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Editor’s Note: In this six-part series, Peter Heslam, director of Cambridge-based Faith in Business, unpacks a rich biblical understanding of investing. We will discover the holistic nature of investing and consider God as Investor. In this first installment, Peter introduces how God clothes (“vests”) human beings as prophets, priests, and kings to fulfil their high—and profoundly other-centered— calling.

All Christians are called to live by faith. Yet often this call is thought to be restricted to people involved in some form of ministry who, because they have no regular income, look to God to provide for their needs directly. Living by faith is not thought to apply to anything as mundane and materialistic as work, especially work in the spheres of business and finance. Investment being fundamental to those spheres, there is little deliberation in Christian circles about the implications of faith for the world of investment. 

Against this background, this series of short articles will seek to stimulate new thinking about how investment can be perceived and practiced from a Christian perspective. In doing so, it will give due consideration to forms of capital—including institutional, relational, moral, and spiritual capital—that are fundamental to the generation of financial capital.

This first installment will be no more than a brief introduction. It will note ways in which the Bible depicts God as an investor and highlight the apparent recklessness of some of the key biblical models of investment.

The Bible uses rich figurative language, and a variety of metaphors and analogies, in its depictions of God. Many of these are well-known, such as king, shepherd, and judge. But one that is almost unknown is God as investor.

A neglected metaphor for God in scripture is Investor.

Yet it occurs right at the start of the Hebrew Bible. There we find God investing a formless, dark, and empty earth with light and a profusion of plant and animal wildlife. God then invests this creation with human beings. And in them—them alone—God invests his image (Genesis 1). 

Later in the Hebrew Bible we find God advising Jeremiah on a property investment. He is to buy a field just outside Jerusalem in Anathoth (Jeremiah 32). But God clearly shuns the “location, location, location” precept of today’s real estate experts. For the field in question is situated in territory occupied by the invading Babylonian army! Whatever happened to due diligence and caveat emptor (buyer beware)?

Multiple Forms of Investing 

When we turn to the New Testament, we find that the use of wealth is a major theme in the teaching of Jesus. Yet here too, conventional wisdom is turned on its head. He does not, for instance, advise the rich young ruler to invest his wealth wisely and responsibly to optimise social impact. Instead, Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give to the poor (Luke 18:18-25), an action that would have added the man to the number of poor people needing help. And the parabolic rich man who builds bigger warehouses to invest for the future is not called prudent but a fool (Luke 12:13-21).

Similarly perplexing is the parable that addresses the issue of investment most directly: the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The reader is left to work out its meaning. What is it about the three servants in that story that makes them so different from each other in the investments and returns they make, and in the rewards and punishments they receive? Could it really be saying that all God cares about is the return on God’s investment?

We also find Jesus investing a good deal of his time and energy—during his prime years—in a collection of high-risk prospects. It amounts to a motley crew of largely unschooled, hapless, and unreliable followers, all drawn from a relatively deprived region of the Roman Empire, and who end up abandoning him. When the crunch comes, they liquidate whatever investment they had in Jesus’ ministry, one of them receiving a shoddy dividend of 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15).

The Apostle Paul shares in the apparent recklessness of Jesus’ investment strategy. He pours his life into small and fragile communities of persecuted Christians dispersed around the eastern fringes of the occupied territories of the Roman Empire. In doing so, he admits to acting “like a madman,” for it cost him heavy toil, imprisonments, and near-death floggings (2 Corinthians 11:23).

Paul shares Jesus’ bold investment strategy.

In fact, anyone currently considering whether to invest their lives in the service of Christ may first want to read the preamble to Paul’s investment proposal:

Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).

Neither Jesus nor Paul made such costly investments, of course, without hope of a return. In the case of Jesus, it was “for the sake of the joy that was set before him” that he “endured the cross, disregarding its shame” (Hebrews 12:2).  That return on investment (ROI) included his inheritance—realized through his all-embracing work of redemption—of all things, including all nations, peoples, rulers, and powers (Ps 2.7-8; Col 1.18-22; 2.10-15).

Jesus and Paul do not make costly investments without hope of a return.

In the case of Paul, he shunned (following his conversion) the ROI he had been making from his training to become a learned Pharisee. The ROI he now looked for was “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:8-10). And he considered the church communities in which he invested to be adequate ROI in themselves; he refers to them as his “joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19).

Some of these biblical passages will be revisited later in this series, in order to explore their ramifications for our investment in our work and in the people around us. The aim will be to consider what implications God’s investment in the world has for our investment strategy.

God’s Investment in Adam and Eve

As noted above, the creation narratives offer a picture of God as investor. We see in the unfolding drama of scripture that God frequently invests in his people. Here in Genesis, we see God’s “investiture” of Adam and Eve as those appointed to rule (or “have dominion”) over God’s creation (Genesis 1:28). Up until this point, God has spoken, acted, and ruled directly, without an intermediary. But now God elevates the first humans in the temple-garden to the roles of prophet, priest, and king—three offices symbolized in ancient Israel by the wearing of a mantel, or vestment. Despite being crafted from lowly dust, human beings are animated and invested with God’s spirit, and ascend to places of honor as vice-regents over creation.

As prophets, they are to declare God’s word in God’s world; as priests, they are to be wardens of God’s world and channels of God’s blessing towards it; as kings, they are to govern God’s world on God’s behalf.

Investiture, vestment, investment: all these words derive from the Latin vestire, meaning “to clothe.” Solomon, Jesus tells us, was vested (clothed) with splendid garments, yet God vests ordinary wildflowers with even greater splendour. How much more splendid, Jesus continues, is the way God vests ordinary human beings (Matthew 6:28-30).

Made in God’s image, Adam and Eve and their descendants are vested by God with dignity and authority. In other words, we need to regard ourselves, and those around us, as God’s investment. 

Human beings need to be regarded as God’s investment.

How then should we live and invest? I hope to show in this series that a sound theology of investment has practical implications for all of life, finance and business included.

Category: Faith, Investing
  • 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.

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