Remembering Reformed Economics

June 21, 2009 / No. 3468

Dear Radio Friends,

Job layoffs, depressed economy, bankruptcy, stimulus package, collapsed housing industry, bailouts. These words have become all too familiar to us in the past months. The whole world is talking about a bleak economic outlook, and every nation is concerned about the threat to its prosperity and the fear of economic collapse. On a personal level, families are affected. Cut-backs, trimming the family budget, being forced to look for another job or to look for a second job, reduced spending. Simply put, many families are asking the question: Can we make it?

What does God’s Word say? What must be the response of a child of God to all these things? Does a Christian operate on the same level as the world when it comes to money and things? Is a Christian driven by the same impulse to have more? Is the Christian then equally anxious when the source of prosperity begins to dry up? Jesus once asked His disciples, in the context of daily bread and possessions, this question: “What do ye more than others? What is there about you that is different when it comes to the care for earthly things?” The Scriptures give us not only comfort but also guidance in the whole realm of money and things. They certainly give us comfort. Philippians 4:19, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:32, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Matthew 6:32, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”

Jesus Christ, in His ministry, said more about money than about any other single subject because, when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man’s true nature and true character. All through the Scriptures there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles money. As a child of God, we have a response to this economic woe.

Today we are going to say a few words about Reformed economics, or biblical economics.

We desire to know what the Bible will say to us about our relationship to money and to things, and specifically, what the Bible has to say to us about giving to the causes of God’s kingdom.

But, before we begin, we are going to give four basic principles. And before we begin with those four basic principles, there is one basic truth. That basic truth is that the issue in our relationship to money, and the issue in our giving to the cause of God’s kingdom, is never the economy. The basic issue is our own walk with God. When the reality of His grace and glory shines upon our hearts and deeply touches our hearts; when Christ is in our hearts and His kingdom is in our souls, then we will use all earthly things unto that end and do so joyfully, regardless of the state of the economy. That is a very simple, basic truth. But it is exactly because it is so simple and so clear that we have a problem. The clearer the Lord makes a truth, the more our sinful flesh has a problem with it. So, by God’s grace, we look to His Word for a few moments today, not only to give us comfort, but also to give us guidance. And we wish to remember biblical or Reformed economics.

Four basic principles.

Number 1: The Bible teaches that God is the sole owner of all things. And we are His answerable stewards. This is the A-B-Cs of the relationship of the child of God to money and things. This is what we must cut our teeth on and have our children cut their teeth on in our homes. When we were little children, when we would reach our hands out to take what belonged to our brother or someone else, our mothers would slap our hands. So also the economic downturn that our country is experiencing is indeed God’s hand-slap as we have over-reached, as we have in our hearts said, “These things are mine and we must have more of them.” God is the sole owner of everything. We own nothing. We have responsibilities but not ownership. And we are His answerable stewards or servants.

This truth must be more than just a theological proposition. It must be a deep and burning conviction. We read in Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” The earth is the Lord’s. God is the sole owner. He never signed over anything of it. It is His because He is the creator. And it is His because He is the God of providence who holds it in its existence.

When Adam was first formed and he looked about at the world that God had made, there were two things that were self-evident to him. He did not make any of it and he did not own any of it. Everything was the Lord’s. Everything that comes to you has God’s signature on it. Why is everything the Lord’s? Well, Psalm 24:2: “He hath founded it upon the seas.” He created it. “And he hath established it upon the floods.” That is, after the great flood of Noah, He is the One who re-formed it, re-established it, and continues to care for it. So you may take every tangible evidence of your wealth, take every title, every deed, every CD, stocks, valuable coins, gold, silver—take them all and put them upon your table. Get a yellow manila envelope and put on that envelope: “God’s possession.” Then put all of those deeds and all of your assets into that envelope.

And do so joyfully, not grudgingly. For in the Psalms, when the psalmist is confessing that God is the sole owner, he is not confessing grudgingly, but joyfully: “The earth is the Lord’s. And the fullness thereof.” Unless we can say joyfully that it is not mine, but it is the Lord’s—we are covetous. We have reached our hands as a thief and claimed ownership upon what is not ours.

Not only is the underlying principle this, that the earth is the Lord’s, that God is the sole owner, but also this, that every man and woman is an answerable steward before God. We read in I Peter 4:10, “as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” A steward in the Bible was one who managed his master’s goods, according to the will of his master. A steward, according to the Scriptures, needed one great characteristic: I Corinthians 4:2, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” Faithfulness—that is, the wise and energetic administration of the goods entrusted by the master for the benefit of the master—that is the calling of a steward.

And, further, the Bible teaches us that everything that we do with our stewardship shall meet us at the last day. II Corinthians 5:10 says that we must give account to the Lord for all the deeds that we have done. And then in Luke 16:2 we read that we must give an account to God of our stewardship.

Our stewardship before God involves much more than simply money and things. It involves our time; it involves our talents. Yet, our financial resources are an important part, a telling part, of our stewardship before God.

So the first principle that the Scriptures bring to us is this: Do you confess the name of Jesus Christ? Then your relationship to money and things will be governed by this principle: God is the sole owner of everything. And you have been made His responsible steward to manage His goods for His glory.

Principle number 2. How one views God will determine how one uses his money, and specifically, how he gives in his offerings to the kingdom of God. Jesus said to us in Matthew 6 that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. Or, you can put it in these words: Jesus said, what your money goes after, is a signal of what your heart goes after. And Jesus cares more than anything else about what our hearts go after. What our hands do with our money shows what our hearts are doing with God. What money is to us, shows what God is to us. Jesus would say Luke 12) , A man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things that he possesses, but in being rich toward God. What we do with money shows where we believe life will be found. What we believe is security and joy is evidenced in how we use our money.

But the relationship of how we use our money and how we approach the whole subject of Christian giving is even more fundamental. That relationship depends on how we view God, in a very profound way. In II Corinthians 9:5-7, the apostle Paul contrasts two types of giving. He speaks of a giving that is sparing, grudging, and reluctant. And then he speaks of a giving that is bountiful, generous, and cheerful. The apostle, in that passage, says that we must not give sparingly. We must not approach the subject of giving with the question: “Well, what can I spare?” We must not approach the subject of giving from a heart that deep inside wants to hold back, feels constraint, is asking, How much can I keep?

And underneath these two types of giving, giving sparingly or giving bountifully, the apostle brings out, are two views of God, or two hearts concerning God. The one who gives sparingly is the one who looks at God as the great taker, not as the giver. He is the one who is saying in his heart, “My life is being drained away because God is forever demanding that I give things to Him. I look to the things of the world to meet my true joy and my true need—earthly things, my own pleasure, a good time, entertainment—these are my true joy. But I find God as the taker. He says to me, “Give, give, give something to the church. Give and give.” And, at bottom, that heart is saying, I want to keep the world, and God is draining me. He is the great taker.

The one who gives bountifully, by God’s grace, sees it totally differently. He sees God as the great Giver. The apostle makes plain in II Corinthians 8 and 9 that this one sees God as the great Giver of grace in Jesus Christ, the bountiful Giver, the Giver of the amazing gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. He is the one who says, “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift of grace in Jesus Christ.” He is the one who says in II Corinthians 8:9: “I know the grace of the Lord Jesus, that though he was rich, yet for my sake he became poor, that I through his poverty might be rich.” He sees God as the Giver.

How you use money, therefore, is an expression of how you see God. Specifically, how you donate and how you give to the causes of the kingdom, to the church, to the poor, to the cause of missions, to the cause of Christian education. The big issue, there, is how you see God. Do you see Him as the Taker or as the Giver? When you look up into His face, do you see Him as the God who takes or the God who graciously gives?

By the grace of God, when we see Him as the great Giver, then we shall also be a cheerful giver. We shall do it out of the joy of our hearts.

Principle number 3. Deep poverty, according to God’s Word, results or produces rich, liberal giving. I take this from II Corinthians 8:1-5. And upon the basis of those words that we read in that place of Scripture, I would say that with the economic downturn that our country is experiencing the church can fully expect that collections for the church and for the poor will go up. In the chapter to which I refer (II Cor. 8:1, 2), the apostle used an example for the Corinthians, an example for the Corinthians in their giving. That example is the Macedonian churches, who had given to a collection that Paul was gathering for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Paul explains that the churches in Macedonia that had already contributed to this benevolent fund in Jerusalem had given abundantly. They themselves were under a trial of affliction. They were being persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ. Further, they were in deep poverty. The Roman armies had been marching through Macedonia for two hundred years. They were experiencing a persecution. They had very little—hardly enough for themselves. Yet, out of that deep poverty, they abounded unto rich liberality.

You would think that we would not look to these churches, to that sector of the church-world, to gather much financial support. But the very opposite happened. Grace operates in the most unlikely ways and situations. The apostle might have been saying, “Well, where can we look for help for the poor brethren in Jerusalem? Shall we look, perhaps, to Ephesus, that prosperous city? Shall we look, perhaps, to other places in the church-world where there is such great prosperity? But Macedonia? Those churches in Macedonia: Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea? They are under affliction, persecution, and poverty.” And yet, the grace of God worked in their hearts. They knew the grace of God, the wonderful grace of God, and they gave liberally. Poverty brought a new level of spirituality.

The poverty that God sent was worked by the Holy Spirit to renew their commitment to God. We can look back, perhaps thirty or forty years, to the generation that came before us, and we need to be careful when we do that. We must not romanticize, we must not idolize, we must remember that our fathers in the Christian church were men of like passions as we. They were sinful, too. In those days, they did not have the abundance that we have. They had far less than we have, their houses were far smaller, and their income was far less. Yet they gave liberally for the causes of God’s kingdom. And if you had asked them, “Well, you must have been poor,” they would say to you, “We weren’t poor. At least we didn’t know it. We were very happy.”

So that is principle number 3. Deep poverty produces rich liberality.

Now principle number 4. The principles have been that God is the owner of all things and we are His stewards; how one views God determines how one uses his earthly things; deep poverty produces rich liberality; and finally, this principle: Number 4: Giving to the causes of God and the church and kingdom always pays lucrative dividends.

We read in II Corinthians 9:6, “For this I say, He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” This is not to be interpreted in the common way that we hear lately, the health and wealth gospel, that if you give to God a thousand, He’ll give you two. This is mere carnality. God is not Wall Street. God does not operate on the same principles as Wall Street. The spiritual reward that God promises is not earthly things. Rather, He promises that He will pay back bountifully spiritually into our hearts.

You might be saying, “Because we have all taken a hit this past year financially, we have got to hold up in our giving.” Yet, God says, Give bountifully. And the reward? The rewards are spiritual. We hear the blessed gospel of our Lord preached, preached to the poor in heart and spirit. We see the cause of missions and missionaries go forth with the pure Word of God, to preach that light of God in this world of darkness. We give for the education and instruction of our children in the Christian faith. And we see young people coming to faith, understanding all things in the light of God’s Word. We receive a rich, spiritual harvest.

The time is to sow bountifully, says the apostle. He that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly. There Paul uses the example of a farmer. A farmer looks at the pile of seed that he has kept all winter long. He is becoming attached to that seed. He loves his seed. And now he goes out into the field and he can hardly part with it. Instead of taking a handful from the bag of seed and casting it liberally over the ground, he begins to pick up two or three seeds and he sows sparingly. What is going to happen to him? He is going to have a sparse harvest.

When we become overly protective of what we have, then we shall not see the rich spiritual harvest of the Lord. When our main concern with our budget is that we must keep a comfortable cushion between ourselves and poverty, then we sow sparingly. And we will reap sparingly.

While there is day, we must labor in the kingdom of God. We must keep it straight and simple. The Lord has promised us our daily needs. And all that we have is His to use in His service. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and these things will be thrown in. They will be added unto you.

We must not, as children of God, buy into the philosophy and wisdom of the world. We must not think that our goal as a parent, as a father, must be that our children will have to have it better economically than we did. Where do you find that in the Word of God? The Word of God says to us that we must pass on to our children the truths of eternal life.

Here are Reformed, biblical principles to govern our finances. Number 1: God owns everything and we are His stewards. Number 2: One’s view of God determines how one will give. Number 3: Poverty produces liberality. Number 4: Sow abundantly.

How do you handle your money, your resources, and your finances?

Mary, the mother of Jesus said to the servants at the wedding in Cana of Galilee these words: “Whatsoever He saith to you, do it.”

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word and pray for Thy blessing upon it in our hearts this day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.