In a prior post, I examined the economy of Eden and the economy of Babylon. There is another economy painted vividly in the scriptures—the economy of the people of God. Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament give a voice and a visual to active resistance and intentional creativity in the throes of Babylon. They model how to “come out” from Babylon (Rev. 18:4).
In addition to people, places, and exchange, every economy has a throne. Every economy has something, someone, or a variety of forces at work that compels our spending, giving, and investing.
The writers of the law, prophets, wisdom books, gospels, and epistles pay special attention to their culture. They know who and what vies for the throne in their day. And in prose and poetry, they offer an alternate reality. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, the people of God can forsake economic idols and pursue shalom—the holistic, all-encompassing peace and justice we were made to enjoy.
Like the biblical authors, we are wise to examine the desires of our hearts and our society that we easily elevate to the throne of our economy. I see at least two underlying themes that, when enthroned, can make our hearts sick. But the good news is that the gospel offers two antidotes as well.
Convenience and Communion
Perhaps the idolatry that hits closest to home is convenience. Our society is obsessed with it. To be clear, convenience can be a wonderful expression of imago Dei-inspired innovation. When my favorite breakfast chain installed curbside delivery during the pandemic, I was elated. I could press four buttons in an app, pull into a numbered spot, and receive my food with minimal risk of transmitting the virus.
Convenience maximizes speed and minimizes contact. Yet precisely for these reasons, we must be careful. Speed sometimes arises from shortcuts, and minimal contact can hide those from our view. We must consciously and continuously examine at what cost (or by what means) the increased convenience is achieved.
For example, I used to live a few miles from a distribution center for a major online retailer. When my toothpaste was running low, I’d press a couple buttons and a new wintergreen tube would be placed on my doorstep in two days flat. It was my literal neighbors making that delivery. I loved how quickly the product would arrive and how little interaction the exchange required of me. I loved the maximal speed and minimal contact.
But meanwhile, that retailer faced immense worker rights controversies at that very warehouse. Workers proved they had to urinate in bottles to meet unreasonable delivery quotas, and strict robots oversaw disciplinary systems leading to termination.
The cost of my convenience was my neighbors’ dignity.
Fortunately, the gospel offers an alternate way of living in a world obsessed with convenience: communion. Both our life together in the body of Christ and the holy feast we share help us minimize our speed and maximize our contact.
Communion is central to the Christian life. Jesus tells his disciples that their love for one another will evidence their love for him. This loving community requires careful pacing and intentionality. Jesus’ own average pace on earth was one of walking, about three miles per hour. He spent his moments washing feet, healing wounds, and looking sinners in the eye. Jesus lived up close and unhurried. Similarly, the sacrament of communion involves real physical contact, the handling, tasting, and eating of the bread—together. Here, too, the pace is slow, giving time for reflection, prayer, thoughtful contemplation of the holy mysteries.
When we consider the universe of investment options, convenience often overrides our best intentions. We select the first fund that our advisor recommends or the one with the most stars on a website. Our proclivity toward a faster, contactless life can lead us to invest in companies that embody this same ethos, ones that make convenient exchange the end that justifies any means. In communion, we remember that Christ sacrificed his body for us that we might be saved. When pursuing convenience, we ask others—like those workers in the distribution center near me—to sacrifice their bodies for us so that we can save money.
How might a communion ethos help us resist convenience’s idols of speed and distance in our investment practices? We can start by asking a few questions. Are we investing in companies whose products create the problems our charitable donations are trying to solve? Are the businesses in our portfolio implementing ethical and sustainable employment and supply chain practices, or are they hoping no one will notice their bare minimum effort or technically legal injustice? Are the managers of our mutual funds and ETFs simply reducing tracking error, or are they also tracking the effect of their holdings on society? Slow and steady conversations with a local financial advisor can help us resist the idol of convenience in our investments.
Greed and Gleaning
Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is. I fear that modern, Western evangelicalism rightly internalizes many of Jesus’ teachings but wrongly hyperbolizes his words on wealth. “You cannot serve God and mammon” leaves little ambiguity.
I once heard a financial advisor recount a meeting with his wealthiest client. He began the conversation by telling the client his portfolio had grown to $90 million. But the client’s immediate response, his first question, was, “How do I get it to $100 million?”
Greed is not a modern problem. Thousands of years ago, the recently emancipated Israelites who suffered as slaves in the economy of Egypt longed to return. Why? They remembered pots overflowing with fragrant, luxurious food (Ex. 16:3, Num. 11:4-6). But they forgot the means by which Egypt accomplished the end of excess: an economy built on bricks made by slaves without straw.
Today we remain prone to a lust for more. We want as much as possible, at any cost to others, as long as we can stay secure. The good news is that God’s word shows us a way out.
In addition to the sabbath, Israel’s economy centered on the concept of gleaning. God’s law commanded land-owning Israelites to forbear harvesting to the very edges of their fields. Instead, those margins were to be left available to the able-bodied poor (Lev. 19:9-10).
In an economy including gleaning, work works for everyone. All people have a job; the rich sow and water their own land, and the poor harvest the outer edges of the field. Land is properly maintained, and exchanges are mutually beneficial. The poor receive provision through an honest day’s work, and the rich thrive in a society where everyone has what they need. Gleaning means profits are left on the table so that everyone has food on the table. Just like the manna in the wilderness, hoarding and workaholism lead to rot.
While gleaning is a high biblical ideal, what could it look like today? From the perspective of an investor, it’s obviously prudent to examine a company’s measurables—their price-to-earnings, liquidity metrics, and market capitalization. In other words, investors need to know the story of a company’s money before buying shares.
But what if that story included other measurables, ones that captured a business’ embrace of work that works for everyone? If two companies have similar buy signals and risk profiles, but one pays their workers a living wage, values minority shareholder input, creates products that meaningfully improve quality of life, and reinvests profits into local communities, while the other company does none of these, which business had we rather own? While this extreme difference may be rarely encountered, it gets us thinking about the importance of these other dimensions.
Not only this, Christ-followers honor our generous God by practicing generous giving alongside thoughtful, just investing. Before dollar-cost-averaging our next bonuses into our favorite mutual fund, what if we examined our neighborhoods and asked how our profits might provide an opportunity for dignity? How could a small business, nonprofit, or ministry multiply our purchases or donations, and what might our communities look like after a decade of faithfulness to forsake excessive wealth?
By investing beyond the bottom line and giving beyond what we once thought possible, we can recalibrate our hearts away from greed.
How then should we live?
Communion and gleaning are spiritual formation practices that, when engaged in faithfully over time, God can use to make us salt and light in a culture enamored with convenience and enslaved to greed. The genuinely good news of the gospel gives us the power to pursue these disciplines. The gospel reminds us of God’s gracious, never-failing, never-ending, personal love for us, filling us to overflow so that we can love our neighbors—in concrete, practical, economic ways. God’s great gift of unmerited favor towards us can stimulate us to generosity towards others.
Through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ has purchased victory and eternal salvation for us. No longer do we have to prioritize profitable, efficient exchange over the people and places around us. We are free to pursue communion and gleaning in our buying, hiring, and investing in this age, even as we await his fully redeemed economy in the age to come.
This communication is provided for informational purposes only. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.
An employee of One Ascent has an equity interest in Eventide. This individual does not have an active role with the company; however he does receive profit sharing distributions based on his equity ownership giving him an incentive to support sales of Eventide’s investment products and services.