First Principles of Finance and Discipleship

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I am quickly becoming a David Bahnsen super fan. At the risk of blogging on his material “too soon” after my 10/26 post, I am at it again today to draw out the learning from the Monday Moneybeat with Nick Eicher on The World and Everything in It. And it goes much deeper than economics—in Christ, everything moves to the heart level. So, let’s take a romp, asking ourselves, “How do my actions reveal what I believe about money matters and the work/rest rhythm?”

A listener submitted the following question:

I’m a mom of four kids in elementary and middle school. I am wondering what you would consider your top two or three values to teach kids around the issues of good stewardship of money and personal finance in general. And then if you would have any ideas on how to teach those values to your kids as you’re raising them.”

His answer served as a mirror for me, showing me where I have lapsed into careless habits or self-focused practices. Maybe you find yourself in a similar place. Maybe you have different questions and observations than my own, but need the prompt to sit down and reflect. I hope the method I employ today provides a model for how you might journal, reflect on, and diligently engage the things of discipleship from a renewed understanding. These principles apply more broadly than to finance alone—and by His grace, the Spirit will shape our thought, deepen our faith, and enable our action. His answer, reformatted below with my thoughts and questions spliced in:

BAHNSEN: …[Value] No. 1 for me is the one most often forgotten and oftentimes even disagreed with in the Christian community. It is that money is a byproduct of production, not cash. Wealth is production minus consumption.

This was the first place I needed to press pause. His terms, though economic in nature, are ordered from a biblical understanding. Reading between the lines, we can see that his No. 1 value comes from a robust understanding of the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28. Bahnsen grounds his theology of finance in God’s commands to Adam and Eve (paraphrased): Go, flourish, multiply, fill the Earth, govern it—make things with what I have given to you. Steve West in his “Liberties” newsletter reminds readers that the language of Genesis 2:15 gets even more specific: “ The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it,” (ESV). In other words, the Lord gives and blesses our work. The beauty of the Lord’s command—the why of work and wealth-creation—refreshes my perspective.

BAHNSEN:…And so the evangelical community has, by and large, chosen to focus on a low view of C (consumption), instead of a high view of P (production). Now, obviously, spending less—a mentality of thrift—spending responsibly, these are all principles I agree with. But I don’t agree with making it paramount versus the Creational mandate for Christians to work.

The economic terminology caused me to stumble a little. I asked my 16 year old (the daughter not currently taking Bahnsen’s free course) if she understood, and she felt the need to pursue clarity. We needed to simplify, define, or even contrast terms to wrap our heads around it. Why would it be a matter of contention in the Christian community? I needed deeper understanding. So first, I simplified: production = work and what it makes (I’m going to use the term “work” for shorthand). Then we needed a more common term for “consumption” and landed on “spending.” Admittedly, these are a bit oversimplified, but then, I’m not an economist so I needed something more concrete. Putting my new terms back into the equation: wealth = [work] – [spending].

Then, my mind needed contrast: Wealth, though it may be inherited or given, results first and foremost from someone’s diligent labor and effort. It is by our work which we produce wealth (notice I completely bypassed wrestling with the idea of “cash”—that’s above my paygrade). The value is not in the wealth alone. The value is first found in the work itself. Work then transfers or “imputes” value into the wealth it creates. This opened up entire vistas of thought: What does it mean then for us to find satisfaction in our work? [It even drove me to look up some interesting data—maybe you’ll find it interesting too: Life Satisfaction and Age and Feelings at Work].

I also needed to meditate on the merit of “reining in consumption” as a wealth-management tool. I surmised uncomfortably that focusing on abstaining from spending as our main exercise in accruing wealth has a stinginess to it—a self-sustaining and therefore self-centered enterprise. The parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30 came to mind, developing a whole new level of understanding of Jesus’ intention with the story, and making me ask: What is my attitude towards work? Towards the Giver of work? And how do I use my work and wealth to glorify Him?

Aha! Here was the touch point to discipleship for me: I realized that my actions, attitude, tone/nonverbals speak louder than my words in my discipleship expression with my kids. What I believe and feel about work and wealth shows up in my actions.

My actions, attitude, tone/nonverbals speak louder than my words in my discipleship expression with my kids. What I believe and feel about work and wealth shows up in my actions.

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Just this morning, for instance, I huffily emptied the dishwasher, washed up last night’s dishes, searched for recipes, and prepped ingredients for dinner. I resented the work that I had to do before I could get out the door and get to work so that I could meet my deadlines and get home and rest. (I hope you sense the inappropriate work/rest relationship conveyed in my run-on above—another factor to account for in my meditation.)

Two more areas immediately reared their heads as problematic: my understanding of consumption and wealth. It dawned on me that they both play into my work/rest tension. In modern society, many of us consume or depend upon others’ work (someone serving us so that we do not have to do the work ourselves) in order to find our rest or entertainment (another way we pursue “rest”). I do this, outsourcing work to others so that I can rest. But this means my work seems to chase my rest—or to reframe it through Bahnsen’s terms, my desire to consume seems to drive my productivity.

Humanity (myself included) often pursues “wealth” as a means of securing rest: if I accumulate “enough,” I will be able to feel secure. I will finally rest.

As with the evaluative question you have heard asked discerning an individual’s relationship towards food: “Do you live to eat or eat to live?” We might ask ourselves: “Do you work in order to pursue rest or do you pursue rest to equip your work?” So I want to put this out there as potentially helpful shorthand:

consumption ≠ rest

wealth ≠ rest

Christ’s work = our rest

But there’s a flipside to the coin (it’s not all wrong-headed/wrong-hearted consumption). The beautiful thing about God-ordained community: My need and willingness to rest gives opportunity for another to be productive in his/her work! Distribution of gifts is a GOOD thing! It allows for the development of expertise AND the ability to rest. I have to be willing to let go of my own sense of control, and to not be stingy with my resources produced from my work; but when I do that, everyone benefits. Another laborer produces and earns, and I rest. That laborer’s earnings them also get “paid forward.” Commerce becomes like a beautifully choreographed dance of community! Interestingly, these material and economic considerations give us insight into a spiritual “economy”: the gifts the Spirit pours out on the church and His intentions for us to use them to minister to one another.

His work brings us into His rest. His work and His rest provide for and equip us in our work and shape our attitude toward it. He fills us with joy for the work He puts into our hands. He enables us to use our physical means and our spiritual gifts to work for and bless community.

His work and His rest provide for and equip us in our work and shape our attitude toward it. He fills us with joy for the work He puts into our hands. He enables us to use our physical means and our spiritual gifts to work for and bless community.

BAHNSEN:There is a significant capacity for wealth creation and financial stewardship, and cultivation of resources, by people working harder, and working more and working more diligently and faithfully, with a spirit of excellence. [There is a] notion of being shy about cultural dominion, instead of saying: We want to be senior executives in media, or really productive tradesmen or craftsmen. There is a whole entire spectrum of professional opportunity that is my No. 1 value when it comes to thinking about money.

…I am a huge believer in the second variable, that one’s consumption ought to be less than their production. And that wealth building—risk taking with capital that has been accumulated—is a virtue.

Once work (or productivity) becomes a joyful prospect, it seems it would easily follow for us to joyfully strive not only to constrain consumption to fit within production, but to allow production to grow to the point of creating excess that we might use for the benefit of others. We seek excellence in our work. We recognize that our work fulfills that first command we were given. It is joyful obedience. It is worship.

If only it were that easy.

At home, many of us begin to delegate responsibilities to our children from the time they can reach the silverware drawer: If they can reach it, they can put away clean dishes, set the table, enter into the work of the household/community. For many little children, they enter into the joy of work when they realize they are big enough to “do it myself”—when they recognize they can use their strength to contribute to the needs of those around them. Fanning the flame of their pride in their work, affirming their efforts to contribute to the household, lays a beautiful foundation.

But the challenge grows as our children grow and outside commitments (financial and otherwise) increase. Our teens are learning the nature of scholarship, community, and employment outside of the home. It becomes easier to measure productivity by report cards, pay checks, happy friends, bosses, or clientele. Once more, work begins to equate with performance and the work/rest tension enters the equation. Here, the challenge for me is in speaking the gospel to my young adults as I need to for myself: that their diligent work and even their generosity with themselves and their material possessions might flow from His rest rather than from duty or out of an effort to please God or man.

…[As] far as the question of how you go about teaching it. I think we all know the answer to this. There are a lot of effective ways that can be the second, third, or fourth most effective in teaching anything we want to teach our kids. But there’s never a replacement for No. 1, which is modeling it, living it, being an example of it.

So households that demonstrate and model fiscal responsibility, a mentality of “P minus C equals W,” production minus consumption equals wealth, hard work is a virtue—these are, I think, the most effective ways of passing down that lesson to our kids and grandkids.

Many factors played into my heart response this morning—but the conclusion is key: My attitude directly influences my children’s attitude towards the tasks ahead of them. Work and productivity are good gifts given to us by the Father. Because of His provision (we don’t have to work to enter into His rest, He has accomplished it for us) we can enter into our work, not as performance to curry favor or out of fear, but as a response: with freedom and with joy.

Because of His provision (we don’t have to work to enter into His rest, He has accomplished it for us) we can enter into our work, not as performance to curry favor or out of fear, but as a response: with freedom and with joy.

Today I’m asking myself: How do I connect with joy in my work and all other economic efforts, seeing them as a response to all the Father has done for me in Christ? This is Discipleship Principle No. 1 in question form: How I am modeling what I believe through my emotions and actions for the sake of my children’s growth in Christ?

What are ways that you foster a godly attitude towards work, wealth, consumption, and even rest? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Email me at kreed@gwpub.comI’m listening!

 

Kelsey Reed

Kelsey Reed