Economics 101 & Theology 101

The Christian’s Role In Wealth and Power

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We have been discussing market-generated profit and the difference between wealth accumulation and political power. These issues raise questions of fairness in the minds of most people. How should Christians think about fairness, wealth, and power?

I think most Christians understand that diversity is part of how God has created us. Skills and talents present themselves differently in everyone. We are also capable of achieving different levels of success.

As the Parable of the Talents illustrates, some of us are 5-talent people, some are 2-talent and some of us are 1-talent. In a market setting where we buy and sell each other’s products, our work is rewarded at varying levels according to how much customers value our goods and services.

All of us are called to use our gifts to the best of our abilities, whether we are 5-talent or 1-talent people. As Hugh wrote in his op-ed on the Biblical meaning of success, we will be held accountable for how we cultivate and invest our God-given gifts.

In the context of wealth and power, the success of 5-talent people brings added responsibility. Five-talent people may be gifted with great financial wealth because of their gifts and opportunities. They are given greater obligations because they are greatly blessed.

I am reminded here of the Widow’s offering as told in the Gospel of Mark:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.’

This story is about sacrificial giving and love. Given her limited resources, the widow’s offering was a greater sacrifice. In the eyes of Jesus, she gave more than the rich did. If we have more, we are expected to do and give more out of that spirit of love.

Even if the wealthy are giving out of that spirit, some might say that they possess an amount of power that is unfair. Yes, millionaires and billionaires have more choices at their disposal:

  • They can choose to have six cars each in a different color.
  • They can choose to live wherever they want.
  • They can purchase their own airplane to make their travel more convenient.

But without political power, the wealthy are limited in certain respects:

  • They cannot block out their competition.
  • They cannot force us to use their products, thus limiting our choices and our freedoms.
  • They can’t make themselves richer by making us poorer; in other words, under the law, they can’t steal from us.

I believe there is great temptation for the rich to seek this power. Political power gives them the ability to block out competition, zone property for their benefit, and raise their prices – among other benefits of cronyism. Market competition is exhausting.  It requires constant dedication to producing better products at lower prices. Seeking political favoritism is much easier.

If I were to own a large company, I might want a break from all that tough competition. I might think it was a good idea to seek power and protection from the government. I imagine those who have grown successful companies face this temptation.

But acquiring that type of power is unbiblical. It means that you win at the expense of someone else. You harm your competitor, you jeopardize employment opportunities, and you raise prices to consumers, all so you can get richer.

Sadly, this is what we continue to see in America. There are countless examples of cronyism—businesses seeking political favoritism.

As Christians, we must call for a government that is deaf to political bargaining from businesses. The only way to get this is to require that governments be limited. We must also celebrate the producers who create products that make our lives better and more productive. If God bestows great financial wealth on them, we should celebrate that too, if that wealth is rightly earned.

If Christians want to live in a society where more people can unleash their creative genius, we must stand against political favoritism.

What do you think? What role do Christians play in the areas of wealth and power? Leave your comments here

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