The Economics of Worship

Matthew 13:44-46 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Have you ever gone to the store to buy something you thought would cost you $20 and found out that they wanted $50 for it? What did you do? Did you buy the item? Well that depends, doesn’t it? If you’re like me you probably stood there for a few minutes and mulled it over before ultimately making a decision either to buy it or to walk away. What determines the outcome of that choice? What are you considering as you mull this over?

Essentially what you are doing is making a value judgment. You are deciding whether you really need or want that item. What goes into this decision depends in large part on your circumstances and what the item is, but ultimately it comes down to your values. What is important to you? What do you consider to be of greater worth, the item or the $50 you would have to spend on it? Whatever the outcome, you have acted according to your values. You may feel grumpy about the situation, for you may have preferred to buy the item for $20, but if you bought, you showed that you really did value that item more than your $50. If you didn’t buy, you showed that you valued it less than $50.

This is a fundamental principle of economics. If two people engage in trade through voluntary mutual consent, then they both expect to benefit. If I have a pen, and you have $5, and I sell you my pen for $5, then you wanted my pen more than you wanted your $5, and I wanted your $5 more than I wanted my pen. In this case, we both expect to win. Economics is based on this assumption. For who would voluntarily consent to an action they do not expect to benefit from? It’s like two baseball teams. Team A has four good outfielders, but only four good starting pitchers. Team B has only two good outfielders, but six good starting pitchers. So Team A says to Team B, I’ll give you an outfielder for a starting pitcher. Team B thinks it over and agrees. Now both teams are better off because they both have a full outfield and a full starting rotation.

When individuals participate voluntarily in a free market, then it can be assumed that they expect to benefit from the transactions they agree to. If I’m at the store hoping to buy printer ink for $20 and the store wants $50, I have to decide how important it is to me to have that printer ink. If I have a super important document I need to print, then I may just value it that much. If I’m just supporting a hobby, or looking to buy a backup, then I’m likely to pass and wait for a better deal. In any case, my circumstances and my values determine to me which is more important. Indeed, trade is made of win.

But this post isn’t really about economics, it’s about worship. What does this economic principle have to do with worship? Consider the Scriptures in Matthew 13. Here you have two commercial transactions. Both involve someone selling everything he has in order to buy something. In the first scenario, the thing he buys is a treasure hidden in a field, and he buys the field that the treasure is in. In the second, he buys a pearl that he considers of immense value. In both cases, the thing bought is judged by the buyer to be more valuable than the entire scope of his previously owned possessions, and Jesus compares this to the kingdom of God.

This is worship! Have you ever tried to figure worship out? There are books upon books about the subject, but it still seems to be an amorphous subject that’s hard to really comprehend. Even hearing the best theological explanations can leave you scratching your head. We have all heard about how worship is more than just singing on Sunday morning and that it involves our entire lives, but what does that really mean? Can’t you do all the same things that real worshipers do, but not really be worshiping? There’s a heart component here, but what is it? Indeed, what is worship?

Worship is an economic value judgment! I’m sure we’ve all heard the word play that worship is “worth-ship”. This is what that means. It is the appraisal of Christ as the most valuable possession that can ever be had, worth more than the accumulation of any earthly wealth, and worth the price of enduring any suffering! Hear Jesus’ retirement plan:

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

A good investment advisor will tell you to go for what will give you the greatest long term yield. You don’t want to accumulate a whole bunch of wealth in the short run, only to have it evaporate and find yourself broke. This is, apparently, what happens to most lottery winners. They get all this wealth and then blow it on fleeting pleasures. Here, Christ gives us an eternal perspective and says that the most long lasting wealth on this earth is fleeting! Invest in heavenly treasure!

This is why Jesus said you can’t serve both God and money. It’s not that money is bad in itself. The Scriptures do not actually say “money is the root of all evil.” It says, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” (1 Timothy 6:10) In other words, valuing money above all else (the love of money) is an idol that can cause us to commit sin in its service and draw us away from Christ. So the Scripture warns us to beware. Indeed, we can have money, but we cannot value money equally with Christ. There will come a point when, like the rich young ruler, we must choose what is more important to us. Indeed that time is already upon us, really, even if the rubber hasn’t met the road just yet. We must choose where our hope lies, what do we desire more?

Many have read these passages and concluded that having any kind of wealth is bad. This is not the case. Rather, having or not having wealth needs to be properly contextualized under the umbrella of our relationship with Christ. Do we use our wealth for his glory? Are we willing to part with it if that is what it takes to have Christ? Do we have brothers and sisters in need who we can help? Are we clinging to our wealth for security for the present or the future?

I can’t make these judgments for you. Everyone must examine his own heart and his own values to determine what is important to you. Indeed if, when you read these passages, you feel conviction over having wealth, maybe it is the living and active Word of God revealing to you that you idolize your wealth too much, and perhaps you do need to give some of it away as an act of placing Christ first and breaking the hold that wealth has on you. This is not a universal law or rule for everyone, but if you feel the Spirit calling you to conviction on this, then perhaps that is what needs to happen.

But this isn’t just about money. It involves the entire scope of our lives. Money is only “a root” of evil. There are other idols that can steal our affections away from Christ. What draws your affections away from him? Money? Possessions? Pleasure? Having a good time? Sports? The respect and admiration of your peers? Power? Family? Peace at any cost? Being right all the time? Politics?

For the worshiper, none of these things compare to the value of Christ, and giving up any earthly treasure or pleasure, and enduring any earthly suffering is worth attaining the eternal possession of Christ. It is only when we make these value judgments that we can properly worship. It is only when we make these value judgments that we can have real hope in eternity. It is only when we make these value judgments that we can battle the temptations of sin, the attacks of despair, the doubts of unbelief. And it is this value judgment that drives every desire of our heart, ever though we think, every word we say, and every action we take. Indeed this value judgment should manifest in external fruit, but without the value judgment, the external fruit is not real.

Consider the following Scriptures for further analysis:

Hebrews 11:8-10

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”

Hebrews 11:24-26

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”

Hebrews 12:11

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

James 1:2-4

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

1 Peter 1:

“[…] he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

And, finally, Romans 8:16-18

“[…] we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

What do we value more than Christ? Each of us has a different answer, and we must discover it so we can tear the idol down.

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