"Economic justice" always sounded like an intimidating phrase to me. In the Old Testament “economic justice” parts, most everything that’s described feels far away from my world. Sweet, I'm not crushing widows or withholding wages from my fieldworkers, that must mean I'm not being economically unjust. Economic justice was something for governments to worry about, so I was good. But that perspective made me miss some key Biblical truths.
When you look at the New Testament teachings around money, God isn’t addressing a nation any longer, but how He talks about money is surprisingly consistent. And money is a frequent topic, both Old and New Testament. It’s mentioned more than prayer, faith, heaven and hell. Something I’ve come to love about looking at social justice topics in the New Testament is how personal it becomes. The place where it starts is your own heart- which you have full ownership over.
Personal Economic Justice
Let’s look at “Personal Economic Justice” starting with something simple: Our own budgets.
For most of my life, I lived with a constant, low-grade feeling of guilt that I should be giving more, along with a constant, low-grade feeling of guilt that I need to be saving for the future (thanks fiscally conservative parents!)
It didn't help that it seemed like I heard things like this all the time: “For the price of a latte everyday, you can save a child from slavery/stop the destruction of rainforests/keep a refugee family from starvation.” That makes it seem like there’s two choices- enjoy a small treat in the midst of my busy life OR save a child/save the rainforest/feed a family. If I wanted to buy coffee, I was letting the rainforest die and kids starve. No wonder all of my financial decisions carried so much guilt, the fate of starving kids was resting on them.
The way I've found to navigate this is through determining what are my walnut priorities for my money, and what are my rice priorities. Let me explain.
Think about the life of Oskar Schindler for a moment, whose life became famous in Schindler’s List. He was a wealthy German factory owner and member of the Nazi party during World War II. He used his factory in Poland to hire Jewish workers, and was able to protect them from the concentration camps. With his connections, he kept his workers safe and fed by bribing and schmoozing Nazi officials. It was a huge sacrifice, and he went to massive lengths to keep his Jewish workers safe and alive. By the end of the war, his entire fortune was gone- which he estimated to be over $1 million. Schindler took his wealth and influence, and used it to save lives. Around 1,200 Jews were saved, and in 2012, it’s estimated that there are 8,500 descents alive from that original group.
When we look back on his legacy from a generation later, it's easy to see that the $1 million was well-spent. There were people in that same generation that had nice, comfortable lives- and didn’t do anything wrong, but they also chose to use their wealth to keep that nice life. Most of us would want to think that we, too, would be the Oskar Schindler. But the reality is most would probably have just plugged along in life, not doing wrong but not doing anything intentional to help, either.
Identifying the Walnuts and the Rice
This is has become the foundation of my financial decisions: In order to live with eternity in mind, I have to have the right mindset about what’s temporary, especially money. And then I must be intentional about creating priories that reflect my eternally-minded budget.
Let’s use the time management illustration about walnuts and rice to think about how to create priorities. You have a jar, and have to fill it with a handful of big, unshelled walnuts and a handful of small grains of rice. If you fill it with rice first, there won’t be room for the walnuts. But if you add the walnuts first and the rice second, then the rice will slide in around the walnuts so there is room for both. I think that is a great way to think about creating priorities for your wealth. Set your Kingdom priorities in your budget- what you are seeking first to do with your finances- and feel freedom in how you manage the rest.
The walnuts symbolize what’s important and the rice is the extra stuff. If you let yourself get caught up in the small, immediate trappings of wealth- going from one car to the next and just “keeping up with the Jones”, then there probably won’t be enough resources for things like Kingdom building because it’s not as immediate or in front of you.
Imagine yourself one generation in the future, looking back on your life. All of the luxuries- while not wrong- will probably be forgotten. But what you did with your influence and resources will be remembered. What legacy do you want to leave- and how do you practically use your resources to make that happen?
Nice cars, pretty houses, trendy clothes- none of it is bad. What's wrong is when they become the walnuts and what really matters in life is forced to become the rice. What are your priorities? What is the legacy that you want to be remembered with? When you get to heaven and look back on your life, what do you want to see? All of that is possible because you intentionally prioritized taking what is temporary and using it to further God’s eternal kingdom.
Holding money with eternity in mind is essential to walking out a lifestyle of faith
In Hebrews 11, where the famous list of men and women of faith are listed, listen to how Moses’ attitude toward temporary luxury is described:
He preferred to suffer with God's people rather than to enjoy sin for a little while. He reckoned that to suffer scorn for the Messiah was worth far more than all the treasures of Egypt, for he kept his eyes on the future reward. (Heb 11:25-26, GNT)
Moses lived in what was probably the wealthiest household in the whole world at the time- Pharaoh’s palace. The most extravagant luxury on the planet at his time was at his reach. Yet when given the option of suffering with his people for the sake of future redemption, or lay around and enjoy his comfortable life, he chose the future reward. A mark of a life of faith is to have eyes on the eternal treasures instead of temporary luxuries. If in the process you get a big house or something nice, then it’s not bad. But your heart should be set on eternity.
Intentionally set your walnut priorities for your money- and then let all the extra stuff go around it. What are the “Seek first the kingdom” walnuts in your budget? Make a list and build toward it. And the rest can be the rice- stuff to fit in around what really matters.