Over the years while practicing as a therapist and later on as a pastor, I experienced much talk about the importance of money in our lives. In marriage counseling, it was often the largest issue of conflict. And in churches, the same. Money touches people at a deeply emotional level. This seems true of individuals, couples, siblings and extended families, neighborhoods and counties, states, nations, regions, and……………yes, globally in today’s world of so-called macro-economics. Generating income revenue, and then spending or investing that earned money is referred to by that nowadays common term, “bottom-line.”
What’s the bottom-line effect? What’s the economic impact?
These are questions most people are acquainted with in today’s world, but they have honestly been around for a long time. The fact of this matter is that the financial bottom-line affects our emotional bottom-line. From there even our own physical health. And yet few sermons in any church have really wrestled with this issue when it comes time to preach about money in peoples’ lives. I’m wondering why that is.
This morning as part of my own private devotional time alone with God, I read through the 19th chapter of Acts. It’s the story of Paul’s two-year missionary work in the Roman city of Ephesus across the Aegean Sea from Athens and the Greek peninsula. Ephesus was an important economic hub for the Roman Empire. It was the capital of Asia Minor, a popular seaport and a city of some considerable financial privilege. Religion, as we know from all studies of history and anthropology, was big business among ancient cultures. I suppose if we had to compare its level of economic impact then with a similar impact in our own culture today, it would match up well with science in such areas as computer engineering. And in Ephesus, the leading industry when it came to putting bread on peoples’ tables involved the worship of the goddess Artemis.
As the way of Jesus taught by Paul, the visiting missionary, advanced in Ephesus, guess what declined. The local economy. And when we think of Rome’s persecution of Christians during the first century, we typically pay no mind to the central reason this happened: the way of Jesus was bad for business. It was costing people money, from the Empire as a whole and the Caesars who governed all the way down to the families and marriages that saw their incomes declining in correlation to the growth of this new Christian message and lifestyle. Acts 19 is the story of this macro event in first-century Roman civilization portrayed in microcosm. Jesus, through Paul and other disciples or apostles, was meddling big time with the bottom-line as one leading industry, Big Religion or “Artemis worship,” went into economic recession and even Great Depression. By the way, the Ephesian economy never did recover from its pre-Christian zenith if you care to study ancient cultural history.
In all our church-talk about money these days, I have to now wonder why we never have raised the question of what following Jesus will do to our bottom-line. I say “our” not just at a personal, marital, family level where conflicts may arise all the way into the therapist’s office. I mean “our” even in reference to our larger social economy. What would be the economic impact of God’s Kingdom if it were to come on earth as it is in heaven? Would the global economy be affected? And would that have a further impact, then, upon our own family and personal income and spending habits?
Use your own imagination as you read and think along here.
If the way of Jesus is actually followed, what happens to, say, the so-called “military industrial complex” as a percentage of our national economy here in the United States? Would we spend less on weapon systems aimed at killing people? Or how about the casino gambling industry? Last year this growth industry took in over $73 million. Would that change if Jesus were King instead of Caesar’s Palace?
Go ahead. Ask away in your own mind. Which of today’s most lucrative industries, those maybe producing the most jobs and putting the most money into our personal and family bank accounts, paying our monthly mortgage, making our college tuition payments, our car payment, or you name it………….which of these would drop if Jesus were to rise in our world’s actual investment strategies? How would our own financial bottom-line change if the way of Jesus and God’s own Kingdom became our bottom-line?
I told you this doesn’t make the content of most church sermons about money.
From Ephesus to New York City money matters. Do you believe that?
And if money matters, then what ……..may I dare ask?……… would Jesus invest in for a healthy economy globally, regionally, nationally, locally, and even personally?
If you care to join me in having such a conversation, I’m going to start off such a brainstorming session by suggesting he would support more jobs in healthcare, more in medical research and technology, more in prisoner rehabilitation, more in early childhood education, more in a sector I’ll simply name “international diplomacy” for the world God so loves, more in food agriculture and in more efficiently feeding the masses. Stuff like that. More money in plowshares, less in swords. That’s what I think after reading the Gospel stories.
How about you? What do you think?
You see, there’s no denying that Jesus knew about money and economics and financial investment strategies. He talked about this stuff a lot. Yet, his own preaching always reflected what amounts to Core Values of investment. Know what I’m saying?
To me, and I trust also to Jesus, it’s not a question of whether we make money or don’t make money. Not a question of whether we can either have life OR have it more abundantly. Not even that zero-sum game of who has to lose for God’s Kingdom to win. No. That’s the way the worldly kingdoms operate. In God’s Kingdom there is a win-win where, like manna in the desert, every body’s money matters. Everyone has a healthy enough financial bottom-line IF we seek God’s Kingdom first and make Jesus our Spiritual bottom-line.
Matthew 6:25-33. That will preach