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Work and Money

Category Articles
Date July 4, 2008

Let him who steals steal no longer, but rather let him work with his hands, performing what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who had need. [Ephesians 4:28]

Max Weber, the German sociologist and scholar, in his 1904 classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, noted that one of the major contributing factors to western capitalism was Calvinism. How so? Calvin taught that all legitimate work is a calling, that a preacher’s work is no more spiritual than a businessman’s. He also taught that our chief aim is to glorify God in everything; and we do that by obeying him, and we do that by serving our fellow man, treating him with dignity and respect, serving him by fulfilling the cultural mandate to rule over the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). Weber also observed that Calvin’s doctrine of election was a powerful tool in capitalism because Calvin rightly taught that election is a gift of God’s grace, that man does nothing to earn his salvation. The question then becomes, how does one know he is elect? And the answer is by working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling, obeying God. The obedient professor of Christ gains assurance that his election is sure. This all worked together to change people’s perception of the world. Prior to Calvin, people viewed the world Platonically – the earthly is inferior to the spiritual and heavenly. Calvinists came to understand that God richly supplies us with all things to be enjoyed (1 Timothy 6:17). Well into the 20th century a stark contrast existed between the countries of the Reformation and Roman Catholic countries, the former being much more wealthy than the latter.

How do you view your work and money? Paul says three vital things in verse 28. He says those, even as believers, who are prone to steal, being tempted to go back to their old way of living, must stop immediately (Exodus 20:15, Proverbs 30:7-9). Second, we must work for what we procure (Proverbs 13:11; 14:23). And third, we must share with those who have genuine need (1 Timothy 6:18). This verse gives us five specific admonitions.

One, do not steal. Stealing is a heinous sin which denies God’s promised provision, reveals the idol of greed and selfishness, and moves one to subterfuge. Stealing reveals itself in many ways. If you do not tithe off your income then you are stealing from God(Malachi 3:8). When you use company time to browse the internet or witness and when you take office supplies for personal use, then you are stealing. Do you steal?

Two, fulfil your calling. Most of us think being a Christian in the work place means leading a bible study before work, being honest in our work, and letting everyone know we are Christians. There is nothing wrong with these, but working as a Christian is far more than these. Assuming you or your company provides a legitimate good or service, you are honouring God and ruling over and cultivating the earth when you make your company profitable. Take insurance, as an example. Your company helps other companies spread risk which protects them from catastrophe in order that they may employ people in order to provide a good or service. The same is true for a teacher, whether a Christian or public school. Your work is your calling because God has gifted you for it, and you are preparing your students to impact our world for good, to continue the cultural mandate in the next generation.

Third, understand money. Don’t worship it. Don’t love it. But don’t hate it either (1 Timothy 6:9, 10). Desiring to get rich is always a dangerous temptation and the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. But money is merely a tool. It is neutral. Our attitude toward it is the problem. If you work merely to get a pay check, to provide for your retirement, or to leave vast sums of it to your children, then you are not viewing money or work Biblically. But if you honour God in your calling, if you are faithful in using the gifts where he has placed you, then he may bless you secondarily with vast sums of money, and if he does, then you are to be prudent in using it for his kingdom, not for yourself.

Fourth, save all the money you can (Proverbs 6:6-8). The ant prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. God told Joseph to save all the grain he could for seven years in order to feed people during seven years of famine. Most of you already know about the wonder of compounding interest. Try this with your child. ‘Let’s say I offered you either $1 million or one penny which doubles for thirty days. Which would you choose?’ Of course most children would take the $1 million but that would be a bad deal, because one penny, doubled for thirty days comes to $5.2 million. If one puts $5000 in a mutual fund for forty-five years, earning 12 % per year, at the end of that time he has $899,000.

But why should you save all you can? I suggest it is not to give it all to your children. I am not saying you should not leave some of your money to them, but I am saying that most people who do not earn the money they receive are very poor managers of it. They most often squander it. To put children in that position is very harmful to them. I am saying you should . . .

Fifthly, save all you can in order to give away all you can. Share with those who have need. Paul said that those who are rich are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. Obviously we need to be prudent in how and when we give, but the principle is there. Give to the poor. Give to ministries and charities. I am not saying that you must give it all away every pay cheque. I am not saying that you ought not to provide for your retirement. To fail here is the sin of presumption. Some of you make lots of money and have the ability to increase your expenses continually. Do you really need a bigger house? Do you really need more toys? Why not limit your expenses, no matter what your income may be?

John Wesley, the Methodist preacher of the 18th century, when we convert from pounds to dollars and from 1770 money to 2008 money, made $2.8 million annually. He lived on $60,000 per year. He gave the rest away each year to the poor and needy. When the British government wanted him to pay taxes on the silver plate which they assumed he had, he wrote, saying, ‘I have no silver plate, but two spoons in Bristol and two in London, and I shall have no more as long as so many people are hungry.’

So, are you stealing? Do you view your work biblically, as a dignified calling from God for which you have been gifted? Do you rightly understand money? Do you worship it, disdain it? Keep in mind it is a powerful tool for good or evil. Do you save all you can? Saving $13.70 per day, for forty-five years, at 12% yields $2.2 million. Do you give away all you can? Do you have a plan in place to give your inheritance to world missions or some worthy charity upon your death? Do you have a will?

Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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