A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 2, Justice and Value

Yesterday I wrote about horizontal versus vertical relationships and Jesus’ call not to “exercise authority” over others in part one of a multi-part post about how Christians should relate to other people.  Today I want to talk about the concept of “Justice,” a word that I’m sure we misunderstand quite a bit. 

Justice (Value for Value)

After part one of this discussion you might be thinking, “I understand that we aren’t supposed to dominate others, and that we are equals with everyone we meet, but what about all the verses that say I’m supposed to make myself lower than everyone?  Aren’t I supposed to put everyone above me?”  Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  And Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:26).  You already know that no one is supposed to be your head, that no one is supposed to personally dominate you.  But how should you see others?  How should you look at other men and women who you are supposed to “consider better than yourselves?”  

The word justice is the right word for beginning this thought process. God has created us in his image. He is perfect.  A key part of the Gospel message is that God’s justice is impeccable, perfect.  Because of this, he had to send his Son to die for us, to redeem us, justify us, save us.  The fact that God’s justice is perfect means that the justice in the universe is perfect.  It doesn’t always seem like it, and indeed, the Psalmists complain about that (Ps 58). But time is the key ingredient. No one ever gets away with anything.  This is why confession and repentance is so crucial. By confessing and repenting you can clear the decks. Your confession is your not getting away with it.  The universe, that is, the creation is a just place because the Creator is just.  When we live in his image and pursue abundant life as his delegates, we are to pursue justice.

Justice is a misunderstood term.  Social Justice means many different things to many different people, but very often it has the unfortunate circumstances to be misapplied.  When there is a perceived injustice, often well-meaning people seek to correct it. There is nothing wrong with the desire to correct injustice, but because we are so twisted and broken, we often create greater injustices by our attempts.  Social justice and how to go about it are beyond the scope of this post, but for my current purposes, I’d like you to see justice in light of how we relate to all people around us.  

Honesty, integrity, and love must go together in each and every single, solitary interaction that you have with a fellow image-bearer.

Your spouse, your children, your friends, coworkers, neighbors, highway sharers, shoppers, and anyone else, deserve your integrity and love.  This means that when you face them, whether it is for one half of a second, or until death do you part, you must be just in your interactions.  You must be honest.  You must trade with them horizontally, value for value.  You must remember that God loves them more than you do.  You must see them as God sees them, an image-bearer with the potential to be saved.  You must show up on their radar screen with total integrity.  

Those Closest To You

Remember that part of what we have been created for was relationship.  Everyone you interact with is a relationship of some distance.  You cannot be equally close with everyone, so you have had to make some choices.  One the one hand, you should treat everyone the same.  Everyone deserves your honesty, your courage, your kindness and love, your exhibition of the image of God, that is, your Christlikeness.  Everyone deserves your integrity and your authenticity. And this is not for their sake alone, but for the sake of justice, and for your sake. If you have to pretend in any sphere of your life, you will be damaged. The less time you can live being your true self, the more difficult it will be to live the life that Jesus was trying to give you when he died for you and told you to lose your life to find it.  When you are being your most honest yet loving self, you are “finding your life” (Mt 10:39).  

Let’s see what this looks like with your spouse. If you don’t have one, imagine that you do.  You approach the relationship as someone whose identity is in Christ.  You know who you are. You know where your happiness lies. You did not get married in order to become happy. You got married in order to share your happiness with another, and to accomplish God’s purposes with someone who you have entered into a one-flesh, permanent-for-this-life union, most likely (but not definitely) for the sake of producing godly offspring for the glory of God and the good of the world.

With your identity, that is, your sense of self, and your purpose and happiness rooted already in God, you come to this person ready to give love and support and ready to trade value for value. Does this sound like a business transaction?  It is similar in kind in that true value is not a zero sum game.  Capitalism gets a bad name because of those who engage in it dishonestly in order to steal from others.  But that is not capitalism. It is theft. It is crime. True capitalism can and should be perfectly loving.  Consider that you have an old drill you don’t need because your friend gave you a new and better one. You don’t have room in your garage for two, so you decide you need to get rid of the old one.  You thought you might give it to your other friend, but it turns out he has a better one already.  You also realize you’d like to take your wife out for dinner, but you don’t have the money set aside for that. Maybe you could sell that drill you don’t need anymore to someone who needs it and has expendable income he’s been saving for a drill.  You advertise online and within a day you get an offer that is acceptable to you. You meet up and trade the drill for dinner with your wife. You no longer have the problem of an extra drill and no money for dinner.  Your “customer” no longer has the problem of no drill.  Value has been created by the fact that not only has neither party taken advantage of the other, but dinner for you and your wife is more valuable to you than the drill was.  The drill is more valuable to the other guy than his money was.  To top it off, your wife, who gave up nothing at all, gets treated to dinner.  

This is how capitalism should work, on the basis of justice and value for value. Why is this so?  Because that is how God designed all just relationships to work.  I’m not saying that a marriage or friendship should be modeled on a business transaction. I’m saying that a right relationship is a right relationship.  An honest relationship is an honest relationship. It makes no difference whether two people are married or meeting one time in a parking lot to trade cash for a drill.  How you show up as a true human is the very same. The only difference is in the degree of closeness.  

So with my spouse, everything should be totally honest.  I also believe that I should love everyone, especially her.  So all my interactions with her are not only to be honest, but loving.  I should want the very best for her for the sake of justice and righteousness in all our interactions.  This costs me nothing, because no godly transaction is zero sum, meaning it is not win-lose.  It can only be win-win, and value can only be created, not diminished, when conducted this way.  If you conduct all your relationships the same way, the only difference being the commitment to closeness with those you’ve chosen to be closest to, you will have all great relationships, especially your marriage relationship. 

Tomorrow let’s look at the word “discrimination” and see if there is not a good way to discriminate that is just.

How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 5, Anxiety about Provision

In part one of this post, we learned of the Gospel and the restoration that Jesus bought for us on the cross. We learned about the atonement that Jesus, fully God and fully man due to his birth to a virgin by the Holy Spirit, accomplished, bringing us peace with God.  This was the most crucial step toward healing the world and mankind of the effects of the fall and Adam’s rebellion. 

We learned that Jesus paid for all our sins, and that he showed us what it truly meant to be human, what it was supposed to have meant all along to be an image-bearer of God put on the earth with authority to create and rule.  When we believe and put our faith in Jesus, he causes us to become a new creation, no longer enslaved to the sin that bound us and kept us from pursuing life for the glory of God, or our own sake, and more importantly, for his sake and his glory.  Because we have been made new, we can begin to live the way God intended.  

Then we began to look at the sermon on the mount to see what Jesus considered to be the mindset and attitude of a godly image-bearer.  We learned that the inward condition of the heart is more important than the outward actions.  In general, our outward actions will be a reflection of our inward state. But in our fallenness, we often have some dishonest and selfish reasons to put on an outward show.  Whether it is about controlling anger and lust, giving or fasting in secret, taking oaths, loving our enemies, or anything else, why we obey God is more important than that we obey him.  True belief will lead to an obedience that is not done for the reward of the praise of men.  Rather, true belief leads to an obedience born out of the certainty that to obey God is the abundant life. It will lead to good results, but more profoundly obedience is the good result.  It is the reward, because it means that we are free from the necessity of sin, or what Jesus called, “slavery to sin” (Jn 8:34).  

Seeking the Kingdom

Now we will look further into the sermon on the mount, away from deeds practiced to be seen by others, and into states of being, states of the heart.  Look now at Matthew 6:19-21:

19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

And then, in 24:

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Now Jesus is talking about one of his favorite subjects, money. He doesn’t seem to be speaking of it in the same terms as he was in Matthew 5.  There the emphasis was on the nature of giving and why you should not give to charity in order to be seen by men.  Here it seems Jesus has in mind the heart attitude that loves money for its own sake.  Whether the issue is the desire for luxury and comfort or security and status, the issue is the same. You can’t take money with you into heaven, and you cannot serve money and the accumulation of wealth without becoming a slave to it, a worshiper of it.  And if you worship money, you do not worship God; in fact. you will despise him for getting in the way of your money-making.  

You may have heard that money is evil.  It is not, just as it is not the root of all evil.  “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6 ), but even then, you need to understand that money itself is neutral.  Here’s what happened. When men accumulated on the earth, they likely struggled with one another because of sin. But at some point, sinful though they were, they realized that they could trade with one another value for value.  One had a pig he didn’t need, and the other had a bundle of spears he wasn’t using. “How many spears will you give me for this pig,” said one.  “Twelve,” said the other. And they made a good trade. The pig was more valuable to the new owner because he needed it, and the same goes for the spears.  At some point, someone figured out that they could substitute metal and jewels for products, because it was hard to carry a pig to the spear market every time you wanted to shop.  But if a pig is worth three pieces of metal, then the pig farmer could carry twelve small pieces of metal that would represent four pigs.  This is much easier than carrying four pigs.  And money was born.  

Money wasn’t in itself a problem, because you could be as greedy for pigs or spears as you are for money.  Love of money is the problem, because greed is the problem, and money is usually associated with it. But if you took away money and currency and still had bartering, you’d still have a greed problem.  The love of money may be a root of all kinds of evil, but greed is the root of evil concerning money.  Jesus used money. Jesus was not evil, so he used money in a way that was not evil.  

Now that that’s out of the way, what is Jesus warning against? It seems that, although Jesus often addressed the issue of accumulating wealth for the sake of appearances and status seeking, here he seems to be speaking simply of the security that one feels will be attained by the accumulation of wealth.  In this case, the admonition is against laying “up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal” (19). The reason has to do with the heart.  Profoundly, he points out in verse 21 that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Instead he counsels to lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.  It’s easy to think that Jesus simply means give all your money away to charity and you’ll be rewarded in heaven.  But we know that God expects us to provide for ourselves (2 Thes 3:10), and for our families (1 Tim 5:8). We know that if our rent is due Friday, but we get paid Monday, we need to save our rent money at least until Friday in order to be good stewards and show good character to our landlords, reflecting well on the God we serve.  

Surely it does mean, to some extent, that we would give money away.  That seems like common sense.  But it also means using the money for what money is used for, which Jesus and his disciples did, but in a way that displays trust in God and keeps him first, our purposes in him second, and money, only as a neutral tool in the process. In verse 24 it says that, “No one can serve two masters…you cannot serve both God and money.” If God is your master, then you are his servant.  As his servant, make money your servant, so you can fulfill your job as his servant.  

This really started to make sense to me when I realized something about the responsibility I have at the church where I serve as an elder and pastor.  One of the responsibilities of our elder board is to steward the money that the members give to the church. We pay the rent on the building, staff salaries, insurance premiums, giving outside the church, and a host of other things that a nonprofit “business” like a church needs to operate.  I have a hand in both budgeting that money and spending it.  And, compared to my personal finances, it is a whole lot of money to manage. Over the years I’ve stewarded millions of dollars for the purposes of the church.  Here’s the thing: 

I’ve never once been confused about whose money it was.  It was not mine, although I helped manage it. 

It belongs to God and his church for the purposes that he has called us to in our city. Simple as that. For me to help myself to some of it (I do get a salary by the church.  I have nothing to do with what I am compensated. There are other men responsible for that) would be evil and wrong, theft even. It would disqualify me from ministry and qualify me for prison.  

It occurred to me one day that my personal finances should be thought of in the exact same way. 

My money is primarily God’s money, for God’s purposes for my life. This includes provision for me and my family, investment in business and mission work, and investment for the future care of my needs if possible (retirement), so that no one else has to supply it.  When the leaders of our church are planning and praying for God’s leading in direction for our church and the mission we’re on, profit is never a consideration. Paying the bills is.  Keeping our agreements with landlords and vendors is. Maybe building a reserve amount to have in case of emergency is.  But building a wealthy church is not anyone’s goal, nor should it be.  The same goes for personal finances.  Seeking to make a profit as a good steward is right and good, but trying to rich for the sake of getting rich is never the point. 

With the church’s money we budget faithfully and somewhat conservatively so that we are financially healthy. We follow biblical principles, operate honestly and wisely, and trust God completely. Tomorrow we will look in part 6 at the next section, which shows how Jesus wants his people as individuals to think the exact same way, especially the part about trusting God completely.

Why is it Not OK to Love the World?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (or pride in possessions) — is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. — 1 John 2:15

At first this sure sounds ominous. If we read it a certain way, we must take some drastic action.

  1. Don’t allow yourself to love anything in the world. No certain food, no pleasure, no sex, no entertainment, no work, no sport, no relationships, friendships, nothing can be desired. 
  2. All of the above is evil and proves that you don’t love God.
  3. Pride of life? Think of yourself as lowly, a worm. 
  4. Look at the world and hate all of it.  

Along with this, give away everything you have that you like, or just give away everything. Don’t take care of yourself. But do take care of others. Don’t eat. But do feed others. Work, but don’t pay your mortgage. But pay your neighbors’ mortgages until you have no more money, and then you can rest easy, unless you realized that you could work a few more hours a day to pay your other neighbor’s mortgage.  

Did you find yourself enjoying something or someone in the world? Shame on you. Get rid of it. 

Some Biblical and Logical Problems with This Interpretation

It cannot be that this is what John and the Holy Spirit meant.  The Bible (and logic) refutes this interpretation.  

[btw – this is what critics of faith have against us. They say, “look, you don’t do what the Bible teaches, you must be hypocrites.]

The Logical Problem

The logical problem first: I could not live if every time I am thirsty I give water to someone else (my neighbor). If you agree that that is true, then you will open the door to a logical premise. The individual must first care for himself before he can care for others.

“If a man will not work, he will not eat” (2 Thes 3:10).  Paul says this because he knows that proper stewardship begins with a stewardship of self.  As humans we are to take care of whatever God has given us to take care of.  It would be morally wrong, sinful, disobedient to God to fail to do this.  

I must drink when I am thirsty. Jesus did. I must eat when I am hungry. Jesus did. 

But I must not love food and drink more than God.  

But No Helping that Hurts

I must work to pay for my food and shelter, my family’s food and shelter, and then I can think about helping others with theirs.

But I cannot give to others in a way that robs them of the privilege of being human and becoming self-reliant, which is a high trait of godliness. When I give, I must give properly.

And I cannot coerce anyone else to give. It may be efficient (doubtful), but it is immoral.  

To love the Father and not love the thing he has created, seems to be antithetical to loving him.  I must assume that John’s meaning is that the love of things and the love of God need to be in their proper place.  Do I love something more than God—meaning, could I not live without it?  Then I have broken the commandment and proved myself to not have the love of the Father in me.  

But if in fact I know that I love God more than his good creation, and can live without any of it, then I am probably on righteous grounds.  

Am I to hate anything that God has created?  No, unless by hate the world (the way Jesus says it) you mean compared to God. 

Am I to consider myself a worm?  Only in comparison with God. Am I tempted to think of myself higher than God, or higher than someone who has excelled beyond me?  Then I should happily consider myself a worm.  

But if I see that God is high above me as my creator and the source of all good, then I should see myself properly as the crown jewel of his creation. I should joyfully strive to be the greatest version of that that I am capable of becoming, always content with who I am intrinsically as an image-bearer and adopted son of God in Christ, but lovingly and joyfully reach upward to be better, learn more, fly higher for love of God, for the glory of God, for the joy of being a man.  

I will love mankind more this way.  I will worship God more when I see man in his glory.  I will acknowledge greatness with humble joy, and seek to emulate it. 

Jesus said to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you (Mt 6:33).

The Biblical Problem

These things were clothing, food, and drink. Jesus was saying not to worry, YOU were going to get clothing, food, and drink. 

He doesn’t say to hate clothing, food, and drink.

Paul says to Timothy:

6 But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (1 Tim 6:6-10).

And then:

17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you.

Always be prepared to be stripped naked.  You may die naked.  

Don’t let that change one thing about you fundamentally.  

He even admits that food and clothing are good to have. Loving money in this sense is the evil of seeking money for money’s sake.  But it would be nonsense to tell someone to be indifferent about the fact that we need money if we are to have food and clothing.  Again, you may lose it all. If losing your money would diminish your personhood, then you have built yourself wrongly on possessions. 

Then rich Christians are acknowledged (17). Their temptation would be haughtiness because of their wealth. Again, since wealth is uncertain, they are in danger.  They could not be “stripped” of their wealth and remain confident, free, joyful. 

They are in a good position to do good works, seeing their money as a trust from God to do good. 

And then Timothy is charge to guard the “deposit entrusted” to him.  This is money language. But it is more likely that money itself, currency, is from the language of God. Meaning, Paul isn’t borrowing from accounting to tell Timothy to guard his “wealth” (his calling, his knowledge, his faith, his opportunities), But accounting borrows from the language of stewardship.  Money falls into that as a neutral representation of wealth and the power to gain what is needed either for one’s own needs, or to help others. 

Helping others can come in the form of charity, but it can also come in the form of business and production.  

One More Fact of Logic

Giving is only meaningful if the gift truly belongs to the giver.  This alone is proof that God allows us to bring our possessions under our identity (in a certain sense).  The great sin of most people is that they bring their identity under their possessions. And what makes it an even greater sin is the “pride” that has them do that for the sake of comparing themselves to others in order to develop self-esteem from comparison. This is a great evil, and it always ends in pain.

The “world” then is the kingdom of darkness that runs on envy and the bad kind of pride that relies on recognition and validation from others. In the world is domination, and coercion, and bondage, and manipulation, and lying in all its forms. 

“Do not love the world or the things of the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life (possessions).”

The desires of the flesh are extras that are needed to fulfill cravings. The pride of life is the life of comparisons.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt. 1

How do most people think of work?  Most people think of work as something that you have to do, so that you can afford the things that you want to do.  They work for the weekend.  But the weekend is often just as hard, if not harder, at least for those with families.  There are kids to raise, notoriously difficult and labor intensive.  If it isn’t labor intensive then you are doing it wrong!  There is a house and lawn to keep up. Don’t forget about the fact that all week, spouses have been able to avoid one another while one or both of them were working outside the home.  Remember what God said about the curse on marriage?  Will it be fun for the wife to have a “desire [that] shall be contrary to [her] husband?”  It is potentially no fun for either one of them.    

And so much of the work is in the hopes of gaining enough to spend on pleasures. But those pleasures always fall short of being worth the effort.  When one lives for comfort and pleasure, the best part is the anticipation and the work to achieve them.  Getting the comfort and pleasure is never as great as we anticipate that it will be. Why? 

Because pleasure seeking is not actually what we’re made for. 

Think about something pleasurable, like eating cake. Anticipating it is great. Smelling it is great. The first two or three bites are great. But the third through the seventy-fifth bites become increasingly not great. In fact, they start to impact our emotions negatively as we begin thinking about the pain that is coming, the weight that will be gained, the early death that we can expect if we keep doing this, how disgusted with ourselves we are for not stopping. If cake is not your thing, insert sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, and you’ll see that emptiness and depression are the result of all of it. Right now in history is the worst time to be dealing with this, because we are so prosperous. If you didn’t have time for any of these things, because you spent all your time on toil in order to survive, you’d have other problems, but you wouldn’t have this one. The current age is the most dangerous in history in terms of having the time and resources to seek pleasure and comfort to our hearts content, which is actually impossible, though we are killing ourselves to learn that.