In this breakout session, Tom Nelson explores a robust theological bridge from the scriptural text to wise economic thought.
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Tom Nelson: I’m Tom Nelson. Glad to have you all here. I’m so impressed that you’re actually here. You having a good conference so far? Isn’t it amazing. What a blessing it is. And again, just I’m so delighted you’re here. Some of my wonderful colleagues with Made to Flourish are here. You’re gonna hear more about that work that we do. I think at the end, Matt’s gonna share a little bit, but I also come to you because I’ve had the joy of being a part of The Gospel Coalition from the very beginning. I’m humbled to share that, that we came together in Chicago, 40 of us, how many years ago and with a great God, and it’s been just a joy to see the expansion and the work of The Gospel Coalition. So it’s a great to be with you.
So I hope you’re having a great time. Glad you’re here. Glad you’re part of The Gospel Coalition. Can I ask you like, first of all, just some hand raise, I’m gonna say who is all here? Like how many of you are actually pastors? Okay. Okay. And in the business world or another kind of vocation, just kind of the blend. Okay. So we got a good plant. Okay. Well, fantastic. I love pastors and I love other vocations, so we’re glad you’re here. So I’m gonna pray not because it’s expected of a pastor. I serve a wonderful congregation in Kansas City, but I just like to center my heart and mind and I trust you will as well. So thank you for being here.
So Lord, we give this time to you and we do ask, Lord, that you would open our eyes and ears. Lord, we’ve had a lot of wonderful food for our souls and our minds, move it to our hearts and our hands and our service for your good. And Lord, we ask that you would help us to love as you love that you would order our loves properly and we pray that in Jesus name, amen.
Well, one of the things that I dreaded most growing up was school. Now, before you jump to conclusions, it wasn’t just because I hated class. Actually, I liked class. I like the life on the mind. But growing up, the challenge for me was getting to school. And because the moment I walked on that bus and got up those stairs, I realized I was different. I still remember comments that my fellow students made way back in elementary school. They still stay with me, their companions of my soul. They shadow me. Comments like, “Why are you wearing that? Who cuts your hair? Why don’t you paint your house?” Those words are still part of my journey, part of my life, because I grew up getting on the bus as the poorest kid on the bus. I grew up in a single-parent home. My mom was an amazing woman. My dad died when I was young and I grew up in the context of rural poverty. My mom did everything she could do to keep food on the table. She was a teacher. Imagine, I’m six of seven kiddos. And my mom was a hero to me. And I don’t ever remember, you know, going hungry, but I remember the cupboards being quite bare at times and that we were on the edge of economic survival. That was the life I grew up in.
Now, one of the realities is I was also a part of a wonderful Christian family and my mom loved the Lord. My dad loved the Lord before he passed. And we were a part of a faith community just a couple of miles away, a local church. And I remember as a young boy being in church Sunday morning, Sunday night, and sometimes Wednesday, some of us can’t even imagine that anymore. But I remember being in church and our whole family was in church and that was a vital part of our life. Our pastor was a really wonderful person who loved Jesus. But I have to tell you, I can’t ever remember, ever, remember anyone in our congregation reaching out to my mom to even find out what her Monday life was really like. All of them knew my father died, all of them knew my mom must’ve been struggling. It was encoded on the sleeves of my shirts and my trousers.
But I have to say that I grew up in a faith tradition, a wonderful faith tradition, not a massive gap between Sunday and Monday. One of the things that occurred over and over again because of a theological framework, a cultural framework, was that what mattered most was my soul and I’m glad my soul mattered. What mattered secondly was I would get to have in one day. That’s what mattered most. What mattered is really what occurred on Sunday, but what occurred on Monday was unnecessary drudgery. It didn’t have a lot of connection to the faith that I loved in Scripture, a gospel faith.
The pastor was a wonderful man who loved God and loved His Word. But in his theological tradition and his theological framework, the mantra, if I may use that word, the common refrain that was the ultimate pillars was just be faithful. It’s all about just being faithful. And my family experienced the realities when that was the primary focus of faithfulness. Now lest you want a brand me a heretic immediately, faithfulness matters. But let me ask you a question, is just being faithful all it is? Is that all there is? Can we be faithful without being fruitful?
Our Lord Jesus profoundly frames apprenticeship, discipleship, mathétés, with him not primarily in faithfulness categories, it’s certainly there, but primarily in fruitfulness categories, right? Let’s just take for example the Upper Room Discourse, that great section, that intimate conversation Jesus has before his crucifixion that John captures for us in one of the most intimate spaces in the New Testament in John 13-17, “And Jesus looks at his frightened apprentices, his disciples and says, ‘By this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.'”
What did Jesus have in mind? What did Rabbi Jesus have in mind? What the Messiah Jesus have in mind? What did our Lord Jesus have in mind? Well, I wanna suggest that Jesus had more in mind than some of us had been thinking. Because if we have a broad sense that our theology is a rich theology within a broad canonical coherence of all of Scripture, we understand that Jesus has much in mind when he says fruitfulness. And I’m gonna suggest for your consideration as our conversation today is that fruitfulness really matters. The question for all of us is what did Jesus have in mind? What did the Scriptures, the canonical Scriptures have in mind when it means to be fruitful as a human being, as an image bearer, as a created one, as a redeemed person? What does it mean to live a fruitful life? Why does fruitfulness matter?
Now, there’s much we could say about the scriptural threads of fruitfulness, both from a biblical standpoint and from a systematic standpoint. But I wanna just give you a little bit of an appetizer of the importance of this theme throughout all of Scripture. And I’m gonna suggest immediately in John’s immediate context in John 15, fruitfulness, this idea of karpos and abide, meno, are deeply woven together. So in the immediate context of abiding and fruit-bearing are inextricably linked in Jesus’ mind. And abiding is a rich term, very rich term. But at the heart of it, it is a sense of intimacy. It is relational wholeness with God and with others, but it’s, particular in this context with God, it’s relational intimacy.
Now again, fruitfulness, often when we hear that word we can think of the fruit of the spirit, which is a really good thing, the character of Christ or the fruit of people coming to faith. And I’m not saying that’s not part of it. But I wanna suggest that Jesus has more in mind than the character of Christ reproduced in us in the fruit of the spirit as Paul says, or that it is absolutely other people who are lost coming to faith. A fruitful witness is a valid context and an important one. But in my tradition, those are the two realities of fruitfulness. Fruitfulness was the character of Christ reproduced in me through the power of the Holy Spirit and also others coming to faith. So the fruitful disciple was one who led many to Jesus and one who was like, Jesus, pretty good stuff. I’m all over that. But there’s more.
And what Jesus has in mind is more than that. If we understand the broad sweep of Scripture and the broader hermeneutic of the canon and the flow of Scripture. So I wanna suggest for your consideration that fruitfulness matters more than we think and bearing much fruit known as the text is really, really important to Jesus. And it is one of the main apologetics of what an authentic Christian truly is in all dimensions of life. So I’m gonna suggest for your consideration, in addition to the character of Christ reproduced in the apprentice of Jesus, spiritual formation, sanctification, whatever category you wanna hang your hat on and the sense of others coming to saving faith in Jesus is a part of that fruitfulness. But there are three things that I think are really important. I call it three facets of fruitfulness.
Now, in the book that you’ve been given, we unpack this in much greater detail and draw out the implications. But I’d like to just give you an appetizer and then we can have a little bit of interaction, okay? Deal? Okay, you still with me? So can we be faithful without being fruitful? To be faithful is to be fruitful. But what does fruitfulness mean biblically, theologically? And so let me unpack three areas. Three areas of fruitfulness. So we often miss their importance in what Jesus is saying and what the all the Scripture says is, first of all, the fruitfulness of relational intimacy that’s tied to abiding in the immediate context, but also the fruitfulness of vocational productivity and neighborly love.
So most of us probably grasped, at least in the immediate context, that to live a fruitful life, we have a rich, intimate life with God and others, right? And that is really important and I just challenge you that a fruitful apprentice of Jesus has rich, deep relationships with others. Of course, first and foremost, with Jesus. But a part of true, fruitful living is deep and abiding intimate relationships with God and with others. So if you are in close friendship, for example, how has Christ’s likeness manifested itself in the relationship you have with that person? What about if you’re married and we talked about the fruitfulness of life? Isn’t it interesting that Peter says that our prayers can be hindered, right, if our relationship is out of whack with a spouse?
So I just wanna suggest this idea of relational intimacy is very foundational of the fruitfulness that Jesus has in mind. “By this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” So I’m gonna asked if I were to look over your shoulder, what is your relational intimacy? Do you have deep, abiding, intimate friendships? Those closest to you, those in covenant, if it’s a marriage, common relationship, do they see you as a fruitful person? As the character of Christ, do you have fruitful intimacy with others? God creates with relationships in mind, He redeems us with that in fellowship and with others.
I’m not gonna spend a lot of time there. I wanna go to the other two because we often miss those other two. But relational intimacy matters. Let me just challenge you that, God created you in relationships in mind. He redeemed you with relationships in mind. And one of the greatest evidence of a flourishing life is to close relationships we have with others and many others who are different than us by the way. But secondly is vocational productive. Let me highlight that because we spend more time unpacking than in the economics of neighbor love. When we look at the fruitfulness, we were created not only relationship in mind, we were created with work in mind, to be productive, to co-create with God in the world in a different sense.
And I’m gonna unpack a little of that for you from a quick biblical theme. First of all, we see Jesus spending the vast majority of his time on planet Earth, not as an attendant rabbi proclaiming the kingdom of God and going to the cross as important and vital as that is and the crescendo was work. But we see him spending 30 years in what it’s called by theologians, “The hidden years of Jesus.” Jesus spends 30 years in a non-itinerant rabbinical calling, working as a tekton, he’s working with his hands as a carpenter or a blue-collar worker. Now, again, one of the things that we should have if we have coherence in our theology and coherence on the biblical texts, we have to say, why in the world would Jesus spend the vast majority of his time in planet Earth as the sinless son of God working with his hands?
And there’s all kinds of implications of that, but it fits beautifully in the biblical story. It’s not a waste. It’s not a second thought. It doesn’t minimize his rabbinical itinerant preaching or his ultimate work on the cross, but it’s an important factor to consider, that Jesus in his incarnate form spent the vast majority of his time as a sinless son of God on planet earth as a carpenter working with his hands, serving others. See Jesus not only faced every temptation we can without sin, he faced the most difficult customers without sin, right? I mean we have to bring them down to where he is, right? But also, Jesus obviously fits into the biblical narrative. I mean, he’s the author and he fits into it.
So let’s go back to Genesis really quick. We have to start where the Bible starts. If we don’t have a rich understanding of the beginning of the story in a biblical theology, we have a black and white instead of an HD reality of the gospel. So if we were to just take a little bit of time, I encourage you to read this. We unpack it more. But Genesis 1 through 3 is really important for many things, but it’s really important we understand fruitfulness. So let me just unpack a little bit for your appetizer. I wanna encourage you to study Genesis 1 through 3. If you don’t have a deep grasp of that text, the rest of Scripture often is deeply impoverished.
So when we open God’s word in Genesis 1, it’s very important to understand that God in His special revelation to us, chooses to reveal Himself first and foremost as a worker. In fact, Eugene Peterson, who I have the highest regard for in his scholarship and his writings, he just went to be with the Lord not long ago. Eugene Peterson, again, is pretty sharp on his Hebrew and other texts, won’t you say? And Eugene Peterson said, “Genesis 1 through 3 is first and foremost a journal of work.”
Is he overstating it? I don’t think so. So for example, it can be a little bit of that and most of you have some awareness of the text, but study this text carefully because if we don’t grasp the fullness of Genesis 1 through 3, we really are gonna miss much. So in Genesis 1, God again immediately reveals Himself and all the wonder of His infinite goodness, He can reveal himself anyway, right? If you start the story of special canonical, inherent revelation, right? God introduces Him with bara’, God created, and Genesis 1 emphasizes that. We don’t have time to unpack all of that, but I just wanna go to the cultural mandate.
You know, right after being made in God’s image, humans are made distinct in God’s image. And do some work on that. Tselem and demuth is brilliant. John Kilner, Dignity and Destiny is the best book I think written on the image of God, just sidebar.
But right after the image of God, right after God says who we are made in His image, then He says basically, “Now get to work,” right. In this order, ontology and work. Image bearing, male and female, right after that, if you look at it in 28 follows, “Now get to work.” And it’s very unusual in the Hebrew text, okay? Extremely unusual to have five Hebrew imperatives locked in a row like a train. So when we get to 1:28 right, God works. He creates humans, He blesses them, which is a huge concept. And then He says, now, basically, to work. You know the text, right? Most of you are very informed or Genesis 1:28. God says to them after He says, “You are made in my image,” right? Their statement of being in their worth, right? All the richness of connection and reflection in that word, He says, “Be fruitful,” multiply. It’s in English, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion.”
I want you to notice the importance of fruitfulness in how we are made in God’s image. Image bearing is multifaceted of course. But in the Genesis narrative, the primary thrust is work. To image God is to image His work as a creator. That’s the context of the narrative. Now, there are many other facets as well of course, but I want us to grasp that and you’ll notice be fruitful is the lead imperative. So be fruitful is the Hebrew parah. It’s a very important word in the Old Testament. It carries on through the New Testament in carpus, but it’s a fruitful theme, fruitful theme. Let me just unpack a little bit.
In Genesis 1:28, these are five imperatives and it’s extremely unusual in Hebrew text. It shows its importance like exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point in the grammar. Be fruitful then is followed by two imperatives. Be fruitful, multiply and fill. This is the first aspect of the semantic idea of fruitfulness. That is procreativity. That’s having babies, right? This is gonna fit in the narrative, right, as human beings. Be fruitful is to fill and multiply, right? So that main imperative, the first idea comes from the two imperatives that follow it, be fruitful. What does that mean? Multiply and fill. But that’s not all.
Then two other imperatives follow it to give the other aspect of the meaning of fruitfulness. And if we don’t get this and we miss it, that is what? Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, look at your texts, subdue it and have dominion. This is about productivity. So both of these ideas emerged in Genesis of being made in God’s image is that we are reflecting that by being procreative and productive, okay? And we can unpack a lot of Genesis 2. Genesis 2 unpacks man as a worker, humans as a worker. The word helper is not just a helper for who, it’s a helper for what?
So I just wanna tease you a little bit of interest. Study the texts carefully, and you will notice in the text of Genesis that being made in God’s image means many things. But one of the main threads in the Genesis text is being fruitful, being fruitful. Being fruitful has both productivity or working within the contours of creation. God says, ”Now, get to work. Now, make it better, right?” Get to work, do something. What I’ve given you, you don’t create like I do. You fashion, that’s yatsar. I created nothing but now get to work with what I’ve done and make it better. This is the theme. It’s beautiful and marriage, again, ends at the end of Genesis 2.
So, often we hear it’s not good for Adam to be alone. That’s the major discontinuity in Genesis 2. It’s not just because Adam needs Eve for intimacy and relationship. It’s for his job description in 2:15. 2:15 tells us that God said to Adam, right notice earlier in five, Verse 5 that there’s no bush, no rain, no plant, and no man. And notice the modifier to work the ground, same word `abada, `abad. So God puts Adam in the garden to cultivate and to keep it, to nurture and protect creation. And he cannot do that alone. That’s where the text goes. He needs help. And the animals can only do so much. They can be, notice earlier in Genesis, be fruitful, multiply for the animals, but not have dominion and subdue it. Look at the text. Okay.
So I just wanna to say that this idea of fruitfulness and productivity is really important. Let me just scoot really quick. All the way through the Scripture, it’s a vital thing of being fruitful with the work of our hands. The fruitfulness of our work, of our life, of our callings, paid or unpaid. and work is fundamentally in biblical categories. This`abada is of seamless idea of working. Worship is contribution, not compensation. So what you have throughout the Old Testament is this building of being fruitful as an image bear. We are to be fruitful in all dimensions including our productivity, our work. And for example, you think of this Psalm one, let’s just use the Psalter. You know, the Old Testament is broken in three parts and it builds the Torah as the instruction on top of that is the Neviʾim, the prophets. On top of that, it’s the Ketuvim, the writing. So it’s built in threes.
And when you follow the progression of the old Testament, you see this fruitful theme. Let’s give you one example. In the Torah, Deuteronomy 28, you have this wonderful picture of the fruit of the land and the fruit of the womb. Blessing and cursing. Just take a look and you have this parah, this fruitfulness, both our productivity, our work, what we do with creation, cultivating, blessing from creation, contribution, work, what we do right, and also the fruit of the womb, having babies. So you have parah of procreativity and productivity in Torah.
Then let’s just go to the Neviʾim or the writings. Okay? Psalm one, the whole Psalter set on a metaphor of a tree that bears fruit in a season. Let’s go to Proverbs 31. Oh, gosh. Proverbs, the personification of wisdom and however you understand the beauty of Proverbs, which is an amazing picture of wisdom, but there is a crescendo structure of Proverbs, Proverbs 31 and we hear about a Proverbs 31 woman. But notice in Proverbs 31 the centrality of parah or fruitfulness. Yes, she’s fruitful because she has children and cares for her household. But that’s not how it ends. The very last verse, the personification of wisdom is not a priest or a king or a man. It’s a woman.
She is affirmed with the highest praise, but the work of her hands, parah, let the work of our hands, young praiser in the Gates. That’s in the exchange of commerce. That’s the marketplace. That’s a woman, a business woman like Lydia or others engaged in commerce. I’m just saying when we look at Scripture, we go through fruitfulness matters or vocational productivity. So let me just ask you a question. All of us, if we are any kind of paid context, 501(c)(3), whatever we do, if Jesus were to give you a job review, okay, he’s going to give all of us a job review if I read the Scripture too someday, right? But Matthew 25 is faithful, but the letter is also fruitful by the way, okay? But he’s gonna evaluate the stewardship of all that we’ve been given to follow him everywhere, the whole gospel, everywhere, all the time. So if Jesus were to give you your job description or this year, this quarter of your work, what would Jesus say? Is that not what Rabbi Paul, Apostle Paul really begins to say like, whatever you do, Colossians, do it heartily as to the Lord, not to men?
It’s not too minimize our earthly bosses and accountability. But think about what that means. That when we stand before God, not in it as gospel people, not in a judgment of, you know, severity, but a judgment of stewardship, right? The judgment seat of Christ that we are asked to be fruitful as stewards of all dimensions of reality. So if Jesus were to give your job review, if you’re in a church, you’re working in as a nurse, whatever field it is, what would Jesus say or a student, what would Jesus say about your performance this year? No, that’s not a meritorious performance of course, as gospel people, right? Jesus has done that for us, but it matters.
One of the greatest challenges for me is I have a 360 review with my team and where I serve, but before God. And I’m very…I try to be very accountable to team and I serve at to boards, but ultimately, my job review is Jesus reviewing me. How I treated people, the loves of my heart, sacrifice in my life, all of that, the diligence without, again, the danger of workaholism or workism as my colleague Matt wrote a wonderful article recently in TGC. You know, Jesus called us and God created us to worship him through our work. It’s a major, major theme. Now, we don’t worship our work, but work is a primary way we honor God and image him all the way through Scripture. And I could just go through text after text after text.
So I’m just saying fruitfulness matters. Fruitfulness matters in your relational intimacy. If you’re a fruitful Christian, if you are bearing much fruit and much fruit, notice that, much fruit. And so prove to be my true apprentices. The follower of Jesus is known by their fruitfulness, by your fruit you will know them, right? So relational intimacy, how are you doing there? How about vocational productivity? Are you doing better at your work? Wherever God’s called you, are you more skilled? Whether it’s preaching, whether it’s running a company. Are you more skilled today than you were last year? Are you a better leader? So that matters to God and it matters to Jesus. Are you a growing, fruitful person in your vocational calling?
But lastly, I wanna highlight, we wanna move from me to we. I’ve talked a lot about me, a lot about individual right now, right? But if you go back to Genesis, it’s not good for Adam to be alone for multiple reasons because reflecting a Trinitarian God, God had a community in mind and all that mystery of oneness and threeness. So from creation on, God created us with community in mind with one another. We know all the one and others, all of them in the New Testament. Where does that come from? Because when we understand fruitful disciple or fruitful apprentice of Jesus, we are not just about my fruitfulness. We must move from me to we, from me to we. If we understand creation, the fall, redemption, consummation, there is a community. We were created with community in mind. We are not merely isolated individuals. So what that means is we need to move from me to we and Jesus brilliantly as he does does this over and over again, right?
So let me just turn your attention. I’m gonna go to the New Testament. Are you okay? I love the Old Testament, I love the New Testament. Let’s go to Luke chapter 10. I think if you have a Bible, or you can just listen just for a moment. But let’s move to the third facet of fruitfulness that flows from all of thus, Christ-like character, relational intimacy, vocational productivity leads to the third aspect of fruitfulness biblically. And that is neighborly love. So in Luke chapter 10, the fruitfulness in neighbor loves really important and we often miss this.
So let’s just review really quickly, Luke chapter 10, just my time here. In Luke chapter 10. Again, if you have it open, you can, I’ll just summarize it if you have your Bible. But in Luke chapter 10, there’s an amazing conversation between two brilliant people, two brilliant scholars of the Old Testament. And one of the scribes comes up to Rabbi Jesus and says to him, ”How do I inherit eternal life?” Now, let’s translate that. And I wanna affirm Jonathan Pennington and others who’ve done so well on the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’and understanding the stoic influence of Jesus teaching. Okay, this has not been done well. Dallas Willard did it really well. But the stoic aspect, not just the Hebraic aspect, but the stoic aspect.
So when Jesus has a conversation, remember Luke is a Gentile, okay? So all this converges around what is going on here. And Jonathan Pennington has done a wonderful work for us in the Sermon on the Mount. What is going on in terms of Jesus stoic influence? So what’s going on here is that you’re having a conversation about how do I inherit internal life? And we can read that very reductionistic. The idea here among is let’s just use stoic language as well as Hebraic language of wholeness, integrity. But it’s the life of flourishing life or the good, true and beautiful life. This is the idea. It’s not just future. It is a future component, but it’s what is the good life? We might paraphrase it probably the best that way. What is the truly good life that God has for us? Two rabbis who know the Old Testament perfectly, you know, cold, memorized are having this conversation and we learn later, he’s testing Jesus. He has ulterior motives, but the conversation is about what is the good and true beautiful life, okay? That’s the main conversation now and obviously forever.
So there’s a conversation that goes on and when you follow this conversation with Jesus and this rabbi, this other old scribe, there’s a wonderful Socratic exchange, right? There’s questions back and forth and Jesus looks at him and says, you know, what do you say? What does the law say? What does the law say? What does the Torah say? And the guy pulls to text. You know that from the Old Testament from Torah and says, ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus basically says, if I may just sort of interject here, is that, “You got it. You got it.”
And you think among such brilliant two men covering the sacred text and giving a Midrash or commentary, it would stop right there, wouldn’t you? You just think that’s the end of the story because Jesus says, “You got it. Now, go do it.” And notice in the text what Luke, Dr. Luke does, he now sets the stage because it’s surprising, isn’t it? Basically, what this brilliant Old Testament scholar asks and Luke gives us hint, he’s trying to justify himself, which is a fascinating word, but he says, “Now, who is my neighbor?” Not, “How do I love God?” You think there’s more of interaction, right? Like how do I love God? That’s really important. But what about my neighbor? So that in itself is rich with ideas.
So how does Jesus respond? He doesn’t answer him. He tells a story and the story is the story of the Samaritan. And many people would like to call it the Samaritan, the Good Samaritan. I’m kind of in that camp, but let’s…he’s known as the Good Samaritan. So you know the story, right? Right? This is the story. This is the context. He’s telling the story. He doesn’t answer the question. He tells the story. It’s about who is my neighbor and what does it mean? So Jesus is gonna explain what the neighbor is, but he’s going to add another piece to it. What does it mean to truly love him? Right? Because he doesn’t ask, “How do I love neighbor?” Notice the text, “Who is my neighbor?” Right? So Jesus is gonna respond not who my neighbor is. But how do you love him? Okay? Just giving you a Luke context. So here’s the story. You know the story.
The story of the Good Samaritan is a story of two religious men. Like me, 501(c)(3) people paid to be good using language, wonderful calling, I’m not diminishing that. But they’re making their way down from Jerusalem to Jericho on the Wadi Qelt, amazing place. Jericho is from neolithic times. Madam Kenyon, British archeologists uncovered at 8,000 BC was a hub of economic activity. It connects the Arabian spice trade with the King’s Highway. It’s an amazing, this is why Rahab had such a, I don’t mean to be disrespectful. That’s such a great business. It was an economic center. People came from all over to Jericho. It was like Wall Street, okay? Economic hub per the spice straight way back.
So Jesus again immersed in the world of economics and business and life that was his major world understood Jericho. So these guys are coming down. Two guys are coming down, right? But it starts not just with the priest and Levite. It starts with a man. We don’t know who he is, but he’s most likely Jewish who is on his way to Jericho. Or at least the implication is he’s in there. There’s a section of Wadi Qelt that’s very conducive for robbery. But notice, Jesus sets the parable in the context of economic injustice.
A man is robbed, not just beaten. He’s robbed, killed, and left for dead or half dead, depending on your translation. This is important to Jesus because Jesus will do this other times in his, Bailey, I think the best cultural exegesis has done good work on this. But what happens here is you have the building of a double contrast, just like the prodigal son or sons, same framework. So you have this guy coming down to Jericho and he’s robbed and beaten and left dead by the road, half dead. The priest and Levite, the Jewish clergy come down and ignore him. They see him, but they ignore him. And there’s all kinds of purity reasons and rationalizations. But then this Samaritan comes on. Notice it’s a Samaritan. Samaritan, isn’t clergy. Samaritan, and we can’t be positive, but it’s strong that he’s most likely a business person. There’s lots of reasons why we think that as we build a story, but there’s two clergy, Jewish clergy, there’s a man beaten, left, robbed, beaten, left dead by the road, and there’s this Samaritan coming down to Jerusalem or to Jericho. And that’s the picture.
So the parable centers around a very unusual word. Its translated in English, compassion, was used four times. Luke will use it later in Luke 15. It’s a visceral, some long Greek word. So visceral feeling. But the father who sees his son come home, his prodigal younger son, when he sees his son has this visceral compassion. So unusual Greek word. So Luke will use it again to describe a familial love for someone. So what happens is this man, most likely Jewish, has been robbed, beaten, and left dead by the road. You still follow me? The two family members in the Jewish family that ignore him is contrasted with the Samaritan, right? And we know Luke gives us hint, they have nothing to do with the other, right? There’s all this bias and prejudice and hatred, sees this Jewish man who’s been robbed, beaten, and left dead by the road. He’s the one that has the fatherly love of Luke 15. He sees that image bear as a family member.
And Jesus is reframing neighborly love, a love not of those proximate, but those who are image bearers. He expands the human family. And he does it around this word that is only used of a brother or familial love. So what you have here is you have an amazing thing where this Samaritan has this kind of family love, this compassion. And what does he do? He gets off his mount, right? He gets off his mount, he renders first aid, which was part of what was required in his Samaritan Torah. And then, he does more, which is stunning. He puts him on his mount, he takes him to an inn. Let’s not forget the importance of the innkeeper doing a good business and providing a service in this story. Let’s not forget that. Where would have been without that business person doing a good business, okay? We missed that. Jesus understood that.
But he takes him to his inn and he basically gives him a credit card, says, I’ll cover everything when I come back. Now, the language is he’s on a business trip, he’s going to Jericho. He’s a business person. That’s the picture of it. And he’s caring for someone who is made in God’s image, who he treats as a family member. Okay. So in one sense, Jesus will ultimately point the Good Samaritan to himself. Correct. But in the context, what do we have here? We have an amazing contrast, a double contrast of both the compassion of God for someone and the lack of compassion, right and the hero who the hero is. But we also have a contrast between economic injustice and economic generosity because there’s an overflowing of this business Samaritan person’s generosity to a brother in need, a human brother in need, over the top.
And Jesus will say, ”I’ll ask the question, who’s the neighbor?” It’s not just location, it’s his love. It’s the one who did this and he uses a different word. It’s one who has mercy. Now, go do it. Go do it. Go do it. And here’s the point. If we understand what Jesus is teaching, we understand that neighbor love is more than just compassion. It is compassion. It is seeing the other as one of us, no matter what their skin, color, gender, whatever, right? As a human member of the family that requires compassion and love for a need that we meet, okay? But what we miss is that many times in the Christian context, we speak of compassion, but we don’t speak of capacity.
And here’s what I think we miss. The fruitfulness of neighborly love requires both. If we really love our neighbor, it’s more than just taking them soup when they’re sick, that’s a good thing, or mowing their lawn or whatever. But if we really love our neighbor, both local and global, then we are deeply invested in their well-being. And that means we not only have compassion for those in need, but we seek to have capacity to meet that need. So here’s the thesis. When we have compassion without capacity, we have human frustration because we were created to be generous. Isn’t that what Paul says when he quotes Jesus in Acts, ”It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” That’s very tangible money, economic value stuff. We were created to be generous in all dimensions, forgiveness, love, kindness, but also value that’s often monetized in an economy. It matters.
So we often talk about managing money well and we should. Praise God for Dave Ramsey and all that. This is really important to manage. But we don’t talk about how do you build capacity. And that capacity matters too not just managing what you have. So the good Samaritan could have never done what he did unless he had been faithful, fruitful in his work that was monetized in a first-century economy.
What I’m saying is compassion without capacity is frustration. When you bring compassionate or capacity without compassion, this is what you have in Luke 12, you have the rich fool, right? Someone who had great resources but was selfish and his whole life was around himself, alienated from God and his community himself. So when you have capacity about compassion, you have a human alienation. But when you have compassion and capacity together, Jesus is saying you have a great picture of neighborly love.
Now, let me just go to Paul really quick because the apostle Paul, Rabbi Paul, the Apostle Paul, because the Apostle Paul, I think, and again, this is just my own, this is not, you know, strong certitude. It’s a suggestion, but I think there’s something to it. His brilliant letter to the Ephesians capture so much of the implications of the gospel, right? From how we speak, relationships like who we are in Christ, and then how we live. The gospel profoundly transforms every nook and cranny of human existence.
So in Ephesians 4, you begin to see all these different dimensions of how the gospel changes life every day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And in 4:28, for example, I think the Apostle Paul is giving a Midrash or a commentary on this story. I won’t, you know, go to the mat for that, but there’s so much indications by his language that he is giving a Midrash a quick summary, an epistolic summary of Jesus teaching. So let me quote it to you and you can look at it, Ephesians 4:29, this is gospel implications to economic life. Okay. So Paul says, ”Let the thief no longer steal.” If you’re a gospel person, the gospel transforms you. It transforms your whole economic life. ”Let the thief no longer steal, but let him do honest work, laboring with his hands.” Notice how he emphasizes that. Notice the inferential conjunction, ”So that why he may be able to give to anyone in need.” That’s exactly what Jesus is teaching in the Good Samaritan, right? Compassion and capacity.
Our work matters fruitfulness within an economic world, whether it’s monetized or not, matters. So I just simply wanna say this is that in my context growing up, what would it have been like for me as a young boy getting on a bus? Okay. And for a single mom who is trying to survive, if our faith community who proclaim the gospel on Sunday really lived it on Monday. Imagine what had been like if my faith community understood and lived out the importance of Jesus’ words, “By this is my father glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be one of my disciples.”
What a difference it would have made in my life, my family’s life, our community’s life. Because my mom wasn’t the only under-resourced single mom. If we don’t understood Jesus teaching and the scripture teaching that to be faithful, we are to be fruitful if faithfulness matters. But fruitfulness matters. Fruitfulness of intimacy and Christ-like character, the fruitfulness of vocational productivity and that intimacy and productivity and Christ-like character give us that space and capacity to have the fruitfulness of neighborly love.
Fruitfulness matters. And I think I just wanna encourage you that often we have a very reductionistic idea of what it means, what Jesus had in mind biblically, theologically, canonically to be fruitful. So may we be fruitful apprentices of Jesus, gospel, people that allow the gospel to seep into every dimension of human existence, every societal structure, every system, all of that matters. It matters to Christ, it matters if we’re a gospel people and it matters we connect Sunday to Monday. May we be fruitful and may we be faithful in that fruitfulness.
Are there any comments or questions? I wanna introduce my colleague Matt Rustin and he’s gonna talk about what Made to Flourish, what we’re trying to do around the country. But are there any comments or questions that you’d like to just share? We can talk afterwards, but I wanted to give you an appetizer, some of the book work on the book and what we’re trying to do to help raise the importance of fruitfulness. Yes. Yeah. Can you just speak out loud? Thank you. Say your name and where you’re from.
Brian: I’m Brian from Thomasville, Georgia
Brian: Thank you so much for this thought. It’s fascinating to me because a lot of the stuff we’re doing in our church, in Thomasville, Georgia has a lot to do with. I was curious about if you had any examples possibly for how churches have done this, other churches have done this. One of the things we’re exploring right now is Bob Lupton’s model community, we’re innovating. I speak to you a little bit if there’s some other ideas that you could share with us.
Tom: Well, it’s a great question and I could speak to that, but maybe to share a couple of other things. Our Made of Flourish network, and again, you’re going to hear about this. We’re a pastor’s network for the common good across the country where three and a half years old. Matt’s gonna talk more about that, but we’re trying to help pastors and churches integrate faith work and economic wisdom for the flourishing of their congregations and communities. So we are in this space as an organization trying to help.
A couple of things I think are real important. And I’ll give you just a couple of things. Let me give you a story. Can you just give you a quick story? It’s just really a recent. I serve our remarkable congregation and we have five campuses in Kansas city and all five are led by great young preachers and I get to preach with one of them a half time. And after a recent message, we’ve been going through actually a series through Genesis. And I got the luck of the draw in some of the texts on the cultural mandate in Genesis 1 and 2. So I was, you know, really a happy camper to get into that Hebrew text.
But after I spoke, you know, again, part of it is preaching on it and living it in the language and celebrating it. We had, well, first of all, we had individual member of our congregation, she’s a nurse come up. A lot of churches around the country are doing a thing called This Time Tomorrow, which celebrates the priesthood of believers in vocation. And I’m just giving an example. It’s not maybe where you’re going with community development because we’re deeply committed to that, but it’s like on a Sunday, you know, when we connect, we call about connecting Sunday to Monday for a church from Monday, we really are bringing Monday back in the Sunday and celebrating the vocations and calling of our work, right?
So just to give a quick idea, my associate, great guy, Andrew Jones, wonderful preacher. After he preached his message, he brought up a young lady named Tyler. And she, again, she’s informed ahead of time. So we asked three questions. The clergy asked the questions of the parishioners. And she’s a nurse and so he brought her up, and just the whole congregational, these people out there, people love This Time Tomorrow. I mean, we have graphics. I mean, you know, sometimes people will snooze in a sermon. I hate to say that, or they’re distracted with a cell phone. I know it’s humbling, but it happens. But when we had This Time Tomorrow, everybody, I look around our whole congregation at that campus, everybody’s locked on.
And Tyler has asked three questions. We do this for stay-at-home moms or spouses. Sorry about that. Stay-at-home spouses, you know, blue collar workers, white collar workers, CEO’s, retirees, students, we do a wide range of Monday callings where they’re serving God. So real quick on Tyler example, because this is just like fresh at Christ Community. Okay. And we’re just one church. So Andrew sits on the stool. He just gonna preach a great message. Tyler comes up, she’s maybe 30 years old. She’s vibrant. And he asked her this first question. He introduces her to the whole congregation in the campus and he says, ”Tyler, so tell me or tell us where has God called you this time tomorrow?” We’re calling, right? Where’s God called you to be his follower and his witness? Right? And she talked a little bit about her work and everybody loves talking about their work, even if they’re introverts and shy, right? And she’s talking about her patients. It’s amazing.
And then secondly, it’s about five minute segment because just one thing I just love, that’s why I had to say it. He looks at her again after she finished, she says, ”Now, you know, we live in a fallen world. You know, around here we talked a lot about Genesis one and two and God’s designed, we’re all committed to this. But Genesis 3 there’s thorns and thistles. So tell me about the joys and the challenges of what God has called you.” So she heard briefly about the joy, which she loves and the hard part of being a follower of Jesus.
And then the third question is, how can we pray for you? And she talks about, she talked about, she works in a ward where people are waiting transplants. Can you imagine the emotion of death or new life? It’s a great metaphor of the gospel. And she talked about what it’s like being Christ’s hands to those families and those people facing that where one gets organ transplant and one doesn’t. I mean everybody was just like, and so she said, ”Would you pray for me that I could be that professional but also that presence of Christ?” And then Andrew says, I would like everybody here to stand who’s a part of the medical field, CEOs that run hospitals, nurses, custodial, whatever it is. And they stand. And then he has everybody stand and he commissioned…prays for her and commissions, everybody who’s in that field.
More and more churches around the country are doing this. It’s profoundly transformational for all involved. This is one example after I did a message and I’ll stop here, but after I did a message two weeks ago we were in Genesis, a lady wrote me an email, I’m just giving you the life. Because last week I also had a workplace visit with a CEO of a hospital, which we do it more and more, which is another whole piece. But this lady wrote me a note after the message on Genesis 2. It was a summer theme, and she and her husband run a company for cookies. Can you imagine how awesome gourmet cookies are? I’m not sure they’re always healthy, but you know what I’m saying. So I knew a little bit about it, but I didn’t know what she did. I didn’t know her well.
And she sends me a picture. She says, ”Tom, Pastor Tom, this message moved me to this moment.” She said and she has a, you know, she’s not a big corporation, just several employees. And she said on Monday morning she showed me a picture, on Monday morning, I painted this big sign. Thank God it’s Monday, yay Monday. And she said that allow me, because we talk a lot about if you are a follower of Christ, a gospel Christian, it should never be, “Thank God it’s Friday.” It should be, “Thank God it’s Monday.” So we’d do a lot of that language. But she said it was amazing to me. My employees, many are not Christians ask me questions and she’s beginning to reframe and it’s adding cultural value to her cookie company, but it’s opening doors to the Christian worldview of why Monday so important. And you don’t live for the weekend.
So I’m just giving you, this is just right hot off the press, recent things, but it’s profoundly transformational. It’s profoundly biblical, profoundly important and profoundly transformational and whole life discipleship. That’s really what it is.
Yeah. So maybe one more question and I’m gonna hand it to you Matt, or comment. Thank you. There’s many things this involves. I didn’t deal with justice issues or community development or job creation or innovation. All those things are, you know, important part of what we’re talking about. Anything else? Yeah, yeah. One more question yeah. Or comment. You can make a comment.
Joe: I have a question.
Tom: Yes. What’s your name and where are you from?
Joe: I’m Joe Rolling from Richmond, Virginia.
Tom: Okay, great. Joe.
Joe: What is it about American evangelicalism just in general that’s caused us to have a less than robust view of work?
Tom: Okay, great question. Everybody hear that? What in broader American evangelicalism, and I’m not the expert on that big statement, but what has contributed, is that a good word to sort of this anemic, impoverished theology? That doesn’t encompass every square inch. We’ll use Kuyperian language, right? I think that I get that right. I some of you would have more wisdom than me and maybe Matt, you wanna comment and then I think a couple, a couple of things. One, I’m giving you my tradition. Again, I am grateful for my tradition. I have the highest regard from my professors, my family. We were, that I haven’t been more of a Scandinavian pietistic tradition. And I’m not saying that in a pejorative way. We understood you gotta be born again. We understood the heart mattered. I mean, there were things that were really strongly emphasized that came out of a dead state church, right? We tend to correct over-correct.
But I would say for me it was a real strong pietistic stream that emphasize so much the future. Not the yet, not the now. But here’s my bias. Okay. You probably picked up on it. If I’m gonna have a conversation, I can go anywhere in the scriptures because this is such a major central threat, right? This is not exegesis. This is not tack on. This is at the heart of this whole deal, right? It’s not the only thing. It’s not a definite article, but it’s, you know, but I think for me and for many, I think a couple things, one, we have not done the work we need to do on exegesis and unpacking Torah in particular creation. Genesis 1 through 3. If we could in my own experience. And I, you know, I had a wonderful THM experience and I have great found friends.
I was just doing a conference in Dallas. We translated and we had great work in Hebrew and I’m grateful for that in Greek. I was a really strength of the seminary went through and we translated, you know, some poetry, Psalms, Ruth and Hebrew, but we didn’t do Genesis. And I think, you know, like Romans. I mean don’t miss Romans and Greek, right? I mean, or Ephesians. So I’m just saying, I think we need to, many of us have not done our homework on Genesis and for multiple reasons, its importance. And Abraham Heschel is a great Jewish rabbi, said one of the great dangers is the tendency for all of us. And if you are in pastoral work or you’re in teaching, this is a job hazard. Okay? It’s a job hazard of superficiality of the familiarity.
What happens is Heschel said is that the tendency for us is that we see what we know rather than know what we see and maintaining a humble epistemic, Holy Spirit-dependent engagement with the text in a fresh way is huge. Like if I go home, I have a short commute y’all to one of my offices. And if you were to ask me, it’s like two miles. If you asked me what did I see, I can tell you there’s a railroad track and maybe a couple of trees. There’s a lot more there, but I’m just so used to this layout. I don’t really see what’s there. So I think it’s more that I think we have just had some frameworks and some epistemic arrogance or certitude where it’s extinguished our intellectual and spiritual curiosity of the text.