James K.A. Smith has written extensively on how our hearts are—often unintentionally—formed by our habits. What investing habits are we participating in that may be subtly shaping our view of money?
At one of the busiest intersections of our city, he is now a fixture on the landscape of my daily commute. Rain or shine, I see him. Encircled by a few earthly possessions, his unshaven and disheveled body swims freely in his ill-fitting, tattered clothes. In his nicotine-stained hands, he holds a well-weathered sign for all motorists to see. “Homeless veteran, please help.” His name I do not know. His life story piques my curiosity, but it is his unmistakable presence that stirs an uncomfortable dissonance in my mind and heart. What ought to be my response? Should I stop and give him money or a food coupon he can redeem at a nearby eatery? Knowing that there are governmental and non-profit organizations nearby in our city available and experienced in caring for him, do I offer him their contact information or perhaps hire a ride service to transport him? What does it mean to love this neighbor of mine?
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience or know someone else in need—a single parent struggling to make ends meet or a co-worker facing massive medical bills—and have wondered what Jesus’ command for us to love our neighbor means, practically, in these situations.
In perhaps his most recognizable story, known as the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus guides us down the path of neighborly love. Luke captures with literary brilliance and evocative emotion Jesus telling a story of a man who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. While two religious leaders walk indifferently by the victim, a fellow traveler of another ethnicity stops immediately and tends to the badly wounded man lying in a pool of blood. This Good Samaritan interrupts his trip and takes the badly wounded man to a local inn.
Jesus goes out of his way to emphasize that the Good Samaritan went beyond offering first aid. He also guaranteed full payment to an innkeeper for however long it would take for the victim to recover from his wounds. The Good Samaritan’s neighborly love came at sizable economic cost.
Jesus shows us here an essential aspect of true neighborly love we might easily overlook: capacity. Yes, the Good Samaritan shows compassion—even crossing barriers of ethnic prejudice and religious polarization to care for his fellow image-bearer. But his compassion alone was insufficient to help the beaten man recover from the assault. In his story, Jesus reminds us that neighborly love properly understood embodies both compassion and capacity. Neighborly love requires both the motivation of compassion as well as the capacity to act for the well-being of others.
Regardless of what level of economic capacity we may be stewarding, not one of us can address every material need of our neighbors both near and far. However, we can meet some of our neighbors’ needs if we have both the compassion and capacity to do so. So, a good question is, How can we grow our capacity for neighborly love? Here are four commitments that can do so.
The first involves pursuing diligence in our work. As the Apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:28, our honest labor earns us resources we are able to “share with anyone in need.” The monetization of our paid work and the store of value mechanisms in our modern economy make it possible for us to bring both personal agency and capacity to our neighborly love efforts. Moreover, we love our neighbors through our good work: offering them needed services or well-crafted goods that meet their needs.
A second capacity-building commitment is to embrace a stewardship mindset. One of the primary themes of the biblical story is that we are not autonomous owners, but rather accountable stewards. We are reminded that God ultimately owns it all. As Psalm 24:1 proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” While the Scriptures affirm the importance of personal agency and the goodness of private property, we are also repeatedly reminded that as stewards we will one day give an account for how we have managed the time, talent, and treasures we have been given. Embracing a stewardship mindset compels us to pursue personal financial fitness and wise management of material wealth resources. As stewards, are we working toward building greater financial and time margin in our lives so that we have greater capacity to generously love our neighbors? And, importantly, is it our desire not only that our neighbors have their needs met, but also grow in their own capacity to express neighborly love to others?
We also build our capacity for neighborly love when we cultivate a modest lifestyle. In a culture that is highly materialistic in its values and orientation, it is easy to subtly slip into lifestyle creep. Somehow the more economic capacity we have, the easier it is to utilize that capacity for funding an ever-increasingly comfortable and affluent life. But that is not the path to the truly good life. While enjoying material abundance is not intrinsically wrong, it can blind us to the primacy of nurturing our relationship with God and others. Adopting a spiritual discipline of simplicity helps us be released from the tenacious grip of materialism and lifestyle creep, and it makes possible an increasing capacity for greater generosity toward others.
Finally, investing our financial resources wisely can increase our capacity for neighborly love. This happens in two ways. First, as we see modeled in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), taking thoughtful risk and investing capital in enterprises that may turn a profit can increase our wealth and thus our ability to have more to share. Second, we can bless others through our investments when our capital helps fuel endeavors that are just: businesses that treat their employees and customers with dignity, honesty, and fairness and that respect—not pillage—God’s good creation.
Lamentably, though, too often Christians take a “don’t ask, just invest” approach where the sole focus is on achieving a good financial return. A more God-honoring approach would be, “do ask, get help, and invest accordingly.” This approach takes the position that to invest wisely is to invest ethically. This involves taking the time to seek wise counsel in constructing our investing strategies. It means asking that financial advisor whether the companies whose stock she may be recommending are known for respecting human rights and not producing “goods” that actually do harm to people or the planet. It means asking whether the managers of the mutual fund we’re considering investing in have sufficient criteria in mind as they select corporations to include. Are only financial return factors examined, or do these managers also look for enterprises seeking gains for all the stakeholders of their business? Telling your financial advisor that one of your primary aims for investing is to increase your capacity for neighborly love will help her look more broadly for opportunities than she might otherwise have done.
I still wrestle with what the proper response should be to the homeless veteran I see on my way to work. Yet my daily encounter with this fellow image-bearer of God is a needed reminder of Jesus calling his followers to pay particular attention to our most vulnerable neighbors. It is a good goad encouraging me to ask my Lord not only to increase my compassion, but also to help me wisely and justly build up my capacity for effectively loving those neighbors.
This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.