Oikonomics: Financial Capital – Investing for the Kingdom

Matthew 25:14-30

We have come to the conclusion of our series on “oikonomics” and how we invest the five capitals of life in the kingdom of God the way Jesus did. We’ve been looking at each of them in order of priority, beginning with spiritual capital, which is hearing the doing the Word of God. That is the ultimate investment of life—to live out our vocation as people created in God’s image, to be stewards of his creation and to reflect his glory. Closely related to that is relational capital—we invest in relationships with others because we were created for community—to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves. These are the two primary capitals and most important investments of our lives.

We then looked at physical capital, or how we invest time and energy in the work of the kingdom. I talked about Jesus’ image and example of a rhythm of abiding and fruitfulness. Last week we talked about intellectual capital and how a transformed mind can help us keep the capitals in order and enhance our investment.

Today, we reach the fifth capital—financial capital. It might seem odd that this one is last in priority. After all, we live in a world where the pursuit of financial capital seems to be the number one priority, with people sacrificing all the other capitals in order to pursue it. If you ask most people what the number one cause of stress in their life might be, most will have finances at the top of the list. We know we need financial capital in order to survive these days, but is it the most important thing in which we should invest?

Jesus talked a lot about money, but he treated it as kind of a neutral thing—a tool to be used, a means to an end rather than the end itself. He cautioned against either overvaluing or undervaluing money because both an lead to idolatry and having your priorities out of whack.

If we overvalue money, for example, and we sacrifice our relational, physical, and intellectual capital to attain it over everything else, we discover that it never quite fulfills us. We have seen countless stories of people who achieved great financial wealth only to discover that they weren’t any happier and, indeed, may have become more miserable because of what they sacrificed to get it. The billionaire Nelson Rockefeller was once asked how much money he thought he needed and his answer was surprising: “Just a little more than I have.” Overvaluing money leads to believing that there’s never enough.

Jesus cautioned against this way of thinking. It was Jesus who said that the wealthy will have a difficult path into the kingdom, like the rich young ruler who could not heed Jesus’ invitation to give away his wealth in order to become a disciple. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to enter the kingdom, Jesus says. It requires a radical reordering of priorities.

Of course, we can also undervalue financial capital and see it as something not to be desired. After all, “money is the root of all kinds of evil,” as the apostle Paul said, right? Actually, that’s not what he said! He said that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Again, money itself is a neutral thing—a tool to be invested. Used well and invested well, money can be very useful for building the other capitals and building up the oikos, the family of God on mission, for the work of the kingdom.

That brings us to this parable of Jesus in Matthew 25. Jesus told a lot of parables about money, but this one is especially poignant in thinking about its use. The parable of the talents comes in the midst of a chapter where Jesus is talking about preparing for the coming kingdom of God. It falls between the parable of the ten bridesmaids, which is about being ready for the bridegroom’s sudden return, and Jesus’ warning about the coming judgment where people will be judged on how they treated the “least” of God’s people. The question for Jesus concerns how his disciples should act in anticipation of his return and in light of the coming kingdom of God.

Like the parable of the dishonest manager we looked at a few weeks ago when we talked about relational capital, this one concerns a wealthy landowner who is going on a journey. Like that other parable, he entrusts his servants to manage his wealth during his absence. The wealth in question is massive. A “talent” was worth about 10,000 denarii—one denarius being a normal day’s wage. That’s about 32 year’s worth of salary in one talent. That would have been the total amount of money a person earned in their lifetime in those days—and that’s just one talent!

But that’s a small sum to this master. He is clearly wealthy beyond imagining but, as a shrewd manager and judge of character, he gives his servants the opportunity to increase his wealth according to their ability. To the first one, he gives five talents, to the second he gave two, and to the third, just one. There’s a lot of money on the line here! The question is, what will each of these servants do with the money? Will they squander it like the dishonest manager did in Jesus’ other parable, or will they do something better?

We soon find out. The first servant took the five talents he was given and went to work with it, investing it in doing the master’s business and, as a result of his wise investment, he doubled the five talents to ten—a hundred thousand denarii! Likewise, the second servant took his two talents and doubled their value through good investments and diligence.

But the third servant took the talent entrusted to him and buried it in the ground. That was one of the safest ways to protect one’s money in the ancient world, but also the least profitable.

The master finally returns from his journey and he has a shareholder’s meeting. What have you done with the money I entrusted to you? The first servant joyfully showed the master that he had doubled his money. Clearly, he was excited to please his master and his master responds, “You are a good and faithful servant. You’ve been faithful over a little. I’ll put you in charge of much. Come, celebrate with me!” The second servant, though he was a steward over less money, is also excited to tell the master that he’s doubled the investment. He gets to go to the party as well.

But the third servant begins not with a financial report, but with a statement about the poor relational capital he has invested in the master. “I knew that you are a hard man,” he says, “You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t sown seed. So I was afraid. And I hid my talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.”

The third servant didn’t really care what happened to his master’s money because he didn’t really care about the master! Saying, “Here, you have what is yours” is a way of saying, “I am not responsible for this any longer.” The servant’s contempt for his master led him not to squander the money but to squander the opportunity to do something good for his master’s estate and for himself in light of the master’s return.

Note the response of the master. He calls the servant “evil and lazy.” At a bare minimum, the servant could have put the money in a money market savings account at the local bank where it would have earned .002% interest. But he chose to do nothing with the financial capital with which he was entrusted. The master orders it taken from him and given to a more productive servant who understands the value of investment, while the lazy servant finds himself out in the darkness.

What’s the point of the parable? Jesus is challenging his listeners to consider how they are acting as stewards of God’s resources in light of God’s coming kingdom. Are we taking the capital with which God has entrusted us, including our financial capital, and investing it in the things that will please God and taking some risks to double his investment in us? Or are we simply holding on to the capital God has given us to manage, refusing to risk and simply keeping it to ourselves?

For Jesus, this is one of the true signs of a disciple. If you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself, you investments—including your financial investments—will reflect what God values. You will use wealth to please God. Now, I’m not talking about the prosperity gospel—it’s not that we give to God so that we get something in return, it’s that we see all that we have as belonging to him in the first place and we trust that when we invest well, he will make sure we are taken care of. Jesus promises that there will always be enough for those who love God enough to trust him with their investments of spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual, and financial capital.

On the other hand, if we fail to invest in God’s kingdom, we will live with a scarcity mentality that causes us to fearfully hold on to resources. We demonstrate our lack of trust and love for the master when we hoard our wealth or fail to give it generously.

God intends our financial capital to be used as a tool to build up the other capitals—that’s why it comes last in priority. Money is not the ends, it is the means to the end of building up the oikos. When financial capital is put in its proper place, it can be a valuable investment that brings blessing to God, to others, and even to ourselves.

Ultimately, like the servants in the parable, Jesus will return to judge us on how we used the resources with which we were entrusted. Will we show a high rate of return in spiritual and relational capital for God’s kingdom because we invested our financial capital well? Or will we, like the lazy servant, have nothing to show for it other than some dirty money?

This parable is one that has been influential to me ever since I really studied it. I was at a denominational conference on stewardship once where the speaker was talking to pastors about church fundraising. The moment he said that pastors should lead the way in giving in their churches, there was a sudden run on the doughnut table in the hall way. Many clergy are afraid to talk about money because we have been trained with a scarcity mentality.

But the speaker made sense to me—the question was, do I really love God enough to lead the way in investing in his kingdom, in the oikos of his church? Am I willing to be generous and demonstrate what investment in God’s kingdom really looks like? Do I trust God to supply our needs, as he promises, if we risk becoming generous stewards of his resources?

Jennifer and I talked about this and we decided that we would make our investment in God’s kingdom our first financial priority. We used the biblical concept of the tithe as our baseline—ten percent of our income off the top is to be given for God’s purposes through his church. That meant reordering some other priorities and it meant going all in on trusting God to supply what we needed.

We decided to take John Wesley’s rules for money seriously: Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can. We looked at the 10-10-80 rule—ten percent of our income to God, ten percent to savings, and eighty percent to live on. And while it seems like a major adjustment I the beginning, I can tell you that it works and we have seen God’s hand in ways I could not have imagined.

We have two kids in college this year, which means we have had to put away significant extra money to pay two tuition bills this year. We see that as a good investment in relational capital, but it was very tempting to want to take the ten percent we give to the church and shift the over to savings. We had that conversation several times. It was very tempting to make financial capital the priority and bury our tithe money in the account in case it was needed.

But we both decided that this was an opportunity to really test our trust in God. My prayers became a lot more intimate. Lord, you said through the prophet Malachi that if we test you and bring the tithe into the storehouse, you will open the windows of heaven and pour down blessings. Well, I’m praying that you make it rain! I reminded God a lot of his promises, which is what prayer really is as we learned in the last series. It was a good chance to put that to the test.

And what have we discovered? God delivers. Somehow there has been enough. An unexpected check came when we really needed it. A necessary expense turned out to be less than we anticipated. A scholarship came through we didn’t know about. There has been enough. Yes, we have cut back on expenses (we’re eating a college student diet) and yes we’ve had to delay some things we’d like to do, but there’s enough. God keeps his promises!

So, we’re investing again this year in the life of TLUMC because we believe that this oikos is an outpost of the kingdom. Everywhere I look in this church I see the fruit of that investment. I see it in our kids—I am so thankful that they had the opportunity to grow up in a church that values them and with leaders who care for them even now that they are out in the world. I see it in the faces of people whose lives are being changed by the gospel. I see it in the ways we serve our community and the scores of people who are being helped by what we give. I am excited about what is happening here, and glad to invest in the work!

We’re even bumping up our investment a bit as a way of thanking God for his provision. We have leaned through experience that when we put the capitals in the right order, God takes care of the rest. Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you—Jesus meant that, and he does what he promises.

I want to invite you to think about your relationship to financial capital. What does your handling of money say about your relationship to God? Is he a good master you want to please by increasing his capital in the world, or do you fear him as a “hard” master you are unwilling to trust? It’s important for all of us to evaluate our relationship with money in light of our relationship with God.

How are you investing your financial capital in light of the priority of spiritual and relational capital? Are you seeking to grow those capitals above all else, or is increasing financial capital still your priority? Making money isn’t a bad thing—in fact, it can be a gift if you use that increase in financial capital to fund the growth of God’s kingdom.

These are key questions I invite you to consider as you use some intellectual capital to consider what investment you might make in the life of the church this year. I invite you to use some physical capital to write down what you think God might be calling you to invest. Take a look around you as well—the people around you are the ones in whom you are investing. This is the oikos, the family of God on mission. What you give may change someone’s life. And look at the empty chairs—consider how your investment will bring someone else to Christ. And lastly, we want to take a moment to pray—to invest some spiritual capital in considering the fact that Jesus calls us to invest in the work of the kingdom—to hear and do what he says. 

Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you. That’s a promise you can count on. Amen.

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