The Divine Economy (1)
“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 16.19, 20
The goal of economic life
The business of life in our modern/postmodern world has become the business of economics. Government, education, work, relationships, personal decision-making—all are guided, above all else, by considerations of economic wellbeing: How can I maximize my personal prosperity?
Money, wealth, and the conveniences these afford have become the bottom line for all of life.
Consequently, public policymaking is also driven—and justified—by appeal to economics, and that very broadly defined. If, for example, it is in the interest of the economy to “stimulate” this or that sector—such as the “green revolution”—policies will be drafted and adopted to do so, whether in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, or other means. At the individual level, policies are established to ensure that individual citizens have the right to maximize their personal wellbeing. Which makes government happy since it has perfected so many different ways of skimming the wealth of its citizens to pursue its agendas and pad its pockets.
So whether the need is educational opportunity, supplemental income or other kinds of support, or even the “freedom” to abort an unwanted child, public policies are created to further the private economic interests of as many people as possible.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary “economics” is “The science relating to the production and distribution of material wealth.” “Material wealth” is the driving force of the American economy, and tends, therefore, to be the driving force for most other aspects of life as well, including how we define matters such as justice and the good society.
But there are dangers here. Material wealth can be an uncertain foundation from which to pursue, and an unstable pillar on which to build, one’s personal happiness. Even more, the quest for material wealth can divide societies, corrupt politics, justify all manner of questionable enterprises, and distract people from more important considerations related to human flourishing.
Which is why the Law of God does not embrace wealth as the goal or meaning of life.
A different kind of economy
The Law of God establishes a different standard and objective for the economics of a nation. The Law of God introduces a “divine economy” which holds more promise for human flourishing than the mere pursuit of material wealth. The Law of God is not opposed to wealth; it only insists that wealth, whatever the level any individual may enjoy, must be used in a manner consistent with the tenets of love for God and neighbor.
The word, “economics,” derives from a Greek term which means, simply, “the management of a household.” Questions of economics, therefore, are directed at discovering the best ways of helping people live together in society—in a good society—in love for God and one another. The pursuit of material wealth, while it has become the default mindset of the American economy, is by no means the only possible standard and objective a society might embrace. Nor has it proven to be a reliable framework for transactions promoting the practice of neighbor love.
The Law of God commands that the affairs of a people should be governed by what is good in the eyes of God—not by the accumulation of wealth, but by the practice of justice. As we have seen, justice describes a condition among people in community which reflects the character of God and is defined by neighbor love at the human level. The Law of God sets forth a program for pursuing an economics of justice, rather than an economics of material wealth.
We scarcely know how to begin thinking in such terms.
The Lord Jesus Christ came, as part of His program of redemption, to enable people to realize the economics of justice set forth in the Law of God: “‘Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.… He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law’” (Is. 42.1, 4). In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus announced that He had come to bring to the world the “acceptable year of the LORD” (Lk. 4.17-21), a code word indicating the arrival of the Kingdom of righteousness (justice), peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. He explained that greatness in His Kingdom—in the Kingdom of righteousness and justice—is grounded in knowing, doing, and teaching the Law of God (Matt. 5.17-19). Indeed, Jesus insisted, it is not possible to practice justice and the love which undergirds it apart from the Law and all the Word of the Lord (Matt. 22.34-40).
The social order God intends for the world is based on love, not wealth. It strives to increase love, not a portfolio. And it pursues justice and righteousness as the proper state of a good society.
An economic mission
The Christian’s mission is to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (justice), and to pray earnestly for the realization of these on earth as in heaven (Matt. 6.33, 10). The Gospel of the Kingdom is the entry point, not just for saving souls, but for taking up the whole work of the divine economy, an economy devoted to justice rather than material wealth. And, while Christians understand that not all their neighbors will share in their commitment to Christ and His Kingdom, still, the Lord intends the blessings of His Law to reach to all the “coastlands” of the world.
The world may have little use for something called the divine economy. But for Christians to fulfill our calling and realize the fullness of God’s Kingdom, no other framework or objective will suffice.
Our task in the Christian community, therefore, is to consider the best ways of bringing the justice of God to light and employing it to direct and prevail in public life. Justice, not material prosperity, is the standard which drives the divine economy, and which the Law of God facilitates. And to this end, believers must bring the Law of God into every area of human relationships, roles, and responsibilities.
1. Our calling in the divine economy extends to more than getting people saved. Explain.
2. Those who are saved aim higher than material wealth as the defining focus of their lives. What goals, motives, or standards drive the divine economy?
3. Why is it not a good idea that Christians simply “go along to get along” in an economy based on material wealth?
Next steps—Preparation: Spend a season in prayer asking the Lord to clarify what it means for you to take love as the end, framework, and currency of all areas of your life.
What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your free copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here. To gain a better understanding of how the Law of God applies in daily life, order a free copy of our book, A Kingdom Catechism, by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.