Note: This is an excerpt from the new book Practicing the King’s Economy. Citations have been omitted.
We live in one kingdom, a kingdom of this world. When we look out the window and see King Jesus and his kingdom headed our way, we’re confronted with the same question Rahab faced: Whose side am I on? Nobody can swear ultimate allegiance to more than one king. “No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).
Actually, our situation is a bit more complicated than Rahab’s. Jesus has already invaded the city. Furthermore, Jesus hasn’t come simply to obliterate the human kingdoms we’ve grown up in; he’s come to conquer and reclaim them. After all, every throne, dominion, ruler, or authority—on earth and in heaven—was created by and for him (see Col. 1:16–18). And at the end of the biblical story, we find the “kings of the earth” bringing their “splendor” into the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21:24). And most importantly for our purposes in this book, our role isn’t simply to accept the invading King and then abandon the communities in which we live. Our role is to swear allegiance to Jesus and become, as the church, an outpost, a colony of the Jesus kingdom, amidst the kingdoms of the world. We are to declare in our words, our actions, and our lives together that “there is another king” (Acts 17:7), and he’s on his way to reclaim what’s his. Through lives lived under the rule of Jesus, we invite every other kingdom to join us in pledging allegiance to our world’s rightful Lord.
This means that those of us who are followers of Jesus live in earthly kingdoms that cannot and should not claim our primary allegiance. We live in the United States or Sudan or China or South Korea or Switzerland. But while different aspects of these earthly kingdoms may be closer to or further from God’s design, all of them fall short of his kingdom.
Every earthly kingdom has its own way of doing things, its own customs and policies regarding food, sex, family, and religion. And every kingdom has an economic policy. But when Jesus welcomes us into his alternate kingdom, something strange happens. We discover a whole new world. As we encounter this strange new world, we discover that the Jesus kingdom looks very different from the kingdoms to which we’ve grown accustomed.
Perhaps you have grown used to thinking about this dynamic in terms of God’s sexual ethics or emphasis on honesty and integrity. Many of us sense that our United States kingdom, for instance, has an entirely different “marriage and family” policy than the one Jesus calls us to embrace. Many of us also sense that when our culture’s approach to family or sex conflicts with God’s approach, we must choose to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29 ESV).
But King Jesus also has his own unique economic policies, his own economic program. In the West, our prevailing economic worldview sees people as self-interested individuals with limitless desires in a limited world, who seek to increase consumption and leisure by earning as much money as possible.
Then there’s Jesus, with:
- His parables of well-dressed lilies that neither labor nor spin and wealthy farmers punished for saving too much.
- His commands to lend without expecting return and to invest in heavenly dwellings.
- His establishment of communities in which “no one claimed that any of their possessions was their own” (Acts 4:32).
Suddenly we sense that Jesus might teach Economics 101 quite a bit differently than our high school teachers did. We have a hunch that if economics is, at its most basic, a discussion around consumption, production, and the exchange of goods and services, Jesus might call us to very different patterns of consumption, production, and exchange than those to which our Western world invites us.
For example, consider the definition of economics in the opening pages of a popular introductory textbook: “Economics is concerned with the efficient use or management of limited productive resources to achieve maximum satisfaction of human material wants.” This field sounds like a materialist, humanist manifesto! We suspect that if the same Jesus who said, “Seek first the kingdom of God” were writing this textbook, he might define this field a bit differently. He might propose something like the following: Economics is the study of humanity’s consumption, production, and exchange of goods and services in order to steward King Jesus’s creation.
When faced with such discrepancies between Jesus’s approach to our economic life and our culture’s approach, many of us sense we are falling short of the life God intends for us.
There are good reasons for our misgivings. Nearly 43,000 Americans commit suicide every year, making it the tenth highest cause of death in the country. Indeed, between 1950 and 1999, a period of serious economic growth in America, suicides among people under the age of twenty-four increased by 137 percent. Nearly 43 million Americans experience some form of mental illness each year.
Or consider these stats on substance abuse:
- “In 2013, 30.2 percent of men and 16.0 percent of women 12 and older reported binge drinking in the past month.”
- 17.3 million Americans reported alcohol addiction or serious problems related to alcohol use in 2013.
- 4.2 million Americans met clinical criteria for dependence based on marijuana use in 2013.
- Life expectancy is currently decreasing for white, middle-aged Americans, driven by high rates of suicide and substance abuse.
All this is happening in the wealthiest nation that has ever existed on earth. Indeed, substance abuse, mental illness, and depression seem to have risen right alongside our rising incomes. In fact, some research even suggests that our pursuit of these rising incomes is actually causing the explosion in mental illness. When we consider our unprecedented wealth and our increasing inner despair, we wonder whether our approach to economics, like that of the rich young ruler before us, has tempted us to walk away sad from our Lord’s invitation to come and follow him.
The problem with our Rahabesque situation may be that the kingdoms we live in just seem more real than the one we encounter in the Bible. If we’re honest, the Bible’s approach to our economic lives doesn’t just look foolish; it looks entirely implausible. When we read the Bible, we sometimes feel as though we’re reading about a parallel universe. Like the older children in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, we find it incredibly difficult to believe in Narnia, a land with talking animals and walking trees, when our own world seems so different. And yet Jesus’s triumph over death on the cross and at his resurrection invites us to believe, against any evidence to the contrary, that another “Narnia” is real. Indeed, God is bringing a kingdom far more real than any earthly power or authority we experience today.
Excerpted from Practicing the King’s Economy by Michael Rhodes and Robby Holt with Brian Fikkert. ©2018. Used by permission of Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.