Many in the Christian community today align themselves with the political right or left. Some are conservative-leaning, preferring less government involvement and greater social and economic freedom. Others are liberal-progressive, leaning toward governmental control of social and economic matters. Some believe the Bible teaches socialist income equality by pointing to what Christ told a young man in Matthew 19. Some even conclude that Acts 2 and 4 endorse a communal or socialistic economic system.
Are such ideas correct? Where does the Bible stand on basic socioeconomic concepts and methodologies? Before examining these and other biblical passages, let’s first review Dictionary.com definitions of three of the 20th and 21st century’s major economic systems, which also involve form of governance—communism, socialism and capitalism.
All the economic and political systems of man’s devising and implementation are, in various ways, not in line with what God presents in the Bible.
Communism: “A system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state dominated by a single and self-perpetuating political party.”
Socialism: “A theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.”
Capitalism: “An economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations.”
Flaws of governing and economic systems
In his early writings, communism’s founder Karl Marx put forward the theory that the communist governing and economic structure would develop into an advanced form of socialism. Yet, over the past 100 years this ruling experiment proved to be a dismal failure. Although communism still exists today in nearly its original soviet-style form in North Korea and Cuba, other former communist governments, such as China and Vietnam, have morphed into hybrids that include elements of socialism and capitalism.
Communism has been denounced as an authoritarian, atheistic system that disallows personal freedom, is dominated by secret police surveillance, government propaganda, censorship and a centrally controlled economy, which fails to meet its people’s needs.
Socialism often receives criticism because it disabuses the concept of private property rights, demands redistribution of wealth by government coercion, impedes innovation, restricts individual freedom and leaves the door open to dictatorial rule.
Capitalism, as it’s often practiced, is viewed as flawed by many as a system of elite, moneyed privilege and class rule that encourages greed and profit over people and is dominated by special interests at the expense of average citizens. Corruption and cronyism among business and government, along with currency manipulation—one of the biggest fraud and theft operations in history—interfere with free enterprise and free exchange on which capitalism is supposed to be based.
Yet we should be careful not draw some kind of moral equivalence between even corrupted capitalism and state social-ism and communism. The former, in spite of serious problems in the way it’s been practiced, has still managed, because of underlying free market principles, to create wealth on a large scale and improve the lives of untold numbers of people.
In contrast, socialism and communism have not created new wealth on a large scale and have kept whole populations in poverty, the promises of fair distribution being broken by those in power taking the greater share. Worse, governments practicing socialism and communism have been behind the largest-scale mass murder the world has ever seen—either through wars of conquest or slaughter of their own citizens.
The fact is, all the economic and political systems of man’s devising and implementation are, in various ways, not in line with what God presents in the Bible.
Jesus Christ’s view of human government and wealth
What was Jesus Christ’s position on mankind’s governing structures, which have a major impact on economics? When on trial, Jesus told the local Roman administrator Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). In other words, His Kingdom was not of or like the governing ideologies or systems of this age of human misrule. But in a future time, beginning at His second coming, God’s perfect government will be established on the earth to lead and guide all nations.
Before getting into this further, let’s note some scriptural instances, including two referred to earlier, that refute the idea that the Bible offers support for various humanly conceived forms of social and economic governance.
For example, some people believe Jesus taught that socialistic income redistribution is something Christians should promote. They point to Christ’s words to a rich young ruler as validation. Jesus told the young man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21). After this encounter the young man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22).
The young man’s particular reaction expressed the very essence of the story. Because he cherished his wealth above God, Jesus told him to give it all away. Christ’s words are not an instruction advocating socialist income redistribution. Rather, it’s a vital lesson about how making one’s physical wealth more important than serving and surrendering to God can choke off one’s spiritual growth and development.
Nowhere in the Bible do we find that God condemns wealth or the gaining of wealth. In fact, a number of notable biblical figures were highly affluent and financially successful. For example, Genesis 13:2 tells us that Abram, later renamed Abraham, “was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold.” Also, King David was wealthy, and his son Solomon became exceedingly prosperous (1 Kings 4:20-28). Some New Testament Christians such as Philemon were quite well off.
To illustrate an important spiritual lesson, Jesus employed the concept of increasing wealth through proper investments in His parable of the talents. In Matthew 25:14-30 Christ told a story about a wealthy man who was preparing to take a trip to a distant country. Before leaving, he gave some of his assets to each of three servants, with the instruction that they should work to increase the size of the investments through diligent effort and wise money management.
While two of the servants prudently doubled their money, the third servant hid his money in the ground. On returning home, the wealthy man praised the conduct of the two servants but was highly displeased with the actions of the third (Matthew 25:27). As in the previously discussed story, the foundational lesson of this parable is that Christians must strive diligently to develop their spiritual aptitudes.
Does Scripture advocate communism?
Some people believe that the early Church endorsed a socialistic economic system by practicing a form of communism. As mentioned earlier, they base this idea on descriptions in the book of Acts. One states, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44-45; compare Acts 4:32-35).
Does this teach that Christians should practice a collectivist communal lifestyle and economic system? The answer is no.
Many of these converts were visitors from areas outside of Jerusalem and from foreign lands. Since they desired to learn much more about Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God from the apostles, they chose to stay in Jerusalem for a while. Unlike communism, which demands and commands citizen participation, and confiscates wealth from those who produce the most, the sharing of resources described in this passage was an entirely voluntary sharing on everyone’s part. In addition, there is no indication anywhere in the New Testament that a communal economy became the norm.
During Jesus’ ministry He didn’t teach His disciples to sell what they had and distribute it to others who were less well off. However, He personally set the example as to what they should do. When He encountered poor, hungry and suffering people, He did what He could to help with the means He had available. Of course in His case, as the very Son of God, His means were often supernatural and extremely powerful.
The Gospels record multiple miraculous healings that Jesus performed, especially for poor and needy individuals. The purpose was to express His, and by extension His Father’s, intense love for Their supreme creation—human beings. Christ’s example to His disciples of love, service and sacrifice for others left a lasting impression. Within the limits of their ability and resources, they too served others generously, and in doing so they truly honored God (Matthew 25:40; Acts 3:6).
Notice that there was no administrative edict, no coercion or demand for compliance, as would be found in communist and socialist systems. In Christ’s example, we witness only an intense personal willingness to serve and care for others from the heart—motivated by God’s love and His Spirit (John 13:34).
And that’s the message for Christians today. Jesus’ actions were so extraordinarily meaningful and significant that they can reach down through time via the pages of the Bible, to affect us—if our minds and hearts are open and receptive.
The Bible’s social and economic system revealed
As has been discussed, the Bible does not condemn wealth and prosperity, especially if it is used properly and righteously to serve one’s family, one’s neighbor and God’s work. Producing wealth creates jobs, which enables others to properly support themselves. Producing wealth enables one to have the means to help and assist others, which God repeatedly encourages in His Word. Luke 8:3 compliments several wealthy women who helped financially support Jesus’ ministry.
Neither does the Bible advocate redistribution of wealth or a reduction or elimination of people’s personal liberty, such as communist and socialist systems do. Forced redistribution of wealth—government taking from one person to give to another—is actually a form of stealing and a violation of the eighth of the Ten Commandments.
Yet the Bible also doesn’t support any kind of capitalism that is rooted in deception, greed and theft and, as is all too often the case, dominated by special-interest influence and cronyism. These also are violations of God’s commands.
What the Bible does support is a society and economy based on private property, freedom of choice, personal initiative, free enterprise and especially unselfishness, generosity and compassion.
Although that kind of system has not yet been fully tried—it is coming! Its initiation will occur at the time of Jesus Christ’s second coming. From His global headquarters in Jerusalem, it will then spread throughout the entire world.
The Bible has multiple references describing that absolutely amazing time. It will encompass a period of a thousand years, a millennium, of splendid peace and prosperity for all people—unequaled in human history.
God will use the physical descendants of Israel as a model nation to show how He will teach, work with and bless the entire world. He will offer every person full, divine knowledge of Him and His generous, loving ways through His unparalleled gift of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Scripture gives us several important indications as to the economic structure of God’s coming Kingdom on earth. The cornerstone of His economy will focus on land ownership, just as it did in ancient Israel (1 Kings 4:25).
This new Millennial economy will value and preserve private property since “everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). All families will have the opportunity to improve and preserve their land—similar to how God instructed Adam and Eve to care for the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). Numerous family-owned farms will generate astonishingly plentiful yields (Amos 9:13; Joel 2:24; Joel 3:18).
Blessings from working, tithing and sharing
Another godly economic criterion to be taught in the Millennium is simply that of working for a living. To give some background about this vital point: God had expressed to His physical nation of ancient Israel the principles of helping those who were poor. To provide a means for the needy to feed them-selves, landowners were instructed that when they harvested their fields they should leave the corners untouched so the underprivileged could gather the gleanings (Leviticus 19:9-10).
It was the responsibility of able-bodied poor individuals to go into the fields to gather their grain, rather than simply have others provide them sustenance without any effort on their part.
The apostle Paul explained this same basic model to members of the Church when he wrote, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, emphasis added throughout). Also, Paul instructed the brethren at Ephesus that everyone should “labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). God expects us to work to generate income—but also to be generous to others who are in genuine need.
An additional economic principle to be taught in our Creator’s future new age of prosperity will be tithing—which simply means giving back to God 10 percent of one’s increase (Leviticus 27:30; Deuteronomy 14:22). Since government operations require expenditures—even in God’s coming society—that’s where the tithing will come into play. Everyone will delight in tremendous blessings when they pay to God His tithe. Indeed, when people give their best to God, as is due Him, He will consequently give it back to them many times over.
Proverbs 3:9-10 explains, “Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.” Contrasted with the oppressive taxes of today, tithing operates more like an equitable flat tax that actually encourages initiative. This is because unlike man’s current system wherein people are essentially penalized for being productive—some paying half or more of their earnings in taxes—this won’t happen in the Kingdom of God.
Even during the Millennium, however, there will be some people in rare instances who will experience difficult times financially. For them, God has provided a wonderful and reliable economic support system designed to prevent them from descending into severe poverty.
In such situations, God says in Deuteronomy 15:7-8: “If there is among you a poor man of your brethren, within any of the gates in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother. But you shall open your hand wide to him and willingly lend him sufficient for his need, whatever he needs.”
God’s government will work for everyone
Those who borrow money out of need will not be saddled with interest payments—which means people will not take advantage of other’s hardships. Also, there will be a release from borrowed debt every seventh year, which will give people a new, debt-free beginning (Deuteronomy 15:1-2).
Under God’s righteous government, those who lend to others in need will know in advance that they may not get their money back. And yet there is a great blessing in one’s willingness to help others. Deuteronomy 15:10 tells us, “You shall surely give to him, and your heart should not be grieved when you give to him, because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your works and in all to which you put your hand.”
Jesus likewise said to “lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great” (Luke 6:35). Those who lend money to others in need will be rewarded because any financial help they provide to the poor will be viewed as if they are giving it to God. Proverbs 19:17 explains, “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.”
The biblical social and economic policies that Jesus Christ will institute at the beginning of the Millennium will be crucial in guiding how people conduct themselves and cooperate with others. It will commence with an astounding change in the hearts and minds of people through the power of God’s Holy Spirit—from selfishness to genuine outgoing concern, profound generosity and deep empathy toward all others (Ezekiel 11:19-20).
For the first time, people will begin to grasp that God-ordained methods will not only bring wonderful financial security to themselves and their families, but to all people everywhere. So unlike today’s economic and governmental systems, God’s way will work perfectly for every person at all times.
Therefore, since this world and its ills and problems will soon pass away into history, let’s be aware of issues regarding today’s human governments but not be consumed by this. Rather, let’s concentrate our attention on the wonderful future God has in store for us and all humanity. It’s coming soon! Are you preparing spiritually for its arrival?