A Biblical Perspective on Investing and Economics
Tom Nelson was one of the presenters at our recent event for Faith Driven Investors, and he was kind enough to write down some of the insight he shared on the Biblical Perspective on Investing and Economics. Below is a transcript of his presentation
by Tom Nelson
Can we be faithful without being fruitful? It is a crucial question for each one of us to ponder. When Jesus gathered his apprentices around him in the upper room the night before his crucifixion, he said something of great importance.
In John’s Gospel, chapter 15:8 we read, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” Jesus words must have riveted the disciple’s attention. Without hesitation, Jesus connects the Father being glorified and the ultimate authenticating mark of discipleship to Much Fruitfulness!
When Jesus said these words, what did he have in mind? The immediate context points to the fruitfulness of “abiding” which is relational intimacy with Himself. Those who abide in Jesus bear much fruit for Jesus. Yet what I think we often miss in this important matter of fruitfulness is Jesus had more in mind than merely intimacy with Himself or a growing Christlikeness of life manifested in the fruit of the Holy Spirit as important as that is!
A broader look at the Holy Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation as well as Jesus’ own teaching--reveals that the fruitfulness of our work is a vital aspect of Christian faithfulness.
In the book of Genesis we encounter a working God who created us with fruitfulness in mind. In Gen 1:28, we read, God blessed them and said, Be fruitful, and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion. The Hebrew word translated fruitfulness here has two meanings. Procreativity and Productivity. Babies and work! Family and the job! Fruitfulness is often described in the OT as Fruit of the womb (babies) and fruit of the land (work).
In Proverbs 31…the personification of a wise life is depicted as a fruitful life—Prov. 31:31, speaks not of a king or a priest, but of a businesswoman. “Give her the fruit of her hands and let her works praise her in the gates.” And we must not forget that the entire Psalms are framed around Psalm 1 centered in the metaphor of a tree in season bursting with fruit.
We may overlook that Jesus spent the vast majority of his earthly life not as an itinerant Rabbi, proclaiming the kingdom of God, but as a worker making things and running a small business. Jesus was not only a brilliant teacher; He was also a skilled worker as well as a brilliant economist. It is not incidental that the vast majority of Jesus’ parables recorded for us in canonical Scripture were centered in the workplace and economic life.
While the bible speaks a great deal about our work and economic wisdom perhaps the most important parable for our specific purposes today is Jesus parable of the talents, recorded in Matthew 25. Let’s remember the context of this parable is Jesus speaking about the future, that day when the kingdom of God will be fully inaugurated in the New Heaven and New Earth.
Jesus tells the story of three first century investment portfolio managers and makes the point that the quality of the work we do now will have implications for the future. The portfolio managers entrusted with investment dollars for the purpose of further wealth creation and they are rewarded with that clear ROI objective in mind. One portfolio manager does not invest it, and has a zero ROI. For his lack of fruitfulness, his investment return, he is severely rebuked. The other two portfolio mangers invest wisely and they are commended for their ROI. We hear and long to hear in our own lives, Jesus words, “Well done good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Yet we must grasp Jesus commendation of faithfulness is not merely around sincere effort, but rather proportional fruitful outcome. For Jesus, faithfulness is clearly tied to fruitfulness—and here in our parable the focus is the fruitfulness of vocational productivity. Which in this case is the wise and fruitful investment of the owner’s money return. No wonder the Apostle Paul will urge Gospel transformed apprentices of Jesus to do their work heartily as for the Lord, and not for men. Why? Because the fruitfulness of our work will be one day rewarded by Christ.
As a pastor, let me say thank you for the work you do. The vocational calling of wealth creation, management and wise philanthropy is a high calling. The fruitfulness of your work matters to God and it matters to a needy world intricately interconnected in a global economy. As Jesus reminds us in the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12, this calling, like all callings is not for the purpose of self-indulgence or personal adulation, but for cultivating blessing out of the created order, for planetary sustainability, for redemptive capacity building, for the love of neighbor and the joyful stewardship of wise generosity.
Like the portfolio managers in Jesus’ parable, each one of us will be held to an account for the stewardship of our vocational productivity. Let me ask you: If Jesus were to give you your next job review what would he say? How would he rate your investment performance? Your philanthropic efforts? And of course at the end of the day, it is Jesus who will give each of us that final job review. And like the three portfolio managers, the fruitfulness of our lives including the fruitfulness of our vocations will be evaluated.
My wife’s dear friend Katherine Goldsmith lived in Kansas City all her life. She worked hard in a professional career, lived simply and invested wisely. Although Katherine never married, she had a heart for the educational challenges of single-parent families in our city. In her upper 80’s Katherine Goldsmith’s died, but she left behind a legacy of fruitfulness. Today my wife Liz sits on the board of the foundation that carries her name. A foundation that is devoted to help children of under resourced single-parent families’ flourish, by providing them the opportunity for an excellent private education.
So can we be faithful without being fruitful? To be faithful, we must be fruitful. Jesus actually raised the bar and said, very fruitful. By this is my father glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. So let us embrace our callings with wholehearted commitment. Let us invest prayerfully! Diligently! Wisely! For the glory of God and love of neighbor, may our every good endeavor bear much fruit!