According to Scripture, a spiritual man is one who walks in step with the Spirit in this material world (Gal. 5:16). A spiritual man is not an ethereal man, or a wispy man, or a semi-transparent man. A spiritual man is never a worldly man (1 John 2:15), but he most certainly is a down-to-earth man. Worldly and practical are not the same thing. While there have been people who were so heavenly-minded they were no earthly good, it generally runs the other way. The people who have done the most earthly good have often been the most heavenly-minded. How could deep and intelligent love for ultimate wisdom incapacitate a person?
“Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; He shall not stand before mean men” (Prov. 22:29).
“Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men” (Prov. 22:29, ESV).
Summary of the Text:
The Bible teaches us that cream rises. This is not because cream has anything to boast of, but rather because of how God created and governs His world. We can plant and water, but God is the one who gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Cream rises because of the blessing of God. The point is to seek the blessings of being cream, and then secondarily, after that, seeking the blessing that comes to cream. You never want to strive to be skim milk, and yet somehow rise like cream.
And of course, having received such blessings, we are to boast—but we are only to boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31; 2 Cor. 10:17). What do you have that you did not receive as a gift? And if as a gift, then why do you boast as though it were not a gift (1 Cor. 4:7)?
So it is a grace and a gift from God to excel in your work. It is another gift from God to reap the benefits of excelling in your work. Though they usually go together (but not always), the two must not be confused, and the order of the two must never be reversed. Doing this will enable us to keep our priorities right where they are supposed to be.
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, And loving favour rather than silver and gold” (Prov. 22:1).
One of the great accomplishments of the Reformation was the restoration of the idea of calling or vocation in every lawful endeavor. This abolished the old sacred/secular hierarchy, where it was assumed that if you were really sold out for Jesus you would be in a nunnery, or some other place that was equally high-minded. Being a merchant was kind of a tragic necessity, but somebody had to bring the tithes.
Unfortunately, this medieval mistake is creeping back in, having made great inroads in the evangelical world. What do people who are “sold out for Jesus” do now? We call it “full time Christian work.” But what other kind is there? Part time Christians are not the converted ones. But according to this unhappy assumption, if you don’t enlist in the Navy Seals for Jesus (NSJ), then you can always go into architecture, where you try to pay down some of the guilt for being such a partial Christian by giving donations to the real Christians.
But the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and Christ’s universal lordship over all things, means that we need to put down this idea for good. If you are a faithful Christian, walking in the will of God, then God is advancing the kingdom of His Son through your film-editing, back-hoe operating, diaper-changing, book-writing, music-composing, lawn-mowing, classroom-teaching, study-group organizing, and sermon-preparing. All of it is in the palm of God’s hand. Remember—all of Christ for all of life. When we say all of life, we mean all of life.
Not Kidding Yourself:
But in all of these endeavors, the biblical pattern is clear. First the planting, then the harvest (1 Cor. 3:6). First the race, then the medals ceremony (1 Cor. 9:24). First the cross, then the crown (1 Cor. 9:25). First the death, then the resurrection (Rom. 6:4).
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3).
Because we live in such a flattering age, too many Christians have come to think that successful entrepreneurship is their necessary birthright, and all they have to do is be energetic enough to scoop up the rewards, preferably in cash. And we try to sanctify the attitude that James describes as evil boasting, and we try to sanctify it with “the will of God.”
“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:13–15).
And because we live in an age of rootless entitlement, we have far too many Christians believing that the world, or their employer, or the government, somehow owes them a living. So not only are they lazy, they are also lazy and entitled. And, to apply the old proverb to them, it could be raining porridge and they’d have forgotten their bowl.
In the days of the Huguenots, there was a saying in France “as honest as a Huguenot.” How long do you think it will be before Americans start saying “as honest as an evangelical?” Or locally, as honest as a kirker? I am not talking about whether it happens or not. Of course it does. I am talking about whether it happens so much, so often, and so characteristically that it become proverbial. When it comes to business transactions, we need to have a lot more of “do all things to the glory of God,” and a lot less of “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
And speaking personally, while I have heard a number of local accounts of excellence among you such that some application of the Yiddish verb kvell is the only appropriate response, I have also heard a few things that make my back teeth ache. They did what? Hence this message.
Peace and Purity:
When you are engaged, as we are, in seeking to build true Christian community, the first thing that will happen is that an economy will start to take shape. And this means, in its turn, that disputes will arise. Most of the gnarly disputes will be about business or finances. This is borne out in my experience, and in line with the survey we recently sent out to you all.
Test your heart first. When you are thinking about a business opportunity with another member of the church, ask yourself this kind of question first. If your first thought is that because so-and-so is a fellow kirker he might cut you a deal, then I would plead with you as your pastor to go do business with the pagans. You’ll fit in better there. Go buy it in Spokane. That’s how you can best maintain the peace and purity of the church. How many Christians think something like this? “Ooo—he has that little fish in his shop window. I think I’ll add 10% to whatever he invoices. After all, he’s a brother.”
And when the attitude is right, there is another thing I would ask you to include. Too many Christians think that regeneration, or good intentions, or having a nice personality will somehow make your memory perfect, or will prevent you from getting hit by a truck. So suppose you get hit by that truck, and your heirs and your partners’ heirs are all trying to figure out what that handshake fifteen years ago meant. Write it down. This does not make you suspicious and unloving. God loves us perfectly, and He still wrote it down.
Not only that, but neither does regeneration magically bestow craft competence. Your salvation is by grace through faith, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9). But kids, your grade point average does not work that way. Adults, neither does your business work that way. Your vocation in the world is found in the next verse. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). And good works here most manifestly includes good work.
Doing Business with Brothers:
You should go into every business relationship with a brother looking to give something additional, rather than trying to get something additional. Don’t expect discounts because you are a brother. Try, when possible, to give something additional because he’s a brother. And when someone in the church is doing business with you, you are not responsible for whether or not they are observing this.
And if you decide to stop using the services of a brother it may be because of ordinary reasons (price, distance, etc.), slipshod or substandard workmanship, or unethical work (biblically defined). For the first, no explanation is necessary. Just go your way. If the person asks, tell them. For the second, you must tell your brother about your concerns. If you have done so, then it is legitimate to express those concerns to others, if they seek or need your recommendation on this brother’s work. If he installed your cabinets upside down, it is not “gossip” to say so when someone asks for a recommendation. For the third scenario, you must follow the pattern given in Matthew 18.
Being a member of the same church does not entitle you to free consulting services. When you ask questions of a brother in business, it should only be in order to determine whether or not you need his services, and not an attempt to get his services without paying for them. Avoid making anyone “set up shop” at church or fellowship events.
At a fellowship event, you can ask questions about “when would be a good time to call about thus and such?” But even here, be sensitive. When you call, after you have asked a few questions about whether or not the services are necessary, you are on the threshold of imposing on a brother. This means that after the first few minutes, you should expect the meter to be running (and should say so). If the person you are talking to does not charge you that is his business. But you should expect a bill as soon as you get to the point of using his expertise.
Remember some professions are more vulnerable to this kind of imposition than others. Low risk: MRI technicians, librarians. Medium risk: teachers, guys with tools and pick-up trucks. High risk: medical doctors, auto mechanics, veterinarians, realtors.
Beware of the egalitarianism which says that it is all right to do this to what you consider “high income” professions. Don’t assume that someone “doesn’t mind” because you have been doing this to him for years. He just has better manners than you do.
Wives, do not do an end run around your husband. If he has said that you are not going to spend any money on whatever it is, you should not try to get the service without spending any money. This just turns one sin into two.
In all things, apply the Golden Rule. Ask yourself what would be a temptation to you in your profession, and then don’t do that to other people in theirs. And we do encourage you doing business with kirkers and fellow Christians in the community, everything else being equal.
The Next Level Up:
But in addition to these principles, we also want to anticipate our next level of challenges, as brothers go into business partnerships together, as they provide investments for start-ups, and as they provide loans to one another. Every member of Christ Church promises to pursue the purity and peace of the body in their behavior, and we would like every member of the church doing significant business with one another to understand that the following constitutes our understanding of what is entailed in pursuing peace and purity in the realm of business. It is too often the case that we follow Christ when pocket change is involved, but dismiss the demands of discipleship when real money starts to alter our exegesis.
First, taking a business dispute between brothers before the unbelieving civil magistrate is simply out of the question (1 Cor. 6:1-8). If a dispute between members grows past the point of them being able to resolve it, the elders will appoint a committee of qualified brothers to mediate the dispute. If mediation does not resolve the difficulty, the elders will require Christian arbitration. If that arbitration is refused or defied, the session would move to church discipline.
Second, no one in the body should loan or invest any amount of money that they are not fully and cheerfully prepared to lose. When money is loaned, the Lord requires that it be loaned from an open palm (Luke 6:34). When money is invested (and investments are not loans), it is the nature of investments to sometimes go south. “Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard (Prov. 26:10, ESV). Or, as George Herbert once said, “He that sends a fool, means to follow him.”
Christ or Mammon:
If you give yourselves to the pursuit of Mammon, it will do nothing but suck you dry. If Christ gives Himself to you, and you surrender yourself in response, the opposite thing happens. “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38).
“The liberal soul shall be made fat: And he that watereth shall be watered also himself” (Prov. 11:25).
This spirit of grace and generosity does not take Mammon out of your hands, but it most certainly takes you out of Mammon’s hands. And while Mammon remains a snake, the Lord promised that we could handle serpents without harm (Mark 16:18). But apart from the sovereign grace of God, you cannot keep money from doing what money always does.
But Christ—in whose hands you are—can keep money from doing what money always does. What is impossible for man is always possible with God. But this only happens if the crucified and risen Lord is Lord of your bank account.