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    Using Unrighteous Mammon for the Kingdom

 

All the passages below are taken from Richard Foster’s book “Money, Sex and Power,” published in 1985.

 

Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.

John Wesley

 

To my knowledge no one has attempted to reconcile Jesus' statement that we cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24 NRSV) with his concern that we are to make friends by means of `unrighteous mammon' (Luke 16:9 NRSV). This reconciliation, however, is precisely what is necessary if we are to rightly understand the Bible's witness to both the dark and the light side of money.

 

LUKE  16

In the opening verses of chapter 16 of Luke, Jesus tells a parable that has tied commentators into knots and puzzled ordinary Christians for centuries (Luke 16:1-13 NRSV). And well it should, for the story is indeed an unusual one. However, it contains tremendous significance for our present study and holds the key to unlocking our understanding of both sides of money.

The parable itself is simple enough. A wealthy man discovers that his steward or business manager has been mishandling his funds and promptly fires him. But before his termination becomes final, the steward devises an ingenious plan to ensure his future. He calls in his employer's creditors, and one by one he writes off 20 to 50 percent of their debts. These people will thus be so indebted to him that when he is out of a job they will feel obliged to help him out.

The plan is obviously clever and just as obviously dishonest. When the master finds out what his steward has done, rather than throw him into prison as we might expect, he is so impressed by the man's ingenuity that he commends him on his prudence.

One reason we find this passage difficult is that Jesus uses what is so clearly a dishonest act to teach an important spiritual truth. However, Christ never commends the steward's dishonesty. Rather, he highlights his shrewdness in using economic resources for non-economic goals---that is, using money to make friends so that when he needed it he would have a place to go.

Our biggest difficulty is with Jesus' own comments following the parable. He first notes that `the sons of this world are wiser in their own generation than the sons of light' (Luke 16:8 NRSV). Next, he makes a most startling statement: `And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations' (Luke 16:9 NRSV). In short, Jesus is telling us to use money in such a way that when it fails---and it will fail---we are still cared for.

Two things shock us in these words of Jesus: first, that mammon is unrighteous, and second, that we are to use it to make friends. The two ideas seem so opposed to each other that we find it hard to believe that Jesus could have meant them both.* The language, however, is clear enough---he did indeed mean to say that mammon is unrighteous and that we are to make friends with it.

When Christ spoke of 'unrighteous mammon' he was underscoring the inherent fallenness of money. Unrighteousness is a necessary attribute of mammon. The word Jesus uses here (adikos) is very strong. Some translations render it `the mammon of iniquity,' which perhaps best captures the odious character of the word. Commenting on this passage, Jacques Ellul has written, `This means both that Mammon generates and provokes iniquity and that Mammon, symbol of unrighteousness, emanates from iniquity. In any case, unrighteousness, the antithesis of God's word, is Mammon's trademark.’1

The inherent unrighteousness of mammon is a hard pill for us to swallow. We so badly want to believe that mammon has no power over us, no authority of its own. But by giving the descriptive adjective unrighteous to mammon, Jesus forbids us from ever taking so naive a view of wealth. We must be more tough-minded, more realistic.

And in fact, those who work with money all the time know better than to think of it in neutral terms. As Jesus told us, in such matters the children of this world are wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8 NRSV). They know that money is far from harmless: money is poison, and if it is used in the wrong way, it can destroy as few things can. But they also know that once you conquer money and learn how to use it, its power is virtually unlimited. Money has power out of all proportion to its purchasing power. Because the children of this world understand this, they can use money for non-economic purposes. And use it they do! Money is used as a weapon to bully people and to keep them in line. Money is used to `buy' prestige and honor. Money is used to enlist the allegiance of others. Money is used to corrupt people. Money is used for many things; it is one of the greatest powers in human society.

And this is precisely why Jesus tells us to `make friends' by means of this 'unrighteous mammon.' Rather than run from money, we are to take it---evil bent and all---and use it for kingdom purposes. We are to be absolutely clear about the venomous nature of money. But rather than reject it we are to conquer it and use it for non-economic purposes. Money is to be captured, subdued, and used for greater goals. We are called to use money to advance the kingdom of God. What a tragedy it is if all we do is use money in the ordinary ways and not make any greater use of it.

 

MATTHEW 6

It is exactly this `greater use' that Jesus gives attention to in the sixth chapter of Matthew. He begins by warning us against `laying up treasures on earth'---mainly because it is such an insecure investment, for moth and rust will consume it, or thieves will steal it (Matthew 6:19 NRSV). Rather, we are to lay up for ourselves `treasures in heaven,' and we are to do so for two reasons. First, it is an investment that guarantees far greater security---neither moth, rust, thieves, nor any other thing can get to it. Second, it draws our affections---indeed our whole being---into the kingdom of God: `Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also' (Matthew 6:20-21 NRSV). Treasure in the bank of heaven is an investment with a high return.

It is often said of money that `you can't take it with you!' Jesus, however, is saying that if we know what we are doing we can take it with us after all. But how do we deposit treasure in heaven? We cannot deposit a check there.

One question to ask is, What will be in heaven? Obviously, there will be people in heaven; thus one way we lay up treasure in heaven is to invest in the lives of people. That kind of investment we will indeed take with us. Money invested in people is the best possible investment.

Suppose that the United States decided to change over its entire currency to British pounds, that the moment it did all American currency would be worthless, but that we were not told when the monetary conversion would take place. In that situation, the wise course would be to turn our money into British pounds, keeping only enough American currency to live day to day.

Now this gives us something of the picture Jesus means to convey when he tells us to lay up treasure in heaven and to make friends with unrighteous mammon. The proper use of money is not for living high down here; that would be a very poor investment indeed. No, the proper use of money is for investing as much of it as possible in the lives of people, so that we will have treasure in heaven. Of course, we need to keep a certain amount of money in order to carry on the day-to-day business of life, but we want to free up as much as we possibly can in order to place it where the return is eternal.

The children of light are faced with the great challenge of finding ways to convert `filthy lucre' into kingdom enterprises. Money, evil tendency and all, is to be mastered and turned into kingdom opportunities. Perhaps there is a needy neighbor next door, or a famine in the Sudan, or an opportunity to spread the gospel to a hitherto unreached group of people, or a chance to invest in the future of a bright young student. These are all wonderful investment opportunities.

 

USING, NOT SERVING

We can now bring into harmony the commandment of Matthew 6 that we are not to serve mammon and the counsel of Luke 16 that we are to make friends by means of unrighteous mammon. The Christian is given the high calling of using mammon without serving mammon. We are using mammon when we allow God to determine our economic decisions. We are serving mammon when we allow mammon to determine our economic decisions. We simply must decide who is going to make our decisions---God or mammon.

Do we buy a particular home on the basis of the call of God, or because of the availability of money? Do we buy a new car because we can afford it, or because God instructed us to buy a new car? If money determines what we do or do not do, then money is our boss. If God determines what we do or do not do, then God is our boss. My money might say to me, `You have enough to buy that,' but my God might say to me, `I don't want you to have it.' Now, who am I to obey?

Most of us allow money to dictate our decisions: what kind of house we live in, what vacation we will take, what job we will hold. Money decides.

Suppose Carolynn says to me, `Let's do this or that,' and I complain, `But we don't have enough money!' What has happened? Money decided. You see, I did not say, `Well, honey, let's pray together and see if God wants us to do it.' No, money made the decision. Money is my master. I am serving money.

J. Hudson Taylor would never have launched the great chapter in mission history called the China Inland Mission if he had let money decide. He was an ordinary person with few resources, yet once he had determined that God wanted him to go, he went. God had made the decision, not money. His master was God, and it was this master that he served.

Over the course of his effective ministry, God channeled very large sums of money through Hudson Taylor, enough to care for the needs of well over a thousand missionaries. But from his earliest days in the slums of London, Taylor had learned to understand money in the light of the cross. He had learned to use money without serving it.

And so the conflict we feel between Luke 16:9 and Matthew 6:24 is answered by learning to use money without serving money. But we must not be fooled: in the rough and tumble of life we find that the conflict is not resolved quickly or easily. Very often those who try to make friends by using mammon are soon serving mammon. We cannot safely use mammon until we are absolutely clear that we are dealing, not just with mammon, but with unrighteous mammon. The spiritual powers that stand in back of money and through which money lives and moves and has its being need to be conquered and subdued and made subservient to Jesus Christ. The conquest must go forth on all fronts at once, both inwardly and outwardly. We are seeking the overthrow of not only the spiritual power of mammon but the mammon spirit within us as well. The more we conquer money's evil side, the more money is used rather than served---and the more it is a blessing, not a curse.

 

MASTERING MAMMON

Just to say that we must master mammon does not make it happen. There are definite things we must do if we expect to defeat the tough old miser within and the spiritual powers without. The following steps in mastering mammon are given in the hope of starting you on your way.

The first step is to listen to the biblical witness about money. Begin with the Gospels. You may want to use a marking pen to highlight any reference to money and possessions. The purpose is to bathe in the biblical truth of Jesus' second most recurring theme. Next, turn to the Epistles with the same goal in mind. Then go back through all you have read and type up separately every reference to the dark side of money and every reference to the light side of money. Now that you can read the New Testament witness in one sitting, see what conclusions you can come to about money and write them down. Add any Old Testament passages about money that can give you added insight.

The second step is to consider money from a psychological and sociological perspective. We seek to understand ourselves better. Do we fear money? Do we hate money? Do we love money? Does money produce pride or shame in us?

We seek to understand our world better. What are the causes of Third World poverty and First World affluence? What responsibility do we bear for hurting, bleeding humanity? What resources are available to us?

As we grow in our understanding of the biblical, psychological, and sociological perspectives, we are able to turn to the third action step, which is the technical side, money management. Courageously we can take up such important items as family budgeting, estate planning, investments, deferred giving, and more. Now we can plan our budgets responsive to God's concern for the poor. Now we can evaluate our expenditures sensitive to a just sharing of the world's resources. Now we can write our wills unafraid of our own frailty. Now we can look at our giving in light of Christ's great missionary mandate. Now we can control and manage money to the glory of God and the good of others.

A fourth action step is to gather a community of support that will stand with us in our struggle and affirm us in life-style changes. Those who are rich and powerful need understanding and compassion as much as those who are poor and hungry.

A loving community of support can be found in many ways, and it does not always need to be formal or to take immense amounts of time. One January day I was having a brown-bag lunch with a judge and a businessman in our city, when the businessman pulled out a sheet of paper and began sharing with the two of us his giving goals for the next ten years. What fun to listen to his plans and sense his excitement in making his money count for the kingdom of God!

Husbands and wives can help each other. Home study groups can support one another. It is important, however, that such groups be quick to listen and slow to advise. Often an understanding heart is the greatest help we can give.

Such a community of creative, challenging, and affirming love may be slow in developing. Our wealth makes us lonely and isolated. What is needed is patience with each other and patience with ourselves. Our desire is to experience together the grace of a growing discipleship.

A fifth action step is to bring the ministry of prayer to bear directly upon money matters. Money is a spiritual issue, and prayer is our chief weapon in the life of the spirit. Let us learn to pray for each other for the binding of greed and covetousness and the releasing of liberality and generosity. In prayer, through the imagination, let us see the power of money broken. Let us picture the spiritual powers behind money brought under the lordship of Christ. Let us visualize money being channeled into needy lives, providing necessary food and medical supplies. Let us imagine Christians in business controlling, investing, and channeling money in new, creative, life-enhancing ways. Let us see the governments of the world diverting their vast resources away from bombs and into bread.

Let us pray for each other. We need wisdom to be faithful with our resources. It is a great service to lay hands on one another and pray for an increase of the gifts of wisdom and giving. Pray over how to budget money. Pray for freedom from money's power. Pray for money to be provided to those who need it. Before giving money away pray over it, asking God to use it for his good purposes: do the same for money that is invested in some enterprise.

Learn to pray preventive prayers. Rather than waiting until there is a financial problem, pray for protection of those who are doing well. If they have no money problems, pray that they will continue to know freedom. If they show the grace of giving, pray that the grace will increase. If they are called to manage and use money, surround them with the strong light of Christ so that they will be free from greed and avarice.

A sixth action step is to dethrone money.# By inner attitude and outward action, we must defile money's sacred character. Money is too high on our list of values. As Thomas Merton observed, `The true "law" of our day is the law of wealth and material power.’2 For Christians, this giving of high priority to money is not just unfortunate, it is idolatry. For the sake of faithfulness to Christ, we need to find ways to shout no to the god money. We must dethrone it. One of the best ways is by showing our disrespect for it. When we trample it under our feet we remove its power.

When Paul ministered the word of God in Ephesus, many people who had practiced `magic arts' brought their books and other objects and made a huge bonfire. Luke calculated that the estimated value of that act came to `fifty thousand pieces of silver' (Acts 19:18-20 NRSV).

What they had done was profane something that in their world had become sacred. Without question, money has taken on a sacred character in our world, and it would do us good to find ways to defame it, defile it, and trample it under our feet.

So step on it. Yell at it. Laugh at it. List it way down on the scale of values---certainly far below friendship and cheerful surroundings. And engage in the most profane act of all---give it away. The powers that energize money cannot abide that most unnatural of acts, giving. Money is made for taking, for bargaining, for manipulating, but not for giving. This is exactly why giving has such ability to defeat the powers of money.

Not long ago we had a swing set, not one of those store bought aluminum things but a real custom-made job---huge steel pipes and all. But our children would soon be beyond swing sets, so we decided that it would be good to sell it at a garage sale. My next decision was what price to put on it. I went out in the backyard and looked it over. `It should bring a good price,' I thought to myself `In fact, if I touched up the paint just a bit I could up the ante some, and if I fixed the seat on the glider I could charge even more. ..'

All of a sudden I began to monitor a spirit of covetousness within me, and I became aware of how really dangerous it was spiritually. Well, I went into the house and rather tentatively asked my wife, Carolynn, if she would mind if we gave the swing set away rather than selling it. `No, not at all!' she responded quickly. I thought to myself, `Rats!' But before the day was out we had found a couple with young children who could make good use of it, and we gave it to them---and I didn't even have to paint it! The simple act of giving crucified the greed that had gripped my heart, and the power of money was broken---for the time being.

A seventh action step is to side with people against money and things. The biblical witness to this perspective is impressive. The Bible forbade charging interest on loans, because it was viewed as an exploitation of another's misfortune (e.g., Exodus 22:25 NRSV). Wages were to be paid daily, because many people lived hand-to-mouth and needed the money (Deuteronomy 24:14-15 NRSV). When a coat was given as a pledge for borrowed tools, it was to be returned at night even if the tools had not been given back, because the nights were cold and the coat was needed (Deuteronomy 24:6-13 NRSV).

There are many things we can do to declare that we value people above things. We can be willing to lose money rather than a friendship. We can side with the `use' of church facilities over the `preservation' of facilities. We can provide wages that respond to human need as well as human productivity. We can always remember that the child who breaks the toy is more important than the toy. We can give up a major purchase to feed hungry people. The possibilities are endless.

One final action step: root out all favored treatment of people based upon money. James counsels us to `show no partiality' (James 2:1 NRSV). He adds, `If a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing ... have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?' (James 2:2-4 NRSV). Perhaps it is acceptable for political parties to give special privileges to generous benefactors, but such a practice can never be allowed in the community of faith. For believers, money can never be a bargaining tool or a way to gain status.

In the world money means access to the corridors of power; in the Church money should mean nothing. Money should not make people think better of us, for we are part of the fellowship of sinners. Money should not win us leadership roles, for those are determined by spiritual giftedness alone. Money should not make us more necessary to the fellowship, for our dependency is upon God, not money. In the fellowship of the Church money should mean nothing.

 

MONEY AND BUSINESS

In the first chapter I noted that business is the social side of money. In light of our analysis of money, what conclusions can we draw with regard to business?

As believers we affirm the goodness and necessity of work.

Before the fall, Adam and Eve had generous work to do in the care of the garden. The curse that came from the fall was not work but work that was by the `sweat of your brow' (Genesis 3:19, KJV). That is, before the fall the fruits were commensurate to the effort, whereas after the fall the effort far exceeded the fruit gained.

When the apostle Paul said, `If any one will not work, let him not eat' (2 Thessalonians 3:10 NRSV), he was not so much speaking against some welfare system as he was speaking for the goodness of work. We need to work. Work is creative, life-giving.

When Saint Benedict coined the phrase Ora et labora, Pray and work, he was calling attention to the intimate connection between the life of devotion and the life of labor. Work is essential to a spiritual life, and a spiritual life gives meaning to work.

As believers we affirm work that enhances human life and shun work that destroys human life. This brings us face-to-face with issues of immense importance and controversy. Is our ever increasing technology life-enhancing or dehumanizing? Can a Christian have any part in a military-industrial complex that produces weapons with obvious first-strike capability? Should we engage in occupations whose very nature involves compromises of many kinds? Is it ethical to work for companies that directly or indirectly destroy the ecological balance on the earth?

You can see that the vocational question is much broader than whether or not a Christian should be a bartender. In the first church I pastored, a faithful member---a brilliant Ph.D. in physics---came to me deeply disturbed because he had just learned that 80 percent of the research at the think tank where he worked ended up being used for military purposes. The job was death-giving! Yet it was the very work for which he had given half his life to become qualified to perform. Difficult decisions indeed!

Many jobs are clearly more life-enhancing than others. Teaching, counseling, pasturing---these obviously place us smack in the middle of human need and afford precious opportunities to bring a redemptive touch. But there are many more possibilities. All the people-related tasks---from child care worker to medical doctor---provide excellent opportunities to enhance human life. Often these helping professions pay less, have less prestige, and are more demanding, but they should be highly valued in the Christian fellowship because of their life-changing potential. A preschool teacher is doing much more than making a living; he or she is molding lives. Purpose and meaning in one's work can be fringe benefits of the highest order.

All the occupations that provide needed services and manufacture needed goods are life-enhancing. Farmers, carpenters, electricians, grocery store clerks, and many others enrich us in innumerable ways. We need them all.

The arts is another life-enhancing field. Music and drama, film and sculpture, literature and art enrich the human experience and need to be captured for the cause of Christ. The day is long overdue for the Christian fellowship to once again gain an exalted view of the arts.

We could profit from a fresh look at the Puritan emphasis upon `calling' in our vocation. Prayer groups and `clearness meetings' could be gathered to help all the members of the fellowship---not just potential pastors---find their vocational place.

There are many other jobs I could have mentioned and many questions related to the jobs I did mention. Computer technology, law, science, and many other fields need to be studied in the light of this affirmation.

As believers we affirm human value above economic value. For the

Christian, the bottom line can never be the bottom line. An employee is more than just the cost of production. There are human needs that take precedence over monetary needs.

Business people face many tough questions. Return on investment must be given careful attention, for no business can survive long if it sees only red on the ledger sheet. To go bankrupt helps no one. But profits must be brought into perspective alongside many other equally important values.

The principle of human value above economic value will have a lot to say about how we organize a business. For example, some businesses organize in such a way that periodic layoffs are virtually guaranteed. Recognizing this as a human problem, we might place a higher priority on trying to balance contracts so as to achieve greater stability.

Many American corporations are set up on the assumption of high employee turnover. Some companies even build-in a high turnover rate on purpose so that wages can be kept lower. Japanese corporations, on the other hand, tend to organize for low employee turnover. It is not easy to deal with the problem of mobility in a culture, but if we begin with a different set of assumptions, we might well make a big difference.

If we assume longer employee tenure, that will affect how we handle wages, employee benefits, and retirement programs. Even more, it will mean that we will place a high priority on people developing friendships and establishing networks of support.

The Japanese model has shown us that long-term stability does not need to conflict with profits; in fact, in many ways it seems to enhance them. But even if that were not the case, Christians have an obligation to place concern for human beings into their ledger calculations.

As believers we affirm the need to enter into each other's space in the employer-employee relationship. Let us not fool ourselves: employers and employees are involved in a power relationship. Employers have the power to fire and hire, to raise or lower wages, to control benefits and working conditions. The employee has the power to frustrate or enhance the working relationship and, in some cases, to undermine the effective functioning of the company.

Employers need to feel the insecurity of employees. Very often employees feel dehumanized and used, and very often they are. Mechanization that is done to ensure efficiency can depersonalize the entire enterprise.

In an act of Christian identification, employers can stand in the place of their employees. They can try to feel what it is like to have someone else controlling their future. Do you buy the new refrigerator if a layoff is impending? Do you add on the extra bedroom if there is the possibility of a transfer? Asking themselves questions like these can help employers feel what it is like to be an employee.

This does not mean that painful decisions cannot be made. Employers must still look at income and expenses and overall production. Decisions may look terribly cold at the time, yet if they are made in the context of an ongoing identification with the employee's vulnerability, a measure of grace can permeate the situation, and wrong and harmful decisions often can be avoided.

Employees, in turn, need to feel the isolation of employers. Leadership and responsibility set a person apart in many ways. Everyone knows that criticism is the price of leadership, but that does not make it hurt less. The old adage that sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never hurt us is simply not true.

As employees seek to stand in the shoes of employers, questions begin to surface. If I had to be concerned for the good of the entire enterprise, would my evaluation of what needs to be done change? How would it feel to live with a business around the clock rather than merely eight to five? In what ways do status and wealth decrease life's pleasures?

Trying to understand the dilemmas of employers does not mean that criticism should be avoided. For the good of employers, criticism is necessary. A perceptive challenge to a long-standing practice can lead to creative new ideas. But once we have entered into the lonely space of our superiors, our criticism will be tempered with understanding.

As believers we refuse to buy or sell things frivolous. Fads will come and go; there is no need for the follower of Christ to participate.

John Woolman, who owned and operated a retail goods store, wrote of his own struggles with this. In 1756 he noted in his Journal, `It had been my general practice to buy and sell things really useful. Things that served chiefly to please the vain mind in people, I was not easy to trade in; seldom did it; and whenever I did I found it weakened me as a Christian.’3

Our refusal to merchandise in the frivolous is directly connected to the high value we place upon human life. It is a wrong use of the world's resources to fritter them away on trivialities when human beings need to be fed, clothed, and educated. We value people more than ostentatious clothes and gaudy homes. So long as the gospel needs to be preached, so long as children need to be fed, Christians cannot afford to have any part with the `Vanity Fairs' of this world.

However, no clear lines can be drawn between things frivolous and things essential. What is an unnecessary luxury to one person is a necessity to another. What is superfluous at one time becomes indispensable in another context.

Though the difficulties are genuine, they should not obscure the fact that many issues are really quite clear. In many cases we need, not more insight, but strength to obey what we already know is right. We can quickly turn away from many things as evidences, of the old life. In the few cases in which we have honest questions, we may ask guidance of the Lord, who gives his wisdom liberally, and we may also ask discerning members of the Christian fellowship, who can often bring us the word of the Lord. Of course, we will have to struggle with many money matters, holding in creative tension the many needs, opportunities, and responsibilities that make up our world. Only fools imagine that it could or should be otherwise.

As believers we refuse to take advantage of our neighbor. How to hammer this out on the hard anvil of the business world is no small task, but hammer it out we must. Yet many of the situations we face are completely unambiguous. Recently my wife and I sold a car that had chronic carburetor problems. Both of us were clear that whoever looked at it had to be told of the problem and encouraged to have a mechanic give an evaluation. We probably sold it for considerably less than perhaps we could have, but integrity and friendship are worth a great deal. The point is to stick to plain statements without attempts to embellish or obscure the truth.

In many business situations contracts are good and help us to keep from taking advantage of our neighbor. A contract accomplishes several things. It puts the agreement into writing, so that miscommunication is minimized. The lawyers who help draft the contract often can see potential problems that we who are not schooled in `legalese' have missed. Also, a contract forces us to clarify in our own minds what we are doing.

Contracts, therefore, are good, but trust is better. Contracts are a witness to the fall and the natural tendency to sin. Trust is a witness to grace and the supernatural tendency toward righteousness. One of the greatest evils of a contract is its tendency to breed distrust and suspicion that often ends up in lawsuits. Paul counseled against going to court to settle disputes and we would be wise to avoid it whenever possible (1 Corinthians 6:1-11 NRSV).

Trust, by contrast, builds community. To be sure, when we trust, we run the risk of having others take advantage of us. However, note that I did not state the principle to our defense but to the defense of others. We refuse never to take advantage of our neighbor; that is no guarantee that our neighbors will not take advantage of us. In fact, they will take advantage of us. But trust is worth the risk because of its power to build community. Besides, as Paul put it, `Why not ... suffer wrong? Why not ... be defrauded?' (1 Corinthians 6:7 NRSV). And why not? After all, it is only money, and there are many things of far greater value than money.

As Christians our word is as good as our bond. Others may well take advantage of us, but perhaps, just perhaps, our willingness to be defrauded rather than to break the bonds of community can witness to a better way.

These six principles, then, can frame the beginning of a growing understanding of the role of the Christian in business:

 

·        As believers we affirm the goodness and the necessity of work.

·        As believers we affirm work that enhances human life and shun work that destroys human life.

·        As believers we affirm human value above economic value.

·        As believers we affirm the need to enter into each other's space in the employer-employee relationship.

·        As believers we refuse to buy or sell things frivolous.

·        As believers we refuse to take advantage of our neighbor.

 

UNITY AT THE MANGER

 We have seen that the Bible emphasizes both a dark and a light side with regard to money. The gulf between the two can seem very large indeed, but we have worked to bridge the gap.

Now come with me to the manger in Bethlehem. Notice the worshipers---humble shepherds and regal magi. Here we see poverty and wealth both brought to the manger. The kingly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are given freely in the service of the messianic King. Shepherds who have been closed out of life's money channels give their presence and their worship. Both are called, the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. Both come, both kneel, both give Christmas worship. [51-71]

 

Notes

1. Ellul, Money & Power, p. 94.

2. Quoted in Don McClanen, Ministry of Money Newsletter (Germantown, Md.: Nov. 1983), p. 4.

3. John Woolman, The Journal of John Woolman and a Plea for the Poor (Secaucus, N.J.: The Citadel Press, 1972), p. 41.

 

* I am well aware of the various attempts to explain away the idea that mammon is unrighteous. The most argued position recently is that Jesus was using the term unrighteous mammon to refer to the practice of charging interest, which was prohibited to Jews and hence `unrighteous.' Those who take this position include Dan OttoVia, Jr., in The Parables: Their Literary and Existential Dimension (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967), and Donald Kraybill, in The Upside Down Kingdom (Scottdale, Penn.: Herald Press, 1978). To do this, however, not only takes the sting out of the parable, it makes it meaningless. The whole point of the teaching is that we are to take what is essentially `of this world' and use it in the service of God. This interpretation of `unrighteous mammon' is in complete accord with Jesus' other numerous negative statements regarding mammon.

Perhaps it should also be noted that some have sought to divorce the comments of Luke 16:8b-13 from the parable itself, viewing them as random pericopes that were gathered together and placed here. The statements, however, make sense only in relation to the parable as Jesus' commentary upon it.

 

# See Jacques Ellul, Money & Power (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984) pp. 109-16, for more on this subject.

 

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