We hear a lot of talk about making people more equal, particularly as it relates to their incomes. A recent article equated income inequality in America to a feudal system, claiming that we are a nation of a few overlords and many serfs.
It might seem wrong that some people make so much income when others make little or nothing. How are Christians to reconcile this income inequality? What is the price of making us more equal?
When addressing a question such as this, we must start with the relevant biblical principles and then apply them to the world that we live in today. While we don’t see the phrase “income inequality” in Scripture, we can certainly gain insights about it from the Bible.
This week we’ll explore the biblical principles that inform our understanding of income inequality. Next week we’ll dive into the cost of bringing about income equality and what that means for the following principles.
We are created in the image of God. Genesis 1: 27 tells us:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
This is extremely important as we think about our human anthropology, our created design. Being created in the image of God means that we are unique, and there is none like us. This was true even before the fall. Adam and Eve were created as compliments to one another (Genesis 2:18), equally loved by God but inherently different. It is their differences that bring them together.
Specialization and the Division of Labor
The differences between Adam and Eve allowed them to specialize and create a division of labor among themselves. Our own differences today enable us to accomplish and create more than we could by ourselves. Scripture goes on to tell us that we have different gifts, but are part of the same body. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
We are all part of the body of Christ, but we have distinct contributions to make which add to the overall flourishing of mankind. It is our differences that bring us together in a market setting and allow us to serve one another.
Adam Smith revealed the importance of the division of labor over two centuries ago:
It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.
God created us with distinct gifts. Markets bring us together to trade, which in turn extends flourishing across all income levels. This is the sole reason for wealth generation. We are exercising dominion over the created order when we come together to serve one another through our work and our comparative advantages.
How do we cultivate the created order?
We do so by harnessing our God-given spirit of creativity and ingenuity. If you are doing what God created you to do, you probably notice that it brings you joy and delight in your work. This applies to paid work as well as volunteer work. There is a human tendency toward productivity and creativity that is natural to us.
Harnessing our creativity and entrepreneurial spirit can only happen in a free-market setting where individuals are allowed to use the skills that God gave them in the way they see fit. From this, modern miracles are born, and innovations are made that were unthinkable just decades ago.
The Virtue of Hard Work
We are created to work and to work with integrity. Even before the fall, Adam had a job description, to work the garden and take care of it. The cultural mandate also implies work: we are to cultivate the earth. The Scripture is clear that being lazy or a sluggard is to be condemned because it runs counter to our creation.
Proverbs 12:24 warns us of the consequences:
Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in forced labor.
These insights from Scripture, regarding our anthropology, specialization, creativity, and work ethic, help us understand that we are different and created to do different things. These things may be valued differently in a market setting, generating different levels of income. The common thread among us is that we were made to create value and contribute to the flourishing of mankind through the work of our hands. This applies to everyone, from cashiers to CEO’s.
Next week we will discuss how these scriptural insights are applied in the market setting, and how that helps us calculate the cost of bringing about income equality.
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