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Why Not Now?
CHAPTER NINE

Renewal in the Marketplace: 

Work and the Creation and Right Use of Wealth

GEM 2000:02:08 (CC Renewal Series, #8:June 2000?)


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As Christians in the Caribbean, we are often in two minds about wealth: as we look around us, we plainly see that poverty is a major burden; but it is equally clear that riches can pull one away from God into greed, self-indulgence and the arrogance of power.

This tension is not new.  As Paul warns:

Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  [1 Tim. 6:6 – 10.]

Clearly, we must aim for godliness with contentment, and must turn away from that lust for money that sprouts up into all kinds of evil.  But at the same time, the Apostle highlights the fact that we have basic material needs: “food,” “clothing,” and — we may safely add — shelter. 

If we are to meet our own needs, support the spreading of the gospel, pay reasonable taxes to support good governance in our communities [cf. Rom. 13:1 – 7!], and help the destitute, we must work, diligently and productively, to produce adequate resources.  This requires the creation of wealth, so we also read: “[h]e who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he might have something to share with those in need.”  [Eph. 4:28.] 

In short, work, diligence, honesty, productivity, good citizenship, compassion and generosity form a chain linked to godliness and contentment.  They thus form a major part of the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” as we stretch towards “the whole measure of the fulness of Christ,” the one who came in redeeming love — “in order to fill all things.”  [Eph. 2:10, and 4:13 & 10.]  

Therefore, as we continue our exploration of Christocentric renewal of the Caribbean, we must respond to the issues of godliness, wealth and poverty.


Blessing and the Creation of Wealth

Moses, in his farewell address to Israel, pointed out that it is God who blesses us by giving us the ability and resources to work productively, creating wealth:

God . . . humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna . . . to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD . . . .  Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him.  For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land — a land with streams and pools of water . . . where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you . . . Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when . . . all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery . . .

You may say to yourself, “my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth . . . .

If you ever forget the LORD your God . . . I testify to you today that you will surely be destroyed.  Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God.  [Deuteronomy 8:2 – 20, emphasis added.]

Clearly, we must be diligent, honest and productive workers, under God.  In doing this, we must also cultivate heartfelt gratitude to the LORD our God, who delivered us from slavery and indentureship; has given us liberty in a blessed, fruitful chain of islands and coastlands washed by the Caribbean Sea; and has given us abundant strength, skill, talent, resources and valuable ideas to create wealth. 

For, if we fail to give heartfelt thanks to God, we will surely fall into greed, envy, and the deceitful arrogance of wealth.   As Solomon, twice, aptly sums up: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  [Proverbs 14:12/16:25.]

So, the problem is not with wealth itself, but that when we sever productivity from godliness, gratitude to our Creator, and compassion for the needy, we walk a road to self-indulgence, greed, deception, arrogance, exploitation of the poor, and national ruin.  But, there is still a major question: how can we unleash our God-given potential to create wealth?


Creating Wealth

As we just saw, Moses calls us to “remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”   [Deuteronomy 8:18.]  Thus, if we are to escape the poverty trap, we must turn to God for guidance and wisdom. 

Proverbs 31:10 – 31 is an excellent case study[1]:

[C]onsider . . .  the virtuous woman — let's call her "Ruby":

"She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands . . . She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes . . ."   "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.  She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.  She sees that her trading is profitable . . . She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.  She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness."  [Prov. 31: 13 & 24; 16 - 18a, 26, 27.] 

Ruby starts small, and matches her skills and efforts to market opportunities.  She saves, invests astutely, diversifies and feeds growth.  She watches profitability [thus, cash flow], and manages the people and processes under her care with wisdom.  No wonder she achieves success. 

We may therefore summarise how to "follow Ruby":

(1)    Envision the enterprise — opportunities and resources, goals and strategy: how to reach the goals, step by step, starting from where we are now.  Ask: "why not now; why not here; why not us?"

(2)     Develop it — is it technically achievable, commercially profitable, and morally beneficial?  Do we have — or, can we train — the people to carry it out successfully?  How can we finance it?  What are the risks, and how can we manage them?

(3)    Produce, promote, price and distribute — who are the customers?  What are their needs?  What products and services can we profitably offer that will help to fulfill these needs?

(4)     Reap, save & invest; rest, reflect, give and celebrate.  [Prov. 31:20 - 31.]

The Link to our Missionary Mandate

Plainly, diligent, productive, honest, clean work is a key component of those “good works” that God has laid out in advance for us to do.  But also, as Paul’s mission to Greece shows us, business initiatives can make a major contribution to the church’s missionary outreach.

First, when the Apostle arrived in Philippi, he met “Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth.”  [Acts 16:14.]  As soon as she and her household were baptised, she invited the missionary company into her home, thus becoming a local sponsor for the mission.

Similarly, when Paul reached Corinth, he met “Aquila . . . with his wife Priscilla . . . and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.”  This couple not only sponsored but also soon became an active part of the missionary team, going on to pioneer the work in Ephesus.  As this happened, Paul’s missionary pattern sharply shifted from a somewhat rushed tour that spent a few weeks in each town, to a more settled one, in which he spent eighteen months to two years in key centres, building bases from which the mission reached out to surrounding areas.  It is reasonable to infer that the partnership he formed with Aquila and Priscilla provided a resource base for him to make this shift.  [Acts 18:2 – 3, 11, 18 – 21, 24 - 26 & 19:1 – 10.]  

Thus, their example shows how businesses can sponsor a ministry team, or can even be a part of its work, giving it stability, natural contacts and credibility in the community.[2] 

Business initiatives can also energise an existing congregation.  Ministry projects can be funded through short projects done by, say, the men’s or women’s or youth fellowship.  Successful projects can also serve as pilots for launching businesses. 

Specifically:

 Ø      Idle lands and idle hands can be brought together, producing cash crops and developing skills and business opportunities at the same time.

 Ø      Through a construction skills project, housing can be refurbished or even built, and furniture can be restored or even manufactured.

 Ø      Light manufacturing, such as of clothing, accessories and footwear, ceramics, simple construction supplies such as tiles or blocks, or even electronics equipment and computers, can be undertaken. 

Ø      Information Technology based services, especially web site and E-Commerce support, can be offered.

 Ø      Second-chance education for school-leavers, “extra lesson” services and even further and higher studies are possibilities.  (An accredited regional “Community College Without Walls” that makes use of the Internet and the vast network of churches, people and facilities that are already in place across the region, could support such education and training.)

 Ø      Young people in the church and wider community can be mentored, or do workplace-based internships or modern apprenticeships.

 Ø      To support these initiatives, a business development cooperative or business incubator can be launched, if the churches in a community have people with the skills and can attract funding.

Such initiatives empower people in the congregation, providing opportunities for people to build their lives and make a good livelihood.  They move our charitable outreach from “giving a man a fish,” to “teaching him how to fish.”  They lead to many natural contacts in the community, and in the Government and donor agency communities. They convincingly demonstrate the relevance of the church and the gospel.  They can be a springboard for missions.  Most of all, they set Christian discipleship in real-world contexts towards filling “all things” with Christ’s glory.

Again, we ask: “Why not now?  Why not here?  Why not us?”


Suggested Assignments

 

(a) Questions for Group Discussion

§         Is it true that the market place is inevitably dominated by greed and selfishness, so Christians should not try to achieve great success in the world of business?  Why or why not?

§         On the other hand, there is often a preoccupation with money, prosperity and abundant material possessions in some sectors of the church.  Sometimes, not being wealthy is viewed as a sign that one is not really in line with God’s plans for our lives.  Is this balanced?  Why or why not?

§         What about the issue of “tithing,” especially given the relationship of the Christian to the Old Testament Law?

§         How can we move from greed, selfish use of wealth and poverty to stewardship of the potential that God has put in our people and region?

§         How can this be turned into a practical, balanced plan for our churches?

 

 

(b) Practical Exercises

 

§         Develop a business renewal plan as an aspect of the discipleship plan.

(c) For Further Reading




[1] Mullings, G. E.   “Vision and Enterprise,” Business & You (Bridgetown, Barbados, 1999).  Vol. 1 Issue 1), pp. 20 – 21; adapted.

[2] Cf. Livingstone’s Planting Churches in Muslim Cities, Baker, or the previous article in this series, on “Cells in Renewal,”  [March 2000 issue?] for more details.