The Table Podcast
Brian S. RosnerBrian S. RosnerDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock

Money, Greed, and Generosity

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and Brian Rosner discuss a biblical perspective on money, greed, and generosity.

Timecodes
00:15
Rosner background in New Testament ethics
02:54
A biblical definition of money
07:54
A brief history of greed
12:12
An Old Testament view of money
14:32
A New Testament view of money
19:54
Money and greed in Jesus’ parables
23:17
Money and identity in the church
26:25
Money and contentment in society
30:50
The power of generosity
36:58
Giving as reaching beyond ourselves
40:42
Recognizing generosity and greed
Transcript
Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. And our topic today is money and our expert is Brian Rosner who is a graduate of the seminary. What year did you graduate, Brian?
Brian Rosner
'88.
Darrell Bock
'88.
Brian Rosner
'84 to '88.
Darrell Bock
Okay so he was a student early in my tenure here as a faculty member.
Brian Rosner
Indeed.
Darrell Bock
And then he's now principal, which sounds like a grade school. What is a principal of Ridley College in Melbourne.
Brian Rosner
A principal's like the president except with not so much fund-raising responsibility. So the school's smaller, remember, so I still teach and – but it's kind of like president [crosstalk]
Darrell Bock
[Crosstalk] So how large is Ridley?
Brian Rosner
Ridley's got about 300 students, which by Australian standards is _____ [crosstalk]
Darrell Bock
[Crosstalk] Large, yes.
Brian Rosner
Uh-huh.
Darrell Bock
Very good.
Brian Rosner
Also new faculty.
Darrell Bock
Well, it's a wonderful campus, been there, and so it's great to have you with us here.
Brian Rosner
Thank you, Darrell but one question for you? Do you still do the exegete’s cheer in class?
Darrell Bock
You know, I don't teach that class anymore so context, context, context …
Brian Rosner
I remember it.
Darrell Bock
… has been handed off to somebody else. [Laughs]
Brian Rosner
Okay.
Darrell Bock
But, yeah, we used to exegete’s cheer and walking in on the baby walker and all that kind of stuff.
Brian Rosner
It's still with me.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, it's a frightening though, actually. [Laughs]
Brian Rosner
It stood me well. Context is pretty important, you know.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, it is. It is. Well, let's talk about – let's talk a little bit about money. Brian, let's talk about how you got into a discussion that focused on the topic of money. Your background, of course, is you went from here and you went overseas to do your doctoral work.
Brian Rosner
Yup, Cambridge.
Darrell Bock
Cambridge, okay, and your dissertation was on …
Brian Rosner
Well, it was kind of on moral teaching generally so New Testament ethics has been a big interest for me right from the start.
Darrell Bock
So this is a subset of that interest basically?
Brian Rosner
Yeah, I was teaching at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and I had a sabbatical in Germany as a Humboldt Scholar as _____ _____ [crosstalk]
Darrell Bock
[Crosstalk] Yes, yeah.
Brian Rosner
And I had twelve months. I wanted to complete the project so I picked something small so "Greed is idolatry" is a little phrase in Colossians and Ephesians.
Darrell Bock
Absolutely.
Brian Rosner
And I wrote a book and so I spent three months on –
Darrell Bock
[Crosstalk] Actually, three months on greed and three months on idolatry? [Laughs]
Brian Rosner
And four months on "is".
Darrell Bock
[Laughs] Oh really?
Brian Rosner
Which as silly as it sounds, it's about the metaphor.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, right. How about that?
Brian Rosner
Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Well, let's just dive right in here because people when you raise the topic of money, you have people who are for it and the people who are seemingly in some ways against it, and so the phrase that I often hear is – when it's done sloppily – is "Money is evil" but actually it's the love of money that is the problem. So help us sort out how we should think about money biblically and then the dangers.
Brian Rosner
Yup, well, the phrase, as you know, comes from 1 Timothy 6 "And the love of money is the root of all evil." And I think that's very important to keep the whole verse in mind and then to look at the context, so the love of money is evil. Money itself is not evil. In fact, both Jews and Christians regard material things – the body, the earth, its fullness, et cetera – as a good thing. And Paul quotes the Psalms and says "The Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." So there's a sense in which there is a bit of a trap there that people can think that when we're against greed that we're against money. And they even – when the New Testament addresses people who are wealthy, so to speak, sometimes Jesus says to give it all away, but on other occasions it's less absolute. So a nice balance you'll find in 1 Timothy 6 in fact where Paul says, "To those who are wealthy in this world not to put their trust in wealth but to be generous and willing to share and to remember to take hold of that which is truly life."

So there's – it's a matter of emphasis but there is a risk and there are great dangers with money because money can lead to apostasy. Even back in Deuteronomy you've got that idea that God's people will come into the Promised Land and it'll be flowing with milk and honey. And then they'll think "We did this ourselves" and they'll forget God and end up worshipping idols. And that idea that you can end up trusting money instead of God is something you find right through Scripture.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I actually think the first Timothy or one Timothy – we're dealing with a difference of a notion of pronunciation …
Brian Rosner
It's the same book, actually.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right – six passage is probably one of the better summary passages on the topic that you can find anywhere in the Bible.
Brian Rosner
Oh, I agree, yeah, yeah.
Darrell Bock
It does a good job of balancing the tensions that you're dealing with. Well let’s talk about the positive side of this first and then we’ll come up with the dangers. And, obviously, money or economics is part of the management of the world that God gives us that actually reaches back into, I would say, the creation mandate. We've been tasked to manage the garden well, to steward our affairs in a way that hopefully is positive and leads to some form of human flourishing in one way or another. And, certainly, money and economics and exchange of goods and gifts and that kind of thing it's a part of that and money is a part of that overall system. So it would be hard to know how else we would manage affairs if we didn't have something like money. Is that fair?
Brian Rosner
No, I think that's absolutely right, and I don't think the Bible mandates a particular economic system either.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
So I think that there is this scope for humans to come up with a structure and arrangement of things such that, as you put it, there can be human flourishing. So money in and of itself isn't the problem. It's our attitude towards the money and towards money, what we do with money.
Darrell Bock
And so there's, I mean, if someone who goes to the book of Proverbs – in fact skeptics tend to handle the Bible by saying "Well, the Bible doesn’t even have the same view on money as you move through the material." Proverbs seems to be pretty pro and other parts of the Bible seem to be pretty con and so …
Brian Rosner
Well, Proverbs is interesting because one of the few prayers in Proverbs is where the sage prays, "Don't give me too much money or I'll forget you and don't give me too little money and I'll steal and deny you" so there's kind of an awareness of …
Darrell Bock
Of the tension.
Brian Rosner
… the sweet spot and certainly an awareness of that tension, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, absolutely, yeah. So it's not so simple is the point.
Brian Rosner
Yeah, there are risks and challenges and temptations for those who are less well off and for those who are much better off.
Darrell Bock
So you started off in Deuteronomy. I guess we could make a sweep of the scripture to a certain extent on the dangers. I actually think the teaching of Jesus goes in a similar kind of direction with similar kinds of concerns. We'll come back to that in a second. So let's talk a little bit about – let's bring up the theme of greed, the danger, and have humans always been greedy?
Brian Rosner
[Laughs] Absolutely is the short answer. Well, if anything's changed, it's that we regard greed as less of a sin than we used to. So in the Middle Ages you had the Seven Deadly Sins and they went in the order of pride, greed, et cetera. But after awhile, greed went to the top and Martin Luther preached against greed repeatedly and said that the petition in the Lord's Prayer "Give us our daily bread" is really a petition against greed. But I think with the advent of capitalism and free market economies and so on, the opportunity for wealth creation was much more prevalent and people began to think that there's nothing wrong with greed because having more and more is a good thing for everyone. Yeah, that's the idea.
Darrell Bock
Yeah and the trick side of that, of course, is if you talk to economists about the history of the economy, they will say, you know, for centuries people lived and the size of the economic pie was basically the same for century after century.
Brian Rosner
[Crosstalk] economy, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah and then with the rise of capitalism and mechanization and the other things that made the production of goods easier, all of the sudden the economic pie began to grow and people did have access to more and the view was that isn't all bad. There was some good that came out of that as well. And so we launched into a discussion about which kind of economic systems work and that kind of thing. And so you had this move in this direction to appreciate the changes that had come. But alongside of it came the opportunities to misuse what had been produced.
Brian Rosner
And the other thing to say is there's an odd irony in that there are studies that show, especially with Positive Psychology, Seligman and others who look at not people who are having trouble but people who are succeeding in life, what makes them successful, so to speak. And the funny thing is that those who strive for more wealth, the studies show, have lower well-being. So getting more and more money doesn’t necessarily make you happier. There's another psychological concept, habituation, so basically the most pleasure comes from a new purchase just at the beginning. So, for example, if you have a small – in the olden days we all did – a computer and now you have a big flatscreen computer, it's just great. When I first got my first flatscreen computer at home, anybody that came to the door I brought them in and showed them. [Laughs] It was really exciting. After a while it's just my computer.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, exactly.
Brian Rosner
The same with cars, sofas, houses.
Darrell Bock
iPhones. [Laughs]
Brian Rosner
Yeah, sure. They end up giving you less and less pleasure. They just end up being your device or lounge or whatever it is. So there's a sense in which money offers more than it delivers and that's one of the dangers when we put too much hope and put too high an expectation on what money can deliver.
Darrell Bock
So we were dealing with this question – so people have always been greedy. There's warnings, as you said from Deuteronomy. There's concerns in the prophets. I'm headed in a few days to a presentation in which it's gonna be from an economist. And I think the point that's gonna be made has something to do with the relative level of poverty in the world. He's gonna make the point that most of us who live in the West are not poor by global standards, et cetera. And so I'm thinking about this presentation, my response to it, and I've told him privately as we've prepared for this that I think my reaction's gonna be then what do I do with the prophets? What do I do with these warnings that come that even though I may be doing seemingly pretty well, that actually in some ways adds responsibility as opposed to removing it. Is that your read? Let's talk about the Old Testament first. Is that your read of the Old Testament, that there's a responsibility with the resources that God does give us and give us access to that we have that is important?
Brian Rosner
Oh, absolutely. I think you would have to say, though, that in the Old Testament blessing from God for the righteous very often is put in terms of material blessing.
Darrell Bock
Absolutely.
Brian Rosner
Yeah, yeah. However, there are a few voices, of course, that qualify that so you've got Job and Ecclesiastes and some of the Psalms that say that that doesn't – there isn't a firm link between righteousness and blessing. But even in that context the idea that we're to share our possessions, to be generous towards the poor is built into the warp and woof of the Old Testatment.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, let's talk –
Brian Rosner
It's very clear right from the beginning.
Darrell Bock
Let's talk about a couple of the examples that are almost striking and I think actually even though they were put in the Scripture were hardly ever applied. [Laughs] So I'm thinking of the Sabbath year and Jubilee, okay.
Brian Rosner
A good idea at the time.
Darrell Bock
[Laughs] Yeah and so what was the idea and why didn't we do it? [Laughs]
Brian Rosner
Well, I'm not sure of the history as to why we didn't do it but just to clarify, it's the idea that after seven years all land returns to the original owners and all debts are set free, et cetera, et cetera. And I think there is a sense in which the way things were framed in the Old Testament puts a limit on unrestrained accumulation of wealth. And there is an acknowledgement that if some people become so wealthy, others might suffer in that limited good economy as you were talking about earlier. If everyone owns the land, there's no land for anyone to farm for themselves. So there is an acknowledgement in the Old Testament of a few things. One of the dangers of wealth, one of the responsibilities of those with wealth to be generous, willing to share, to look after the poor and so on. And the other is almost a structural thing, which wasn't always followed, as you say, which tried to stop unrestrained accumulation of wealth by a few people.
Darrell Bock
Now I didn't ask you a question that actually should have been obvious at the start and that is why did you choose to write on greed as idolatry? I mean what drew you into the topic?
Brian Rosner
Well, I think it's an intriguing idea, isn't it? It's remembering that idolatry's the worst sin in the Bible.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
So to compare greed with idolatry is such a shocking notion because we tend, as we were saying earlier, to whitewash greed to some extent.
Darrell Bock
It's a little sin.
Brian Rosner
[Laughs] That's right. That's not what Paul said.
Darrell Bock
That's exactly right.
Brian Rosner
It's not just Paul either because Sermon on the Mount, Sermon on the Plain. You've got Jesus says you can serve God or money, Mammon.
Darrell Bock
That's right, that's right.
Brian Rosner
And then Paul says in Philippians 3 or is it Romans 16 that the – his opponents, their god is their belly, which is a similar idea …
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
… that this desire for more and more can replace God and I think that works in three ways. So basically people end up trusting money rather than God. They end up loving money excessively rather than God, and then they serve and obey – it's an odd idea but I think it's true. People end up serving and obeying their possessions and their desire for more____ [crosstalk]
Darrell Bock
[Crosstalk] Or their desire for possessions is actually what we're talking about here.
Brian Rosner
It's true, yeah.
Darrell Bock
It's – and there's a subtle thing about power and control that comes with the use of money in certain situations and power is another tricky concept in Scripture.
Brian Rosner
True, so the vice of greed rarely turns up on its own. It's in lists and there are connections with other vices. And the other vices have to do especially with pride and oppressing others and those ideas. So the proud are particularly vulnerable to the sin of greed it seems.
Darrell Bock
So let's come to the New Testament and we can – let's start in the Gospels and I think we've already alluded to the fact that this is something that Jesus said a lot about. If I were to really draw some attention to how the Gospels work in this area, Luke in particular has a lot to say about the way money is handled. And I think one of the chief passages where we see this illustrated for us is the parable of the rich fool, which is an interesting text because this man falls upon a good crop. He basically does his job, right, and he happens to have a really good crop that provides a lot of possessions for him, a lot of means for wealth.
Brian Rosner
Then he's talking investment advice.
Darrell Bock
That's right. He was a good farmer and now the question is what are you gonna do with what it is that you've been given? And what we see in the passage is – I love when I teach this passage, I make a point about how often the first person singular pronoun appears in this parable. I will take my crops, et cetera. It's like 12 times in the space of three versus.
Brian Rosner
That's something, isn't it?
Darrell Bock
And what you see is the pursuit of possessions had made in some ways his life and the way he lived it the center of his world. Idolatry?
Brian Rosner
Oh, absolutely. I think that's right. Yeah, so idolatry I think it's a tricky concept really because it's obviously being used in a figurative sense. It's not that he literally worships his money.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
So there's a sense in which something has happened whereby God's exclusive rights to his trust and love and service have been replaced by something else. And I think that's, unfortunately, it's a very typical human response. And there is the temptation for Christians as well, but for people that have no faith, there's this vacuum in there and something fills that vacuum because their deepest desires are to trust something with their lives, with their future and so on. And if you're not looking to the true and living God as the source of that trust, then something else comes in. I think in that case it's money. That's the kind of – that's the way I read the rich young ruler here. I'm sorry, not the rich young ruler. The rich fool, isn't it?
Darrell Bock
Right but the interesting thing about this is that for me this passage says and the money is actually an indication of something that's going on in the heart. And what's going on in the heart is the resources that God gives me are being used for my own self interests as opposed to anything else. You know, this becomes, “It's my crop. It's my barns. It's my wealth”, that kind of thing and to come back to the image of idolatry, when I become the center of the universe as opposed to God being the center of the universe, it's a form of idolatry and we worship the plan and program of the creature rather than the Creator.
Brian Rosner
Yes, that's well put, yeah.
Darrell Bock
So that's one parable. There actually are several others. Another interesting parable in Luke – wasn't anticipating doing this but we can do it.
Brian Rosner
[Laughs] Yeah.
Darrell Bock
Is certainly the unjust steward in which there's a lot of debate about what is going on there. But the one feature of the passage that is interesting is the way in which he cuts the debt of those around him as a way of thinking through the use of the future and the movement to the future and because he doesn't want to dig ditches or do anything else when he gets out there. He's gonna rely on the generosity of people helping him out now that he's lost his job.
Brian Rosner
So where do you see the point of comparison in that parable? What's it actually teaching?
Darrell Bock
It's actually teaching that you ought to think through how you use your resources and almost do it. Now my own views is that what he's done is he's cut out his own commission to reduce the debt so that – and people will realize that he's taking a loss in order that they might – in order that their debt may be relieved.
Brian Rosner
And that's the making friends bit.
Darrell Bock
That's the making friends with Mammon so that he moves out and acts accordingly and Jesus commending him to think ahead about the way you use the resources God hands you and to use them generously, not selflessly or selfishly so that you get better use out of them.
Brian Rosner
Interesting, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And then, of course, we have the third example coming later in the chapter of the rich man and Lazarus, which is another parable making a point about the way in which we use our wealth and the way we help or don't help those around us.
Brian Rosner
Yeah, that's pretty full-on, that one.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, it is. I tell people – some people read that passage and think it's only about resurrection because the point made about resurrection at the end. But it actually is about the rich man's complete oblivious approach to Lazarus being at his gate. And in fact this is the one parable where you have someone named in it.
Brian Rosner
Indeed, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And it's an important naming because it shows he knows who that guy is. He even knows his name but he did nothing at all to help him.
Brian Rosner
It's interesting the rich man's not named.
Darrell Bock
That's right, yeah.
Brian Rosner
So even though in his own experience and in worldly terms he's much more substantial …
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
… Lazarus this poor man is actually named and known.
Darrell Bock
God knows who he is and the rich man goes completely nameless.
Brian Rosner
Yeah so the values of the world are often turned upside down in that sense, aren't they? So the idea that we look at the world and at people in terms of their material wealth is something that Christian's should resist.
Darrell Bock
Yes.
Brian Rosner
We're to see people in different terms.
Darrell Bock
Exactly.
Brian Rosner
And the early church did this beautifully when it went well that they didn't distinguish between people in material terms and they treated even slaves as brothers and sisters in equal status with the wealthier in one body.
Darrell Bock
But there are things that we do with money that indicate status and importance and position and sometimes power because you can use money to control your environment and control other people but also makes it a potentially problematic resource if it's not used wisely.
Brian Rosner
Sure and 1 Timothy 6 we talked about briefly already and it's – the end of the passage is really quite enlightening I think because it helps us with this notion of an identity. So in our day people are self-made and you basically put yourself together. You can change yourself, right, throughout your life. And one of the ways you put yourself together is through money, through the brands you wear and what you own, your address, the car you drive and so on.
Darrell Bock
You establish your identity.
Brian Rosner
Yeah, whereas 1 Timothy 6 and right throughout the Bible in fact there's a very different approach to identity.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
And it's identity is not self-made. It's given to you.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
We're known by God. We're his children, all those kind of ideas. And with respect to the question of the wealthy, I love the way Paul says in 1 Timothy 6 that they're not to think that their money is what defines them because they're to take hold of life, which is life indeed. So people think they're getting the best life possible by accumulating wealth, but the truth is that there's something more important. So in a sense one way of saying is that should I desire to be rich, you could say yes, you should desire to be really rich, rich towards God. So something about human beings when we're constantly wanting more and more. That's what a human being is. There's this desire for me and if you're alive, you want more. But more of what is the question and more of God, more of human relationships, more of those genuinely lasting meaningful things are what we should be looking for. The problem money as an idol is that, like all idols, it's a god that fails.
Darrell Bock
And so these efforts, it ends up being an effort to put us in a position that we never were designed in some cases to have. In other words, made in the image of God we're designed to reflect him and know him. And when the things of the creation become the things that drive us, we become detached from the very purpose for what we've been made for.
Brian Rosner
Yeah. Well, Augustine talks about the idea that when you take something good and make it ultimate, it ends up being an evil thing. So it's not – as we talked about earlier, it's not that money is itself evil. But when it's put into a place where it doesn't belong, when it's given, when something contingent like money becomes absolute, then you fall into the trap of idolatry.
Darrell Bock
And the idolatry is subtle because, like I say, I think part of what we've said is that not only does money come to be an idol but in a sense because it's an expression of who we are, we put ourselves in a position of being more important than we are and more the center of the universe than we are.
Brian Rosner
I think that's the case, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Well, let's transition. We've beat up money pretty good here so …
Brian Rosner
[Laughs] Right.
Darrell Bock
… or at least the way we respond to it. Let's flip it around and ask now, obviously, on the other hand there are good things that can be done with the resources that God gives us. And it probably is worth saying that in the church that's something that should be focused on is the potential for good that comes out of the way that we handle what it is that God gives us and the resources that come our way. So I'm gonna ask two questions that look like they're juxtaposed to each other and they are to a certain degree. But on the other hand, I think they'll set us on the track of another book that you wrote that was a popularization of Greed As Idolatry to Beyond Greed and so why is contentment such a challenge is Question No. 1. And what's the remedy for handling money well?
Brian Rosner
One of the problems with contentment in our day is globalization, mass media, et cetera. So whereas in the past in traditional societies you compared yourself just with the people in your village in our day you compare yourself with everyone. So there's a sense in which you're never satisfied because you think, well, that person over there has got more than I have. And we're constantly bombarded with advertising so just in terms of existentially it's very difficult to be content when all the messages coming at us are about our inadequacy and the fact that we need more and more things.

I think actually in terms of giving, the sharing of possessions, which incidentally was of course one of the marks of the early church, so the early church was very much known for three things. One, sexual ethics which they were much more committed to chastity and marriage. And then they didn't worship idols so they worshipped the true and living God. But the third thing was they shared possessions. And they were so well-known for that there were some philosophers in the second century who said if you're hard up, just pretend to be a Christian. Go along and they'll help you out.
Darrell Bock
[Laughs] Yeah.
Brian Rosner
Yeah so I think the whole idea of contentment is of fundamental importance for this reason and it's that most of us think that we could give more if our income was better. But the truth is the biggest obstacle to giving is our contentment because you can always find something more to spend your money on. And when I get a pay raise, I can always find something to use it for. And in fact I was reading Lewis's Mere Christianity recently and he's got a little test to tell whether you're acting properly with your money and he said it's this: Basically you work out where you are in terms of your resources and affluence and so on and compare yourself with non-Christian people, people who are not committed to God. And if you're having – if you drive the same kind of car, have the same kind of holidays, live in the same kind of house, have the same kind of furniture, you've got a problem. So that C.S. Lewis's test is very interesting.
Darrell Bock
Interesting, yeah.
Brian Rosner
So there should be a sense in which our giving and our generosity lowers our standard of living, if you like, and that’s pretty challenging.
Darrell Bock
You remind me of people who go overseas and they get dropped in a two-thirds world country and they see the kids and the families that are there and they recognize these people aren't making near the amount of money that I am but they seem to be pretty happy. [Laughs] And it's like this shock and you go, no, there's something pretty profound happening here, which they sense. It's like they've got an antenna that senses there's something here that isn't quite equating but – and there's something to learn from. And then you wonder if the lesson's gonna stay or not but still I think it's interesting that we sometimes think that possessions will somehow soothe us and yet, as you noted earlier, some of the people who are most adept at gaining resources and possessions are some of the most unhappy people in the world.
Brian Rosner
Yeah, it does happen and I think this brings us to another very important point about the way the Bible treats these matters. It's not in the negative. It's not just saying "Say no to greed." It's "Say yes to something better." So even though the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says you can either serve God or Mammon, he says the Gentiles, those who don't know God, run after and seek these things, what we'll wear and what we'll eat and so on. Jesus says, interestingly, your life is more than what you eat and what you wear so your identity is not to be found in those things. But he says "Don't seek these things but rather seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness" and so there's a redirection of desire. And I think in my own life and looking at the lives of friends the times when we're less greedy and obsessed with material things is when we're absorbed in other things, in other people's lives, in seeking God's will and Kingdom.
Darrell Bock
Interesting so we should be generous. What does that mean about the nature in which we are generous and the way in which we give? Let's talk a little bit about that.
Brian Rosner
Yeah, well, some Christians understandably think that tithing would be a good kind of way to go. It's interesting Paul, for example, never endorses tithing. He says we're not under the Law. In 2 Corinthians 9 he says that we're not to give reluctantly or as someone who's being compelled. But he does seem to endorse proportional and deliberate giving so in 1 Corinthians 16 he says "at the beginning of each week set aside money in accordance with your income" is how some of the translations put it.

So I think there's a sense we can learn from the teaching about tithing in the Old Testament that proportionate giving can be good. But the truth is it's more complicated than that in that there are seasons in life whereby we're gonna be better off at some point than in others and perhaps we can be more generous in those seasons. And for some people ten percent is just nowhere near enough because their resources are just so much more substantial that ten percent is not gonna make much difference to them.
Darrell Bock
Yeah and the way I tend to view the ten percent thing is that if I give a set percentage and say that is what determines my giving, I'm gonna give up to that point and then everything is kind of mine, that seems a little bit imbalanced. [Laughs]
Brian Rosner
Oh sure, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And okay, I've checked the box but have I really thought about the generosity that is involved and the choices that are made in association with meeting needs, seeing what's going on around me, that kind of thing. It seems like a very mechanical way to go about giving.
Brian Rosner
Yeah and I think the New Testament's view of giving would best be summarized as the sharing of possessions. So it does involve giving money but it's not just about money. It's about hospitality, for example, about if you've got another car and someone needs one in lending it to them. If you happen to have a house, while you're away letting someone stay in your house. As you were talking about earlier, it's about not focusing so exclusively on myself but seeing the potential to share possessions with others.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, how can I be of help to someone who has need? How can I stretch out a hand? How can I give a resource? How can I help someone who's in ministry and has a need? There are all kinds of options.
Brian Rosner
But having said that, I think the first of the week idea that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 16 is helpful in that I think there is a sense in which we should look at our giving early in our budgeting. It's a kind of set-and-forget for most of our giving.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
Because otherwise there will always be expenses and potential purchases that'll reduce our giving. So I think having – giving to your local church, giving to mission, giving to justice and mercy – can I say this – giving to your seminary or theological college … [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
Go for it. [Laughs]
Brian Rosner
… they're the kind of things that should be just set in our budget from the beginning but then looking for those opportunities, as you mentioned, as life goes on that can be more spontaneous.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, just to give a particular example, I mean, we had three children growing up and they've grown up. They're out of the house. They have been duly handed off to other people to be responsible for, at least the two daughters. Son is waiting to take on that responsibility still. But because they're out of the house, the amount of expenses that we had just to manage the house, which were very, very demanding particularly when they were in college, all that has changed now. We have a lot more what's called "discretionary income."
Brian Rosner
Yeah, it's a different season.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right and we delight actually in being able to take what God has – we've kept our standard of living kind of where it was and delight in taking that excess and figuring out ways to distribute it to people who we know have real needs and are really engaged in ministry.
Brian Rosner
That's a really encouraging. Another mistake I think we make is not to talk about these things because people use what Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount "You shall not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" and think it's all got to be done in secret.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
Whereas Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 says to one church, look, those guys are giving a lot more than you. Get on with it. [Laughs] So there's nothing wrong with – we have to be careful with our motives but sharing.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
Those occasions when we've had an opportunity to give as an encouragement to others.
Darrell Bock
Yeah and I think some people, you know, it's interesting. We had an aunt in our family who just didn't get giving to missionaries or anything like that. She just thought it was – she wasn't a believer but she just thought the whole concept was strange. But the whole idea of partnership in ministry through your resources is actually a pretty important theme, and Paul praised it on numerous occasions. He called it – at one point he called a form of it "fellowship" and so, obviously, it's a way of connecting to people that we tend not to think about.
Brian Rosner
And it's a lovely thing, isn't it, to think that you're partnering with someone who's doing a good work somewhere. As you say, that phrase is it in Philippians "they're partners in the gospel"? Yeah so one way to partner in the gospel is not just to preach it but to give to someone who's preaching it.
Darrell Bock
That's right and, of course, you get to extend your reach. I mean churches, when they talk about this, talk about their reach being extended beyond where they're physically located, and that's very much a way to see it. It's also a way of underscoring – if you want to view it from an ecclesiological church background, it's a way of showing that the church is not about walls and buildings. It’s about ministry. It's about ministry to different people in different contexts. It's about taking the gospel out into the world, those kinds of things.
Brian Rosner
And how we act as individuals and as churches speaks volumes about what we actually believe. And, ultimately, it reflects back on God and his reputation. It's our behavior, God and the gospels' reputation are all connected, like it or not.
Darrell Bock
That's right and the interesting thing here is you can think about that individually or you can also think about it as churches. I often hear about some churches who say "We don't give anything to missions. We take all the money that we have and our goal is to be the mission here" but they don't have any sense of extension or connection to anyone else. And I go, I'd rather like to think through the ecclesiology of what that represents. It seems to me that's a very self-focused way to think about ministry is if you're the only church on the block that matters.
Brian Rosner
No, I that's true and the New Testament, of course, is much but people exaggerate this because there still is an individual focus. But there is a corporate focus to the New Testament, and rather than thinking how am I going with my relationship with God, one question I've asked is how are we going? How are we going in our local city and congregation in terms of all these questions? Are we as a group generous towards outsiders to the needy and so on?
Darrell Bock
Yeah, I think about when I used to – I joke about the disciples' prayer and it's the disciples' prayer and where the apostrophe goes matters. It goes after the S, not before. It's in the plural. It's not in the singular so it's not my individual prayer before God. It's actually a prayer we're all supposed to pray together before the Lord because we share the same assignment and responsibilities before him and we share the same dependence.
Brian Rosner
Yeah and, again, the whole business of giving. You can see the theme of reciprocity coming in in Paul's letters …
Darrell Bock
Yes.
Brian Rosner
… where in the long passage in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 about the giving to the poor saints in Jerusalem Paul says out of your abundance you can give now and maybe in the future there'll be a reciprocal arrangement where someone will help you in return. So money is a way of expressing our interdependence with other people, our connection with them.
Darrell Bock
Yeah and he actually has a variety of ways that he argues because another way that argues is if I've ministered to you in spiritual things, then certainly you can – and I appreciate the fact that you've given back in a material way so there's that dimension of the argument as well, so it works in layers almost.
Brian Rosner
Yeah, I think that's right, yeah.
Darrell Bock
So, okay, so we're kind of wrapping up here. So what summary advice would you give to people as they think through this kind of area as we kind of pull together the strands of what we've been talking about?
Brian Rosner
Well, with respect to the question of greed, I think it's sometimes wrong just to focus one side so there's two sides to greed. One is the excessive desire for more and more. But then there's the retention and selfish keeping of what we have. And so there are two solutions to that. One is a sharing of possessions, which is the solution to the keeping bit, and then a contentment which is the solution to the gathering and unrestrained grasping for more. But as I said earlier, one of the most important things is simply to focus on something that's better and to change – not so much simply to quash those desires for more and more but to redirect them. I mean, speaking personally, when I think about some of my own finances and those kind of things, you're putting away money for retirement. How much is gonna be enough? The answer is you can never get enough. [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
[Laughs] Right, right.
Brian Rosner
That's the kind of advice you get, isn't it? So I have to ask myself for my retirement am I trusting in my superannuation fund or am I trusting in God? In the 19th century when insurance was introduced, Christians said "We're not having a bar of it because we trust God for our future, not insurance." Now, I'm not advocating that radical an approach but it does kind of temper things, doesn't it, to think from that point of view. So what's the motivation behind my material behavior, my behavior with respect to money and material things? And to ask ourselves those three questions in particular: Do I trust God, love God and serve God more than I do money?
Darrell Bock
Well, this has been a fascinating journey. Let me ask you one more question and that is all right so we come to the more and we think through the life that God gives us. Beyond our resources, beyond money, obviously relationships matter. Communities matter, that kind of thing. What comes either alongside or replaces money beyond or within our devotion to God?
Brian Rosner
Not sure I've got the question.
Darrell Bock
What I'm asking here is okay, money ends up occupying a lot of our attention and commitments. We're oriented towards God. What shows that our orientation towards God is more in line than our commitment to the possessions that we have?
Brian Rosner
No, that's a good question because we tend to think of greed as a kind of intangible invisible thing.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
It's just an attitude. It's in your head.
Darrell Bock
Right.
Brian Rosner
But the New Testament doesn't think that way. So the sharing of possessions was the way that you knew that someone wasn't greedy so in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul says to exclude those from the church, really heavy instructions, for serious sins like sexual immorality, idolatry, et cetera, and greed's in there. And you ask yourself how do you recognize greed? And I think the answer is that the person who is not being greedy is sharing their possessions with others being hospitable towards outsiders.
Darrell Bock
So there's a concrete expression of what's going on that you can see.
Brian Rosner
Absolutely, yes, I think so.
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Well, Brian, again thank you for coming in and talking about money and greed and idolatry, all these wonderful topics. [Laughs] When you put them, juxtapose them that way it may not sound like it but certainly generosity, hospitality, caring. The way in which resources are a means rather than an end in some ways is really what we've been talking about. And it's been a fascinating journey through some texts and some ideas and the books that you have written are Greed As Idolatry and Beyond Greed and they are good treatments of Pauline ethics in these areas and we really do thank you for taking the time to come in and talk with us about this.
Brian Rosner
Yeah. Thanks, Darrell.
Darrell Bock
And we thank you for being a part of The Table and for joining us in this conversation. We look forward to hearing you again or seeing you again soon.
Darrell L. Bock
Darrell L. Bock Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 30 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
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Arts & Media
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