Sunday, July 2, 2023

Excessive Righteousness 1: Sodom, et. al.


“We’re here, we’re queer, we’re coming for your children.”

(Queer March Chant, 6/25/23)

In late June, the chant quoted above was shouted by marchers in the Queer March in Manhattan. NBC News defended the chant, saying that it had been “used for years at Pride events.” Not true. The chant “we’re coming for your children” originates from lyrics sung by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir in 2021 (https// Other lyrics from that song are: “We’ll convert your children, happens bit by bit, quietly and subtlety and you will barely notice it” ( NBC News implies that it’s just gays joking about this unfounded charge leveled against them, but that’s not really true, either. We have only to look at Walt Disney World, in my own back yard, to see that this is not a joke. The LGBTQ+ movement is very serious about converting your children.

They are also serious about quieting any resistance from you. Corporation after corporation is being enlisted in an effort to “normalize” what was generally considered “abnormal” behavior a few short decades ago. The corporations and colleges have DEI codes and re-education programs to ensure that their employees and professors fall in line with their new “normal.”




If Mark’s Gospel is the Gospel of Extreme Self-Denial and Luke’s Gospel is the Gospel of Extreme Impoverishment and John’s Gospel is the Gospel of Extreme Faith, then Matthew’s Gospel is the Gospel of Extreme Righteousness. Only Matthew (in 5:20 NKJV) records Jesus’ warning: “Unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Righteousness that EXCEEDS can be called “Excessive Righteousness,” the main title of the next several blogposts in this series. While Luke’s account of the Beatitudes states: “Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled” (Luke 6:21 NKJV), Matthew 5:6 (NKJV) states: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.” Along with Matthew, the very first New Testament book written, according to J. A. T. Robinson (the book of James), emphasizes personal righteousness. As Jesus’ own brother, James corroborates how important “righteousness” was to Jesus. The concept of righteousness permeates Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. Since our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees in order for us to enter the kingdom of heaven, we will be considering the righteousness of the Pharisees in the next few blogposts, for comparison.


It is no great leap to suggest that, if our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, it must most certainly exceed the righteousness of the inhabitants of Sodom. You may be currently attending a church that welcomes LGBTQ+ activities. The Roman Catholic Church released a document on June 20, 2023 stating: “Roman Catholic bishops should discuss how the Church can be more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people” ( Other denominations have already been more welcoming: Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists (AWAB), Affirming Pentecostal Church International, Episcopal Church (United States), Evangelical Anglican Church In America (EACA), Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF)Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), United Methodist Church (UMC), Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals (GAAAP), Gay Apostolic Pentecostals, Presbyterian Church (USA), Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Reformed Church in America (RCA), United Church of Christ (UCC), Friends General Conference (FGC), Mennonite Church USA (MC USA), to name a few ( One might suggest that there is a difference between engaging in such sexual sin and tolerating or supporting or welcoming those who do so engage. Nevertheless, those in Sodom who stormed Lot’s home in order “to (carnally) know” the angels who were his guests may have been a minority of the citizenry of Sodom (since, for instance, the city also contained women, yet, no women were mentioned as being guilty of the active crime). These remaining citizens, however, apparently tolerated or supported or welcomed those who so engaged. Genesis 18:19 states that Abraham’s family should “do righteousness,” but in Genesis 18:24, Abraham negotiates with God to save the city of Sodom, if there were only 50 “righteous” in it. Then, Abraham re-negotiates for saving the city if there were only 45 “righteous” (verse 28), then 40 (verse 29), then 30 (verse 30), then 20 (verse 31), then 10 (verse 32). Hence, the “unrighteous” included many who did not seek to commit the sin against the angels, but the entire city was destroyed with fire and brimstone (except for Lot, his wife, and two daughters).




Exceeding the righteousness of the inhabitants of Sodom sets the bar pretty low, but what if the bar is set at a level that many Christians look down on: Islam? There certainly are Muslims who engage in atrocious behavior, such as the Islamic terrorists who murder innocents, and hate Christians and Jews. Nevertheless, I had many Muslim students who took my courses at Loyola University Chicago, in the 1990s. Far from hating me, they loved me as a professor, perhaps, because I took a stand in my classes for morality. They agreed with my position that we should not drink alcohol. They agreed that we should practice sexual purity. They agreed that abortion was unacceptable. They agreed that God should be revered. Although I had fewer Muslim students at Florida State University, I found that they also agreed with my positions on these matters. Although not all Muslims resist the LGBTQ+ movement, most Muslims do. “Muslim parents delivered passionate speeches against elementary schoolchildren in Maryland's Montgomery County Public Schools being forced to learn LGBTQ sexuality curriculum against parents' wishes at a [June 27, 2023] school board meeting” (https//

This is consistent with Islamic teaching throughout the world. An opinion piece in the Islamic publication al-Jazeera put it this way:

As Muslims, we refuse to be coerced into believing something our faith categorically condemns. This is not a political stance. It is a moral principle.  recent statement … titled “Navigating Differences: Clarifying Sexual and Gender Ethics in Islam”, has been signed and endorsed by more than 300 Islamic scholars and preachers across North America. In this document, we explicitly and clearly lay out the non-negotiable, normative Islamic position on sexuality and gender ethics (

The intolerance of Muslims, here, is a good example for Christians to follow. Stepping away from LGBTQ+ issues, for a moment, look at the morality of drinking alcohol. Islam condemns it. The university with which I am currently affiliated—Liberty University—also opposes it. “Liberty University’s code of conduct, known as the Liberty Way, prohibits the consumption of alcohol for all students living on or off campus. This policy applies not only to those under the age of 21, but also those who are 21 and older.” Mormons also oppose it, but an overwhelming majority of evangelical churches (including the one I have attended for the past decade) now accept it. I have had debates with the preachers and elders of my church and have succeeded, at least, in discouraging their preaching from the pulpit the acceptability of drinking. Between 1920 and 1933, Prohibition was the law of the land—and the consensus agreement of Christians throughout the U.S. Nevertheless, as things now stand, there is a good possibility that, in this area (and even in the LGBTQ+ area), the righteousness of Muslims exceeds the righteousness of Christians.




Jesus, however, is not satisfied with our righteousness exceeding the Muslims or the citizens of Sodom. He demands that our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees. Put away the anti-Pharisee prejudice instilled in you by Sunday School for the next several posts and, with me, look afresh at the impressive righteousness taught by the Pharisees. This is the bar that we must exceed. This is the standard above which we must rise. There are 613 commandments adhered to by the Pharisees. We will consider them, as we look at the Laws the Old and New Testaments impose upon us. The process should result in our being much humbler, rather than our thinking of ourselves as “holier than thou.” One can have “excessive righteousness” without being “holier than thou.”

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Home Economics is Stewardship (Money 4)


“Give an account of your stewardship.”
(Luke 16:2 NKJV)

When I attended a small-town high school (in Easton, Illinois, population 350), virtually every female student in the school took courses in Home Economics, while virtually every male student took courses in Agriculture. My older brothers, Tim and Rod, and I studied “Ag, “while my older sisters, Marilyn and Barb, studied “Home Ec.” According to Wikipedia:

Much less common today, [Home Economics] was, and is, most commonly taught in high school. Home economics courses are offered around the world and across multiple educational levels. Historically, the purpose of these courses was to professionalize housework, to provide intellectual fulfillment for women, to emphasize the value of “women's work” in society, and to prepare them for the traditional roles of sexes.

Nevertheless, the phrase “Home Economics” itself is redundant. It is unnecessary to repeat the term “home.” The term “economics” is comprised of two Greek roots: OIKOS/eco- (which means “home”) and NOMOS/-nomics (which means “law”). Put them together and you have “the law of the home.” Another word for home is “household.” Today, the root “eco-” even carries the sense of “earth-as-our-home” as with the word “eco-logy.”

LOGOS/-logy means the study or logic of something (such as the earth). But “ecology” carries a slightly different connotation from the similar word “ge-ology” which also means the study or logic of the earth. The Greek word for Earth or land is GĒ/ge-, as in “ge-ography” in which we map (or graph) the Earth or land. The slightly different connotation between ecology and geology is involved with the concept of “stewardship.” Ecology pertains to “stewardship” of the Earth, just as Economy pertains to “stewardship” of the home or household.

Since there is so much discussion of “stewardship” among modern-day churches, it is surprising that only one of the four Gospel writers in the New Testament employs the OIKONOMOS/OIKONOMIA (=economist/economy) “stewardship” terminology: our friend Luke—the money management expert. The Apostle Paul (with whom Luke was well-acquainted) and the Apostle Peter (who, like Paul, used Silas [aka, Silvanus] as a secretary/amanuensis) also use the terminology. Peter’s only use, in 1 Peter 4:10 NKJV, commands: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” In 1 Corinthians 9:17, Paul views the preaching of the Gospel as something he has been entrusted with—a “stewardship.” Likewise, in Ephesians 1:9-10 and 3:9 and Colossians 1:25, he views the “mystery” of God’s will which he has received as an OIKONOMIA/stewardship for which he is answerable. In 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, he refers to himself, Apollos, and Cephas all as “stewards” of the mystery of God, and states: “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (NKJV). In Ephesians 3:2, it is the OIKONOMIA of the grace of God. In 1 Timothy 1:4, Paul appears to pass the responsibility for stewardship of the word/OIKONOMIA along to Timothy. In Titus 1:7, Paul tells Titus to appoint elders in every city who will be God’s “stewards.” In a purely secular example, Paul states in Galatians 4:2 that children are not under their own authority and control, but are placed under “stewards.” In Paul’s only purely money-related use of the terminology, Romans 16:23 mentions Erastus, the treasurer (steward) of the city. In the “treasurer” sense, it is interesting that the role of treasurer among Jesus and his twelve disciples was given to Judas Iscariot (John 12:6 and 13:29)—undoubtedly, a poor steward, who even sold Jesus to the high priests for thirty pieces of silver.

The notion, however, that we must be good stewards of the money with which we have been entrusted by God is found in neither Paul nor Peter nor in the other New Testament writers—other than Luke. In my article in the KB Journal, “Burke, Perelman, and the Transmission of Values:  The Beatitudes as Epideictic Topoi,” I write:

Only Luke records two parables on stewardship.  In the parable of the steward who forgave many debts that were owed to his “rich” boss who was firing him, his boss commended him because he had [subsequently] done wisely. In the parable of the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus, both die and the rich man finds himself in torment while the poor man is relaxing in Abraham’s bosom.  Abraham tells the rich man: “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus received evil things; but now here he is comforted and you are in anguish” (Luke 16:1-26).

Although the rich man and Lazarus parable does not specifically contain the terminology of stewardship (OIKONOMOS/OIKONOMIA), it follows shortly after Luke’s key parable of stewardship in chapter 16, and appears to be grouped by Luke along with the earlier parable about dealing with money, including the statement by Jesus in 16:13 (NKJV), also found in Matthew 6:24: “You cannot serve God and mammon.”

The other Lukan parable about stewardship is found in Luke 12:42-48 (NKJV):

“Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing [having his waist girded and his lamp burning, waiting for his master, when he returns from the wedding and knocks so that he may open to him immediately] when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. … For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.”

Stewardship Principle #1: Do Not Waste

While the parable about a faithful and wise steward “appears” to pertain to the management of money (and home/household economics), its true significance, as Luke employs it, is directed towards being constantly prepared for Jesus’ return. Nevertheless, the comment about eating, drinking, and being drunk seems to equate to the Luke 16:1 accusation lodged against the steward that he had been “wasting” (DIASKORPIZŌ, literally “scattering”) his master’s goods. This is the same term Luke uses in the previous chapter (15:13) to describe how the Prodigal Son “wasted” his substance with riotous living. Seemingly, “wasting” one’s money on alcohol and riotous living is unacceptable “stewardship.”

On the other hand, giving away that money that belongs to one’s master is not necessarily poor stewardship. It seems counterintuitive that the steward in Luke 16 who was charged with “wasting” his master’s goods would be subsequently praised for forgiving various debts owed to his master. He went to each of his master’s debtors and forgave each a portion of their debt. Would this not constitute being further wasteful of his master’s goods? Not, if his master were a champion of debt forgiveness. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (Matt. 6:12).” (In Matt. 18:28-34, Jesus condemns an individual who refused to forgive a debt, after he had been forgiven an exponentially larger debt.) Furthermore, both the master and the previously wasteful steward in Luke understood an important public relations principle:

[A] certain creditor … had two debtorsOne owed five hundred denariiand the other fifty … he freely forgave them both. ... [W]hich of them will love him more?”“I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” … “You have rightly judged.” (Luke 7:41-43 NKJV).  

Since the “wasteful” steward desired the good will of those whom he forgave debt, he was called “shrewd” by his master. Whether the courts end up agreeing or disagreeing with President Biden’s plan for America to forgive student loans, for instance, it is clear that the president’s intent is to purchase “goodwill” (in the form of votes) from those voters whose debts will have been forgiven. Even his “attempt” to proclaim forgiveness of student loans appears to have garnered some support from young voters in the 2022 midterm election. There is a clear public relations factor in debt forgiveness. Jesus’s example in Luke 7, however, was a parable pertaining to Jesus forgiving a sinful woman whose reputation was terrible. Jesus made the forgiveness parable, using debt forgiveness as a metaphor. He is offering an example of the good will that is generated by forgiving debts as well as sins. Nevertheless, forgiving debt is never condemned in Luke, or anywhere else in the New Testament. It is not “wasteful.” Often, in a public relations sense, it is excellent stewardship. At the very least, if one has been forgiven, it is incumbent upon that individual to forgive others.

Stewardship Principle #2: Do Not Abuse Those in Your Household


In the Luke 12:42-48 (NKJV) parable, Jesus states concerning the “faithful and wise steward, … his master will make [the steward] ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season.” The wicked steward, however, “begins to beat the male and female servants.” Females from my generation will understand that this is a principle of Home Economics/Stewardship. While my dad engaged in a good-sized farming operation, my mom generally served as household steward of the profits he reaped. Don’t get me wrong. Dad still made the decisions about buying all of the farm machinery used to make his business go.  He negotiated the purchase of land, seed, fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, herbicides, etc. He made the car deals. But Mom managed all of the money for the household. She bought the groceries, the clothes, the furniture, the household items. I remember going on shopping trips with her to Springfield, Illinois, for clothing; to the grocery store in Havana, Illinois, for food. I loved shopping for items at the Havana bakery with her, because I would wind up with cream horns or “fudge squares.” I never asked my dad to purchase such things, because it was always understood that those matters fell under Mom’s stewardship. I didn’t always receive everything I asked for, but I always received my “portion of food in due season.” I received my fair share of spankings as a child, but my parents never “beat” me.

If one has received the “gift” of a household (spouse, children, grandchildren), one has an obligation (debt) “to give them their portion of food in due season,” to refrain from abusing them (though painful-but-not-harmful spankings may, occasionally, be required for small children). Even leaving an estate for one’s children at one’s death can be considered good stewardship. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:14 (NKJV) asserts: “the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” My parents did this. Prior to her death (and following my dad’s death), my mom sold their farm and divided the profits equally among my five siblings and me. That gift allowed me to pay cash for the home in which I now live. My wife and I have, ourselves, now saved up a fair-sized estate that we do not anticipate dissipating during the remaining years of our lives (Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise!). I expect that my own children will be able to divide our estate equally to help them in their retirement years. While this teaching from 2 Corinthians allows me to justify my persuasive efforts when I was a financial consultant, it is just one matter pertaining to the next stewardship principle.

Stewardship Principle #3: Be Constantly Preparing to Give an Accounting (Luke 16:2)

Even if, as in the case of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-22, Matthew 19:16-29, Luke 18:18-30), you never personally sold all of your possessions and gave the money to the poor … even if, as in the case of Barnabas and the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37), you never personally sold all of your possessions and laid all of the profits at the feet of the apostles, still, you do not “own” what are putatively considered your possessions and wealth. All you have belongs to God (Deuteronomy 10:14). You are only the steward. To view yourself in that way is to be “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). As a steward, you are personally poor, but responsible for how you manage all of the things God has entrusted to you (money, health, skills, intellect, and the gospel). This past week, my family considered how even our vacations could provide opportunities to be stewards. What things do you do on vacation that advance God’s kingdom?

So long as you are not “wasting” what God has given you, you have been given considerable latitude as to how to invest His resources. Just be prepared to justify your investments. (There is a grey area between “justifying” and “rationalizing” one’s stewardship decisions.) If the criterion for successful stewardship is found in the parable of the Talents, where the good stewards were successful in doubling the wealth of the master, I have, at times, been a poor steward. When the Walt Disney Corporation took a stand against the State of Florida decision to prohibit woke sexual instruction in kindergarten through 3rd grade schools, I established a website: (now available only by Googling “”) and produced hundreds of Tshirts, but with no profit. However, at least, I can offer an accounting. I did what I thought might advance the values system of the Bible and protect our children. In the past, I wrote and recorded some Christian music without profit. I also collaborated with a former music professor on two full-length Christian musicals without profit. Even the writing and publication of this blog has generated no financial return, but I have had hundreds of thousands of hits on various posts, so I can give an accounting. Some of my ventures have also been financially successful, but I think the accounting of being a steward is to be found in the motives of our stewardship, not in the financial results. Even the “wasteful” steward was applauded by his master for forgiving debts owed to the master!

My mother was quite good at home economics/stewardship (in addition to the stewardship of her biblical knowledge). She didn’t generate extra money for the family, except for those occasions in which she served as a substitute teacher, but she managed well the household funds that my dad generated. I don’t recall her ever having to give an account, but I’m sure that she could have easily done that. She didn’t waste. She didn’t abuse the household. She was faithful and trustworthy in her role. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:2: “it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (NKJV). As Jesus asks in Luke 12:42 (NKJV): “Who then is that faithful and wise steward?” Do you and I meet the standard as stewards of God’s wealth?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

“That’s All I Need … I Need This!” (Money 3)


[A]ll who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

(Acts 4:34-35 NKJV; see also Acts 2:45)

    When Steve Martin’s character in the movie “The Jerk” exhausted all of the wealth he had accumulated, he became destitute. He was forced to leave all of his wealth behind. He rationalized his situation by proclaiming that he really didn’t “need” all of that wealth. Walking out of his mansion, he listed a few basic items and said “That’s all I need.” A second later, he saw something else that he wanted to keep and exclaimed “I need that! And that’s all!” Thus, he continually did as he left the mansion. What did he actually “need”? As mentioned in the previous post, for Luke, the use of money to handle the “needs” of each believer is an acceptable and positive use of money. In this blog, we consider what might constitute actual “needs.” Fifty years ago, some very close friends of ours announced to my wife and me that they were not going to acquire anything except that which they actually “needed.” It could be argued that what we actually “need” is almost nothing. We do not even “need” to live. Therefore, we do not need anything that sustains life, such as water, food, clothing, shelter, transportation, medicine, health care, etc. Of course, we “need” Jesus and his grace to save us, but that does not cost us any money. It cost Jesus dearly, but He gives us this gift of salvation freely.

Nevertheless, Luke, in Acts 2:45 and 4:34-35, describes the (quasi-communist?) practice of the early church to pool all of their possessions and distribute them to the believers, as they had “need.” Acts 6:3 even names the (distributing) office of the first seven deacons the office of “need” (χρεία the same term as in 2:45 and 4:35). Taking care of believers’ “needs” became too big a job for the apostles, so deacons were chosen to care for the believers’ “needs.” Note that the church’s “needs” ministry was for the well-being of the believers, not for poor people in the general public. In Acts 20:33-34, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that he had not coveted their gold or silver or apparel, as he ministered to them, but his own hands had supplied whatever “needs” he experienced. He mentioned “apparel” as a need, but shelter and food generally are considered the equal of clothing, in terms of needs. This practice, said Paul (in verse 35), was an “example” for the elders. Paul, therefore, did not practice any type of voluntary “communism,” as some have suggested was the case for the early church in Acts 2-6. Following Paul’s example, it is good for us to work with our hands to supply our own “needs.” Paul tells the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 3:10 NKJV): “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Of course, Paul encouraged free-will “offerings” on the part of his gentile churches to assist the Jerusalem church in their times of need, but this was not a quasi-communist practice. It was much more of a quasi-capitalist practice, where those who are financially successful freely donate assistance to the less fortunate. Luke 3:10-14 (NKJV) supplies John the Baptist’s prescription for freely donating to the less fortunate:

So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?” He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.” Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?” So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

Luke 5:31 (NKJV) records Jesus answering his critics for eating with publicans and sinners: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” It is a simple deduction that Luke understood that health care was a need, just as the saving grace of Jesus was a need of publicans and sinners. Luke 9:11 states that Jesus cured those that had a need of healing. Along with Jesus’s gift of salvation, our needs include medicine, health care, and health insurance.

In Luke 10:42 (NKJV), Jesus corrects Martha who had complained that Mary was not assisting her with serving a meal. Instead, Mary had chosen to sit at Jesus’s feet and listen to His teaching. Jesus answers Martha: “One thing is needed; and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” It may sound self-serving, but I justify my expenditure of years and years, along with huge sums of money, spent to pursue education in biblical studies at Lincoln Christian University, Indiana University, the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin, and Purdue University. The student loans were quite large and I only finally paid them off after I turned 71. Did I need to spend that money? I appeal to Jesus’s answer to Martha. Do Christians need to support and learn from teachers in the local churches and Christian colleges? I think so. There are such individuals as “autodidacts” who teach themselves Christianity, and that is certainly good, but even they need to buy (or borrow) books. Furthermore, they might not be able to readily distinguish between Bible-believing scholars and liberal, skeptical scholars (wolves in sheep’s clothing). They need devout Christian mentors to guide them. Paying for

the teaching and guidance of Christian leaders is a worthy need.

Before Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He sent his disciples into Jerusalem to borrow a donkey upon which He would ride in his triumphal entry. Luke 19:31 and 34 (NKJV) record the instruction to tell the donkey’s owner: “The Lord has need of it/him.” The donkey, of course, served as Jesus’s mode of transportation. Transportation is often a need. We may debate whether our transportation need involves a wheel chair, a bicycle, a golf cart, a taxi, a new automobile, an SUV, an electric car, a train fare, a plane ticket, or even the purchase of a private Jet or helicopter. The individual Christian should be free to justify his/her transportation choice on the basis of stewardship. Jesus lived His entire earthly life in a country the size of New Jersey. He, therefore, walked much of the time (probably, a healthier approach), but he also rode boats across the Sea of Galilee and, as mentioned, He rode a donkey into Jerusalem. His pregnant mother Mary, we believe, rode a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem before His birth, and the two of them, no doubt, rode a donkey from Bethlehem to Egypt and back.

In Matthew 6:8 (NKJV), Jesus introduces the Lord’s Prayer with the caveat: “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” “Daily bread” would, no doubt be among those things, therefore, that are considered needs. Whether one’s “daily bread” consists of simple sliced bread or an extravagant cuisine is another matter of personal stewardship.

Regarding shelter, Luke 9:58 (NKJV) quotes Jesus: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” This quotation might be mistaken to indicate that, for Jesus, shelter was not a need, but John 1:38-39 (NKJV) clearly indicates that Jesus had lodging/shelter: “‘What do you seek?’ They said to Him, ‘Rabbi’ (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), ‘where are You staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’” Once again, considerations concerning how elaborate one’s home might be pertain to the issue of stewardship. Churches, incidentally, which ask you to give money to their ministry, face a similar dilemma when it comes to the buildings that house the church activities. How elaborate is too elaborate? Would less elaborate quarters diminish the ministry of the church? What is the stewardship involved?

Clearly, the list of items upon which we spend money in the 21st Century far exceeds the list of what we might term “needs.” And, even those items that might be termed “needs” vary greatly in terms of elaborateness. Our meals, our clothing, our health, our shelter. Luke provides some discussion of stewardship, which we will consider in the next post. The sum of money entrusted to stewards in Luke’s various discussions is rather large. 21st Century Christians often are also made stewards of large sums of money. Even those whom we might consider “poor” among American Christians are extremely wealthy by comparison to the “poor” in Jesus’s age. Does this mean that we all are actually the “rich” upon whom Jesus pronounced “woes”? We’ll look at that, next time.

Meanwhile, I leave you with two hierarchies pertaining to “needs” in the 21st Century. The first hierarchy is a financial planning triangle I taught to my clients when I was in the financial planning business. On pages 157-158 of my book Making Offers They Can’t Refuse: The Twenty-One Sales in a Sale, I describe it:

Virtually all financial experts refer to this as the financial triangle. Notice that it is divided into three layers. The bottom layer is marked “safe.” The middle layer is marked “low-risk.” The top layer is marked “high-risk.”

… You need to build your financial future the same way you would build a house. You don't start at the roof and build downwards; you start at the foundation and build upwards. … [The first level] is the foundation.  It is marked “safe.” Before you begin to invest in low-risk areas such as mutual funds, there are four areas which financial experts encourage you to keep absolutely safe. I use an acrostic. I use the letters of the word “s-a-f-e” to help you remember them.

The letter “s” stands for “sickness.” You need health insurance to pay for doctor and hospital bills so that, if there is a special surgical procedure or medication or treatment that would save your life, they can perform it.  The money will be there.  If your sickness results in disability, so you can't go to work, you need an income to replace the income that you lost.

The letter “a” stands for “after 65.” According to social security statistics, only 10 out of 100 Americans born 65 years ago are well-to-do today. … [M]ake certain that, when you reach age 65, you will be one of the ten.

The letter “f” stands for “fatality.” When you are married and have a family, you will need at least ten times your annual income in life insurance. In other words, if you make $40,000 per year, you will need $400,000 in life insurance. …

The letter “e” stands for “emergency funds.” You need a savings account of some variety. Experts say that you should save up at least two or three months’ income, in case of an emergency. …

Once we have set up the “safe” level for you, you may consider yourself free to invest in some of the low-risk, and, eventually, maybe even high-risk areas.

That “safe” level comprises those matters that financial planners deem to be “needs.” You may not ever invest in low-risk or high-risk areas, but you need to take care of the “safe” level.

The second hierarchy is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Starting, once again, at the bottom rung of the hierarchy, such basic needs as food, water, and sleep are mentioned. Think of a poor individual seeking any kind of job that would provide enough money to provide food and shelter (somewhere to sleep). The worker might even accept a dangerous job (coal mining, off-shore drilling, policeman in New York, etc.) to receive an income that would meet these “physiological needs.” But then, that worker realizes that s/he needs safety, as well, so the worker bumps up to Maslow’s second tier of needs. He could lose his health in the coal mine. S/he could lose his/her life as a police officer. He could lose his family with an off-shore drilling job that kept him away from home. The prospect of a loss of family moves him to his third-tier set of needs: love and belonging. Perhaps, an individual would even pay money (or accept a lower income) to be able to spend more time with his/her family. Or, perhaps, an individual would accept a lower income in order to gain more esteem (the next tier in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). We have a “need” for the respect of others, for the sense that we are achieving something. Finally, one might throw away one’s entire career in order to do what one believes one is “meant to do,” what s/he was “put on earth to do,” what s/he has the “aptitude and desire for.” This final need is the need for “self-actualization.” When someone experiences a mid-life crisis, this need may be the culprit.

Maslow’s list may go beyond what Luke would count as “needs” in Luke and Acts, but I believe the list is worth considering. After all, we know that we need food, water, and sleep, but if health is on Luke’s list of needs, wouldn’t safety be, also? Love is a need that prompted God to give his only begotten Son for the world. Jesus praised (i.e., blessed) his disciples in the Beatitudes, so He surely thought they needed to receive esteem, even though the world may not have esteemed them. Jesus, above all men, understood what He was “meant to do,” what He was “put on earth to do,” and he paid an ultimate price to be self-actualized. What do you actually “need”? Give consideration to these things.

In the next post, the subject of stewardship.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

“Money is a God Term”--Prestige (Money 2)


Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds.

                                                               (Acts 5:1-2 NKJV)              

According to Kenneth Burke, while he was teaching a course at the University of Chicago, as a visiting professor, the conservative rhetorical scholar Richard Weaver (who was, at the time, a full professor at the University of Chicago) sat in the back of Burke’s classroom, each day, taking notes. In that course, Burke introduced his notion of what he called “God terms.” After Burke concluded his course at Chicago, Weaver published a work describing as his own concepts: “God terms” and “devil terms.” Burke was angry with Weaver, believing that Weaver had stolen his terminology, without crediting Burke. Their feud, developing from this issue, lasted throughout both of their lifetimes. Although I like Weaver (and agree with his Conservatism more than with Burke’s liberalism), I find Burke’s notion of “God terms” to be much more useful (and original) than Weaver’s, so in this blog, I use Burke’s definition of “God terms, not Weaver’s.


In The Complete White Oxen (293), Burke equates “God term” with a “summarizing title.” In The Rhetoric of Religion (2-3), he equates it with “summarizing,” then equates it with a “title of titles” (33). In “Tactics of Motivation,” Chimera 1 (1943): 28, he calls it an “ultimate title.” I take Burke to mean, by all this, that there are certain “terms” that many other terms may be translated into. I think Burke’s best example of such a summarizing or ultimate title of titles is the term “money.” Burke is not suggesting that money is somehow a “God.” It is only a ”God term.” In A Grammar of Motives (355), discussing capitalist systems, Burke comments: “Money would be … [a] ‘God term.’ For a God term designates the ultimate motivation, or substance.” (Capitalists are ultimately motivated by money.) Money is a summarizing title, because virtually anything may be translated into money. “Time Is Money is an aphorism that is claimed to have originated … in ‘Advice to a Young Tradesman,’ an essay by Benjamin Franklin that appeared in George Fisher’s 1748 book, The American Instructor: or Young Man’s Best Companion” (Wikipedia). What this means is: I can buy someone’s time by offering them money, when I hire them to complete a project or to do something for me. In the same sense of using money to buy things, food is money, clothing is money, shelter (a home or apartment) is money, health (even longer life) is money (I buy the services of a doctor or pharmaceutical products), transportation (whether car, gas, airplane, train, bus, etc.) is money, security (and peace of mind) in retirement is money, security (and peace of mind) against criminals (whether robbers, murderers, or rapists, etc.) is money. Some might even suggest that love is money—that it can be bought—although the Beatles’ song disagrees: Money Can’t Buy Me Love!

Obviously, even in Luke’s writings, despite
emphasizing “Blessed are you ‘poor’” (Luke 6:20 NKJV) and “Woe to you who are rich” (Luke 6:24 NKJV) and “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13 NKJV), not every use of money is condemned. For example, Luke 7:37-38 speaks approvingly of:

[A] woman in the city who was a sinner [who], when she knew that Jesus sat at the table … brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil [which Matthew identifies as a ‘precious ointment’] … and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.

Spending money exorbitantly in the service/worship of Jesus is not wrong. (Hence, the Magi who gave exorbitant gifts to Jesus in Bethlehem were acceptable.) In Acts 4:34-35 (NKJV), Luke reports: “all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” Therefore, for Luke, the use of money to handle the “needs” of each Christian is an acceptable and positive use of money. In the next blog, we will consider what might constitute actual “needs.” As an example, par excellence, of the early church’s practice of selling real estate and giving the proceeds to the apostles to distribute, Luke mentions Barnabas in Acts 4:36-37 (NKJV):And … Barnabas … a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” Apparently, this selfless act (at least, in part) produced some “prestige” for Barnabas, since Barnabas shows up in the church history of Acts multiple times, thereafter (9:27; 11:22, 30; 12:25; 13:1, 2, 7, 43, 46, 50; 14:12, 14, 20; 15:2, 12, 22, 25, 35-37, 39). Paul mentions him in his letters (1 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 2:1, 9, 13; Colossians 4:10). In the previous post, I mentioned that, in Acts 13, Barnabas was Paul’s companion when the two of them encountered the magus Elymas, while they were on a missionary journey together (Acts 13-14). The story of Barnabas’s relationship with Paul begins in Jerusalem in Acts 9:26-27, as Barnabas vouches for Paul’s conversion when the leaders of the church, there, had been afraid of him. Barnabas seems to carry a lot of influence (or prestige), because the church, then, accepts Paul. After that time (Acts 11:22-25), the church at Jerusalem sends Barnabas to the newly developing church in Antioch to establish the church. Barnabas feels he could use the assistance of Paul, so he travels to Tarsus to fetch him and, together, they establish the Antioch church. When a prophecy, later, foretells a coming famine in Israel, the Antioch church sends financial help to Jerusalem, by the hands of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 11:30). In Acts 15, they travel together to Jerusalem to defend their mission work with the Gentiles.

With all of this prestige bestowed upon Barnabas, a married couple in Jerusalem (Ananias and Sapphira) attempt to replicate Barnabas’s self-less act of selling real estate and donating the proceeds to the apostles to distribute. But their “motivation” was not identical to Barnabas’s. Recall Burke’s definition of a “God term” in A Grammar of Motives (355): “For a God term designates the ultimate motivation

.” Barnabas’s donation of all of the proceeds of his real estate sale to the church is motivated by a concern to share with his fellow Christians, with no regard to his own financial well-being. That he did not keep back any of the proceeds from his real estate sale is evidenced by the implication in 1 Corinthians 9:6 that Paul and Barnabas, alone among the leaders of the church, find it necessary to “work” for their living, while preaching the Gospel. This self-less motivation of Barnabas in selling real estate and giving away the proceeds is not the motivation
of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. They sell real estate, and pretend to donate the full proceeds to the apostles, but secretly “keep back” part of the proceeds. What is their motivation? Apparently, it is purely to gain the prestige that Barnabas has. They both deny to the apostles that they kept anything back; thus, they lie to God (5:4); they lie to the Holy Spirit (5:3). Why would they lie about it? The apostles tell them that it would have been acceptable for them to keep the proceeds (5:4), but they lie, no doubt, because they covet the prestige given to Barnabas.

Motivation is often the key to understanding Luke’s emphasis on money. In the previous post, Simon (Magus) is motivated to use his money to buy “power” in the church—the capacity to grant miraculous spiritual gifts. In this post, Ananias and Sapphira are motivated to use their money to buy “prestige” in the church. Is the purchase of anything that supplies prestige a fatal sin? From athletic shoes to jeans to handbags, Americans engage in the purchase of prestigious brands. In 2020, I bought my first “Lincoln” automobile. Prior to this time, I had purchased many new vehicles (plus used vehicles), and then driven them until they wore out, usually putting 300,000 or 400,000 miles on each vehicle before it dropped. My business practice required an exorbitant amount of travel and I “needed” reliable transportation. The new vehicles generally carried the “Ford” trademark, although there were a couple of Chevys, plus a Mercury, a Buick, and an Oldsmobile, along the way. One used vehicle I bought, my wife and I nicknamed the “crunch.” It was a tiny Ford Festiva that had been involved in an accident and was smashed in on all sides, the back, and the top, but, it only had 40,000 miles on the engine and I got it for almost nothing. I replaced the broken window glass with Plexiglass that I fastened to the frame by screws. I used a crowbar to bend the wheel wells out enough to accommodate the free movement of the wheels—but if someone rode in the backseat, the wheel wells would rub on the tires. I filled in the spaces where the doors didn’t quite fit close together with foam insulation. I (and my son Tristan) drove the vehicle until it quit. In other words, I have driven cars that supplied no prestige, whatsoever (the Festiva, for one)! However, in 2020, I retired from full-time teaching at Florida State University, and I found a super deal on a new Lincoln MKZ. $9000.00 off list price! I couldn’t resist it. I sold my Ford that had only 300,000 miles on it and bought the Lincoln. Was I motivated by the “prestige” of owning a Lincoln? Yes, I honestly think I was, even though I was also motivated by the super deal. Have I witnessed increased prestige in they eyes of my neighbors and friends? Yes, I have. Many more compliments! To keep me humble, I park it alongside my 2009 Ford Ranger pickup truck, so no one will think of me as a snob. Did it buy me any new prestige in the church? No, I don’t think so. Did I “need” a vehicle that was reliable (even if it also supplied a little “prestige,” along the way)? Yes, I think I did. As mentioned, my next blog will discuss that issue of “needs” and how Luke interprets Jesus’s teaching, there.

Nevertheless, it is clear, even in New Testament times, that money was used to obtain prestige (even privilege) in the church. James 2:1-4 (NKJV) cautions:

My brethren, do not hold the faith … with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

James, being Jesus’s brother, might have held some added insight into what Jesus may have meant by his “Blessed are the poor” beatitude. In the situation James describes, the rich do not even need to sell their property and give it away to receive prestige, even though Luke emphasizes the superiority of the prestige for those (like Barnabas) who do so (with the proper motivation). Perhaps, Matthew’s version of the beatitude (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”) correctly indicates that those who may have money should not flaunt it (gold rings, fine apparel) or accept deference because of the size of their bank accounts. They should exercise a “spirit” of being poor, even if they are not. They should not be motivated by the prestige of having money or of giving money away. We should check our motives.