BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES FOR SURVIVAL DURING
THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN


Singapore is in a real recession. At first it was announced as a “technical recession,” and many did not take notice, and neither were any of us affected. But soon there was a lot of talk about the technicality of the definition. And all too soon, even before any knows what it really means, the reality of the recession began to be felt by many of us. Long working hours became a norm for many of us; and travel overseas for this and that business becomes a necessity. Our family lives and spiritual lives are affected. Many are prevented from attendance at the means of grace, especially our weekday prayer meetings. Some of us who were,—in better times,—able to insist on the priority of family and church, when asked to work overtime, or to go on overseas trips, now find it imprudent and too ‘risky’ to insist on anything. We have our families to feed, and we are never called to be rash and unreasonable in our decision-making. Whereas, once, it would have been easy enough to find another job if the present one requires too much sacrifices on our time; today, the option is no longer “viable.” Whereas, once, many Christian mothers, who had compelling reasons for working outside, were ready to turn homemakers as soon as the obstacles be removed; today, the thought of giving up the career is far from the mind for most.


The situation that confronts us today is a stark reminder to us that the cares of the world will, in many ways, affect our lives, including our walk with God. The Lord Jesus warns us of the potency this influence in His Parable of the Sower and the Soils when He says: “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Mt 13:22).


No doubt, the Lord is referring to false professors of faith. These will manifest unfruitfulness even under the normal cares of the world coupled with the deceitfulness of riches. But the fact remains that, since the care of the world may occasion the manifestation of unregeneracy, it will also give rise to occasion of temptations for the saints, and may be used of Satan to sift us as wheat (Lk 22:31).


To this end, I would recommend five biblical principles for our consideration and meditation as remedies against spiritual declension that may arise out of the cares resulting from the present economic downturn.


Principle #1:
Work Not to Amass Wealth


The first thing that we ought to be reminded of as we contemplate on how to walk circumspectly in this time of economic recession is that work is ordained of God and should be used only for the purpose appointed by Him. What are the purposes of work?


Firstly, it is for the maintenance of the society and the living environment of man in this life. Even before the Fall, Adam was appointed by God to dress and keep the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:15). We may infer, by extension and experience, that without work, it would be impossible for man to live orderly in the society. For this reason, every one of us is given a calling. Adam was called to be a gardener. His sons, Abel and Cain, were shepherd and farmer respectively. The Lord Jesus served as a carpenter with his adoptive father, until He begun his public ministry. The Apostle Paul was called to be a tentmaker and a missionary.


Secondly, it is to provide man with a means of livelihood in any society more complex than life in the Garden of Eden, when man could have lived off the land. The Apostle Paul reminds us: “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thes 3:10). Elsewhere he says: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph 4:28). Naturally, this means that work also provide for the needs of him who works.


Conversely, we must remember that work is not ordained for the purpose of amassing wealth. It is not wrong to be rich if the Lord should bless. But we must remember the warning of the Apostle Paul:

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows (1 Tim 6:8–10).


A Christian who bears this principle carefully in mind would not become overtly distraught should it be necessary for a short period of time to have to live on savings accumulated over the years. What is the purpose of savings but so as to provide in the time when we have insufficient to live comfortably (cf. Prov 6:6–8).


Principle #2:
Manage Your Wealth Wisely


Although work is not for the purpose of amassing wealth, it is not wrong to manage wisely the wealth that God may, by His providence, bestow upon us. The fact that God approves of our managing our wealth can be seen in many parts of Scripture. In the Lord’s Parable of the Talents, the two- and five-talent slaves were commended for their using their master’s money wisely so as to make more talents, whereas the one-talent man was condemned for hiding the talent and returning it to his master without any profit. Note carefully the master’s words of condemnation:

Thou wicked and slothful servant,… Thou oughtest… to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury (Mt 25:26–27).


Of course, this is a parable that is designed to teach concerning fruitfulness in the Kingdom of God, rather than on the management of funds (although it is true that we ought to consider ourselves as trustees of the Lord’s money as the slaves were trustees of the master’s money). But we may see from the parable, the Lord’s tacit approval for managing well the wealth that God assigns to us. So too in the book of Proverbs, we see the virtuous woman managing well the extra funds that she has by buying and cultivating a field (Prov 31:16). In fact, it is instructive to note that the Westminster divines actually considered that the Eighth Commandment requires “the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others” (WSC 74).


It is therefore no sin for the Christian to invest his savings in some ways so as to further his outward estate, so that when times are bad, he and his family may have something to fall back on. In the same way, I do not think that it is wrong for Christians to buy insurance policies, or to invest in, say, an apartment, although he has to pay for it by instalments over a number of years. Neither do I think it is wrong for a Christian in Singapore, for example, to sell his present house and buy another, which he would pay by his monthly CPF contributions, in order to re-order his outward estate as part of the management of his wealth.


Naturally, in saying that it is not wrong for a Christian to manage his wealth, we must bear in mind that wealth management must not be done out of covetousness. “The love of money is the root of all evil,” says the Apostle Paul (1 Tim 6:10), whereas “godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim 6:6). In a similar vein, our Shorter Catechism wisely notes that the Tenth Commandment requires “full contentment with our own condition” (WSC 80).


Let me put it this way: investments for the sake of savings and prudential wealth management are legitimate for the Christian; but speculative investments, which are entered in despite high risks only because there is the possibility of great gain, should not be engaged by believers. In the same way, drastic re-ordering of our outward estate should only be carried out when the motivating factor is not avariciousness, and when there is little risk of jumping, as it were, from the frying pan into the fire.


Note that we provide this principle not for the purpose of financial advice to anyone, but merely to correct the common misconception that investment and wealth management is wrong and that Christians may only legitimately earn a living by regular employments. During these times of recession, some of us may have to think carefully and seek advice from godly and experienced brethren about the management of our outward estate so that we be not caught in situations of dire want that may affect our Christian walk in some ways.


Principle #3:
Be Slow to Compromise


As we indicated in our introduction, during such times of economic depression, many of us will tend to be quick to excuse ourselves for compromises. Most of us would by now know that the Christian must give priority to his family over his career (see PCC Bulletin, vol. 2, no. 5, dated 29 July 2001). However, many of us will be tempted at this time to compromise the principle and be quick to excuse ourselves as to the rightness of our compromises.


Well, I do not think that all compromises are wrong. There is a place, I believe, for purposeful and compelling compromises even in the Christian life. I believe that all compromises are sin against God. But the need and legitimacy of compromise often arise when sticking to our principles may result in a worst sin against God. Thus the Pilgrim Fathers compromised the Eighth Commandment when they stole (or perhaps we should say: borrow from) the native Indian’s cache of corn in order to fulfil the demand of the Sixth Commandment, to preserve life through the harsh winter.


Now, at such difficult times, especially, it is necessary for believers to be as charitable to one another: to deal with ourselves with greater strictness while dealing with others with gracious laxity and charity. Thus we should not be quick to judge when someone is absent frequently at the means of grace. We should rather be concerned and to pray for the brother. However, each of us should be reminded that toleration without purpose embraces that which is tolerated so that whenever we are tempted to compromise on anything, in whatever circumstances, we will think very carefully and prayerfully before giving in.


Your employer may, during this period of economic recession, require you to work much longer hours every day because he cannot afford to employ another worker. Should you compromise when you know that your family life would be adversely affected and you would be neglecting your duty to instruct your children and to bring them up in the fear and nurture of the Lord? Or, your employer may require you to work every Lord’s Day because that is the day that most customers will patronise the shop you work in. You will lose your job if you do not compromise, and because of your specialised training it will be difficult to look for another job. Will you compromise? Or, your employer may require you to be posted to an overseas branch, with the implicit threat that if you do not go, you would be asked to leave the company. You know that there is no sound church to worship in where you are being sent to, or you know that your family would be separated because your wife is unable to travel because of some illness. Should you compromise?


Beloved, think very carefully if you are tempted to make compromises like these. Do not be swayed to make a quick decision to compromise simply because we fear losing favour with our employers in this present economic circumstance. There is, of course, a difference between “have to” and “want to.” But remember that whatever the situation may be, all compromises are sin, and unless we are convinced that if we do not compromise, we would commit a greater sin, we should refrain from compromising, and rather learn to trust the Lord for His provision.


But should you be convinced that you need to compromise, I would urge that you set clear limits in terms of how long and how much to compromise. As children of God, we must never allow our Christian life to be dictated by situations and circumstances in our lives. We should rather prayerfully seek to obey the Lord in all circumstances. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil 4:13).


Principle #4:
Worry Not About Tomorrow


Lost of job has already become a reality for some of us, and job-lost looms over the heads of more than a few of us. Tough times are ahead for many of us. And so many of us are apprehensive of what the future holds. But do we really need to worry?


Thanks be to God, we do not need to worry! The Lord Jesus Christ, after reminding us that God knows all our material needs even before we ask (Mt 6:25–32), exhorts us:

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (Mt 6:33–34).


Notice how this command of the Lord is also an exhortation against compromise, for here we are taught to give great priority to the cultivation of obedience to God and of godly righteousness. As children of God, we ought always to make our decisions with faith in the Lord that He will bring all things to pass for the good of them that fear and love Him (cf. Rom 8:28). But a corollary to that trust is that we should not therefore worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow is in the hands of our sovereign God. We must never worry nor boast about tomorrow (Jas 4:13–16). To worry is to distrust God; to boast would be to deny His sovereign prerogative.


Rather than worrying or boasting, we should cast our anxieties upon the Lord because He cares for us (1 Pet 5:7). What this means in practice is that we should refrain from making any panic decisions. Rather, as tomorrow is in God’s hand, and He has chosen not to reveal to us about tomorrow, we should make all decisions based on what God has already revealed by His Word and by His providence rather than worry about the consequences of obedience. Remember Deuteronomy 29:29! Listen to the wise counsel of Solomon:

Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil (Prov 3:5–7).


When times are difficult, let us call to mind again all the promises of God concerning His love, care and providence; and let us especially remember all such exhortations of the Scriptures to trust and obey the Lord, that we be not tempted to act in the flesh and so to sin against God.


And let us take comfort that the Lord cares. He not only cares but understands all the trials we are going through. He was tempted at all points like as we are and yet without sin (Heb 4:15); and He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God interceding on our behalf as our Advocate and Great High Priest (Heb 2:17–18; 7:25; 1 Jn 2:1), even as Satan seeks to sift us as wheat.


Let us therefore confidently resort to Him and “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). “The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry” (Ps 34:15).


Principle #5:
Bear One Another’s Burdens


In every economic situation affecting the general populace of a nation, not everyone will be affected severely. The same is the case with the members of the church. Not everyone of us would be affected. As such, it would behove the church, corporately and individually, to help those members who are particularly in need: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil 2:4).


This means that, as a church, we should be constant in prayer for our brethren in need. When one member in the church suffers, all the rest of the members in the church should suffer along with him and her, grieving and praying together (cf. 1 Cor 12:26). But that should not be all. The Apostle John teaches us that we must love not just in word, but in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:18). And not only so, but the Apostle Paul actually teaches us to share with one another materially, for he says: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph 4:28). It is a mark of a true believer that He not only respects the property of other, but cares enough about others to share his wealth with those in need.


The Diaconate of the church should always be on a look out for members of the church who may need material helps, and be quick and generous in rendering helps. But as individual members of the church, each of us must also be quick to sense the needs of our brethren and to attempt to alleviate their difficulties as much as we can. I believe that the church would have veered away from the apostolic ideal if the needy members of the church are driven by poverty to seek financial help elsewhere while the rest of the assembly are enjoying relative wealth.


Of course, for the church to exercise love and help one to another will require a certain level of love and trust between members so that those who are in need for any reason does not feel embarrassed to share their need with fellow brethren or with the Diaconate of the church. Yes, it is proper that one’s own family and relatives should be first to know and to provide (1 Tim 5:8), but we must not forget that the Apostle Paul speaks of this responsibility to help only in the case of believing relatives. How else could the phrase “he hath denied the faith, and is worst than an infidel” (1 Tim 5:8b) be interpreted? I believe that where one’s family is yet in unbelief, there is a sense in which the church, as a family, would have the primary responsibility to provide help, care and comfort. Let us therefore not feel shy or embarrassed to share our needs one with another. A burden shared with another is halved. A burden shared with the church can be translated to joy as the church experiences the joy of giving and of loving one another as the disciples of Christ.


Conclusion


The “care of this world” is never so acute for many of us, as during such a time as this. As believers, then, we must be especially concerned to walk circumspectly as well as to uphold one another in prayer and encouragement until the present difficulties blow over. May the Lord grant that the present crisis turn out for the good of each one of us individually and as a church corporately, as we seek to apply the biblical principles outlined above.


J.J. Lim