Sunday, August 23, 2009

Economic Justice

What responsibility do Christians have to the poor and starving of the world. At first this seems like a simple question--until politics and economics get in the way. The world is full of political programs designed to help the poor. But the question comes, do these really help the poor, and if not what really does. It doesn't help that many who proclaim most loudly they are on the side of the poor are the people evangelical Christian feel strongly they need to oppose on other grounds. What does the Bible teach on this subject.

There are many Scriptures that affirm that God is the advocate of the poor and the afflicted (Psalms 113:7; Isaiah 11:4; Jeremiah 20:13). He is opposed to those who oppress them (Zechariah 7:10; Luke 20:47; James 2:1-6). He also demands they be assisted (Proverbs 19:17;Isaiah 58:7; James 2:15,16). We are also admonished not to make the pursuit of riches our chief occupation (1 Timothy 6:9-10; Matthew 6:19-24; 19:23,24). But this is only half the story.

We are also told to have a work ethic and a business ethic. We are admonished to work for a living and to do that work diligently (Proverbs 6:6-11; Ephesians 4:28), even to the point that we are told that those who deliberately will not work should not be fed (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). But one of the harshest rebukes in the New Testament is addressed to those who, among other things, do not pay their workers (James 5:1-6; see also Deuteronomy 24:15). We are also to preserve honesty in our business dealings (Leviticus 19:35,36; Amos 8:5; Matthew 23:16-22.

The picture here is of a just wage for a just day's work and a just product for a just price. Not that these can be precisely defined, but they are the ideal. (Nor do I see greed as being the appropriate motivation in our economic dealings--greed is not a Christian virtue.) It is a matter of justice that those who can should be expected to work for a living and that they should be rewarded accordingly. Nonetheless, this does not negate God's demand that we help those in need. But our goal should be to help them, if possible, to a place where they can work for a living. Does this mean we should not help those whose need is their own fault. No, God helped us when, due to our own fault, we were lost in sin. But I do not think we should encourage or enable those who spurn God's commandments in this area. This is often a thin line, and I believe it is always better to err on the side of mercy. But in being merciful, we should not forget the ideal. Also, while the government may curb gross abuses, the solution does not lie with it, but with the right moral attitudes and actions. The primary answer is not in laws but in our own hearts.

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