A while back I held a class on the Canons of Dort. The group was made up of people from a variety of theological backgrounds, though everyone who came was interested in understanding the content and meaning of the Canons and the Reformed faith.
One evening our discussion turned to the subject of politics and economics. One person stated that “free-market capitalism is God’s economics in the Bible.” I found his statement curious, since the term “free-market capitalism” didn’t enter human vocabulary till nearly 1,600 years after the last page of the Bible was written.
So I asked the obvious question: “Where does the Bible teach that?”
The person who’d made the statement proceeded to point out several passages from the five books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy). As he then pressed on to the prophets, I stopped him to ask what he thought of the economics of the “Law of Jubilee” in Leviticus 25.
Leviticus 25 is one of those curious chapters in the Bible. It was obviously meant to encourage continued tribal identity among the people of Israel.
The Law of Jubilee guaranteed that every 50 years, no matter who owned or lived on a piece of property, the property would revert back to the original family it was first given to in the time of Joshua. The value of the property, if sold, was based on the number of years between Jubilees. In other words, the longer the time was to the next Jubilee, the more valuable the property; the less time, the less valuable.
The most interesting statement of the chapter is found in verses 23-24: “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine [God’s] and you are but aliens and my tenants [stewards]. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”
I pointed out to my class participant that this passage doesn’t sound like free-market capitalism as we know it today. Reluctantly he agreed it didn’t fit very well with his economic view of the Bible.
Jesus puts another interesting twist on the modern view of free-market capitalism. In Luke 6 he says: “If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be [children] of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (vv. 34-36).
Jesus’ words don’t exactly express free-market capitalism, yet they don’t exclude it either. The basic economic view of Jesus
(if that is an appropriate term to describe his thinking) is simply that we take care of each other—enemies and friends alike.
Compassion and empathy describe that kind of economic view—an economics of godly love, or the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
As Christians we understand that it’s our duty to view all economic and political systems through the prism of Christ and his teachings. No one form of government, political party, or economic system can ever perfectly fulfill the gospel of Jesus or the will of God. The best we can expect to see accomplished in government and politics is “as through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). Clarity will come only when “perfection comes” (13:10), which will be at the consummation of God’s kingdom.
In the meantime, in this present fallen world we must do the best we can according to the gospel’s teaching: we must be a light, the city on a hill, and the salt of the earth, influencing the world around us with the gospel of Christ (Matt. 5:13-14).
If there is any one place Jesus does lay out his basic economic philosophy, it has to be in Matthew 6:19-21. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Sounds like good economic advice to me.
- What is the basic economic view that guides your life?
- What do you think of Braun’s definition of the economic view of Jesus: “we take care of each other—enemies and friends alike”?
- What are some ways that you can exercise compassion and empathy in this difficult financial time?
- What is your greatest earthly treasure?
- How does this reflect how you live your life?