Take care, and be on guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.Luke 12:15
Proclaiming good news to the poor was at the very heart of Jesus’s mission (Lk. 4:18-19; 6:20-25). Jesus continually encouraged his disciples to be ready to give up their earthly possessions (Lk. 6:30). Jesus himself did not place confidence in his earthly possessions (Lk. 9:58, 62; 10:4). Jesus clearly warned that we cannot serve both God and money (Lk.16:13) and that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Lk. 18:24-25).
It’s easy to see why some might dismiss the study of economics as too worldly for a Christian, especially if they read the Bible selectively. However, one should not conclude from Jesus’s teachings that God is an anti-material ascetic. After all, God is the one who created the material world, and he is the one who called it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It’s hard to see how we can conclude that thinking about material goods is inherently wrong when material goods are created by God.
The Bible itself is full of teachings about material goods. In Genesis 2, for example, before the fall, Adam was instructed to “work” and “keep” the garden of Eden. That means that Adam had to think about how to care for material goods. In Proverbs 6:6-11, the writer instructs us to learn from the example of an ant as it was working to make material provision for itself in the winter by gathering food in the summer. Later in Proverbs 12:11, inspired scripture affirms that material sustenance is produced by work.
The law of Moses is filled with teachings about justice for the poor (Deut. 24:5-22), how to manage earthly goods (Deut. 25:1-5), the importance of using honest weights and measures (Deut. 25:15-18) and tithing (Deut. 26),. The book of Deuteronomy concludes by promising a list of physical, material blessings if Israel is obedient (Deut. 28:1-14) , and a list of material warnings if Israel is disobedient (Deut. 28:15-18). These verses sufficiently demonstrate that God is concerned with all of our existence, including the management of material goods.
Jesus teaches us not to be anxious about physical possessions (Mt. 6:25), but rather to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, then all these things will be added to you (Mt. 6:33). Notice that Jesus does not teach that things are worthless. Rather he teaches that we should not be anxious about material needs, but rather should trust that God will provide for us as we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Christians should not be ignorant about material goods, but as they think about material goods, they must remain committed to seeking first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.
What is Economics?
Contrary to popular misconceptions about the term, “economics” is not the study of money, resource allocation, or supply and demand charts. Yes, one of the most popular and practical uses of economics is to be able to explain prices – which are quoted in units of money – of various goods and services that are being sold in the marketplace. But economics is not the study of money per se.
Economics is really about solving one of the greatest problems faced by mankind, that is, the problem introduced in the first few chapters of Genesis. The first command that God gives man in the Bible is found in Genesis 1.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”Genesis 1:28
God wanted mankind to rule over and subdue creation. That is, they were to take creation from it’s wild, unsubdued state, and tame it into a state that suits our needs and glorifies God. However, with the fall of man as recorded in Genesis 3, this mission became much more difficult.
Cursed is the ground because of you;Genesis 3:17-19
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
thorns and thistles is shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
This leaves us with one of mankind’s greatest problems. How do we have dominion over this world’s scarce goods without starving to death, killing one another, or both? Learning to think economically help us greatly as we attempt to answer this question.
Economics can be defined as the study of human choices and actions. This includes the study of why businesses are run in a particular way, why the stock market goes up and down, and how oppressive government policies can hurt the poor. But economics also studies cases of simple human interactions, where two people may choose to exchange goods or services directly with each other without using money at all (that is, “barter”).
There are indications in Scripture that humans were designed to interact with one another from the beginning. In creation, God said “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). From the very beginning the Bible indicates that Adam would have to have someone to help him in fulfilling his mission. This general principle is affirmed in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.Ecclesiastes 4:9
The church itself is founded upon the principle of people working together. Christians are commanded to assemble together, and encourage one another (Heb. 10:25). In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul teaches about the church being made up of many different people with different gifts and qualities that are all designed to function together.
There are two basic ways for humans to divide up material possessions among themselves. One is by theft and violence. That is, if you have something I want, I could just take it. The other is by voluntary cooperation. That is, you may choose to gift me what I want, or we could voluntarily agree to exchange goods or services.
Not only does the study of economics verify that the second type of exchange leads to more prosperity, but the study of God’s word shows that it also facilitates loving relationships among mankind. When God commands us not to kill, steal, or covet, he teaches us that there is a right and wrong way to interact with one another. The study of economics shows that keeping the commands of the creator is the most effective way to manage the physical resources that he has given us. Or as the book of Proverbs puts it, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:7). If we want to prosper in fulfilling God’s command to have dominion over creation in a way that facilitates love for God and love for our fellow man, we dare not ignore what can be learned from thinking about economics.
Introduction to the Christianity and Economics Series
What will follow in this series is not a Bible study. I’m writing with the assumption that Christians understand that the love of money is the root of all evil. I’m assuming that Christians understand the importance of taking care of the poor. I’m assuming that Christians recognize the dangers of laying up treasures on earth. I am not writing this to in any way encourage Christians to prioritize earthly treasures over heavenly treasures.
The purpose of this series is to simply discuss a few basic economic laws, that is, a few basic truths about the world that can be deducted simply from observing that people were created in God’s image with the ability to make choices. Since economics verifies what we are taught in scripture about the management of material goods, I hope to use this series to glorify God for his great wisdom. Since Christians are to love others, my hope is that these articles will help Christians to understand how to more effectively serve others in ways that many non-economic thinkers may miss. I also believe that understanding a few basic economic laws can help us to see through some of the ways that the Devil tries to deceive Christians into thinking they can accomplish good without submitting to what scripture teaches about material goods. I have no interest in debating various government policies from a left vs. right political paradigm. My concern is simply to point out a few basic principles that can be universally recognized regardless of political leanings.
My hope is that this series will help more Christians to recognize a few basic patterns in human behavior, so as to develop a deeper understanding of God’s creation. By so doing, I hope to encourage a deeper respect for God’s wisdom as we make decisions about everything from evaluating grand political ideas, to doing mundane household activities, to helping the church serve the poor in their communities more effectively.