The Divine Economy (4)
“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19.18
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” Deuteronomy 6.6, 7
The divine economy
We’re looking at some of the fundamental components of the divine economy, the overall social paradigm outlined in the Law of God and more fully developed throughout the pages of Scripture. An “economy” is simply a system or program for using and managing a wide range of variables in the most beneficial way. We have seen that the divine economy concentrates on justice and love rather than the acquisition of wealth as its primary objective and driving force. It is not hostile to wealth; rather, in the divine economy the attainment and enjoyment of material prosperity is always subordinate to, and a means for, loving God and neighbor.
We’ve also seen that, in the divine economy, private property and individual responsibility are regarded as gifts of God to be used to the ends of love and justice. Loving one’s neighbor means using one’s resources in ways that consider the needs and rights of others, and not just one’s own interests or pursuits.
Which leads naturally to the fourth component of the divine economy, and that is a right understanding of relationships, how people get along with each other in community.
Mutual edification and assistance
In an economy based on material wealth, people compete with one another for resources, opportunities, and advantages. In capitalist economies the belief is that, as people compete, they improve one another materially, so that the rising tide of wealth lifts all boats. When people use their private property responsibly—with a view not just to their own interests but to those of the larger community as well—this is what often happens, the result of what Adam Smith referred to as an “invisible hand.”
However, as often as not—and increasingly so in our day—economies based on competition tend toward the promotion of self-interest at the expense of everyone else. Economics meshes with politics to advance the status and fortunes of the few, while the many are left to do the best they can for themselves, and often look to political solutions to improve or protect their material wellbeing. Governments are thus induced to create policies to “share the wealth” or constrain the worst kinds of workplace abuses, so that those with means are not entirely free to follow their selfish interests at the expense of others.
All such public policies—those which protect the rights of responsible people to maximize their resources, and those which guard individuals against the indifferent or self-serving ways of others—reflect a deeper sense of justice which remains in the soul of each person and bears witness to the human longing for a different kind of economics.
In an economy of justice, people work together to bring the righteousness, peace, and joy of God’s Kingdom into the experience of all members of the community. Gaining advantage is replaced by seeking opportunities to serve; self-interest is replaced by self-denial; mutual edification and assistance take the place of self-aggrandizement.
A nation of narcissists
America has been described as a nation of narcissists, a people whose primary concern, in the memorable phrase of Robert Ringer, is “looking out for number one.” This is not by accident, but by design. It is in part a consequence of the Darwinian worldview which defines the nature of relationships in terms of fitness, survival, and competition.
But it is also the natural outworking of our lust for material prosperity. From early on children are taught to seek their interests above all and to do what they can to gain the advantage over their peers. Education—in home and school—reinforces the belief that children should be happy and that material prosperity is the way to happiness. Other people may be enjoyed as friends or intimates, but they must not be allowed to disrupt the quest for personal happiness. Abortion, divorce, and child-neglect are classic examples of how self-interest, which always includes material considerations, works to the disadvantage of the weak.
Relationships in the divine economy
In the divine economy, husbands and wives resist the temptation to self-interest and work together to fulfill their marriage vows. Divorce would be rare, but not prohibited, in such an economy, abortion would be all but non-existent, and raising children would be regarded as a privilege and an investment in the future of God’s Kingdom. In the worldview grounded in God’s Law, fathers and mothers take responsibility for raising their children to inculcate neighbor-love above mere self-interest. Children learn the Law of God and all His Word to discipline their hearts and minds so that loving their neighbors, rather than always looking for some edge over them, becomes the default manner of living.
In such an economy, neighbors look out for one another, and fairness and honesty prevail in the marketplace. Where justice and love take precedence over material wealth, generosity, charity, compassion, and altruism are more likely to flourish. The fact that, year after year, the Christian community proves to be the most generous in giving their time, strength, and wealth for the relief of the needy is typical of what we might expect to see in an economy of justice and love.
Where a people values justice—a community based on and expressing love for God and neighbors—above wealth, every type of relationship will be transformed. In the Book of Acts, Christians demonstrated the power of such an economy in astonishing ways; and by so doing, they convinced even some of their most hardened opponents to believe the Gospel of the Kingdom (cf. Acts 6.1-7).
The place to begin working for such an economy is in the Christian home and church. From there, as believers model the relational power of an economy of justice and love, they may encourage public policies that allow the benefits of such an economy to redound to all members of the community.
1. How would you summarize the difference between how we think about relationships in a materialistic economy as opposed to the divine economy?
2. Is it unrealistic to expect that the Christian view of relationships could have more influence in our day? Explain.
3. What is your role in pursuing relationships according to the divine economy?
Next steps—Transformation: Review the relationships you have with the people in your life. Are they more self-serving or others-serving? How can you bring more of the divine economy to bear in your relationships?
T. M. Moore
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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.