Oikonomics: Building Physical Capital

John 15:1-8

Thus far in this series we’ve looked at the two most important capitals according to Jesus: 1) Spiritual Capital, which is building the oikos of God’s kingdom through loving God and hearing and doing what God commands and, 2) Relational Capital, which is about investing in relationships, loving our neighbors as we love God. Being rich in these capitals is essential to being an effective disciple and being an effective oikos or household of faith.

The next three capitals that we’ll look at feed these two and when we invest in them well they will help us to grow our spiritual and relational capital. The first one of these is Physical Capital, the currency of which is the time and energy we have to invest in building the oikos.

It often seems to me that this capital is often the one people immediately think of as being in short supply. Ask most people how they’re doing and they will say one of two things: “I’m really busy” (which is a statement about time), or “I’m really tired” (a statement about energy). In fact, we live in a culture that seems to want to reward those who are busy and tired—if you’re not busy and tired then there must be something wrong with you.

But is that how we were created to be—always running and always exhausted? Certainly, God has given humans work to do from the very beginning—to be the priests in the temple of his creation, to have dominion over it and be good stewards of its resources. But it should strike us that right after God created humans on the sixth day and gave them this vocation, the first thing God did on day seven was to give them a day off—a Sabbath day. In fact, this Sabbath was so important that when God gave Moses the ten commandments, Sabbath came in at number four of the top ten commandments of all time, right behind the ones about worshipping only one God. Sabbath is a big deal, put into the design of creation to give God’s people a day of rest.

The problem is that somewhere along the line, probably the result of the Protestant work ethic (this is Reformation Sunday, by the way, the 500th anniversary of Luther’s theological revolution), the practice of Sabbath began to wane. Some Protestant sects began to believe that, because of Jesus, the Law of Moses had been abolished, including the Sabbath, and thus it was ok to continue to work and to see Sabbath as a metaphor for “rest” whenever you can get it or, in its extreme forms, “rest” being allowed only at death!

We carry that legacy into our own time. There is no longer one day a week where all work ceases. Indeed, it’s just another day to cram in more activity. Kids’ sports go seven days a week, our cell phones mean we’re constantly available, and we have to work to catch up on our work. We’re busy and exhausted, not realizing that it’s actually not the way we were designed. We’re burning physical capital, thinking it is helping us to build up our financial or relational capital, but it’s actually killing us. In fact, a recent study says just that—that our lack of good rest and good sleep, plus a lack of exercise and good nutrition, is leading to a spike in all sorts of disease that has reached epidemic proportions. In fact, after only one night of only 4-5 hours of sleep, the cells in our body that kill disease are depleted by as much as 70%. Our physical capital suffers and, as a result, our other capitals are depleted as well.

If I’m not living a proper rhythm of work and rest, my relational capital suffers because I’m snapping at people, always living on the edge. My intellectual capital suffers because I can’t think straight and I’m always in crisis. As a result of that, my productivity actually goes down and my financial capital suffers. Moreover, my spiritual capital takes a major hit because now I have no time to build my relationship with God through prayer, study, or attending worship.

THE CARE OF OUR BODIES IS AN INVESTMENT

We weren’t made for this. To be human is to be embodied, and the care of our bodies is deeply connected to the care of the rest of our lives. Managing physical capital is thus a key to investing well in the others.

Jesus understood this. As Christians, we believe that the Creator God actually took on a human body in the person of Jesus, and Jesus was a steward of physical capital in ways that enabled him to accomplish his kingdom mission effectively. There are many incidences in the Gospels where Jesus walked away from an intense opportunity to do more work in order to go off and be alone to rest and to pray. During a storm on the sea of Galilee, while the disciples are panicking, Jesus is taking a nap. When Martha is scrambling busily to get dinner ready, Jesus is hanging out in the living room with Mary. He understood that there was a time to work and a time to rest—a time to invest in building physical capital in order to invest it in things that really matter for eternity.

JOHN 15 – THE VINE AND THE BRANCHES

That’s really what Jesus is teaching his disciples here in John 15, using the metaphor of a vine and branches. Vineyards were everywhere in first century Israel—in fact, Israel herself is often referred to as God’s vineyard in the Scriptures. I don’t know much about wine (I’m a Methodist—I know about grape juice!), but Jesus uses the process of growing grapes to lay out the way to “fruitfulness” for his disciples—and it’s a process that involves abiding and pruning in order to make one really fruitful, really invested in God’s kingdom.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper,” says Jesus. “He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit” (v. 1-2). The purpose of a disciple of Jesus is to “bear fruit”—but what sort of fruit? In verse 8, Jesus says, “My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples.” What, then, is this fruit?

I would say that the fruit we produce is spiritual capital, the work of God’s kingdom. Connected to that, of course, is relational capital—love of God and neighbor is the fruit produced by a disciple. Indeed, that’s where Jesus goes next in the text—“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (v. 12-13). Notice, again, that Jesus describes spiritual capital—hearing and doing what he commands and relational capital—loving others as we have been loved by God. The apostle Paul will take this a little further in Galatians when he outlines the “fruit” that the Spirit of God produces in a disciple of Jesus: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22ff). This is “fruitful” living—the good life of the kingdom, lived out in relationship to God and to others in the oikos.

But how do we grow this kind of spiritual and relational capital? Jesus says that it involves investing some physical capital. “Remain in me and I will remain in you,” he says in verse 4. “A branch can’t produce fruit by itself but it must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me.” Another word for “remain” is to “abide”—to stay connected, to rest with, and to dwell with. Jesus says that we can’t bear the kind of fruit we were designed to produce unless we spend some time abiding with him.

We tend to think of rest as something we do after we have worked, but Jesus is actually inviting us to think about that differently—to think about working out of our rest. It’s a subtle but important difference. In our Huddle groups, we teach this through the image of a pendulum. When I was a kid, I remember going to the Smithsonian Museum in DC, where they had a massive pendulum swinging from the ceiling. I loved to watch it move back and forth—the rhythm of it constant and unchanging. It would knock over pins in a circle as the rotation of the earth changed its course, but it kept swinging.

I think that’s what Jesus is inviting us to here—a rhythm between rest and work, abiding and fruitfulness, between pruning and growing. I say it’s a rhythm because staying on one side of the pendulum swing leads to dysfunction. If I am constantly thinking about and working at fruitfulness and growth, for example, I might produce a prolific amount of work and fruit. That’s something most Americans would be proud of—we value production above just about everything else.

But this is where Jesus’ vineyard metaphor has something to teach us. Grape vines can produce a lot of branches and a lot of fruit, but the irony is that the more the branches grow, the lower the quality of the fruit. If you want to produce high quality grapes, a winegrower knows that he will have to go out and prune back the excess growth to keep all the nutrients from the vine flowing where they will do the most good.

We love growth and production, but it isn’t always good for us. Growth and production isn’t always a sign of health. Cancer grows fast, for example, but that isn’t good! We can fill up our time and expend our energy trying to grow our capitals, but without some focused attention we can wind up producing substandard fruit. In our busyness and hurry, we can neglect or damage our relationships, decrease our intellectual capital, exhaust our physical capital, and forget the kind of spiritual capital we were meant to produce.

The truth is that in order for us to be really fruitful, we need to do some pruning back of the things in our lives that don’t produce fruit. In other words, we need to learn to say “no” to some things, even good things, in order to make room to produce good things and better fruit. We need to make more space for abiding in the Vine and receiving the nourishment he offers.

Pruning isn’t easy, particularly in a culture that values busyness. But what do you and your family need to prune in order to experience a more fruitful life? Maybe it’s limiting the number of outside activities your kids are in so that you can devote more time to building your oikos. Maybe you need to prune your schedule to create more time for prayer and devotion to God, or to serve someone else. Maybe it’s simply carving out a day a week where you just do nothing and prune out the guilt you might feel about that. If God took a day off, you can, too! Jesus invites us to look at where our time and energy goes and ask ourselves, “What do I need to prune in order to be more fruitful, more invested in the things that matter for eternity?”

The secret to fruitfulness, Jesus says, is abiding in him. But just like too much focus on fruitfulness can produce wild and unappetizing growth, spending too much time on the abiding side of the pendulum can also be unfruitful. Abiding is designed for rest and restoration, to receive the grace, instruction, and spiritual energy that we need in order to be fruitful. It’s an investment of time connecting with Jesus—time set aside daily and weekly to focus on building our spiritual capital by hearing his Word so that we might go and do what he commands. It’s time for increasing our capacity to love God and neighbor.

But then we have to actually go and do it! We were designed to bear fruit, and Jesus says that any branch that doesn’t eventually produce will be cut off and thrown into the fire. It’s a reminder of what we read about at the beginning of this series—Many people who say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord” and who believe in him but don’t do what he says will wind up with a flattened oikos. We need to rest, and rest well, so that we can work and be fruitful out of that rest—but we cannot stay at rest and become lazy disciples who retain the form of faith but not the power of living it out.

DAILY, WEEKLY, AND SEASONAL RHYTHMS

So how do we engage this rhythm of abiding and fruitfulness in a practical way? One of the ways we might think about it is to break our time and energy expenditure down into segments or times of abiding and fruitfulness. We might think of a day, for example, as being broken into four segments: eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, four hours for engaging with others, and four hours simply devoted to personal renewal, like prayer, devotion, and exercise. That’s a healthy rhythm, but it’s one that would require some pruning (and cooperation from others) in order to achieve.

A weekly rhythm would involve taking one day per week for rest—making space to invest in those things that replenish us—our relationship with God, with family, with our church oikos, and our neighbors. This is the way we recapture Sabbath as a discipline of rest leading to fruitfulness. We receive nourishment from the vine in order that we might be fruitful the rest of the week.

And then there’s an annual or seasonal rhythm of sabbath. We often think about vacation as something in which we need to fill up time with activity, which means we often return more tired than when we left! But what if, instead of thinking of vacation or “vacating,” we thought of it as a sabbatical—an extended annual period of Sabbath where we can rest well and invest in abiding with Christ and our loved ones? It might just change our perspective and help us establish a more fruitful rhythm for our year.

The bottom line is that we only have but one life and one body to invest. Jesus invites us to invest it well in being fruitful, living out of an abiding relationship with him. We need to guard our time and energy well, and invest our physical capital in ways that produce a quality of life lived for God’s kingdom.

QUESTIONS

So here are some questions to consider today:

1. What is God saying to you in this message about your rhythm of life? Are you busy and exhausted? Bored and listless? What is one thing God might be calling you to do in order to establish a better rhythm of abiding and fruitfulness?

2. What do you need to prune from your life in order to become more fruitful for God’s kingdom? What do you need to add in order to increase your fruitfulness?

Sources: 

Breen, Mike and Ben Sternke. Oikonomics: How to Invest in Life’s Five Capitals the Way Jesus Did. 3DM Publishing, 2014.

Breen, Mike and the 3DM Team. Building a Discipling Culture. 3DM Publishing, 2011.

Got something to say? Go for it!