Paul says “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8).
Economic language has been in use concerning the Christian faith since the earliest days of the Church as evident in the New Testament. “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
There are two issues at stake here which we understand clearly when economic language is used because our existence is economic in nature: ownership (see 1 Corinthians 6:19 and Psalm 24:1) and value.
There is an economic correlation between the Cross and the love of God for creation. Jesus paid that price because He valued His own life less than that of all those would be able to return to God through His purchase. An exchange has been made.
As marketplace Christians, whether as workers, employers, or consumers, we often find ourselves confronted with economic questions: how much can I earn?, how much can I gain?, what is the most desirable prioritization of spending my money? These are all exchange questions but they are also all inwardly focused. Typically only after answering these questions do we engage more relevant and sacrificial economic questions: how little can I earn to ensure others can be employed?, how much can I pay my employees without letting the company fail?, what is a “fair” price to support living wages for the producers?
Frankly, I doubt that most of us ever ask anything like the second set of questions because they are looking to the interest of others before our own (Philippians 2:4). But the exchange made for our reconciliation with God was made at a very high cost to God. This is the measure of how we conduct our affairs in exchange with others. Painful as it may seem, the bar is set very high.
What if God were to ask you to start making all your transactions at a loss? Logic would dictate that we would soon find ourselves in the same boat with the poor. Yet Jesus, pouring out His life for sinners, gave everything He had just so others could benefit.
There is a deep theological question that revolves around whether Jesus knew He was divine or not. That He knew He was the Messiah I think is obvious. That He knew He was divine is a harder argument to make from Scripture. In any case, He knew He was fully human. He knew He was flesh and blood. He knew submitting to the will of His Father in heaven was going to cost Him a slow and excruciatingly painful death.
Much of modern economic theory is based on the idea that we will do pretty much anything we can to avoid pain. We watch where we walk so we don’t stub our toes. We have also attempted to insulate ourselves from financial worries by stockpiling cash, buying more stuff and house than we can possibly use, and socking away investments for our retirement.
What if we were to willingly sacrifice our comfort zone, trusting God that if we “Give, it will be given to us; in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, pouring into our laps. Knowing that by our own standard of measure it will be measured back to us in return” (Luke 6:38).
That last statement is the dividing line: “by our own measure it will be measured back to us.” Given the ability to alleviate abject poverty is within the means of the modern world but we refuse by our choices to do anything about it . . . and that shows what we value: our own personal comfort and security over the eradication of enormous suffering. Perhaps that is why the Western world, the marvel of increasing wealth the last five hundred years, now finds itself faced with the comeuppance for the demands we put on government to supply more than our need. For all our wealth, we have continued to expand our own barns and live off the fat of the world. We are the oppressors which the prophets and Jesus warned.
In the end, we will either choose to live voluntarily “at a loss,” putting our short term self-worship aside for the sake of the world and the witness of God’s glory, or the choice will be made for us if we continue to oppress the poor. As always, the day of our judgment is at hand . . . invest wisely, with all of yourself, that which God owns.