Oikonomics: Building Spiritual Capital

Matthew 7:24-29

We opened our series last Sunday by talking about “the good life.” Jesus’ definition of that life is much different than what we normally think. The rich ruler came to Jesus seeking to have it all, but Jesus challenged the way he was investing his life. The rich man was thinking economics, but Jesus was talking about oikonomics—about investing in God’s kingdom, God’s family, God’s oikos. When we do that, says Jesus, then everything else falls into place. When the spiritual capital of the kingdom is our primary investment, then our relational, physical, intellectual, and financial capital will follow. We’ll see them all in their proper priority and perspective.

It’s that spiritual capital that I want to focus on today because, for Jesus, it’s the most important investment we can make if we want to truly live the good life—the eternal life of God’s kingdom which isn’t just a future reality but a present one. This was the capital in which Jesus himself was most invested, and when we read through the Gospels we see him teaching his disciples to direct all the other capitals toward this one.

You could argue that Jesus’ entire mission was about helping people to prosper in spiritual capital. If you prosper there, then all the other capitals prosper as well. As Mike Breen puts it, “[Jesus’] message was that through relationship with him, anyone could become wealthy in spiritual capital.” That’s quite a different vision of wealth than most of us imagine. It was a vision that the rich ruler couldn’t quite see—that Jesus was inviting him to an even greater wealth than he possessed.

In fact, building spiritual capital is the essence of the gospel itself—the “good news” that Jesus preached and lived and taught his disciples to share. It’s the good news of how one can live the good life in this life and in the life to come—the good life made possible by the coming of God’s kingdom through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Everything Jesus did and taught can be viewed through this lens.

We see this in Jesus’ first public proclamation in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew. Matthew shortens it, so we’ll look at Mark’s version which is more comprehensive. We can find Jesus’ mission statement there in Mark 1:14-15 –

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” (NRSV)

The time is fulfilled…

Let’s break that statement down for a minute to understand what Jesus was really proclaiming. First, “The time is fulfilled.” Remember that in ancient Greek there are a couple of different words for time. There is chronos which is linear time, measured by the clock, and there is kairos time, which means something more like a season or appointed time. It’s this latter word that Jesus uses to announce that God’s appointed time had come—the time awaited by generations of people in the Old Testament, the time when God would come to save his people. This is what they had been “calling on the name of the Lord” to do—to crush the serpent, defeat evil, and usher in God’s reign and rule on the earth.

The Kingdom of God has come near…

That’s what “kingdom of God” meant to a first century Jew. “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of heaven” are interchangeable terms, but neither of them referred to a distant heavenly kingdom. The term “kingdom of God” meant that God was enacting the work of renewing his creation that had been broken by human sin and the death that resulted from it. As we read the Gospels, we see that work being done by Jesus himself—healing, restoring, bringing people to spiritual and physical wholeness. We see it in Jesus himself as he goes to the cross to die, taking on the punishment reserved for slaves in order to take on our slavery to sin and death, and then he rises from the dead, defeating death and releasing us from slavery to sin so that we can live the freedom of life as God intended. That kingdom has “come near” in the life of Jesus, and we await it’s coming in fullness when he returns. It’s an “already” and “not yet” reality.

Repent and believe the good news.

The arrival of the kingdom of God calls for a response, however, and that’s where Jesus goes next. “Repent and believe the good news.” The word “repent” (metanoeo) means to literally change one’s heart and mind (the CEB actually renders it that way). To “repent” thus means to change from an old way of thinking and acting to a new one—in this case, to turn from the old life of sin and death to the new one being offered in the arrival of God’s kingdom.

“Repentance” thus requires that we first must hear and listen to the invitation God offers—an invitation to live the life of God’s kingdom. We listen in order that we might change our hearts and lives. As Paul puts it in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”

Spiritual capital, an investment in God’s kingdom, thus begins by hearing God’s Word and allowing it to change us, to reorient our lives toward God. But hearing God’s Word isn’t enough. Jesus doesn’t just say, “Repent;” he adds, “believe the good news.”

We usually think of the word “belief” only in terms of intellectual assent. Indeed, many people believe that the only thing that one should invest in spiritual capital is our intellectual capital—that as long as we intellectually believe what the Word of God says about Jesus, then we are fit for God’s kingdom. The word “faith” thus gets defined in this way as well.

But the word for “belief” and “faith” (pistis) actually means more than just getting your mind right—it means to “trust” or, as we might put it, to invest one’s whole life in response to what one has heard. If “repent” means to change one’s heart and life, then “believe” thus means to order one’s life around that change and to do what God commands.

Think of example from the Old Testament—that of Abraham, whom Paul uses as an example of faith in Romans 4. Paul says that Abraham “believed” God—but was it just that Abraham said, “Yeah, God, I believe you can give me a family. Hope that works out.” No, Abraham went as God instructed him—he started walking to the land God promised him. It was not just that Abraham believed, he acted on that belief—he invested his relational, physical, intellectual, and financial capital in doing what God told him to do, leaving behind his familiar life and going all in on God’s Word of promise.

The key to the good life is hearing and doing the word of God.

For Jesus, the good life, the life of God’s kingdom, involves both hearing the Word of God, hearing the good news of the gospel, but also doing what God says. It’s not just about information but about imitation. Jesus doesn’t come along in the Gospels performing signs and wonders just hoping that people believe something about him—he comes to give them a way to imitate—that people would become like him and thus become people who live the good life of God’s kingdom; people who then help others become more like him and become part of the kingdom, building up the oikos.

This becomes crystal clear in the Gospel lesson we read just a bit earlier. Matthew 7:24-29 comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which is really a summary of Jesus’ teaching about the good life of the kingdom of God.  But Jesus ends the sermon by reminding people that intellectually agreeing with what he says isn’t enough. You actually have to do it in order to experience the good life of the kingdom.

Back up a bit in that text and see what Jesus has to say about those who only give lip service to the Word of God. “Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter…” (7:21-23). This is reminiscent of how Jesus defines the oikos, the family of God—“Who are my mother, my brothers and my sisters? Those who do the will of my Father in heaven.”

To expand that, Jesus tells the parable of the two foundations. Everybody who hears the words of Jesus and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who puts his house’s (his oikos) foundation on bedrock. The storm comes and the house still stands because its foundation is firm. By contrast, the one who hears the words of Jesus and doesn’t put them into practice is like one who builds a foundation in shifting sand—it gets blown away when the storm hits.

The truth is that the only ticket to the good life, the only kind of life that is resilient in every circumstance, is the life that is built on hearing and doing what Jesus says. That’s the key to life abundant in God’s kingdom now and in the future. It’s also the key to healthy and strong oikos. If we only hear the word and admire it, but don’t put it into practice, we will see everything in our lives eventually collapse.

The currency of building spiritual capital is found in the wisdom and power of both hearing and doing what Jesus says, and that involves a full investment of all of our capitals:

It involves relational capital—recognizing that we hear and do God’s Word best when we are invested in community. The church was designed as the community in which the people of God build one another up in their capacity to hear and do what Jesus commands. No one said it’s easy, thus we need help. If I fail to invest relational capital by joining regularly with other Christians for worship, study, prayer, and fellowship, then I will fail in building spiritual capital and I will see all my other investments fall flat. If I make spiritual capital a priority, however, I will seek more opportunities to build relationships with others who can help me grow my investment.

Building spiritual capital thus also involves an investment of my physical capital. I need to devote time and energy to hearing and doing the Word of God. We are all subject to chronos time, our lives governed by calendar and clock, but we must be available for kairos time, putting ourselves in places where we can participate in God’s work when we have the opportunity. We look for opportunities to do what Jesus commands every day. We train our bodies and invest in good rest so that we can be ready to serve God and do the kinds of things Jesus did, and do them for a lifetime.

To build my spiritual capital, I also need to invest some intellectual capital. I can’t do what Jesus says if I don’t take the time to study and learn it! Hearing the Word means that I have to create space in order to understand the concepts and ideas that Jesus wants me to grasp. I need to spend time in his Word daily in order to learn what I should do in order to have the good life of the kingdom. When I read the Scriptures, I need to be able to ask two important questions: What is God saying to me and what am I going to do about it? Those are kingdom questions; hearing and doing questions.

And, yes, building spiritual capital is also going to involve an investment of financial capital. It’s little wonder that much of Jesus’ teaching is about the use of money. Part of our response to the Word is generosity, seeing money more as a tool to build up God’s kingdom than to build up our own. When I invest money in the oikos, I’m also increasing the capacity for others to build their spiritual capital, which increases my capacity as well. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 13 that the kingdom of God is worth investing everything we have in order to receive it.

This is the key to the good life—investing in God’s kingdom by hearing and doing what Jesus says and does. It’s about building spiritual capital that doesn’t erode and that lasts forever. This is the “treasure in heaven” that Jesus talks about—it’s an investment in God’s glorious future for us and for his creation.

Again, the currency of spiritual capital is wisdom and power—wisdom comes through hearing God’s Word and we receive and extend God’s power when we do it. We begin to expand God’s kingdom in the world and we carry out the mission of Jesus. We not only experience the good life, but we help others to live it as well.

“You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who deceive themselves,” says James. “Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do” (James 1:22-25).

Do you want to be blessed in whatever you do? Do you want to be part of God’s kingdom? Repent and believe the good news! Hear the Word and do what it says! That’s the key to the good life!

A couple of questions for you to consider as we close: What am I investing in with my life right now? What is my level of faith in Christ—am I merely a hearer, or am I a doer as well? What do I need to do in order to invest more in spiritual capital?

Got something to say? Go for it!