2.1 My Soul Magnifies the Lord
2.2 Not a Revolution
2.3 The Communion
2.5 Dealing with Our Racism
2.6 Redemptive Living
2.7 Led, Not Driven
2.8 A Saved Soul
2.9 Anxiety Attack
2.10 Economics of Scarcity
2.11 Economics of Austerity
2.12 Being Careful How We Hear
2.13 Free Trade
2.14 Sustaining the Environment
2.15 Economics of Scapegoating
2.16 An Economics of the Cross
2.17 Called to Relate
2.18 Adversity Smashed
2.19 From House to House
2.20 No Needy Person
2.21 God’s Intention
2.22 Hard Heartedness
2.23 MLK’s Dream
2.24 An Economic Scandal
2.25 The Problem with Pentecost
2.26 In the Spirit
2.27 Pentecostal Theology
2.28 The Spirit of Creation
2.29 The Spirit in the Exodus
2.30 The Spirit Coming
2.31 A New Discipleship
2.32 Vanquishing Idolatry
This section of scripture in Luke 1:46 and onwards is called Mary’s Magnificat. It follows the structure of Hannah’s prayer when she learnt she was pregnant with Samuel. Samuel would judge Israel and bring justice to the poor. Israel came to think that this meant deliverance from the Philistines and others, but it ended up meaning from the corruption in their own hearts and nation.
Mary rejoiced, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
At first glance, you might wonder what this has to do with the gospel. This doesn’t look like what we think Paul might say in speaking of the gospel of Christ. We would expect a declaration of justification by faith, of our private salvation, and maybe about going to heaven. But none of this is in Mary’s Magnificat.
Mary’s statements are instead political. The langrage Mary uses is social and economic. This was no gospel for the faint hearted. It would confront the powers of control in the Roman Empire. No wonder Herod was nervous and ordered the children of Bethlehem to be slain. This gospel was not one of private contemplation, but one that would challenge the wealth and power that we cling to for our personal security.
This starts off Luke’s account of the gospel on a note he would continue to emphasise. His account of the coming of Messiah was political and economic throughout. Luke’s plain intent cannot be missed. He meant that Christ had come to reform our communities, by changing our economic behaviour towards each other. If we fail to see this, and insist on privatising, or spiritualising our faith, then our faith fails in its relevance and purpose in bringing God’s kingdom into this world, as it is heaven.
But this isn’t an overthrow of political power. Christ didn’t come to tear people off their thrones. The church didn’t go about overthrowing the powers of their day. It was a voluntary gospel. Powers would stand down from their thrones as a consequence of a renewed heart.
This gospel of Mary is about new relationships. The new justice that was coming wasn’t through the sword. They tried that, many times, and it didn’t work. For every false prophet Elijah slays, there are two more to take his place. It also wasn’t to be new economic polices put in place by a new political party.
The point of the gospel was that new relationships would be made, and these relationships would become the foundation of justice that would spread round the world. People would no longer stay in their private lives, in their secluded pockets with their own kind of people, where injustice against other kinds of people would be perpetuated year on year. People would now come out of their place and forge relationships with others, and these new relationships would start to bring healing to the social fabric of wider communities.
The mighty would come down from their thrones, as Mary said, and the hungry would be filled with good things. This is a sharing fellowship between people who forgive and join hand in hand together, to live restorative lives, rather than just seek their own security for their own futures. It isn’t that the rich help the poor. The rich need as much help as the poor do. We come together for each other.
We might say this isn’t easy. Many will abuse this approach to life. That is true, but for that reason we can’t throw off what is the clear intent of Christ for our lives. The more we throw it off, the longer we build walls against each other, and the longer the pagan form of creation continues in demonising others and violence.
Later, Luke portrays the Last Supper this way. Jesus gave them a cup and said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves.” Then he took the bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus was inviting them into the fellowship of his life. He gave himself for us, and invites us to do the same, to give ourselves for each other. Here is the exact opposite of a pagan world.
This follows on from John’s account of the Upper Room fellowship that evening. Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, showing again how power comes down to serve. Here is a different kind of world. And Jesus concluded, “Do to each other what I have done for you.” So, the point of the cross, where Jesus gave himself for us all, and what the communion signifies, is that we do the same for each other.
Like the bread, our lives are also broken for each other, to form new relationships and serve. The only way to form relationships with others is to be broken. Our prejudices, our old securities, and sometimes our views of things we have always taken for granted, must be broken, so we can receive others and wash their feet.
This is how Paul viewed the communion in 1 Corinthians 11. The rich had to wait for the poor. The Roman world had never known such a thing. The communion wasn’t a time for private introspection, but a time of restoring community and our care for each other. This was an extension of how Paul began his letter to the Corinthian church. God was using the simple things, our daily love and care for each other, to destroy and bring to nought the pagan selfishness that has enslaved the world.
This shows why many were “weak and sickly” in the Corinthian church. The way they took communion, meaning the way they ate and lived in community, showed they didn’t care for each other. It wasn’t a judgment of God because they lacked a time of “personal introspection” at “the ceremonial communion.” They lacked an application of the love of God in their shared lives.
Malachi said one would come in the spirit of Elijah and turn the hearts of the fathers to their sons, and the hearts of the sons to their fathers. This would happen, “Before the great and terrible day of the Lord.” This was the day John the Baptist spoke of, when Jerusalem would be set on fire by Rome in the first century.
How did Luke deal with this prophecy of Malachi?
“And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation and be content with your wages.”
This is how John the Baptist described the dawning of the kingdom of God. We share our goods with our neighbour. We don’t cheat the weaker wage earner and the wage earner doesn’t cheat his employer. Here is a kingdom of neighbourly care and contentment.
For Luke, a new heart means a new life towards our neighbour, sharing in relationships and sharing in the needs of others. The kingdom of God includes our economic means in neighbourliness. Our hearts are turned to care for each other, not to care for our personal ambitions. Malachi and John the Baptist describe the great overthrow of paganism, what Elijah wasn’t able to achieve, but what Christ did achieve by his death and resurrection.
I guess if we followed what John the Baptist said, we wouldn’t need capitalism or communism. The academic debate would be redundant. Neighbourliness would already have taken care of the matter of justice and respect in our communities. For Luke, this is what the gospel is about. It isn’t a private issue. Godliness is seen or known in neighbourliness.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Luke’s narrative of the kingdom of God continues in chapter 4. Again, it is a lifting up of the poor. Jesus described the kingdom in terms of Israel’s earlier deliverance from Babylon. When Jesus spoke, Israel was again under pagan rule, this time under Rome. They thought they needed deliverance from every pagan power. But Jesus meant that paganism is within us, and his salvation sets us free from our own selfishness to love and care for others. This is the deliverance from “Babylon” that is final. This is what Jesus meant by liberty (freedom), even if we suffer for it.
We see Luke’s intent by what he recorded next. Jesus’ conflict with the people of the synagogue was about their racist attitudes towards others. They didn’t recognise the need in their own heart. The kingdom of God can only come to our world as we seek reconciliation and healing with our neighbour, rather than continue the narrative of their demonization and our alienation. Healing then is impossible, unless it starts in our heart attitude towards other people.
Jesus came to bring us into a kingdom that brings us together into one caring family. If we fail to see that this is also economic, then the new family is not a reality. The love of God is shared by us with others, as we care for them in their sufferings, no matter who they are, from whatever background they may be.
When Jesus shared of the exploits of Elijah and Elisha, he was showing how God breaks us out of the “Egyptian narrative” Israel had adopted, which controlled the blessings of the economy to “approved people.” Jesus showed that the people could care for one another in God’s power of supply at a community level. “Egypt” couldn’t stop this transformation to neighbourliness.
“And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:20-26)
This reminds us of the “first shall be last” statement of Jesus. Many of us go on in our lives without considering the reality. If we don’t recognise the plight of others now, why should our plight be recognized when we need mercy? “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” If we fail to have mercy for those who need it today, then aren’t we judging ourselves by our own standards, laying up lack of mercy for ourselves, for when we will need it in the future?
Jesus said woe to us who are full now, when others languish in need. This isn’t just speaking of a heart condition. This is speaking of caring for others in day to day life. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus went on to contrast the lives of his disciples with the self-centred lives of Jerusalem and Rome in that day. He was showing how we build renewed creation by restoring relationships through selfless responses, even when persecuted.
To “go the second mile” is a practical response in serving, not just a private attitude of the heart. To “do good to those who persecute you,” is to show mercy and care for them in their time of need, sharing our substance with others, even with our enemies. Restoring relationships, living redemptively and reconciling with our neighbours, means bringing them into our house and sharing our bread. This is what taking up our cross means. Jesus has called us to a life that puts people ahead of our private economic concerns.
“If someone takes your coat, give them your shirt as well.” Don’t sue them to court. This is an economic command. This makes the creation new, even as it costs us something economically. If we put our economic privacy or interests at the forefront of our decisions, the creation will never be changed from its current values that go on bringing one destruction after another.
The Sermon on the Mount isn’t teaching us how to privately keep the law, or how to have spiritual attitudes, but is shows us the wisdom of God in renewing the creation. This wisdom started in the cross of Christ and it is to continue the same way in our self-giving relationships with one another. It’s about our discipleship, that Jesus really wants us to live.
I was told when I was young that the reason the taxi comes on time to collect you is because of competition. If the taxi is late, another taxi company will come on time and put the late taxi out of business. This means we are driven by “intelligent self-interest” to improve ourselves, when we function in an environment of “healthy competition.” I guess “healthy” means with the appropriate legal restrictions for neighbourly behaviour. But these restrictions have been more and more diluted.
When I was young, advertising was curtailed. Doctors couldn’t push you into expensive treatments. Lawyers couldn’t lure you into court against others. Banks couldn’t entice you into covetous purchases and debt. We didn’t have a society of rampant litigation. When you saw a doctor, his first interest wasn’t keeping his backside legally safe from being sued, but it was a transparent relationship with the patient, even admitting fault and reconciling when he had made a mistake. Drivers at fault could admit it, without their insurance companies preventing them. This brought neighbourly human relationships to the forefront. Speculative investments were effectively illegal in my youth. This prevented inflation in markets, protecting the vulnerable. All this has changed.
It shows what happens when our communities are driven by competition. This “ethic” enters every part of society, and in politics there is no cooperation. The world gets forced into pockets of fundamentalism, and no one can achieve anything unless they conquer all others. Society becomes one big culture war, with one divisive issue after another. The media tells us we can’t get along: it doesn’t share the good news of what happened on the road to Jericho between enemies who healed each other. Our “enlightened ethic” of completion has taken over our hearts. Enemy love is seen as “evolutionary weakness.” This was how Jerusalem was before its destruction in AD 70.
Communities should be led by neighbourliness, rather than driven by competition. The taxi comes on time because that is in the best interests of the passenger, who might be in need. This is the economic model of scripture. Jesus isn’t just a private spiritual guru; he came to bring an economy of sabbath care into our relationships.
So often we take the statements of Jesus merely as spiritual anecdotes, with no context in first century Israel. His comments about Lazarus and the rich man showed what was coming upon that generation because they didn’t care for others in need. (Luke 16:19-31) Jerusalem would be burned with fire, because of the rage that would divide the community. This was the kind of poetry by which the Prophets spoke to Israel concerning their national judgement. (Isaiah 9:18-19, Jeremiah 21:11-14, in Isaiah 14 death was personified and spoke from the grave of the oppression of the weak.)
The Good Samaritan shows the kind of community that sustains itself in shalom: care of enemies. Jesus’s comments about a kingdom divided, shows how divisions between classes and ideologies in Israel, culture wars, where people refused to love and care for others, would bring Israel to destruction. (Luke 11) Jesus spoke of Jeruslem being filled with demons, the last state being worse than the first. This was a typical comment of the Prophets on the fall of Israel. (Isaiah 5, Ezekiel 16) Jerusalem functioned in a satanic economy of competition, where the strongman took the goods.
Jesus’s comments about the two economies (the one that scattered the poor and sick through self-centeredness, and the economy that gathered in the weak and stranger to heal) highlighted the pagan and heavenly forms of government. (Luke 11:23) One would destroy the earth; the other had come in Christ and the gospel to rebuild the earth.
To the rich young ruler, Jesus said, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Luke 18:22) This, and the parable about the man who built bigger barns for himself, locate the purpose of Luke in sharing these teachings of Christ. (Luke 12:13-21) Luke was showing Christ’s economic foundations of true life.
Pagan economics hoards for self, and this destroys other people and relationships, which are the real substance of life. Therefore, “a person’s life does not consist of the things that he owns,” so contrary to our human view of things, especially in Western communities. (Luke 12:15) Our life consists in creating wholesome relationships. Hoarding makes privacy in relationships, which kills our soul. “Treasure in heaven” means having our heart in the right economy/ government, which renews our souls and renews the creation.
We have thought Jesus was teaching a private faith that saved our souls. He was teaching a community faith that both saves our souls and the world from destruction, to bring heaven’s flourishing into the world. Don’t allow politics to divide us. Live by love and relationships. That is what builds our nation. There is a personal salvation, that comes as we lose ourselves.
When we follow the structure of Luke from Mary’s Magnificat into these latter chapters, and the figures of speech he used, common in the Prophets, we see he wasn’t just speaking of a private spirituality or a private faith that Jesus came to bring, but a genuine faith that would restore our relationships by restoring justice to our neighbour. This was the proper Hebrew view of what Messiah meant. This was our true exodus from Egypt into a new economy, bringing about the kind of renewed creation that Isaiah envisaged. In the book of Acts, Luke carried this same vision forward in the life of the church.
2.9 Anxiety Attack
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-21)
This is a clear instruction from Jesus to his disciples. It is not a suggestion. Very few people follow this, yet many claim to be his disciples. “Do not store up for your future.” Matthew compiled some of these statements a bit differently to Luke. Let’ see Matthew’s contribution.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
These aren’t just nice spiritual thoughts. This is a command of life for disciples of the kingdom of heaven, on earth.
This is clear economics teaching. It is designed by God to:
- Save our own souls from selfishness
- Save the community, by producing an economy of sharing, rather than an economy of scarcity through hoarding. This latter economy is referred to as “austerity,” a common term today as to why the poor should suffer while the rich hoard their wealth.
The word “economics” means that resources are scarce, and therefore they must be shared “wisely.” This often justifies storing resources, or competitive economic models that withhold resources from “inefficient sectors” (other people).
Here is a definition of economics that is contrary to the creation model. There, everything needed was provided in an abundance. There was no lack, no austerity. The austerity came in the fall, when Adam and Eve saw that the goods and services “were good for them.” Then we started fighting over them for ourselves, instead of sharing them.
This produces an anxiety for the future, which Jesus said is contrary to discipleship. This anxiety leads to storing for ourselves, and to war with others. This view of economics is a theory that produces war. We cannot love others and be anxious for ourselves.
Resources are not scarce. There is an abundance if we share. It is hoarding that makes them scarce. God hasn’t called us to frugality. He has called us to share. It’s good to be frugal because there are so many people we need to share with. Hoarding has made so many poor, that we need to share with as many as we can.
Stored wealth always gets worms and is destroyed and lost, just like the manna in the Wilderness. Markets crash and all kinds of things go wrong. It is far better to “lose” that wealth productively, by building infrastructure for the marginalised millions. Raising those millions into a vibrant economy would increase our shared wealth, rather than deplete our lives. It is hoarding for our own nations that brings us to war and depletes the wealth of us all.
Wealth storing also prevents technologies being released for environmental protection. Wealth should be released to enhance the development of such technologies, rather than be used to fight against them. Anxiety for self, destroys many and much. Discipleship, being a follower of Christ, not of the fallen Adam, lays down our own interest for the interest of others and for the interest of the creation. Economics can’t be based on anything else and succeed.
“Austerity” is a term that has especially been used since the global bank collapse in 2008. The banks’ debts were cancelled, but the poor in the world were made to pay for it. “Austerity” was a term used by governments to appeal to the ethic of prudence in spending, but it was the poor that paid for the prudence. The wealthy still received their large bonuses at the workplace.
“Austerity” meant that governments had to cut expenditures in things like health care, pensions, wages, and increase prices within the economy for government services. While doing this, the same governments were allowing legal tax havens where the wealthy could store their fortunes.
Companies are given huge tax breaks, to attract their business to our nations. Instead, nations should work in agreement to ensure companies behave as proper community citizens, paying their dues back to society. This inequality, again, is brought about by an unbridled “competition ethic.”
This is stealing. These resources, and super profits from business, do not belong to just a few people. These resources belong to God and creation is for all people made in the image of God. It is theft to store away super profits from resources that are a gift of God to us all.
This is exactly the kind of economics Jesus said Zacchaeus was saved from. When Zacchaeus repented from this kind of wealth extraction, Jesus said salvation had come to his house. So, salvation was an economic issue.
In Hebrew culture, the view was that if someone made super profits, they were stealing the money from others who went without. They were profiting in a sinful way from the resources God had given to us all.
Governments in rich nations in recent years have used the “austerity” ethic to reduce support to those most in need, like handicapped people, the aged who need care, and especially the vulnerable in international aid.
International aid has been greatly cut, except where it is used to gain political influence in foreign regions. The truth is that the aid nations give is a pittance compared to the wealth extraction carried out in developing nations. Resources are consistently “purchased” from these nations at well below their true value.
Jordan Petersen is a Canadian psychoanalyst who became popular when he stood up to the Canadian government for attempting to legally mandate the speech of its citizens regarding the use of gender-neutral pronouns. While Peterson was happy to address individuals with respect, he didn’t like the dictatorial behaviour towards citizenry speech.
Petersen’s psychoanalyst profession addresses mainly the individual and their need to live fruitful lives. His teaching seems quite productive in this area, helping many people. Here, I am reflecting on our responses to Peterson’s message in relationship to the left wing/ right wing standoffs that spread across the Western world today.
Firstly, the gospel is much more than a message for the individual, or taking responsibility as an individual for one’s life, in ways that psychoanalysts may help us to do. If we think the left/ right issues are primarily about taking our personal responsibility, then we fail to address many of the structural and underlying issues of inequality in our societies, where mercy for many individuals is needed.
Summing up the gospel as personal responsibility allows us to hide from these broader issues of inequality as if they don’t exist, living our own lives in a kind of indifference to the suffering social structure can fail to address. We may call these structures “principalities and powers,” and the church is called to witness to these structural powers by living lives of care for those people impacted negatively by them. The church is to be a community that crosses all borders between these structural powers, on local and global levels.
The second issue is how we respond to the left/ right debacle itself. We could say it is in some ways like the highly sensitive issue in the days of Jesus, when Jews had to decide whether they agreed with Rome or not. Answering this question wrongly could land you in a lot of trouble. So, of course, they hit Jesus with the question. His answer pointed out a third way.
Don’t be a zealot for either cause. Fulfil your duty to God by loving and caring for the least, the last and the lost. Build a community between people from both sides. This is what Jesus meant by showing them the coin. Let Caesar have his money and suffer any penalty of the state against our “private lives,” but do no harm ourselves to any person. Instead, we bear God’s image, by loving Roman and Jew alike, healing the brokenness of the society. Left and right become radicalised when the church isn’t standing in the middle, on the road to Jericho, picking up the pieces, atoning for the bitterness that makes enmity among us.
If we go to the extent of using texts to justify our private economic lives, like “the poor you will ways have with you,” or, “those who have will receive more, and those who have not will lose what they have,” then we are only aggravating our social divisions. The kingdom of God comes to make us public beings, in the way of healing others.
When Jesus said the poor will always be with us, he was quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11, which stated that these poor should be given jubilee forgiveness of debts. Jesus was endorsing this treatment of the poor within our societies.
When Jesus said that those who have will receive more, he was referring to a common statement of that day, in which the elite justified their hording of money, claiming to be the better managers. Jesus used this against the Pharisees.
Jesus was saying that if they hear him, they will hear truly, but if they don’t hear his kingdom message, if they don’t bring in those broken by the structures of society, and help restore their lives, then they will lose what they have. They will lose their place with Abraham in the kingdom and their communities will “go to hell,” be destroyed.
If we do not walk into the future together, we will have no future. As we will see further below, Pentecostal experience is about breaking down the principalities and powers, bringing together the ethnicities, the divided and broken in our societies and making us one. Often, we start out this way, when we are among the broken, but when we get blessed we can forget our first calling.
Leaders in the global sector have for a long time tried to establish fairer terms of trade for developing nations. It seems impossible though to move the world toward free trade, especially in the recent resurgence of nationalist tendencies. This is a similar economic battle to the one William Wilberforce experienced in seeking to end slavery. It’s just another “love your neighbour” issue.
Local politicians get a lot of mileage by saying they will stand for local business by prohibiting importation from other nations. And it is true that sudden changes in the market and in trade agreements can greatly destabilise local conditions and put families and communities at risk.
But on the other hand, we live in a global community, and the needs of all families are the needs of us all. We need to consider this especially for struggling undeveloped economies. We are all neighbours. The bible teaches this very clearly. Any economic policies that deny our neighbourliness to all people aren’t Christlike and aren’t humane.
So, trade deals must be carefully managed, in order to give equal opportunities to struggling economies, and also to protect local people from sudden changes that take away incomes and put families in need. Kneejerk policy changes of successive governments, from protectionist to free economies, without careful planning to consider the welfare of everyone, can put our nations against each other, which produces a climate of aggression and even a danger of war.
We are a global community, whether we like it or not. The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us this. The creation narrative teaches us that all people are made in God’s image, and therefore humanness is not an antichrist idea.
“If you come across a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.” (Deut 22:6-7)
It will go well with us and our children when we treat the environment in a sustainable way, helping it to flourish. Another mark of “empire” is the damage it does to the environment. I believe this was a mark of civilization before the flood. It destroyed everything in its wake: people, and the environment. I believe this brought about the conditions that resulted in the flood.
We have a huge responsibility to the environment, to produce a kind of economics that replenishes the environment rather than degrades it. I am not a scientist, so I don’t get involved with arguments about global warming and its causes. But it’s clear we are destroying our environment in different ways and this behaviour must change.
Instead of fighting it, we can profit from the technologies that help our environment. We can become leaders in innovations that stimulate the economy by restoring our creation. Creation is a gift. Mankind has been put in charge of nurturing it and its inhabitants. We are far from achieving this calling.
Ruining our environment, as we are doing today, is stealing from future generations, just like hoarding money is stealing from people of our own time.
Having a brief look at some of the teachings of Jesus, it puts his statement about mammon in more perspective: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matt 6:24)
We see now that this statement of Jesus is at the centre, or sums up, much of what he taught about discipleship, and about heaven coming into renew this world. We can see that our money is not a private affair, while we worship God and submit to him in other areas of our life.
If we serve mammon, then God’s program for our reconciliation in relationships with each other, and God’s program to renew our communities, cannot progress. To worship mammon, that is, to keep it as a private issue in our lives, forestalls the purposes of the gospel in the world. We cannot make this choice, and at the same time, cooperate with God.
If we serve mammon, we are cooperating with the forces that destroy people, destroy fellowship and destroy the environment. This is what “individualism” in our cultures does. Individualism is one of the most corrupting, pervading forces in our wealthier cultures. It is absolutely opposed to God’s purposes in discipleship.
At the end of Jesus’s ministry his critique about the corrupt economics in Jerusalem became clearer. Jerusalem was a centre of much wealth. The temple was a wonder of the ancient world. Many people held it in awe. Yet Jesus’s critique on how this personal wealth was produced, claimed it was through scapegoating others in the community. The blind, the sinners, those who didn’t wash their hands correctly, enemies, foreigners, Samaritans, the poor, lepers, heretics, and so many others, were all excluded from their table of fellowship. That is, the wealthy refused to share their food and wealth with those they claimed were unfit for it. Instead, they blamed the others and claimed they were unworthy of restorative outreach.
Jesus’s disputes with the Pharisees wasn’t a matter of faith verses legalism, the way we in modern Evangelicalism often dress the arguments that Jesus had with the Pharisees. He was rather speaking of our duty of hospitality verses the Pharisee’s self-centredness. We may say today that we are justified by faith, not like the Pharisees Jesus rebuked, who stood on the law. But if we don’t help our neighbour, the sinner and our enemy, then we are not different to the Pharisees. It was the “private faith” of the Pharisees Jesus was disputing. We see then that true faith is faith-fulness to others, as God has been faithful to us through his cross.
Not much has changed in the world. We may follow the wealthy of Jesus’s time today, with “Christian justifications.” As we scan through the Middle East, for example, all around the Mediterranean, the level of human suffering is immense. To consider it in detail is excruciating. Yet for so many reasons we can distance ourselves from their suffering. This is exactly the world Jesus denounced. This is the world he came to renew, by bringing his people into his passion, “com-passion,” to suffer with the outcast, to bring them into our lives, to bring about a healing in our communities. This is the purpose of the cross.
The cross becomes the centre of a new economy. On the cross, God in Christ gave himself for others, and this becomes the main factor in our human relationships and economic treatment of each other. It moves us from an Adamic self-centredness to an awakening to forgiveness that considers others. And, in case we limit this family care to ourselves and those of our own creed, Jesus died for us while we were his enemies, sinners. This means our care is to be for humanity in general, all the weak and cast-asides, just as Christ cared for us in that state.
The cross moves us from a culture of scapegoating, where we are self-justified in in our separation from the sufferings of others, to a culture of restoration of our neighbour, just as God has forgiven us in Christ. Separation/alienation destroys the world, creating large pockets of suffering, while reconciliation of relationships, as God reconciled us in Christ, restores the neighbour. To fix our economics, God had to first fix our relationships, and the cross is what takes down the separating wall between us, to make us neighbours, without one plea of self-righteousness.
Therefore, God’s jubilee economic plan wasn’t one that depended on governments, but on establishing new relationships, in which mutual forgiveness, rather than private boasting, would become the foundation. Israel thought jubilee, at least their own liberty from their oppressors, would come about by the sword. But jubilee isn’t just for one sector of humanity, it is for all. And it can’t come about by the sword, but by relationships that are made new by one thing alone: the cross.
When Jesus said he had come to bring a sword, and to divide members in their own family, he was using a figure of speech to say his disciples would be persecuted, especially by their own people, for loving their enemies. He wasn’t calling on his disciples to divide and to use a sword. Neither Jesus nor his disciples used swords against their enemies, except Peter once, who used a dagger, and was rebuked.
The cross moves us from a self-justification in the Garden of Eden, to a consideration of others. How will the world know this, if the church doesn’t live it? If we build again the walls of nationalism, that Christ destroyed, and flee to the protection of our nationalist governments, our strongmen in politics, identifying with them and not with Christ, not with our new relationships with the suffering, then we have made the church vain. We are building the land of Pharaoh and not of jubilee.
This issue isn’t really an economic one. It is about relationships. God is calling us to relationships with each other, just as he moved toward us in Christ to restore our relationship with him. Constructing the right charitable policies from afar isn’t what God wants, and it won’t change the world. It will just be “throwing good money after bad.” Charity is good, but it’s not good enough. Jesus pointed out all the problems with the economy in his day but moved to fix those things by making a completely new family in his resurrection, that would make all our relationships new.
Relationships are unheard of things in a scapegoating world. The wealth of Jerusalem and Rome depended on not having relationships with others, especially with slaves. Without this separation, they could not have been rich. The world is basically made up the same way today, which is evident by the economic problems of our time we discussed above. The relationships that were birthed in the new church were entirely new. The church then was a great threat to the economy of the rich, and this was the main reason for the persecution of the early church. It was for private economic reasons.
How did Jesus address the economic problems of his day? By making Jew and gentile one. By making female and male one. By making slave and rich one, Greek and barbarian one. The church reflects this newness into the world, making the world a new place. This, not charity from our separation, is what God did in the gospel. God didn’t send charity from heaven. He came and died. These relationships bring jubilee into our lives through making us one family. We are not waiting for the government to do it, but are doing it ourselves, by denying our cultural separations, our scapegoating narratives, and through the cross looking at humanity as one in compassion.
God wants us to know each other. This heals our prejudices, our selfishness, our isolated and narrow views, and makes us human, in the fullness God anticipated at creation. It is in this knowing of each other that economic restoration happens automatically, because our walls are broken down. This heals the creation. So, God promised and fulfilled one new family, including people from all backgrounds as one in Abraham and called us to extend this new ethic to all creation, to all our neighbours and enemies, overcoming evil with good. This new leaven spreads through us as a model to government and the policies it enacts.
The early church strongly denied separation. This is the underlying issue in all Paul’s letters. He called Peter back to the table with the gentile believers. He called Jewish and gentile believers to one table in Romans, and in all his letters. His theological defence in all his letters was primarily about this one table, this new family. He strongly denounced separation on race, gender, class and commanded, as Jesus did, that we love each other. This love can’t be carried out from a distance, from isolation. These people were called to fellowship with each other, in their homes together. To deny this fellowship with those different to ourselves was to deny Christ.
To deny a brother or sister, if not in theory but in practice, would have meant they hadn’t accepted Christ’s forgiving love for themselves. This is why the world hated them. The world also hates us when we deny the narrative of separation and embrace our “enemies.” It threatens people’s secure economic position in society.
This gospel has virtually disappeared. We see glimmers of it in this or that church, by not the shining light that was intended. Believers are often separated on tribal, racial, national and economic lines. I don’t mean we don’t see churches with people of different races together. But to a large extent, we don’t see churches standing with the suffering of others by becoming one family with them, where no one is superior. We see churches that identify with political scenarios that separate people. How can we serve both Christ and these scenarios? And there is little objection to this kind of church, that looks nothing at all like the first church in the book of Acts. Jubilee has become as insignificant to us today as it was to Israel in the Old Testament.
Breaking down our racial or economic snobbery and superiority. This was the hardest thing for Israel of the first century to do. It is also the hardest thing for us to do today, to really embrace relationship and fellowship with others. Our adversity to this is one of the strongest aspects of our fallen character. It took something as strong at the cross to smash it.
When we see warfare imagery of God in the scriptures, this is what it points to: God overcoming and smashing through the greatest enemy to his jubilee in our hearts, by his death on the cross.
The book of Acts says of the early church that they fellowshipped from house to house, in prayer, breaking bread and they continued in the Apostles’ doctrine.
It’s impossible to divorce this description of the early church from its economic implications. They didn’t pray in economic separation from each other. They didn’t pray that the Lord should meet the needs of others, without an economic union in their fellowship as one family. Their prayer together was prayer than had immediate implications for their fellowship. God was often answering their prayers for each other through the lives they shared together.
What was the Apostles’ doctrine they continued to observe? We have built large creeds out of that, that often served to separate us, not unite us. The bottom line in the Apostles’ doctrine was that the incarnation of God in Christ shows us the kind of fellowship we are to have with each other.
God did not feel he was too big to put on flesh and serve us and give his life for us. Discipleship means that we follow this God, in reflecting him in our relationships with those around us. This is the doctrine they followed. It wasn’t an academic thing. It meant that their lives were to be given for each other. This includes our economic lives, and our blood.
The disciples broke bread with each other. This means that they shared their resources together. What belonged to one, belonged to them all. We mightn’t like this. It might confront our sense of privacy and of private property. Private property, as in the law and issues like stealing, isn’t being denied by this text. It just means that the people, in love for each other, voluntarily, not by force, looked beyond themselves, and saw each other as family. It just means they shared through grace, with each other’s needs, just like when they collected manna in the Wilderness. It’s love, not Communism.
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.” (Acts 4:32-35)
This great power includes this love for one another. This isn’t Communism, but what Jesus commanded, that we love one another, just as he loved us. The cross has defeated our sense of separation from others. The creation is being restored; jubilee is finally being lived out. Since Moses gave the law, jubilee had never been observed until Pentecost came.
Today our sense of national boundaries, and private individualism, has overcome this sense of jubilee. How can it be restored to our lives and communities? We all know it’s missing. We don’t need an ‘ism to restore it. We have the command of Christ already, and his cross, to show what the command means.
This passage doesn’t mean we bring all our money to the pastor today. Pastors may misuse it in different ways. It means that we are to consider that our wealth is a stewardship, which is to be used for the common good. We see in the early church a massive breakthrough in the Jewish and Roman world of that day. People lived for one neither, on a large scale, thousands of people in community, rather than for themselves. This is the witness the world needs today.
Community doesn’t mean we all do what a leader says. Except when that leader is Jesus. He says, “Love one another,” not because he told us to, but because he loved us. It’s love. Pastors don’t command us what to do. They didn’t command the early church to hand over property. They have no right to do that. Only Christ has the right, through the appeal of his grace, through his Spirit within our renewed souls.
Community doesn’t mean we all live together, and all our families break down into one mass of people. Community means we know each other, relate and fellowship with others and care for each other in genuine and meaningful sharing.
“There was no needy person among them.” This is early church economics. The church carried this ethic into the world. Emperor Julian complained the church had turned the world upside down, by ensuring there was no needy enemy of theirs on the streets.
The early church fellowship looked something like this. Believers came together in a home to fellowship, in a way that resembled the character and teachings of Christ. Their meetings were not of a political nature, but the witness of their community would challenge political ideas to the core.
In these fellowships would be a mixture of people. One would be a farmer, another a banker. One a slave, another a Roman soldier. One a Jew, one an African, another a Greek. As they fellowshipped in prayer, teaching and a meal, they talked about each other’s lives. The banker heard about the struggles of farmers, who lost land when there was a drought and they couldn’t meet their loan payments.
The soldier heard of the struggles of the Jewish villages; whose homes were troubled by soldier violence. The rich person heard of the struggles of the salve and other poorer members. As the believers talked to each other, they learnt about their lives and this started to temper their attitudes, and their behaviour towards others began to become more merciful.
Their fellowship put faces on human suffering. It made them brothers and sisters with people they previously knew little about. This is what it meant to be a believer in the early church. Not just someone who claimed to be a Christian, but someone who followed the ways of Christ in bringing mercy into their human relationships and sufferings. It calls us away from pagan religions that promise us personal advancement, and death to our enemies, and calls us instead to love them.
This is what communion meant. It wasn’t a sacrament, except that the sacrament of the church is love. Communion meant their growing relationships and service towards each other. This is what eating bread together represents: the sharing of their lives. This was never done in the Roman Empire until the church was born. This mercy eventually spread, transforming the Empire itself.
But after some years things in many places began to change. Bankers separated and formed their own churches. And those who came from different nations begin to form separate churches. This meant that people were no longer building relationships across the whole spectrum of human life.
It is these relationships that bring justice to the world. This is the primary role of the church, to love one another, to bring healing justice into our lives. And to be healed in our souls, as we embrace our neighbours and those different to ourselves in friendship and care. If we allow politics or selfishness to divide us, to not care for the “enemy,” we are no longer living as the church of Jesus Christ. We would then no longer be joining God to renew his creation.
This simple “walls broken down fellowship” is God’s master plan for a new creation. Jesus said, don’t go looking in the desert for the kingdom, or looking for some other great cosmic event, for the kingdom is within us. We don’t expect such a great God to have such a simple plan. It’s simple, but given our human fallenness, it isn’t easy. But it’s the only way.
I was speaking to someone recently who commented on a widely held view that hearts, attitudes and behaviour in Australia were hardening. They said it was a commonly held view that people were becoming more socially aggressive and meaner towards each other.
This didn’t come as a surprise to me. We were discussing possible reasons. Over recent years we have noticed the Australian government progressively becoming harder towards those who suffer. This began with the attitude towards illegal immigrants. Many, including children, have been locked up on islands. Children have been out of school for years. The people have become stateless, even though this is against the United Nations provisions.
Australian governments have supported USA policy abroad in wars and economic sanctions upon poorer nations, which have devastated millions upon millions of lives, forcing them out of their homes as displaced people. These wars and sanctions are presented as “humanitarian actions” against bad leaders, but it looks as though they are also often due to a Western desire for economic dominance. Aid to poorer nations has been reduced, even though Australians have enjoyed the highest level of disposable income per person in the world.
The shame is that these measures are supported by the Australian populous, even by some churches, who seem to think that concerns for security trump concerns for the welfare of the poor. This is a misunderstanding of what the bible teaches about security and how security is obtained in the long run.
The irony is that the way we treat others becomes the way we treat ourselves. This is the judgment of God. If we treat others with a hard heart, then our heart also hardens against our neighbours at home. It’s something to do with how our conscience works. If we feel bad about the world of inequality we have created, it makes us angry people.
The harsh laws we apply against others, in the hope of security, in a world where we don’t build relationships, begin to take hold within our own nation against ourselves. We increasingly become prisoners of our own security state. Aid to the needy in our own nation is also cut, as the government we have trained in self-centredness, practices it against its own home citizens.
This happened to Israel as they took to fortresses and not to justice. It is also happening to us today. To build a school for the poor is cheaper than dropping a single bomb from a drone. Drones divide and scatter local, grassroots community. Drones serve only the munitions industry. Peace comes as community is stitched back together, made cohesive, at a grass roots level.
Again, it is left for the Christian charities to pick up the pieces. Thank God, Australia is still filled with them. Australia is blessed with many givers, many supporters of the weak, many carers of the homeless, of refugees, many people who foster children. All our nations are blessed with many people like this. This is the ministry of the church in the world; holding out the word of truth by the things that we do, the giving of our lives in truth for others.
We hold to the truth; we don’t bend with the world to the deceptions of individualism, to the dictates of our modern cultural shifts. But we do this by showing the truth in how we serve the one wounded by the deception. We hold to a conservative biblical theology, but we do this from the cross, by denying self to rebuild truth in love.
Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his “dream” in his last speech before his assassination. He said he had seen “the coming of the glory of the Lord.” I believe that what King meant by this was the coming of neighbourliness to our communities. This is the coming of the kingdom, the rule of God, we see in the creation, in the Torah, in the teachings of Christ and in the early church. This is the glory of God that is to fill the earth.
For King, the reign of God in our hearts meant that we lived in such a way that we didn’t leave sectors of the community behind. For King, this was the American Africa population. For people in other nations, they also had similar sectors that were “lesser people.”
When the reign of God comes to our hearts, we change. As we build the future, we build it like sheep dogs, by going to the back, rounding up and gathering in all people together. We don’t just educate those who can afford it.
A common scenario in our societies goes like this. Christians start schools to care for their children. Education in our societies comes from the church. But when these schools improve, the fees go up with them. This slowly pushes out the poor, who eventually must move to poorer suburbs. The schools become private halls for the powerful. This creates a divided society; a divided world.
Such a world will go to war. Hardliners or terrorists will lead those left behind against the church. They will teach these people to have embittered hearts.
MLK’s vision of the kingdom of God was one where we gather all sectors together as we travel into our futures. We do not build in isolation from others. The world has been waiting for these children of God to be revealed, who build by the ethics of heaven, and not the ethics of our fallen world.
Building the future is an economic decision, which is based on the nature of the creation. The creation is sustained only as we build together, even taking in our enemies to be restored, wherever possible, to be healed and become a part. This is what the early church community showed us.
The scandal of the gospel, when it broke out at Pentecost, was at its centre an economic scandal. It challenged the personal wealth of the people of Jerusalem. The gospel made others our sisters and brothers on equal terms and this meant the people had to share with them at one table.
The threat was clear. The response was that this new form of economics had to be stamped out quickly. It wasn’t loyalty to God that caused them to persecute the church, but self-centredness, though, no doubt, they would have been mostly blind to this.
This was the same reason for persecution in the Old Testament. Prophets like Elijah and Elisha, who just appeared from the general stock of common people, who had no accreditation within the systems of power, where teaching an economic fraternity of care in Yahweh through faith, a common fellowship that wasn’t regulated by the divided controlling powers.
This was Jezebel’s problem, not her loyalty to her false gods. If people became liberated in the truth and began to treat each other in care, as the Torah provided, even those people the state designated as enemies, doing things like cancelling debts and freeing slaves, then this would limit the control of funds through the state. It would challenge cheap or free labour.
This also would have been Solomon’s issue with true faith at the end. There was a monopoly control of power, that brought all faith and relationships, including economic ones, under the control of the ruling priests at the temple. The narrative was that God was going to exalt Israel, by exalting its power and wealth centred in the temple in Jerusalem, and by crushing their enemies.
A true fellowship of people in love would terminally challenge this agenda. The rulers of Israel didn’t see this coming until Messiah appeared. His new family of faith took them entirely by surprise. That this could be the way that God exalted Israel, through their sharing equally with the world, was something that hadn’t dawned on their imagination. Dictatorships aren’t good at imagining.
The place where the signs and wonders in the church began. What is a sign? It points to something. The Spirit of God does signs and wonders. Why? Because he is saying something. What is he saying? What is the message the signs are pointing to?
The 120 disciples spoke in tongues, languages from all the nations of the Roman Empire. Jewish people from those nations, in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost, heard the disciples praising God in their own languages. Some of the pilgrims would have been Jewish by race, others proselytes to the faith and others gentiles, God fearers interested in the faith.
This was indeed a great sign. What was the message? We might say the message of the Holy Spirit in the books of Acts was that Jesus is Lord. Yes, that is true, but what does that mean? In the Empire, it was held that Caesar was Lord. That means that his ethics governed our ethics and relationships with people. His ethics kept us divided.
But to say that Jesus was Lord meant that he governed over the remaking of creation. This is what the gospel was to the Hebrew people. The way his lordship would remake the creation was through his commandment of love, which must extend to all people. The announcement at Pentecost, that Jesus was Lord, meant that God was accepting all people on equal terms in the gospel, and it meant that our table was now open to all.
The miracle at Pentecost showed that God had thrown open the doors of the Jewish faith to the whole world. He was accepting people from all languages and all nations into one new family, as a free gift. More importantly, he was calling us all, from all our different backgrounds, to lay down our claim to fame, and serve each other.
The miracle of Pentecost also showed that God was accepting people without the need of the temple. The temple was still acceptable, for those who wished to worship there. But it wasn’t necessary for membership in God’s new home. People could come to God, without passing through the economic system of the feasts, sacrifices and other temple taxes. They could come to God by faith, without the need to pay the priests to become God’s children.
This was a massive problem. There would be an enormous fight over this. The stakes were too high to ignore. The temple, priests and pilgrimages made a fortune for Israel. The world today is still involved in the same kinds of battles. We divide against others because of national or economic interest, which we often excuse based on religious reasons, just like many in Jerusalem then did.
What does the term “in the Spirit” mean? It can mean that we practice the fruit of the Spirit, and not the works of the flesh. It can mean that we know the mind of the Spirit. There is a central meaning to this term in the New Testament that we often miss, because we haven’t seen what the main work of the Spirit is.
What did God promise Abraham? That he would make of Abraham one new family of all the tribes of the earth. This would solve the age-old problem of scapegoating and mutual destruction, because we would view our neighbour through the cross, and not through our former divisions. The main issue in the world today is that one group wants to dominate over another group, to ensure they don’t become the next victims of displacement, economic exile, genocide or holocaust. This is our history, still present with us today.
The gospel in the book of Acts solved this issue by destroying the wall, and the history, that was between us, making us one new flesh in Christ. All through the book of Acts, you see the signs and wonders of the Spirit. And in every case, the message was the same.
In Acts 8, the message was the people of Samaria are included in the body of Christ. In Acts 10, the message was Cornelius, the gentile, was included in the family of God, and must be received on equal terms with anyone else. In Acts 19, the message was that gentiles throughout the Roman Empire were family members with God and must be loved.
In the book of Galatians, the message was that Peter must sit with the gentiles at one table and love them as equal brothers and sisters. This was Paul’s central theme in every one of his letters to the churches. In Galatians, to be “in the Spirit,” meant to love our neighbour as ourselves, to accept the Spirit’s work in bringing our neighbour to us in love, without any selfish attitudes of the flesh taking over and destroying the new relationships and witness of the church to a covetous and broken world.
To be “in the Spirit” means that we build unity within the church and within our communities. It doesn’t mean that we accept wrong, but that we work patiently to correct wrong in a spirit of meekness, a spirit of foot-washing, of taking the log first out of our own eye, remembering the grace God offers to us because of our own faults. It means we seek unity as we turn from our sins and serve, not division and the isolation and destruction it brings.
To be “in the Spirit” means that we turn from the selfish works of the flesh, which includes our nationalism, and we use our lives and assets to love and care for our neighbour, who is now invited freely by God with us to share at one table. And if we object to this, God points us to his cross, where he received us. We look for those who suffer in the world, just as the Spirit showed us the mind of God through the sufferings and love of Christ.
The modern Pentecostal movement, with its beginnings in Wesleyanism and the William Booth revivals, was always a movement of gathering in the poor with fellowship, hope and restoration. Great Christian social movements were born out of these revivals that transformed empire in the West. If not for this, these nations surely would have had bloody revolutions, like France and Russia.
The birth of Pentecostalism in American was among the African Americans, giving hope and fellowship to a discarded people. This is exactly in keeping with biblical Pentecostalism, bringing in those many of the Jews despised in the first century and making us truly one in Christ, including our economic lives. Pentecostalism is to break down prejudice, not just in theory, but in our genuine sharing of power with each other as brothers and sisters.
We need to regather a meaningful Pentecostal theology, which often in recent times has broken down into a privatised experience. Christians have moved back into political dimensions of their faith, separating from each other; have risen into middle class life, with its lack of concern for the broken people; and moved into a form of eschatology which denies the new creation and the hope of a changed world.
A biblical theology of the Spirit shows us that the gifts of the Spirit are for the purpose of breaking down walls in our fellowship, empowering the simple people into transforming service in their nations, bringing a unity of the faith to us all in one body. If we don’t regather our Wesleyan/ Booth roots, that restores the genuine Spirit who brings justice to our common fellowship, there isn’t much hope for our nations in the coming days. This, not nationalism, is the work of the Spirit.
To the Hebrew people, the Spirit of God meant the Spirit of creation. They saw creation as central to God’s purposes for them as a nation. They saw themselves as inheriting Adam and Eve’s commission to be God’s image bearers to the creation. This is how they saw the promises of God: God would come in the Messiah and restore the creation through their nation. Paul explained this to them in his letters, showing how Christ had fulfilled this in his service, through the cross, and had called us to join him in this divine image bearing to reconcile and “restore all things.”
The Spirit of God was in Genesis 1, when God made the world. The seven days correspond to the seven Spirits of God in Isaiah 11, where they speak of God remaking the creation through the Messiah and church.
“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord… but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth… The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat… They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
So, when Luke and Paul spoke of the Spirit of God, they were invoking the Hebrew vision of new creation. When they spoke of being “in the Spirit,” the people of their day knew that this was speaking about a new community. They didn’t see the term in the individualistic way we see it today. It was about God forming new wholistic communities, based on God’s peace and sabbath rule.
The Spirit of God returned to Israel in the Exodus. The pillar of fire by night, the Spirit with Moses, filling the tabernacle. The Hebrew people saw this as the return of the God of Genesis, coming to make the creation new. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters in Genesis, he hovered over Israel in the Exodus, in the Red Sea, and drove the waters of chaos back. His purpose was to bring Israel out to inhabit a new land, like Adam and Eve, and be God’s sabbath priests to the world.
“You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” (Psalm 74:13-14)
The Spirit also hovered over Israel in the Torah. The rabbis saw the command in the Torah, “you shall love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself,” as the Spirit bringing new life to the heart of Israel, to bring new creation to the world. This command in the Torah was called the shema. They saw the shema as God’s creative act, forming Israel in his image, to be the new Adam and Eve.
This is how Paul saw the Spirit in the gospel of Christ. Paul said the same light that shined in creation, has shinned in our hearts by the gospel. The Hebrew people in Paul’s day would have seen this as a new creation message. When they spoke of the Spirit coming to us in the gospel, they meant that he was coming to make the creation new, to heal our communities and land.
In John’s Gospel we see the same message. In chapter 1, John said the word, light and Spirit in creation had retuned in the gospel, to make us children of God. This meant the new Adam and Eves. To the Hebrew people of John’s day, this meant clearly that the gospel was a message of God forming new communities in the world, to bring about a healing and renewing of the entire creation.
It is only because we have grown accustomed to reading the bible in an individualistic mindset, that we don’t see the clear story line within the scriptures. When we come back to reading the text as God intended us to, a gospel of a new community and family, to bring God’s glory to the creation, unfolds. For too long we have missed this, and instead proclaimed a gospel of personal interest, or even of national interest.
Throughout John’s Gospel we see Jesus proclaiming the Spirit has come in him to fulfil Israel’s temple promises. As Ezekiel proclaimed, the new temple would bring God’s Spirit of life to the whole gentile world, would heal the waters of destruction and bring renewal to the entire creation. This is the Father’s house, Jesus spoke of, his new heaven and new earth creation, we see in Revelation 21-22.
So, when the New Testament writers spoke of the Spirit of God, this is the biblical vision they were invoking. Being “in the Spirit” meant to be a co-worker with God in new creation. How were they to be co-workers with God in new creation? By building Abraham’s new family, through the redemptive, reconciling lifestyle spoken of by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and displayed by him on the cross and resurrection. His death shows God’s way of healing and life for the community. The resurrection shows the promises that the cross way of self-giving brings about in our communities, eventually making all thing new.
The early church in Acts saw the economics that Christ taught as part of this new creation message. They saw the economics of sharing as part of what it meant to be “in the Spirit.” To hoard was to spoil the creation. To have a new heart through the Spirit, was to share with the stranger, foreigner, poor and enemy, for a restoration of relationships and community. If the Spirit comes into us through the gospel, the purpose is to restore relationships that restore the world. He has come to teach us the way of new creation, by renewing our minds and behaviour form self to care.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind… Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals (of love) on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:2, 9-21)
In Romans 12-13 Paul was using the imagery of Israel’s captivity in Babylon (which in Paul’s day was the Roman/ Jerusalem alliance) to show that in Christ God has fulfilled his promises to free them and return them to their land. This land isn’t a political state, but a neighbourly state, in which the world is renewed, as Romans 8 described.
The economics taught in the scripture doesn’t condone capitalism or socialism. It isn’t a system. It is following the Spirit in restoring the lives of others, which also restores our own soul. Through the church, God finally has the Spirit working in us and in our communities to bring jubilee to the captive. In doing this, he sets us free from captivity in Babylon, the selfish dictatorship that held our hearts and communities in hostility, and he brings us into his land of promise.
God’s promise to Israel was that he would use them to overcome pagan idolatry in the world. However, this didn’t happen through our human conquest of others, as Israel may have expected it. Instead, it happened through suffering. And our economics is at the centre of this promise.
Matthew puts this together in his record of the Sermon on the Mount. He starts by saying we are not to lay up treasures on earth, where they can be stolen or destroyed. He says we are to lay up our treasures instead in heaven, for where our heart is, there is our treasure.
“Treasures in heaven” doesn’t mean that we have the reward when we die and go to heaven. This is a Greek view of heaven. In Hebrew thought, heaven was more to do with a different kind of rule over the earth. People on earth rule by laying up for themselves. Heaven’s rule on earth is through reconciling relationships and restoring each other. Certainly, these life principles follow us as a reward also in the resurrection.
Laying up treasures in heaven means putting our treasure in heavenly things, like forgiveness, trust, love, relationships, restored communities, which bring us peace. If we put our treasure in these values, by sharing our economic goods, then these treasures can’t be stolen, and they don’t rust here on earth. They build our communities now and build our communities on earth in the resurrection.
These were the kinds of treasures the Wilderness wanderings of Israel were offering. If they laid up manna for themselves, is was infected by worms and spoilt. They would lose their treasure. But if their treasure was shifted, to instead be placed in the sabbath and jubilee culture of the Torah, a sharing, peaceful community, rather than a greedy one, then nothing on earth could take this treasure (these values) from them.
Matthew continues, saying that our eye is the entrance light for our body, but we must be careful what enters that eye and fills our body, for it will take over our whole life, and determine our temporal and eternal destiny. If our eye is focused on what we can store up for ourselves, then this greed destroys our soul, our relationships and our communities. But if our eye is focused on God’s kind of treasures, then this fills our body with renewing values. These save our own soul, and our relationships, neighbours and communities.
The next verse of Matthew records Jesus saying, “For you cannot worship God and mammon, for you will love one and hate the other.” That is, the rule of fallen earth and the rule of heaven in a renewing earth are mutually exclusive. We all choose one or the other.
Then Matthew records Jesus saying, consider the birds and the lilies. God feeds and clothes them, without them storing up for themselves. Here, Solomon was used as an anti-disciple type, who built empire by impoverishing others. We can’t love our neighbour, unless we trust God for our tomorrow. Instead of taking thought for our tomorrow, we share our manna today. Manna will be there each morning. Trust in God and love for neighbour are the keys to our Christlike discipleship. “Taking no thought for tomorrow,” simply means to share what we have today, instead of anxiously laying it up for our own future.
The overthrowing of idolatry, the love of self, brings the rule of heaven into our lives, which leads us to restorative communities. This brings peace. Pharaoh’s way of filling the land with warfare, changes to God’s way of filling the land with good will towards others.
When we take too much for ourselves, we lead our land to war. When we use what we have to care for the weak, we lead ourselves to peace. When we teach about money in our churches, we aren’t to nourish the gods of self in our souls, by promising personal prosperity, but to share on the jubilee values of heaven, which bring recovery to our souls and land. Repentance from idolatry in our churches and personal lives is the first step to fulfilling God’s purposes in our wider creation.