Exegetical, Theological, & Practical Insights on Paul and Money
In a world of mawing economic disparity, industry and vocational disruption, financial collapse, and nation-state economic anxiety, where can Christians turn for exegetical, theological, and practical insights on money and finances?
Keith Krell and the late Verlyn Verbrugge have given the Church a sturdy guide in their new book Paul and Money. More than a book on fiduciary legal tender, it’s a biblical and theological analysis of the apostle’s teachings and practices on how the world of finances intersects with our lives.
“Our goal is not to simply exegete certain statements in Paul’s writings about how Christians should use their money. There are many more issues that surface as one examines how financial matters intersect in Paul’s letters.” (26)
Below is a cursory engagement with Verbrugge’s and Krell’s exegetical, theological, and practical conclusions concerning Paul and money. It will give you a glimpse into the book’s tremendous scope, and provide helpful biblical insights on money and finances.
Exegetical, Theological Perspectives on Paul and Money
Some of Verbrugge’s and Krell’s most important work sheds background light on how Paul lived in the first century, informing exegetical and theological perspectives on Paul and money.
One important background piece is Paul’s socio-economic status: “Paul appears to have grown up in what we might call a middle class Jewish home. But after he became a Christian…his personal status was downgraded to what might recalled at best a lower middle class lifestyle.” (275)
It isn’t clear if this downgrade was a personal choice or voluntary. Regardless, “what becomes plain is that Paul was often strapped for cash for his daily living expenses.” He worked bi-vocationally as a leather artisan to support his ministry efforts, refusing “to accept lodging and food from people he was evangelizing.” (275) Verbrugge and Krell insist Paul’s lifestyle wasn’t prescriptive, however. The reason Paul was so hard on himself “may lie deep within Paul’s soul.” (276)
Verbrugge and Krell also expose Paul’s resistance to the patronage system. Though it was integral to the Greco-Roman financial world, he resisted such a lifestyle because “personal freedom to preach the gospel as the Lord revealed it to him was vital for his ministry.” He didn’t want to have to compromise his message to keep his patron happy. Yet they also suggest such resistance seemed to cease when a potential patron became a believer, “for believers formed a new community, a koinonia in which everyone was part of a new family.” (276) Lydia illustrates this willingness. It also informs his dealings with Philemon.
Practical Conclusions on Paul and Money
Though Verbrugge and Krell provide a largely robust academic treatment of Paul and money, they also draw practical financial applications from Pauline exegesis and theology—beginning with integrity:
What is needed in all such (financial) transactions is integrity—products that are not part of shoddy workmanship, and coins that are genuine and maintain a worldwide standard. Paul has much to say about integrity in all financial dealings. (280)
This is particularly true for church leaders and workers: “Paul insists that they must not be greedy or dishonest in financial dealings.” They note one of the key marks of a false teacher was “a person who sought dishonest gain. The same is true today.” And given how shameful financial scandal is for the Church of Jesus in any day, “Church leaders need to do everything possible to choose leaders known for their integrity and to have checks and balances in place…” (280)
Such financial integrity matters not only for church workers, but all workers: “everyone should put in an honest day’s work. Paul states this in so many words in Eph 4:28, and he also implies this with the situation of the Thessalonians busybodies. Paul instructs able-bodied believers to get busy and earn their own living rather than sponge freely off church people.” (281)
Yet Paul also acknowledged there were people with genuine need. This is why churches “should use a portion of its income to establish a benevolent fund to help the needy.” And while “Paul never mandates a fixed percentage of our income, such as a tithe…each one should give to the church regularly in proportion to what they earn.” (282)
Not only does Paul instruct Christians to give cheerfully to their church, “each believer should be willing to pay their fair share of taxes.” Likewise for their personal debts: “no one should ever contract a debt that they know they can never pay back. Bankruptcy is never a way to handle our debts.” (284)
“Some of the most difficult parts of our lives in our homes, our churches, our community, and our world have to do with financial issues. May God give us the grace to make decisions that correspond with the principles of God’s Word.” (284)
Engage Verbrugge’s and Krell’s resource to equip you to lead your people, your church, and your community to make godly financial decisions.
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