dave ainsworth
san francisco, CA

husband, father,
christian pastor,
human being

The Paradox of Thrift

In this week's Economist magazine, the Leaders include an article on the struggling economies of Japan and South Korea. Ironically, they're struggling because they have too much cash. Together they are sitting on $2.5 trillion dollars, which is a big problem. The authors explain:

The odd thing about prudence is that too much of it can be deadly. Timid drivers crawling along a motorway create more risk than they avoid. Children who are over-protected from germs end up with weaker immune systems. Economies are the same: too much saving can lead to a loss of vigor or, as Keynes put it, to a "paradox of thrift."

Maybe Jesus was a Keynesian.

"For the kingdom will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money..." (Matthew 25:14-18)

You know the rest. The master returns and rewards the servants who invested their money and punishes the servant who buried his money. In this parable, Jesus equates risk with faith while calling inaction sloth and wickedness.

The paradox of thrift applies to kingdom of God as much as it applies to the kingdoms of men. But how many of us plan our lives around self-preservation instead of obedience and kingdom-advancement? Are our churches losing their vigor because we're failing to spend what God has given us?

God has given the American church so much. We have a lot of money. We live in a country and culture that awards us lots of time, freedom, and mobility. We are highly educated and skilled, with an opportunity to get more if we need it. Most importantly, we've been given spiritual gifts uniquely suited to the Great Commission.

These resources are awesome, but only if we spend it. If we don't, we'll lose our vigor. Our churches will grow dull. And, if we don't make changes, eventually the Master will return and take away anything we have left.

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