Economics

AAGThe Economics of JesusAAB

By Robert D. Love

 Concerning Christian Economics…I doubt that there are very many people who will associate Christianity and economics in the same breath. However, I must hasten to point out that the two are simply as one, and cannot be separated. We have “moral laws” and “man-made laws.” Many times the two are entirely different, but, the man-made laws will have no wisdom or validity except to the extent they coincide with our moral laws as contained, for instance, in the Ten Commandments.

In my years as an American citizen, there has been a tremendous amount of talk concerning freedom. I think our generation has done a lot of talking about freedom, but it also seems to me that we have shown a great readiness to abandon it. This is especially true in the field of economics. Economic freedom is the nature of wealth and man’s right to it.

But, first things first. It is important to consider what Jesus thought about wealth, before we consider our economic freedom. Since Jesus was concerned with life, and since economics are involved in the whole of life, we should expect to find some economic guidelines in the teachings of Jesus. These expectations will not be disappointing.

First, we should talk about our motivations within this society of ours. I mean the motivations that cause you and me to want to serve our neighbors and other people voluntarily and regularly. The first reason for motivation in our moral code is found in the teachings of our Judeo-Christian religion. We believe it to be a moral duty to help our fellowman in need, regardless of whether or not he can pay for it. The other motivation that causes us to serve our fellow man, is the desire to get something in return from him. Some people say service motivated by charity and love is good, but motivation that is materialistic is bad. I do not believe that motivation for materialistic ends is bad in itself. The idea of serving others with no expectation of return is true charity, and a wonderful practice. I certainly wish there was more of it.

But, let’s face the facts. Only a few can devote their lives to service to others with no possibility of material return. If all of us tried it, the production of material goods and services would completely cease. There would not be anything to share with others. Ponder for a moment, if you will, the question a little boy asked his Sunday school teacher. “If the reason for our being on earth is to help others, what reason do the others have for being here?” It is true, we are here to help others, but it is also true that others are here to help us. We are here, also, to understand and love our Creator. This is a two-sided coin.

If you will consider Matthew 20:1–16, you will find the story of the laborer in the vineyard. This is the story of an employer who hired a series of laborers at different hours of the day, and at the end of the day paid them all alike. When those who had worked the longest complained that they had not been paid more than those who worked for only an hour, the employer answered, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own?” This parable has a meaning, but it clearly assumes that a man has a right to his property. It is not surprising for Jesus to have made this assumption, for it was the central idea in the Ten Commandments. Much of our so-called legislation today is in conflict with the teachings of Jesus on the question of property, for the simple reason that this kind of legislation is usually founded upon the assumption that a man’s property belongs to the community, and that the community has a right to determine how it should be used. Jesus had a far different idea, namely that all property belongs to God.

Karl Marx, over a hundred years ago, laid down a principle, “from each according to his ability—to each according to his need.” There is a principle of service in this idea; however, Karl Marx was an atheist, as you are all well aware. This idea runs contrary to human nature. It just will not persuade people voluntarily to provide many goods and services for each other. The high producers soon get tired of producing for other people who offer them little or nothing in return for their services. The low producers are promised a standard of living based on their needs instead of their efforts, and they tend to produce even less than they did before. Then, of course, the police force must be called in to whip up production all along the line. This is a modern form of slavery. Although it may produce an abundance for a few at the top, it does so at the expense of the great mass of people. Socialist and Communist critics say they do not condemn the profit motive as such, but merely the fact that the profit motive permits a few people to become wealthy.

It is strange to me that these same people oppose discrimination on a basis of race and creed, but turn right around and consider it right and desirable to discriminate on a basis of economic wealth. This is a double standard. It is also true that wealthy people do not carry their assets around with them in the form of cash in a shoe box, nor do they hide it under a mattress. Instead, their wealth is in the form of factories, research laboratories, and machines and other equipment that provide jobs and are used to produce and distribute the goods and services we have in such abundance. It might readily be said that profits are the rent paid by the consumer for the use of the tools in producing what he wants. It has always been amusing to me to ask these advocates of sharing the wealth how they would divide up a blast furnace, for instance. Or, who will become the boss?

Jesus had a more constructive thought about the nature of wealth, than the simple and overworked phrases of Communists, Socialists, and others, such as, “share the wealth”—“tax the rich.” This kind of legislation assumes that there is a fixed amount of wealth which must be more evenly distributed throughout the economy, if we are to have a just social order. Marx, the atheist, operates upon this principle and also suggests, of course, the steeply graduated income tax, which is responsible for much of our lack of growth to provide new jobs in this country today.  Jesus’ theory on the nature of wealth corresponds to classical economists. They are expounding about the nature of things, and therefore, things that are unchangeable. The classical economist taught that there are four ways to get property or wealth:

  1. It may be created by the sweat of one’s brow—or use of one’s talent.
  2. It may be traded for.
  3. Received as a gift.
  4. Taken by force.

In the simple days, when people were so naive as to believe the Ten Commandments, taking property by force was called stealing. In more recent times, however, we have been led to think that what may be wrong for the individual is right for the government. According to this philosophy, by majority rule the government can take property by force. The fact that the majority voted for it makes it not an act of theft, but an expression of social consciousness.

I am aware that some wealthy people have proven to be poor stewards of their resources. Even so, I imagine that laws against these people will not do a great deal of harm and absolutely no good. The old tried and true economic law as contained in the sentence, “a fool and his money are soon parted,” is true. If we attempt to hurry up the process of parting a fool from his money, we will just grease the slide for many of those in the general public who are on their way up.

Contained in one of our great Commandments left to us by Moses, is a simple statement, “Thou shalt not steal.” Let’s examine this in the light of our Christian philosophy of government today:  You and I think of stealing as being done by an unsavory character for an unmistakably selfish end. But if you will think with me for a minute, I believe we can eliminate the unsavory character and selfish end and still have stealing. Stealing means taking something of somebody else’s ownership. Therefore, if you will examine our tax picture as it is today in the roll of subsidies, tariffs, and other legalized government robbing, I think we can make quite a case against the legalized robbing of people by government.

First, let me ask the question, do you own what you earn? Do you own the fruits of your own labor? This is a big question, but it can simply be summed up in the struggle between freedom and slavery, which has now engulfed the world. The Socialist, Communist, and Totalitarian says, “No man owns the fruits of his own labor; society owns them, and it is the business of government to distribute them.” In the middle of this problem is the modern collectivist, or the middle-of- the-road man. “A middle-of-the-roader is one who gets in the way of the traffic going in both directions.” This middle of the roader says a man should be allowed to keep part of what he earns, the rest belongs to society to be collected and distributed by government. This is merely an evasion of the point. All through our Christian philosophy and our Bible, which are inseparable, man under divine or natural laws owns his own labor. This ownership is hinged simply on the fact that man has a God-given right to life, and the right to life is meaningless unless there is a right to sustain and protect that life. If a man is denied the right to keep what he earns and to retain the fruits of his labor, he loses control of the only means whereby he can sustain life.

No one who is serious about the teachings of Jesus, can be happy with this kind of socialistic teaching. Jesus did not believe in stealing. He also did not believe that wealth was static, or that it would always stay in the same place. If you study the parable of the ten pounds, you will see what I mean. Here, as you well know, Jesus told the story of a nobleman who gave his ten servants one pound each before he left for a far country. On his return, he called them to account, and all but one had invested and increased his pound. The servant who did not, had hoarded his in fear he might lose even that one pound, and his lack of enterprise was condemned. You will find this in Luke 19: 11–28.

Thus, from Jesus’ point of view, if a man has less wealth than another, he may get more—not by robbing the man who has more, but by creating more for himself. Why is it that in this country we do not recognize that each of us fits into this division-of-labor society, and the overall picture as to our share does not change by gang-pressure. Have you ever thought, instead of trying to get a bigger piece of the pie, why not help to make the whole pie bigger and, in turn, make your piece bigger?

The principle under which some of the pressure groups within our country operate today, is simply to take a bigger slice of the existing pie. They do not propose to do anything constructive which will increase the size of the pie. Increased investments in plants, machinery, and equipment — because of profits — come back to create more jobs. This is the way we will increase the size of the pie. The only limitation on wealth (in existence) is our lack of ingenuity to create it. In the parable I mentioned before, concerning the nobleman and his servants, the more the servants made on their investments, the more they were applauded.

There is no suggestion that there was anything immoral in their creation of wealth. Only fear, hoarding, and laziness were condemned. It is strange to me how these so-called social thinkers and enemies of the “individual” profess to love people and be concerned for their welfare, and in the same breath, say that the common man is too dumb to look out for himself. Therefore, the government must take the money that he earns and redistribute it however the government thinks is best, not the individual.

We all wonder why, at times, our children seem to have strange ideas concerning economic matters. We teach them the “golden rule,” and also that two and two are four—and that C-A-T spells cat. But why teach a child to earn a bicycle through service if he must live with adults who get their share by the ballot box appropriation of the property of others. Why teach a young man to be thrifty, if later he is to be taxed and punished for his savings. Also, if there are those who are swift and strong and can run ahead of some of us, why handicap them in adulthood by government regulation and graduated taxes—which are a penalty on their extra efforts. Do we really believe we can print money fast enough to spend ourselves rich?

Would you ever think of paying your child $1 an hour for shoveling the snow off the sidewalk, and $.50 an hour if it didn’t snow? Do you think he could understand how shoveling no snow can be worth half as much as shoveling the snow? Or maybe you have tried to explain to the youthful operator of a lemonade stand the profitability of dumping every second glass of lemonade down the drain instead of selling it, and then trying to collect the difference from those people who don’t want lemonade anyhow.

The point of this is that “Thou shalt not steal” applies to the government as well as to you and me as individuals. The government is you and me. We are allowing our government, through man-made laws, to steal from some and give to others, regardless of the purpose.

Man, of course, is a steward over his wealth, and he is obligated to use it to the glory of God. Each of us will have an account to render unto God when our time comes. Do not forget, we must render our account unto God—man is not first responsible to society as suggested by some of our left-wing organizations, because society can also become a despot. Our founding fathers were aware of the danger of a despotic majority, and they constructed a government of checks and balances, which would restrain majorities by a concept of justice.

You will remember the story of a man who came to Jesus and said, “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus, you will remember, rebuked the man, and refused to be an equalizer of wealth. He continued by warning the man and others against covetousness. Of course, Jesus had not heard about the “social gospel” as we are hearing it today, so His response to the challenge did not reveal an “enlightened social consciousness.” It certainly is odd that the covetousness that Jesus warned against so frequently has been turned into a virtue and is now called “enlightened social consciousness.”

Jesus followed His warning against covetousness with the parable of the rich fool, who built ever larger barns—only to die suddenly unprepared for eternity (Luke 12:13–21). To Jesus, wealth was a threat to the soul of the possessor, not a problem to be solved by social engineering. His focal point all through His short life on this earth was upon the individual, not the group. Jesus always started with the individual in His discussions. What He said had wide social consequences, but the individual was the beginning in all cases. The use of wealth by the individual was a problem for him to solve with his sense of stewardship to God.

Along with this, of course, we come upon the story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. After affirming he had lived according to the Ten Commandments, Jesus asked the man, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast and give it to the poor and follow me.” Note here, that the point of emphasis in this instance was not upon the welfare of the poor, but on the rich young ruler’s soul. He made a god of wealth, instead of worshiping the true God. Matthew 19:16–26.

I think we will all concede that Jesus was not, for the rich, nor, for the poor. He was for men as individuals. Most of all, He was for their spiritual development, and He commanded charity (not coercion) as a means to that development. This is why He said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33. He wanted us to have a warm personal faith in God. Seeking the fulfillment of our economic needs is not evil, but it must be secondary. When God is kept first, Jesus has promised that man’s economic needs will be met.

Historians have observed that the roots of our amazing economic development in Western civilization have been our deep seated religious convictions about God and especially the conviction that we are morally responsible individually to God! We should be free to make choices and to suffer the consequences. Consider for a moment, if you will, the Constitution of this great country. Men have struggled through the ages to relate the individual to his deity. Ours is the first constitution in the world not with the word “democracy,” but referral is made to the Creator. We talk of the Creator in our Constitution.  Nowhere in our Constitution will you find the word “democracy.” We have based our Constitution on a belief in God. Contrast this, if you will, with any other constitution in the world, including the great Magna Carta, which said that all rights, including property rights, were derived from a divine King. Our freedoms and our rights are derived from a belief in God. Ours is the only truly Christian constitution in the history of the world. We have woven deep into our country, a religious conviction, and it is the reason for our amazing development and growth.

We are trying to transplant economic know-how in lands all over the world. But these lands have not accepted our Christian know-why. When these countries, we are trying to help, can master the know-why of our country — which is our deep-seated religious conviction — then these countries can have some order without chaos. But when these countries master our know-how without the religion and belief in God attached to it, they are invariably becoming a Frankenstein of political despotism. All forms of socialism, communism, and social engineering put economic considerations first and spiritual considerations last. This invites disaster. Man is obligated, not by justice, but by compassion to give to those who are in need out of what is entirely his property. And those in need have no right, as such, to it.

The best known example of Jesus’ insistence upon charity and compassion is the parable of the good Samaritan. Luke 10:25–37. The emphasis on giving should be not to the recipient, but to the doer of the deed. Jesus emphasized that the motivation of those who gave was important. The spirit of compassion was more important to Jesus than the act of getting a wounded man taken care of on the Jericho Road. We have made the mistake of thinking that Christian acts are concerned only with the objective deed. Jesus was concerned with motivation of those who did good deeds.

If you have raised any money in the last several years, you have found people who laugh and sneer when you talk of big gifts made by wealthy men. They say simply to you, “Oh, it means nothing to them—it is tax deductible and they do not really care; it is to their advantage to give money away because of taxes.” I know some of these people, and the joy of giving for them is a real inspiration to me. We raise entirely too much money on a basis that it is tax deductible, and therefore, it is good to give. Nor can the money be raised on a basis of a formula. In other words, my share is so much. It must be done on a basis of the problem to be solved and the compassion involved. We have responsibilities to God. All that we have belongs to Him. We are only the stewards of it while on earth. The greatest treason in the world is to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. However, I am afraid that much of our social welfare legislation today provides us with examples of both the wrong thing and the wrong reasons.

Many people used to say that the Church ignored social implications in the teachings of Jesus. Then, for several years, they proceeded to demonstrate that Jesus was a Socialist. Now, I believe you will find many are taking a (deeper) second look at these teachings. They are finding that they do not imply socialism, but that the message is one of individual responsibility, freedom, and the right to private properties. Socialism makes a man responsible to his government and not to his God. The teachings of Jesus are relevant to the problems of life. If they are not, then Christianity is bankrupt. Christianity is not bankrupt, but socialism, communism, and all other social engineering schemes are bankrupt for new ideas. The teachings of Jesus are relevant and contain the truth that makes men free. Man is responsible to God beyond all other authorities. Why is it that our social engineers, Socialists and Communists, are ready to tax and spend something that never belonged to them in the first place?

To assume that any of us know more than God, is a sin, and disobedience cannot be forgiven by God by bargaining with Him through the liberal sacrifice of someone else’s goods. We operate entirely with the wrong kind of reasoning on some of these social engineering schemes. We see how unjust life is to the child who must eat peanut butter sandwiches instead of a hot lunch; something must be done about that. Then we notice the terrible inequity of the man who has to drive a Plymouth while another rides in a Cadillac. Obviously, life is unjust to these poor creatures, and we have injustice—we long to share somebody else’s wealth with them. This is the covetousness that Jesus talked about. We have measured our society in such mixed-up terms, that today every farmer, laborer, businessman, and child who needs anything, is looked upon as a victim of injustice if he doesn’t get it. We used to say a dollar’s reward for a dollar’s work but, of course, that’s old fashioned now. We have adopted the Karl Marx communist-atheist manifesto, which says, “from each as he is able—to each as he has need.”

Share-the-wealth plans are so popular that benefits go up every year. And, of course, followed to its logical conclusion, this means we will all be wards of the state one day. You do not believe this (?); yet, it has been the history of the world. If we in America reverse this trend, we will be the first nation ever to do so. We have been first with many other things, such as our Constitution and its design with God in the center. Why can we not be first, by accepting the rights of the individual and his responsibility to God?

Communism will not come over us as communism, but it will fasten itself upon us in the name of justice, because we have stopped thinking. Freedom demands thinking and deciding, not compromising and adjusting. Justice cannot be determined by the desires of people or the political expedience of political parties. The majority vote of a group does not mean justice, because justice is something inherent in God’s universe as He has created it. You cannot repeal the Ten Commandments by majority vote, any more than you can repeal the law of gravity—and making a thing legal does not make it right. We can misname justice with all kinds of terms, but unless it corresponds with God’s will, it means nothing. For every sin, someone must pay a penalty. For every miscarriage of justice, the innocent suffer with the guilty. And for every dollar you and I receive without earning, someone must earn a dollar without receiving it.

Justice, then, is obedience to God’s will. Do not forget that the force of God’s retribution will be exactly equal to man’s sin, and that we will not escape this retribution by hiding behind the fact that it was a social offense instead of a personal one. If liberty—which is religious and economic freedom—is to be saved, it will not be by doubters, men of science, or the materialists; it will be by religious convictions; by the faith of the individuals who believe that God wills men to be free.

*****

Article from Chalcedon.edu. Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. 10 No. 2.

This article by Robert D. Love was written March 22, 1959.