Friday, January 15, 2010

Teaching Biblical Perspectives on Money and Finance

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud …
--2 Timothy 3:1-2

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
--Luke 12:27-31

A severe, global economic crisis is the kind of event that can test the faith of a believer, especially one who has been directly affected by the crisis. But it is also an event that can enrich our lives as believers by bringing about a reexamination of our priorities and our perspective on our relationship with God as the sole provider of all of our needs, and with one another as the Body of Christ.

In affluent times, well-meaning believers can sometimes stray too far into the worldly emphasis on money, self-reliance, and prosperity. A Christian who is prospering can slip into the trap of feeling that financial success is the deserved result of his or her own hard work, intelligence, talent, business savvy, or other internal traits.

He or she can then begin to lose sight of the fact that those gifts have not been earned but rather are blessings from God. In Proverbs 30:8-9, we read, “… give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'” It is also easy to forget that it is ultimately God’s blessing, rather than human effort, that allows our application of our gifts to be successful.

One of the illusions shattered by a financial crisis of this magnitude is the belief that we control our own destinies. The crisis has taught us that even those who have always worked hard, “played by the rules,” and “done everything right” by worldly standards can stumble or fall, due to factors entirely out of their own control.

When we as Christians find ourselves in this kind of situation, the crisis can create an opportunity to draw closer to God and realize that it has been He, all along, who has provided for us, and that He will continue to do so—even if it is not according to the smooth, easy, pattern of “hard work will always bring prosperity” in which the world tempts us to place our trust.

While God often richly blesses the material lives of believers, He does not promise an easy or prosperous life on earth to those who are saved. He doesn’t promise everything we want, but He does promise us everything we truly need during our time on earth.

But God’s righteous vision of what we truly need does not always match man’s vision. In Luke 12:27-31, Christ tells us that the faithful should look at God’s provision for our needs according to the model of how the needs of the lilies and the grass of the field are provided for: one day at a time, and not as a result of our own efforts.

Does this mean that believers shouldn’t work to provide for their physical needs? Of course not, because we are told in Genesis 3:17 that “through painful toil you will eat of the earth.” Hard work is man’s destiny until the ultimate fulfillment of Christ’s victory in the new creation. But when we look at this in the context of Luke 12:27-31, we know that it is only through God’s blessings that any fruit results from our labor.

So we as believers, being “in the world but not of the world,” are not to make the mistake of over-reliance on human efforts and human institutions, which will always fall short. And in the Christian classroom, students can benefit from the enrichment of this perspective on financial booms and busts, in addition to the same kind of study of the workings of social and economic processes that takes place in the secular classroom.

In Christian schools, students have the opportunity to learn about and even participate in the direct role that we as the Body of Christ can play in response to an economic crisis. Together, Matthew 25:31-46 and Romans 12:20 make our mandate clear to demonstrate the love of Christ by assisting those who are in material need, whether they are believers or unbelievers. And as stewards of God’s resources, we are also responsible for doing what we can to ensure that our churches and Christian institutions are able to fulfill their missions through a time of crisis.

The concept of stewardship figures prominently in a spiritual perspective on economic events, since some of the factors underlying the financial crisis have implications for the question of how wisely, as individuals and as a society, we have been managing the resources with which God has blessed us.

But the secular classroom leaves these all-important spiritual issues out of the discussion. The most important lessons on man’s relationship to money, in the context of his relationship to God, goes untaught.

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