Handling the fruit of work (Part 3) - What wealth is truly for

Our wealth is not our own (Part 1). We are “fools” if we hoard it (Part 2). Instead, God has entrusted us with many good gifts for a purpose. And what is that purpose? What is wealth truly for? The short answer is, wealth is for relationships. [1]

In Luke 16:1-13 Jesus tells the parable of the shrewd manager who is commended for “using worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves” (16:9). With an eye to the future (16:9) the shrewd manager uses his wealth not for himself but for the building up and fostering of relationships. This is because in God’s economy people matter more than profit. Money is a good thing, but it is servant to be used for the benefit of others, not a master to submit to (Matthew 6:24). 

What might it mean to use the fruit of our labour for relationships? It might mean inviting people into our homes more often for the purpose of getting to know them better, be they a work colleague or a neighbour. Ultimately our homes are not really our own, but they’ve been entrusted to us by God for the purpose of building up and fostering relationships. So how can we use them more for that purpose?

Or it might mean that we are quick to lend out our belongings – cars, holiday homes, clothing – to those who might need them. We can be very protective of “our belongings”, but ultimately these too are not our own, but items which have been entrusted to us by God for the purpose of building up and fostering relationships. So how can we use them more for that purpose?

Or maybe we’ll be more generous with our money in the office. We’ll contribute generously to the farewell gift for a colleague, we’ll buy the round of morning coffees, we’ll take a colleague out to lunch and pay. In all our dealings with money and belongings we’re to ask “How can I use what God has entrusted to me to build up and foster relationships?” 

And we will of course give it away. It is the “fool” who stores (Luke 12:21); the wise person spreads his wealth around, even in times of difficulty (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2). The question then often comes, how much should we give away? The Bible gives us direction here as well. Our generosity should be costly. We are to consider giving beyond our means (2 Corinthians 8:1-3). Why? Because of the example of Christ. His giving of Himself was costly; our giving should be also. Because are we really being generous if our giving doesn’t cost us anything?

C.S. Lewis puts this challenge to us in very tangible terms. “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditures excludes them”. [2]

However while our generosity should be costly, we are not called to make ourselves poor. Poverty is never considered a blessing in the Bible, rather something to be alleviated. Poverty is dehumanising, cutting us off from what it means to be a flourishing human being. Augustine warned against this. In reflecting on how much we “need” he wrote, “not just what is necessary for bare subsistence, but also what is necessary for living a life ‘becoming’ or appropriate to human beings. The point is not to live on crusts of bread with bare walls and threadbare clothes. The point is that a fully human life is lived in a way free from being enslaved to our stuff. Our possessions are meant to serve our needs and our humanness, rather than our lives being centred around service to our possessions and our desires for them”. [3] In short, we are to desire “neither poverty nor riches” (Proverbs 30:8). Rather, consider new and exciting ways that you might use the fruit of your labour for relationships.

 

[1] For an extended treatment on this topic see Adeney & Heath, Good Work: A labour of love, 41ff.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

[3] Augustine, Glittering Vices, 106.

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