privilege, or favor/blessing, includes ideas, worldview, attitude. It includes health, access, discipline, and relationships.
YOU WILL REAP WHAT YOU SOW. Because Jesus is Lord, and because not anything that was made was not made by Him (John 1:3), the world spins on its axis one way and not another. Likewise, because He is Lord of the order, the cosmos, it is impossible to consistently do the wrong thing and get the right outcome. Wrong ideas may take a while to surface, and they may succeed in causing havoc, but they will blow up. Dumb doesn’t profit. The more concrete a choice is, the more quickly it hurts if you drop it.
> Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7)
Sow wasted time, reap worthlessness. Sow immediate gratification, reap small wins (like preemie-baby carrots) and an empty field later. Sow a mindset of entitlement, reap a generation of the entitled, along with envy and theft and destruction. Sow greed and constant angling for more, reap anxiousness and gnawing dissatisfaction.
On the other hand, sow longer term, even generational, vision, reap plans for today and likely harvest later. Sow a mindset of responsibility as image-bearers of a creative God, reap innovation and a sense of satisfaction in one’s work and actual product. Sow love and sacrifice, reap measures disappointments along with Christlikeness and reward from Christ (Colossians 3:23-24).
NO HOUSEHOLD IS AN ISLAND. If Jesus is Lord, and He is, then He has not made you an island, or even a complete body. This is not based on Plato’s Republic, but on the Trinity. It is not good for man to be alone, which is true in the church (1 Corinthians 12). One sows and another reaps (John 4). This is God-given and (good). Economics assumes exchanges between persons.
This means it is okay to receive help, and give it. It means that it’s appropriate to pay for it.
This also means that mass produced/cheaper products are not necessarily inferior, depending on how much time you waste (rather than producing wealth) to acquire (or grow/make/fix yourself). That possibly means that you are a squanderer, not a steward.
Your wealth is limited. Everything you spend (dollars and minutes) means you are not investing it somewhere else. There are constant alternatives for your labor. What are you supposed to do?
Two people could gather wood all day; presumably that would gather more wood for the fire. But is it worth it if no one catches the fish to fry over the fire?
We are a part of a great network of persons and process. If you would do more, ask about your needless commitments. Needless possessions can more easily be ignored, but “commitments are a recurring debt that must be paid for with your time and attention” (James Clear).
It is propaganda to say, for just one example, that nothing good can come out of Walmart. Complaining about their greedy efficiency is not better than those who complain from a position of greedy inefficiency.
LEARN HOW IT WORKS. This is Kuyperian in that we are growing in our interests in the kinds of things that interest Christ.
It also means that we see what profits. Profits not only reveal what goods are economical, but how to make goods more economically.
At some level learning also includes failure and loss. Which means you can’t take every loss as an omen, but see them as opportunities.
SEE PAST LIMITS. The Lord did not make a zero-sum world. There is not a fixed amount of work that could be done. Work begets more work, which, yes, could be striving and vanity under the sun (Ecclesiastes 4:7-8), but could also mean greater wealth for your neighbor and your grandkids (Proverbs 13:22).
Maybe one market appears saturated, could you make something better? Or different?
This is true of ideas, too, certainly with Kuyperianism. We can all be Kuyperians. “If someone discovers an idea, everybody gets to use it, so the more people you have who are potentially looking for ideas, the better off we’re all going to be” (George Gilder).
Sometimes the limits are self-imposed, meaning we do not want to do the work, or at least that work.
ALL ARE YOURS, GIVE THANKS. What amazing things we have access to: the internet, iPhones, Coke.
> For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (1 Corinthians 3:21–23)
Let us have an Economy of Thanks. Make good use of your time as a Spirit-filled believer and be thankful to the Lord for all He’s given (Ephesians 5:15-16, 18, 20). You be thankful to the Lord and to others, and you be more easy for others to be thankful for.
GIVE GREATER GIFTS. “We are in a contest of gifts” is a line from George Gilder that I can’t get out of my mind. Our economy works so well because of the nature of the world, and it is a world of gospel, because of Jesus who died to bring life for the underserving, because of love that desires to see someone in a better position. If Jesus died while we were still sinners, then everything in the world turns on gift.
> you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
Here it is worked out on the horizontal level.
> The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. > As it is written, > “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; > his righteousness endures forever.” > (2 Corinthians 9:6–9, quoting Psalm 112:9)
If material is lord, there is only so much, hence what is called the first law. But what of love, and Jesus?
The stingy get what’s coming to them: scarcity (Proverbs 28:22). On the other economic hand, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” (Luke 6:38).
To the degree that these things are true, they will “work.” Which also means that they work both ways, for good and for destruction. The government paying people to be unemployed, unmarried, retired, sick, poor, imprisoned, because people sow selfishness and still expect a profitable exchange, will ruin.
It’s not about monetizing everything, or side hustles. It’s not about no leisure, no rest. It’s not trying to make everyone an entrepreneur for Jesus. I’m not telling you how to make all your mundane choices, I’m telling you that your mundane choices can matter, can be gain. I’m asking what sort of civilization recognizes His claims of “Mine!”?
Survival of the fittest is about an economics of beating, not blessing. Instead, think of what Christianity has done for the life of the world.
These are not inconvenient ideals, and we’re not dependent on an “invisible hand,” but making exchanges because Jesus is Lord of all.
The work week starts on Monday but with Sunday. We go to work because we’ve worshipped, we work on the foundation of God’s steadfast love not to earn love from Him. We remember His glorious power and works, and we ask for His favor for more of that power through our hands that we might do good to our neighbors and have more reason to give thanks to God again next Sunday, and until His Son returns.
> Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, > that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. > Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, > and for as many years as we have seen evil. > Let your work be shown to your servants, > and your glorious power to their children. > Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, > and establish the work of our hands upon us; > yes, establish the work of our hands! > (Psalm 90:14–17, ESV)