Extended (Spiritual) Unemployment Benefits

“The Matthew Effect is social phenomenon often linked to the idea that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In essence, this refers to a common concept that those who already have status are often placed in situations where they gain more, and those that do not have status typically struggle to achieve more.”
 
Think about it this way, if you have money, it is easier to get money; if you don’t have much money, it is easy to lose what you do have. If you have money and status, you can invest it in a business that makes you more money. At bare minimum, you can deposit your money in a bank and collect interest on it.
 
I once explained to my nephew something that I wished I had learned at a younger age: “There are two types of people in the world, those who collect interest, and those who pay it.” Those who have money, can get more by collecting interest. Those without money, can lose what they do have by paying higher interest rates.
 
Interestingly, the name “The Matthew Effect” comes from the fact that Jesus used this principle as an example twice in the Gospel of Matthew (it is also recorded in Mark and Luke, but why split hairs).
 
However, Jesus is not discussing money. Instead, whenever Jesus states, “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them,” He is specifically referring to knowing and keeping His words, teachings, commands, and example as His disciple.
 
What will be given or taken away is the knowledge and understanding of Jesus’ words, teachings, commands, and example; and the ability to keep them.
 
Jesus is saying that the more we learn and keep His words, teachings, commands and example as His disciple, the easier it is to do so. Likewise, refusing to keep His teachings will result in losing what understanding of them that we did have.
 
Matthew recorded in 13:10-17 of his Gospel:
 
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
 
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:
 
“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
 
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
 
Here, Jesus directly ties the Matthew Effect to knowing and keeping His teachings. He is recorded doing the same in Mark 4:21-25:
 
He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”
 
“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
 
Jesus’ use of this principle is only logical given that a disciple in the first century was someone who imitated and obeyed their master by knowing and keeping his teachings. Thus, when Jesus commands His first disciples to go and make more disciples, He reiterates that they are to make them by teaching them to know and keep everything that He had commanded:
 
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, […] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
 
Thus, the Great Commission is about the disciples who have been given Jesus’ commands, using those commands to multiply more disciples who know and keep them. Understanding this principle is an important key to understanding The Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:11-27. At the end of the parable, Jesus once again stated:
 
“I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
 
Given that Jesus has previously used this statement to refer to understanding and keeping His words, teachings, commands, and example; it is only logical that Jesus is doing the same in this parable. Luke wrote:
 
While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’
 
Jesus is obviously referring to His ascension into heaven and the command He gives when He leaves to make more disciples who know and keep His commands (the Great Commission) with the expectation that He will return to hold His servants accountable for keeping that command.
 
Jesus’ use of the Matthew Effect in the statement at the end of this parable proves that the minas given by the master are Jesus’ words, teachings, commands, and example that He gave to His disciples with the expectation that they would multiply them by making more disciples who know and keep them (The Great Commission).
 
Notice also that Jesus stated that keeping the Great Commission would require “work.”
 
As a side note, Jesus also referred to unbelievers in this parable:
 
“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’ He was made king, however, and returned home.”
 
Jesus is King whether you want Him to be or not. Hold onto that thought for a little while. Meanwhile, back to the disciples…
 
“Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.
 
“The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’
 
“‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’
 
“The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’
 
“His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’
 
The first two disciples successfully take Jesus’ words, teachings, commands, and example and use them to multiply more disciples who know and keep them.
 
“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’
 
“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’
 
I work a full-time night shift job as a supervisor in a factory in order to support my family while we plant a church. My job is basically to make sure that what my boss said needed to be done while he is away for the night, is done by the time he comes back the next morning. He is actually a pretty nice guy, but he is also very adamant that what he asked to be done be done. This is because he knows that for our company to be successful and for us to be able to continue to employ people and pay them a good wage, we have to do just as good of a job on night shift when he is not there, as they do on day shift does when he is there.
 
The Great Commission is Jesus telling us exactly what He expects to be done while He is gone. Moreover, He has a very good reason for expecting it to be done.
 
The ultimate goal of the Great Commission is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed into the image of God that they were originally created to be. This re-conformity into the image of God is specifically accomplish by men being conformed into the image of Jesus through imitating and obeying Him as His disciple (by the supernatural enlightenment and empowerment of the Holy Spirit). As such, you can only imitate and obey someone if you know what they said and did. This the purpose and meaning of being a disciple of Jesus. This is why it is so important that we first know and keep His words, teachings, commands, and example; and why it is so important that we make more disciples that do the same. This is how God receives the glory that He is due.
 
Jesus further stated in the Parable of the Minas:
 
“Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’
 
“‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’
 
“He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
 
Those who commit to knowing and keeping Jesus’ words, teachings, commands, and example as His disciple will have their knowledge and ability to keep them supernaturally increased, and they will multiple other disciples who will do the same.
 
Those who neglect the words, teachings, commands, and example of Jesus, will lose what understanding and ability to keep them that they previously had. I have actually seen this happen in real life when supposed believers reject true discipleship of Jesus.
 
In the Matthew 25 version of this parable, Jesus also stated:
 
“And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
 
Jesus is more serious about us actually keeping the Great Commission than we often understand. But when you consider that it is through keeping the Great Commission that God receives the glory that He is due; Jesus’ seriousness is understandable.
 
Jesus finished the parable:
 
“’But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”
 
When speaking with unbelievers who still believe that they should be admitted into Paradise after death, I have begun to ask these questions, “Why would you even want to be let in? Don’t you understand that Paradise is where Jesus rules and reigns as King and everyone does exactly as He commands? That people doing exactly what He commands is what makes it Paradise? Why would you want to go there and obey Him as Lord and King if you never wanted to know and keep His words, teachings, commands, and example here? Furthermore, why would you think He would let you in if you have spent your entire life purposely avoiding knowing and keeping His commands?”
 
Back to being disciples of Jesus…
 
Where I live, older generations are very proud of their work ethic. My great-grandparents were subsistence farmers. If they didn’t grow or raise it, they didn’t eat it. They only bought the bare essentials that they could afford by selling what little surplus that they grew. My great-grandfather rented out my grandfather and his brother to neighbors to plow their fields with a mule for extra income.
 
My grandparent’s generation took that work ethic and applied it to furniture factories and hosiery mills in the post-WWII economic boom and made a very good living doing so. But even then, when they got off from the factory or mill every afternoon; they went home and farmed. Even while working full-time jobs, they still mostly ate what they grew and raised at home.
 
My parents inherited that work ethic and taught it to my siblings and myself. Part of this work ethic is not only to work hard; but to do the job set before you.
 
I’m going to say something about unemployment in minute; but I want to make sure that I don’t paint everyone who is unemployed in a negative light. In 2009, during the Great Recession, I lost my good paying factory job. My wife wasn’t working at the time, so we spent the next 18 months living off of my unemployment benefits and our savings. I didn’t want to lose my job and I didn’t want to live off of unemployment benefits; but I didn’t have a choice at the time. I would have much rather had my job back. So, I understand that not everyone on extended unemployment wants to be on extended unemployment.
 
When I did go back to work, I went back to work for the same company that laid me off, working as a contractor making less that two-thirds of what I was making when I was laid off; doing a less desirable job. It took every bit of the humility I could muster to walk into that building and do that job.
 
However, my parents had taught me to do the job that was set before me even if it wasn’t the job I wanted to be doing.
 
So, here’s my point…
 
I would argue that the vast majority of Evangelical Christians in America are living off of extended spiritual unemployment benefits because they are unwilling to do the job set before them; the Great Commission (being and making disciples of Jesus who know and keep His commands).
 
We brag about our work ethic, but yet we fail to apply that work ethic to keeping the Great Commission. We often work harder at hobbies, recreation, and extracurricular activities than we do the Great Commission.
 
The sheer irony is that many of the hard-working American Christians who are living off of extended spiritual unemployment benefits, are now the same people who are arguing that other people should have their unemployment benefits taken away.
 
But what if God took away all of the blessings and grace He has bestowed on them and demanded that they begin to do the job set before them (the Great Commission)? How would they react to that?
 
While I agree that people should work, and that the Bible teaches that people should work; Jesus said He was going to judge us by a different standard when He returned. He didn’t say that He would judge us on whether we had a good job and made money; He said He would judge us on whether we were disciples of Jesus who kept His commands and made more disciples who did the same:
 
“There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day” (John 12:48).
 
I know what you are thinking. Actually, you are probably thinking two things:
 
  1. Doesn’t the Bible say, “If a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat?”
  2. And, that sounds like salvation by works.

 

Let’s look at those. Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13:
 
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
 
We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
 
Notice first that Paul wrote that the Thessalonians were to “live according to the teaching that you received from us.” As a disciple of Jesus, Paul’s first concern is that the Thessalonians are living according to the teachings of Jesus that he taught them.
 
Then notice that Paul sets an example for them by “working night and day.” Paul most likely worked a full-time job and spent his free time teaching and making disciples of Jesus. His example was not just that he worked hard at a job, but that he also worked hard at keeping the Great Commission.
 
Paul then made his famous statement that a believer who refuses to work, should not be fed by other believers who are working. It is important to understand that the context here is believers. The most basic rule of exegesis is that a passage can only mean what it originally meant; we cannot add a second meaning. This passage was only about believers who refused to work. While you may hold the belief that an unbeliever who doesn’t work shouldn’t eat either, you cannot use this passage to support that opinion. If you do, you are twisting Scripture to make it say something that it did not originally say.
 
Paul continued:
 
We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
 
Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.
 
Again, yes, a believer should work “and earn the food they eat.” But they should also “never tire of doing what is good.” Having a job and making money is the bare minimum effort. However, in my culture and context, doing so is held up as the gold standard of being a good Christian. Being a disciple of Jesus goes far beyond simply having a job and making money. The disciple of Jesus has the additional task of keeping all of Jesus’ commands and teaching others to do the same.
 
“But doesn’t that sound like salvation by works?”
 
Matthew also wrote:
 
When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:36-38).
 
What did Jesus say was needed?
 
Workers.
 
However, being a disciple of Jesus can never be salvation by works for two reasons:
 
  1. In our fallenness, we are incapable of imitating and obeying Jesus. It is only through the supernatural enlightenment and empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we are able to do so.
  2. Even if we could do those deeds in our own power, there is still the matter of all the times that we have not kept them.
 
But having faith in Jesus must also include a willingness to imitate and obey Jesus as His disciple. We are saved by faith to do the good works of following Jesus as His disciple. Paul wrote:
 
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 4:8-10).
 
Paul continued on in this letter:
 
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
 
The job of church leadership is “to equip His people for works of service.”
 
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (Ephesians 4:11-16).
 
It would seem that Scripture expects disciples of Jesus to work at keeping His commands. But again, when we consider that the end goal is that men bring glory to God by being re-conformed into the image of God that they were originally created to be; and that this only occurs through being conformed into the image of Jesus (the perfect image of God) by imitating and obeying Him as His disciple; then it only makes sense that believers must do the work of being a disciple. Paul explicitly argued this as he continued in Ephesians:
 
You heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:21-24).
 
When Paul did write something about working a job in Ephesians, he gave a very specific reason for doing so:
 
Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need (Ephesians 4:21-28).
 
Not so that they could have nicer houses and cars, and take nicer vacations; but so that they could give away the money they earn to help others in need. This would include both believers who were unable to work, and unbelievers who were in need.
 
“But doesn’t someone refusing to work and sitting around collecting unemployment benefits prove that they might not be saved?”
 
Yes, it might. However, Scripture also says that those who claim to know Jesus, but refuse to do the work of imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple, prove that they are not saved as well:
 
We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:3-6).
 
What if American Evangelical Christians were as adamant about telling those who claim to be believers, but will not keep the Great Commission, that they are not really believers as they are about telling unemployment people that they should get up and get a job? How many people would we have to tell that they are probably not really believers?
 
So, are we going to do the work set before us? Or, are we going to sit around expecting to live off of extended spiritual unemployment benefits until Jesus gets back, expecting to get into His kingdom when we have refused to live like He was king and do the job He gave us to do?
 
However, I will make a couple concessions…
 
First, there are probably at least a few people who are currently on unemployment who were laid off from jobs that they hated and really don’t want to go back to that kind of job.
 
In the same way, there are believers who have attempted to do the work of being and making disciples of Jesus; but were in a church structure that prohibited them from doing so. And in many instances, the church instead had them working hard to maintain useless church structures and traditions. As a result, they are reluctant to go back and try to do the work of being and making disciples of Jesus again.
 
I understand. I spent the first 40 years of my life working hard to maintain useless church traditions and I was burned very badly by doing so.
 
But that doesn’t excuse me from doing what I now know needs to be done. It doesn’t excuse me from doing the job set before me.
 
Second, there were a lot of good people who were truly believers who came before us who didn’t do a good job of being and making disciples of Jesus because the church misled them and never taught them what it truly meant to be disciples of Jesus. As a result, they spent their lives building the wrong things (like I did until I was 40). Concerning people like them, Paul wrote:
 
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
 
Just because they didn’t know any better and will still slide into Paradise, doesn’t give us an excuse not to be and make disciples of Jesus.
 
In other words, just because my grandparents were “saved” without really understanding what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus and without really making disciples of Jesus; doesn’t give me an excuse to do the same.
 
I now know better and will be held to a higher standard.
 
And now you know better too. You no longer have an excuse not to do the work of imitating and obeying Jesus as His disciple and making more disciples who do the same.
 
Be honest, which are you more worried about, that unbelievers are living on extended unemployment benefits and are refusing to get up and get a job?
 
Or, that supposed believers are living off of extended spiritual unemployment benefits and are refusing to get up and do the job set before them, the Great Commission, being and making disciples of Jesus who know and keep His commands?
 
Which one do you think Jesus is more worried about?