We’re not exactly poor. My wife and I have both grown up having more than enough, and we live comfortably and have very little debt (soon to be none). But as we explore what the Bible has to say about finances, we feel pulled a few different directions. In Proverbs 13 we learn that a good man has an inheritance for his children’s children; that requires some capital, long term savings or investments, and quality relationships with one’s progeny. You think about the audience for that, they had more than one child typically, so you’re not talking a small amount of money. Yet Jesus commands to “give to anyone who asks” in Matthew 5. You have a weird collision in the New Testament of couples such as Aquila & Priscilla who make their living making tents, or Lydia who has more of a ‘luxury goods’ business (sounding like the woman in Proverbs 31), but then Acts mentions how “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”
And how well did that work anyway? A decade or two later and Paul is taking up offerings for the church in Jerusalem, possibly due to a kind of ecclesiastic economic collapse. The blessed become the beggars? Perhaps in some perverse sense the martyrdom had an auxiliary benefit: keeping the stress on the ecclesial budget down.
Jesus had nowhere to lay his head (Matthew 8 ). Judas kept their money (John 12), but it never says how much, and no matter what the prosperity preachers claim, I find nothing about Jesus’ secret mansion there so I don’t think Jabez (1 Chronicles 4) helps much. Jacob’s flocks were ‘blessed’ by quasi-magical deviousness. (Genesis 30).
Jesus’ parables make things really interesting, especially for those with a capitalist or communist predisposition. He claims the kingdom of God for the poor in Luke chapter 6 and in chapter 8 feeds the crowds. At the end of chapter 9 he reiterates his lack of accommodations. His prayer in Luke 11 asks for “daily bread” but he follows it with a promise for receiving whatever you ask of God. The Pharisees are condemned for their classism and their tithe, and a heart of giving is praised even when the giver has little to give (Luke 21). Chapter 12 describes a rich fool, and Jesus recommends an almost naive approach to life’s needs; give everything away, do not save or store up on earth. He then praises shrewd investors in his parable in chapter 14, and follows that parable with another featuring a nameless rich man in hell. The rich young ruler (Luke 18 ) is commanded to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. A reformed tax collector gives half his possessions to the poor and reimburses those he cheated. Jesus throws the salespeople out of Jerusalem. He gives an ambivalent answer regarding taxes and ends up getting betrayed for 30 silver coins. I guess Judas was sick of stealing from an empty wallet.
Seriously though; there is a strong, recurring theme in Jesus’ life and the lives of the New Testament church that emphasizes essentially:
a) Give, abundantly, cheerfully, constantly.
b) Live very simply. (Homeless, nomadic, or communal seem to be the trends).
c) Trust God for your needs.
How does that jive with the Hebrew scriptures regarding financial wisdom, inevitably the stuff being quoted in sermons surrounding tithes, investment, budgeting and wealth creation? How does that work with Christians who were businesspeople? (a role that unlike governmental positions, temple prostitution or soldiery, was permitted) How do I figure that out when, on the one hand, I know that Jesus didn’t die for my 401(k), but I still have one?
Author Bio:: Jordan Peacock lives and works in Minnesota with his beautiful wife and daughter. When not playing with technology or music, he’s writing comic books and wrapping up a university education.