Bible Gateway interviewed Michael Rhodes (@michaeljrhodes) and Robby Holt (@robbyholt) about their book, Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give (Baker Books, 2018).
Explain the idea of economic discipleship.
Michael Rhodes: The good news of the Bible is that King Jesus is bringing his kingdom rule “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) and that because he’s died for our sins, we sinners can become citizens of that kingdom! But every king has an ‘economic program’ and even a quick look at the Bible makes it clear that God’s economic plan is different from ours. Economic discipleship, then, is about becoming people who live like citizens of God’s kingdom in the way we work, earn, spend, invest, save, compensate, and share, especially when God’s way conflicts with the systems and expectations of our culture.
In the book you write about six keys to the King’s economy. Why do you start by focusing on worship?
Michael Rhodes: We believe that both worship and idolatry are economic issues. In the Old Testament, Israel idolatrously worships Baal (cf. 1 Kings 17-18) because his worshippers call him the “Rider on the Clouds” who brings the rain that poor agrarian peasants so desperately need. In the New Testament, Jesus recognized that his people often treated money as an idol like Baal, an idol to worship as a god to get what they wanted. But “nobody can serve two masters” (Luke 16:13)!
The good news is that when we embrace sacrificial generosity, God uses our worshipful giving to free our hearts from idolatry and our hands for service. When we store up treasures in heaven in worship, we find that where our finances go, there our hearts will follow (Matthew 6:21). Without dealing with who and how we worship, we won’t be prepared to live out any of the other practices.
Where do we see the key of community displayed in the Bible?
Michael Rhodes: The community key is everywhere in the Bible, but I think the best way to sniff it out is to follow the aroma of the feast. Whether it’s the Lord calling his people to bring their tithes to the sanctuary so they can feast on them together with the entire community (cf. Deut. 14:22-29), Jesus being called a “glutton and drunkard” because he’s always feasting with tax collectors and “sinners” (Luke 7:34), or the early church’s Lord Supper celebrations that stand in the midst of a community in which there are no needy people among them (Acts 4:34), Scripture shows us a God who’s gathering a people together to feast at his table.
What does it mean to welcome all to the potluck of God, and how does this connect with living out the King’s economy?
Michael Rhodes: The metaphor of the potluck reminds us that, in God’s economy, everybody gets to bring a plate to the party. In terms of our economic lives, this metaphor tells us two things. First, the goal of our economic lives isn’t to create a bunch of economically self-sufficient individuals, but rather to become an inter-dependent family gathered at God’s table. But second, the potluck reminds us that some in the family struggle to bring their best plate because of economic brokenness, injustice, and sin. That means that if we want the potluck, we’re going to have to bend the way we work, earn, spend, invest, save, and give towards welcoming the marginalized.
Providing work to people who need it is often easiest for people who own their own businesses or start them, but you say we can all make a difference in this area. What are some other ideas?
Michael Rhodes: If you don’t have influence in your work place, consider whether you have influence at home or at church. Churches can hire people who are struggling to find employment to help out, or they can connect job seekers to those in the congregation who are gatekeepers to employment. Individuals can also serve as allies or mentors in job training initiatives like the Work Life program that emerged from a partnership between Advance Memphis and the Chalmers Center. Churches and non-profits are running similar programs across the country, and all of them need allies and volunteers.
And both churches and individuals often have opportunities to support minority-owned businesses, entrepreneurs coming out of poor communities, and social enterprises that create jobs for hard-to-hire populations. I live in a low-income community and don’t have much influence over hiring at work. But my wife and I have hired neighbors to help me build one fence, tear down another, detail cars, install flower beds, floor parts of our attic, cook meals for parties, give me a haircut, deep clean our home, provide lawn care services, and more.
In Chapter 7 you write, “Scripture shows us that in God’s economy, everyone has a stake in the community” (page 172). Where do we see this in Scripture, and what’s one story of people living that out today?
Michael Rhodes: Micah 4:4 tells us that God is bringing a world in which “everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree and nobody will make them afraid.” I think that suggests that, in God’s good design, economic peace and social security come when everyone has a social place to stand and an economic portion to steward in the community. At Advance Memphis, where I worked for 5 years, we walked with low-income neighbors to find jobs, start small businesses (using a model we got from LAUNCH Chattanooga), and purchase a home in our neighborhood. In all of these ways we invited low-income folks to bring their gifts to the marketplace and volunteers and supporters to bend their economic lives towards our neighbors. The result? Many of my neighbors now not only earn more money and have increased their wealth and economic stability, but they’re also able to bring a better plate to the community potluck.
Why is it important for Christians to care about creation care?
Robby Holt: For many of us who grew up in church, this way of thinking is new territory. Our Sunday school flannel board did not include much about “creation care.” Indeed, many Christians wonder whether worrying too much about the environment isn’t actually unbiblical. Right in the opening words of the Bible, though, we see God looking at what he made and declaring it good (Gen. 1). We see that the goodness of rocks and trees, stars and suns and moons, flying fish and panda bears, was announced by God even before he created Adam and Eve. Creation, it seems, isn’t just good for people to use; it’s good in and of itself. God places his “seal of divine approval on the whole universe,” even apart from the incredible value that creation has for people. If our understanding of creation begins with the Bible, it doesn’t start with how useful creation is to people and how we might run out of stuff to use if we aren’t careful. It starts by recognizing that creation is good because God made it and loves it.
How does the key of rest remind us we’re not in control?
Robby Holt: Practicing Sabbath creates a “temple in time,” making worship of God a regular part of our life rhythms. But this doesn’t happen if we choose independence, self-sufficiency, and autonomy instead of rest. Since we’re worshipers, if we dodge the God of the Sabbath, we bow down to some other portion of God’s creation and make it our blind, deaf, and powerless master. The idols we create for ourselves require our endless, relentless service. They seek to convince us that we exist for them. If you can’t stop or don’t know how to rest, look for the demanding deities barking out orders. There’s no rest for the weary with these lords. When we practice Sabbath in worship of Yahweh, we begin to live free of anxiety because our Creator practices Sabbath himself. God rested after his creative work! When we stop by faith, we’re acknowledging God—his power, his wisdom, his love. This requires and cultivates trust in the One whose job description includes running the universe. We’re creatures with limits. We can’t know everything. We can’t do everything. We can’t control everything. If those words sound like problems, we’ve forgotten who knows all things, who can do all things, and who controls all things!
If someone wanted to start with one small step toward practicing the King’s economy, what would you recommend?
Michael Rhodes: Read our book! (Just kidding—sort of). Because these practices all start with the orientation of our heart, with our attitude toward King Jesus and the stuff he’s given us to steward on his behalf, one of the simplest yet hardest steps we could take is to start practicing the Sabbath. If the idea of putting a weekly “brake” on our work and distraction seems unrealistic or impossible, the world’s way is more deeply ingrained in us than we may have realized. Without learning to step back from the rat race and intentionally put our trust in God, it will be very difficult for us to notice how he provides for his people. When we begin to move our trust from our bank accounts, skills, and success back to our loving Father, we may find our hearts opening to his love for those on the margins. Taking the Sabbath seriously may be the best doorway into the rest of the King’s Economy.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Michael Rhodes: I guess I’d have to say Leviticus 25’s Year of Jubilee . . . we even named our second daughter Jubilee! The Jubilee invites God’s people to experience forgiveness from sin and restoration from economic disaster. The Jubilee makes sure nobody ever gets permanently disenfranchised from their plot in the Promised Land. It’s a vision that I think inspired Isaiah, Jesus, and the early church, and it’s certainly one of the guiding texts in my life.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Michael Rhodes: I love having access to Bible Gateway’s rich collection of Bible translations and other texts. And I’ve seen firsthand that my students at the Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies, where I teach, benefit from this resource as well.
Bio: Michael Rhodes is the director of community development and an instructor at the Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies, where he heads up efforts to equip urban pastors and community development practitioners with theologically informed tools for community transformation.
Robby Holt is the senior pastor at North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and teacher and theological dean for the Chattanooga Institute for Faith and Work. He teaches theology of work and New Testament courses for the Chattanooga Fellows Initiative.
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