Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Are You Working For A Living Or Just Making Money?

Work and Wealth in Scripture:
How to Grow, Prosper, and Work as a Christian
Lawrence A. Clayton, RESOURCE Publications, Eugene, Oregon, 2015

The book’s author, Lawrence A. Clayton, is Professor Emeritus of History, University of Alabama. He has written numerous books, undertaken jail ministry teaching weekly assignments since 2000, and done missionary work in both Dominican Republic and Honduras. In this book, he passionately wants to trace through history, the meaning and value of both work and wealth in parallel to Biblical teachings on the subjects. Through this short volume of 148 pages, Clayton propels us to think about our own attitude to work, to money, and to wealth. In the process, he shares what he believes God expects of mankind with respect to work and riches.
The author starts the book off with an imaginary Fox Network interview of Jesus and the Apostle Paul on the subject. The co-interviewers are two network personalities, one from Fox and one from PBS. It’s a most interesting opening and through it, Clayton sets the stage for the various chapters and their topics that follow.
With him, we explore the question, “What do you do?”, being reminded not to confuse working for a living with making money. Slowly we’re nudged into thinking that “work, obviously, has a higher end than ‘making money’.” Throughout the book, appropriate Scripture verses or whole passages are drawn attention to. He ends this chapter by expanding the original question to, “. . . equally important, what do you do with what you earn?”
The answer to that is based, as he shows us next, on what we value. If we’re focused on “getting rich, getting things, making wealth for its own sake” we tend to lose track of what really is important, at least for the Christian (if not all of us), and that is to be in the will of God. And that, he argues, does not mean “being poor or accepting poverty as your lot in life. It means what it says: staying in the will of God.” Later in the chapter, he defines “real wealth in this world”.
Clayton then introduces the “name it and claim it” or “prosperity” theology that has become popular in the modern Christian church, claiming it provokes more controversy than any other phenomenon in the church and shows how wealth continues to be a contentious issue today. So he takes us back to how various predecessors of ours treated both work and wealth down through the ages after Christ’s time on earth. The Protestant work ethic is analyzed as are a number of other ‘isms’ with respect to the topics. For some, like the Puritans and Calvinists, for example, he shows how their views of work and wealth impacted their assurance or lack thereof with respect to their salvation. The author shares 10 Tips from Scripture on Money and its use that are most helpful as we determine our own position on work and wealth.
There’s an interesting chapter on how work got to be a “dirty word” which incorporates the thinking from the day of Adam, right through Plato and Aristotle, on to Cicero, and on to Hebrew rabbis. He deals with the concept of “renunciation” of worldly goods and what it really meant practically for the early Christian church to “share all things in common”. Never far away from his main points is what is expected of us with respect to our “surplus” (that which is not necessary for our own existence) and especially how that may be used to help the needy.
Of most interest to me was the author’s sharing of the “seven-fold spirit” of work which Theophilus wrote as a preface for one of his books. That in itself, would make a great sermon or even a series for some industrious pastor. The whole point for Clayton, of course, is the spiritual goal, of having us move “closer to Christ through (our) work”. He introduces us to Luther’s thinking on the subjects at hand – the idea being that if we are all equal before God, then all our work is equally valid before Him, and thus should be before us. Calvin joins the chorus by adding his own belief that it is okay for us to rise out of our circumstances if they are not what we are capable of achieving, but not for the sake of wealth.
For many of us, the author contends, it is a struggle which comes down to how we interpret Scripture on these topics. But however we do it, we must, Clayton argues, recognize that Scripture itself does not change. It is our interpretation of it, based on how we think it can be applied to our day and age, that changes. And that requires careful stickhandling if we are to stay in the will of God.
Near the end of the book, Lawrence Clayton also shares the thoughts of Hugh Whelchel as he summarizes the latter’s “Five Lessons for Our Lives from the Parable of the Talents”. Well worth the read and great material for yet more sermons.
While I initially found the book a challenging read, when going over it again, looking at all my marked passages, I realized the problem was more mine than that of the author who sometimes repeated his ideas and points whenever he could get them in. But that’s a small inconvenience to allow for an excellent historical rendering of work and wealth in Scripture. A most recommended volume for all who really care about “what they do” – be it ‘making money’ or ‘working in the will of God’.
--  By Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, May 13, 2016.

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