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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. 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).
The point is to seek the blessings of being cream, and then secondarily, after that, seeking the blessing that comes to 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 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 not be reversed.
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 tithe.
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? 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.
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 a flattering age, too many Christians have come to think that successful entrepreneurship is their birthright, and all they have to do is be energetic enough to scoop up the rewards. 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).
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 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 maintain the peace and purity of the church. How many Christians think something like this? “Ooo—he has that little fish in his window. I think I’ll add 10% to whatever he invoices. He’s a brother.”
And when the attitude is right, there is only one more 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.
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.