Why Christians Care About Economics
How we make our money is just as important as how we spend it.
Economic activity is one of the most common and basic forms of human interaction and the Bible has much to say about it. However, it takes time to understand the complexities of our modern economy so that we can better apply God’s principles to our everyday activity. Here are five reasons your effort will be worthwhile.
1) Good stewardship includes taking care of the economy.
Everything is God’s (Psalm 24:1). We are given the privilege of being stewards of God’s creation. (Genesis 1:26–28). But good stewardship involves more than charitable giving, wise spending, and performing our jobs with integrity.
Good stewardship includes taking care of the economy. In Israel, people provided for their families utilizing land, capital (tools and animals), and their own labor. Prohibitions against theft, laziness, and moving boundary markers were designed to maintain everyone’s ability to steward his allotted piece of God’s creation.
In today’s complex economy, protecting each person’s ability to steward from the evil schemes of others is no less important. In an agricultural society you literally reap what you sow. But in our economy, most people entrust their money to a local bank, the government, or a financial institution. The problem is, as attested by events leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, they may invest your money in dishonest ways that enrich some while bankrupting others. You might become a victim or unwittingly victimize others.
How we make our money is important because, if we gain wealth at the expense of others rather than produce wealth, we take what God has given to others to steward and thus deprive them of that opportunity.
A better understanding of economics will help Christians identify, oppose, and refrain from participating in investment vehicles that simply transfer wealth rather than produce it.
2) God expects us to defend the defenseless and deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
The Bible often describes the wicked in terms of economic interaction. The wicked have no concern for the poor (Proverbs 29:7), use dishonest and deceptive means to gain wealth (Micah 6:10–12), and are free to oppress the poor when society honors their vile practices (Psalm 12:5–8).
Psalm 82:2–4 neatly sums up our responsibility to defend the poor, orphans, and the oppressed from the wicked. We can only maintain their rights and rescue them when we stop defending laws and systems that show partiality to the wicked.
Understanding economics helps us uncover wicked practices in an economy that is, by design, complex and non-transparent. Further motivation to study economics comes from knowing God’s heart to defend the poor and his determination to judge their oppressors (Isaiah 3:13–14).
3) We want our government to restrain evil, not enable it.
We know stealing and lying are wrong, but in our economy there are legal ways to get something for nothing and deceive others on a grand scale. Economists refer to one such practice as “rent seeking” which has been popularly described as an effort to grab a bigger slice of the economic pie rather than make the pie bigger. One familiar form of rent seeking is lobbying to gain an unfair advantage. Those with more money have more opportunity to obtain rents from the government. Thus these transfers of wealth tend to be from the majority of taxpayers to the rich, though sometimes, economic equals compete for rents.
Also, when government fails to properly restrain evil in financial markets, wealth is transferred by deceptive or fraudulent practices simply because people can do so without consequences. Quite the contrary, they often can expect the government to bail them out.
Legalized theft is not a new problem. Consider this from the Heidelberg Catechism (1563):
Question 110. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment? Answer. Not only such theft and robbery as are punished by the magistrate; but God views as theft all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we seek to draw to ourselves our neighbor’s goods, whether by force or with show of right, such as unjust weights, ells, measures, wares, coins, usury, or any means forbidden of God; so moreover all covetousness, and all useless waste of His gifts. (emphasis mine)
4) We want to leave an inheritance to the next generation, not debt and a ruined economy.
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children (Proverbs 13:22). One can argue, considering other passages that condemn the accumulation of wealth for selfish purposes (Luke 12:16–21) or for security (Job 31:24; Psalm 52:7), that the biblical emphasis is on preserving the ability of the next generation to steward resources. In economic terms, this means stewarding present resources in a manner that leaves the next generation unburdened by debt and in a position to work productively.
5) We need to keep ourselves unstained by the world economy.
Any economic system devised by sinful humanity will often be opposed to biblical values. Our economic system encourages covetousness and scoffs at contentment. It rewards debtors and punishes savers. It implements immoral wealth transfers. It enables one generation to live beyond its means and pass the bill to the next.
We must not be deceived into thinking that conservatism or liberalism has the answers. God has given us the answers in the Bible. Our first priority is to learn what the Bible says about money, but an understanding of economics helps Christians test economic practices and the words of economists, bankers, business leaders, and politicians against biblical truth.
God, the “Father of the fatherless and the protector of widows” (Psalm 68:5), views our religion as pure and undefiled when we look after them in their distress (James 1:27). To rescue the needy or to be a Good Samaritan or oppose oppressors will always cost us something. Whatever cost, inconvenience, or trial we encounter because we choose to live by biblical economic principles cannot compare to the immeasurable joy that belongs to us who, because we are followers of Jesus, steward our time and money wisely (Matthew 25:22–23).
(This article first appeared at desiringGod.org.)