How God’s economy works

“It’s the economy, stupid!”

Bill Clinton’s one-liner from his successful campaign against the first President Bush has echoed through every election since. There may be other issues on the table, but how the President will oversee and stimulate the nation’s economy is always issue number one.

The word “economy” is simply the combination of two Greek words: oikos (house or household) and nomos (law or rule or ordered life). The Puritans initially coined it to refer to a well-ordered home, which included everything from how the Sabbath was observed to how money was spent. Eventually, it came to refer just to the money part.

But I much prefer a wider view of the word economy. It suggests that how we live together as a community (a “household” as small as family and as large as church or a city or a nation) can make sense. We can live together well.

In our political scene, the word economy is reduced to the stock market and the job market. Both are important, but both are too narrow. And especially when we take a look at the Scriptures, where we see God’s economy at play.

The earliest Christians believed God has his own economy and that it is the only one worthwhile living in.

We see the earliest Christians doing something absolutely amazing. Wherever they see need within the community, they do what they can to fill it (Acts 4:32-37). They were living out of the ancient principle that in God’s economy “there should be no poor among you” (Deut. 15:4), since God has given enough for all to share in. In fact, enough of them sold homes and fields to support this new economy that pretenders thought copying them would elevate their standing within the community. It didn’t work out well for them (Acts 5:1-11).

But what was revealed in the process was a basic understanding that God has given much to some so that they can share it with those who don’t have much.

We see this practically worked out in the Old Testament practice of gleaning. Landowners were forbidden to harvest the corners of their fields or to pick up any grain that their laborers dropped during the course of harvesting (Deut. 24:19-21; Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22). The corners and the leavings belonged to God, who gave them to the poor. To maximize your harvest by making sure nothing was left was to steal not just from the poor, but from God himself. At the same time, it required the poor to do the work of gathering the extra for themselves instead of relying just on handouts.

The practice of gleaning is a central element in the story found in the book of Ruth. Sadly, the current business environment we find ourselves in now, which seeks to squeeze every last bit out of every worker and resource, works against this basic biblical principle. If Ruth were alive today, she and her mother Naomi wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves.

In God’s economy, as Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

Now, the “much” includes finances, but it isn’t limited to them.

The same Jesus who asked a rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor is also the same Jesus who told us, “Ask and you shall receive that your joy may be full.” Both giving and receiving are essential to God’s economy.

Here are three areas (out of many) where giving and receiving are essential:

1. Money. Those of us who have money have been given that money by God in order that we may learn to be generous. And those who don’t have money have had money withheld that we may learn the humility of receiving. Again, both giving and receiving are at play here.

My wife and I had always thought of ourselves as being on the giving end. But when we finished graduate school, I found job hunting to be far more difficult than I expected it to be. So, when Thanksgiving came around, we were surprised to answer a knock on the door to find someone with an incredible food basket for us. A week later, our landlord came by with a grocery store gift card. And the next week, we found an unmarked envelope with a $100 bill taped to our door. It was beautifully humbling, and we needed it all.

2. Strength. Those of us who are strong in body have been given strength that we might lift up those who are weak in body. And those of us who are weak in body are weak so that we might receive the service of those who are strong.

As my parents age, they have needed more and more help. And helping them is why we arranged for them to live next door to us. My family mows their lawns. My wife cooks most of their dinners. And I go over a couple times a day to help my handicapped mother transfer to the commode and back to her wheel chair. My parents did all of those things for me when I was a child, and now it’s my turn to do it for them.

3. Wisdom. Those of us who have knowledge and understanding have been given it so that we might share it with those who don’t have it. And those who don’t have knowledge and understand have this lack so that we might receive it from those who do have it.

I have a horrendous lack of administrate abilities that has had me call on others to help me out, filling in my deficiencies, over the years. Without their practical knowledge, I’d have been sunk in numerous situations as essential details would have fallen through the cracks.

There are other areas of life beyond these three where we are either strong or deficient. But he basic principle of God’s economy remains.

All of us need to learn how to give in some areas of life and all of us need to learn how to receive in other areas of life.

In our lack, God is teaching us a spirituality of humility, where we learn to ask and to receive. This is deeply difficult for many of us. We love our self-sufficiency. But God will continue to put us in the place of lack until we learn the humility of receiving.

In our abundance, God is teaching us a spirituality of generosity, where we learn to see and hear need around ourselves and to extend a generous hand without thought of what we might receive in return. And God will continue to place need around us until we learn to be generous.

So, where are your areas of abundance in which you need to learn to see and hear the need of others and be generous? And where are your areas of lack in which you need to learn the humility of asking and receiving?