Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Christian and Economics

What does the Bible say about economics? Should Christians be capitalists, socialists, or something else? Now this may seem like an abstract intellectual question, but it is a practical question that affects our attitude about and use of money. There are two basic principles that are involved in this issue. The Bible teaches a work ethic and business ethic. It says we should be willing to work for a living and be diligent in the work we are given to do (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Proverbs 6:6-11; Colossians 3:23,24). But those in business need to be concerned about how they treat their customers and their employees (Amos 8:4,5; Proverbs 11:1; James 5:1-6, Deuteronomy 24:14,15 ). Now these are principles; I do not think we can absolutely define what constitutes a just wage or a just price from the price of salt or some other commodity. But I also do not think we are allowed to all follow our greed and somehow this will come out right in the end (1 Timothy 6:9,10; Colossians 3:5; Matthew 6:19-24). The issue is not one of greed but of justice. The person who puts in a good day's work deserves to be paid. The person who provides a useful commodity or service deserves to be paid for it. The idea of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" sounds noble, but it cuts through the just connection between effort and reward.

But there is another principle: that we are to help the poor and helpless and those in need (Proverbs 19:17; Luke 14:12-14; Galatians 2:10). This in many ways balances out the first principle; it is mercy to the first one's justice. Now nowhere do we get the idea that if a person is in need, it is necessarily their own fault (John 9:1-4; Job 1,2; Isaiah 53:4-6). And even if they are to blame for their situation, God calls for mercy to those who do not deserve it (Matthew 5:43-48; 9:10-13; Luke 19:10). There is a careful balance here with the first principle, but there must be a balance. Now there is a place for some government provisions to help those in need (Exodus 22:25-27; Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 15:7-14) or at least guarantee they will be treated fairly (Exodus 23:6-8; Leviticus 19:15; Proverbs 14:31). But the main source of help should be from those who give (Psalms 41:1; 1 John 3:17; James 2:15,16). Further, this is to be done willingly and not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:5-7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; Acts 5:4).

It is easy to try to palm off all the economic issues on government. But it makes a difference if we live and handle money based on justice and mercy or whether we approach it based on greed. This is true whether we are wealthy business people or poor people who are looking to redistribute the wealth of others. Living based purely on self-centeredness is wrong and results in problems, whatever society does.


  1. I like what you have to say Mike!

    Unfortunately the religious and governmental systems in our country seem to trump our desires that religious communities (and not the govt) should care for the poor. The church gave away that responsibility many years ago and I honestly do not see a concerted effort by churches to get it back.

  2. I am forced to agree with that. Also I am wondering in our current weak and divided state how well we could meet the challenge if we were willing. I consider this a shame because I really do not think a ofttimes impersonal bureaucracy is the the best agent to help people in need. I do not see any hope of changing this any time soon, but I think it is helpful to understand that the current state of affairs is not the ideal one.

  3. I do remind my self occasionally that I am not bound by the forces in our country and I can help the poor any time I want. :)