April 14, 2008

Ok. I’m not a financial expert. I don’t even know where CNBC is on the dial. I’ve never subscribed to the Wall Street Journal. And I wouldn’t recognize Warren Buffet if he were sleeping on my couch.

But I have found some useful advice for Christians as we experience what every single living expert tells us is happening to our economy. Strangely, it comes from the divinely inspired pen of a man who has a lot of American cities named after him—but has never stepped on U.S. soil.

In fact, he lived centuries ago in filthy dungeon of a prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

But his advice, spelled out on the pages of the book of Philippians can make all the difference in your economic and spiritual outlook. 

  • Be happy with the stuff you’ve got.  (Philippians 4:11) What drove the housing crisis we’re in? One big word: greed. Homeowners got greedy and wanted more house than they could afford. Lenders got greedy and gave loans to people with shaky credit so they could get bigger commissions. And the cycle continued. This is just one symptom of an American culture that has become increasingly materialistic. Previous generations, especially in a time of war, were called to sacrifice. But this generation was never asked to do that. Instead, our politicians keep telling us we deserve more.
  • Realize What You Have in Christ. (Philippians 3:9) If you’re a Christian, what you have in your relationship to the Savoir is infinitely more valuable than the stuff we always seem to long for. Plasma TV’s iPods, and new cars will one day be in the junkyard or recycle bin. But our life in Christ only grows richer and deeper and cant’ be taken away from us.
  • We’re not Owed the Good Life (Phillippians 2:4-11) The call of a Christian is the call to sacrifice—to take up our cross. Jesus Himself set the example by stripping Himself of all of His glory, living in the cesspool of sinful man, and dying in our place on the cross. Anything we sacrifice is minimal compared to his sufferings.
  • We Don’t Need Stuff to Make Us Happy (Philippians 4:12) Paul said he could be happy with a few luxuries or with none at all. He could be happy with a hot dog or he’d be happy with a juicy T-bone. And so should we. Does your happiness quotient rise and fall with the stock market? Does it rise and fall with the housing market? Does it rise and fall depending on what you can buy at the supermarket? 
  • Our Goal Should be to Know Christ, Not Get More Stuff (Philippians 3:10) If Paul had a personal goal of getting rich, then he was an abysmal failure. He lost everything in his pursuit of Christ—his reputation, his money, his freedom. Paul’s goal wasn’t to get more stuff, but to know Jesus Christ in the most intimate way. Is that your goal?

I’m not writing this to minimize people’s pain. Losing a job and losing a house is painful. Economic woes can bring stress to marriages and families. And God is a God of compassion and grace.

Still, as American Christians, we should be different in that our happiness is not wrapped up in what we own or the numbers in our bank accounts, but in our relationship with God. In a world of discontent, greed, and opportunism, we should stand out as people whose faith is in Someone much more powerful than the Federal Reserve or Wall Street or the White House.

What’s more, we should use these times of economic struggle to reach out to hurting people with the gospel. To show them that there is so much more to life than the empty chasing of prosperity. That this life is but a vapor compared to eternity.

When Paul penned that letter from a Roman jail, he couldn’t have known how prescient his words are to a materialistic American culture.

Daniel Darling is the author of Teen People of the Bible. Visit him at danieldarling.com