by Bob Wheeler

Jean-Francois Millet: The Gleaners

Jean-Francois Millet: The Gleaners


“Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

                                                                                                            Eph. 4:28, NKJV

Here, in a single verse, barely thirty words long in the New King James Version, are laid out for us the three basic principles of Christian economics: Honesty, Productivity, and Generosity. We would do well to pay careful attention to all three.

The first principle, of course, is honesty: “Let him who stole steal no longer. . .” God expects us to be completely honest in our dealings with others. “Thou shalt not steal” is the Eighth Commandment. The sin of theft, however, can involve much more than just armed robbery. We can steal from others by misrepresenting our goods and services to our customers, by “goofing off” on the job, or by not reporting all of our income our tax returns. In each of these cases we are failing to give to others what is rightfully theirs, or taking something from them under false pretenses that rightfully belongs to them.

“You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin . . .” (Lev. 19:35,36; an “ephah” and a “hin” were both measures of capacity in ancient Israel). “You shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure, that you days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord you God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who behave unrighteously, are an abomination to the Lord you God” (Dt. 25:15,16). The main ethical requirement in business transactions is to represent our goods and services accurately, and to deliver on all of our promises. The customer deserves to know what he is getting and what the real cost to him is, and we need to be careful to give him everything for which he has paid. Everything else is fraud. Does this impose too heavy a financial burden on the businessman? As the old saying goes, “What a perilous web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” We may feel we are saving money in the short run but shortchanging our customers, but the long term consequences can be catastrophic. The real truth cannot be concealed forever, and when the truth finally comes out the damage to our reputation can be irreparable. Witness the fine mess that Volkswagen has just gotten itself into! It is better to tell the truth upfront – some people might become angry with you at first because they don’t like what you’re saying, but you will win their confidence in the long run if they sense that you were being honest with them.

The second great principle of Christian economics is productivity: “but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good . . .” God created us to work. When God created man, He put him in the Garden of Eden “to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Interestingly, Paul specifically says “working with his hands,” suggesting manual labor of some sort. The word “good” points to what is useful and beneficial. The apparent idea here is that truly productive labor is labor that takes raw materials and turns them into finished products that have real market value. Wealth is created by people who use their hands to make things. In a healthy economy the bulk of the workforce will be employed in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. That does not mean that everyone has to be a “blue collar” worker – there is also a need for scientists and engineers to invent and design things, and for managers to plan, organize and direct the work. But strictly speaking real wealth is actually created by people who use their hands to make finished products. Lawyers and politicians are simply living off the wealth created by others.

The third great principle of Christian economics is generosity: “that he may something to give him who has need.” The basic requirement of the moral law is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that means that if we see our neighbor in need we are to respond. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I John 3:17). What is the point of gaining wealth through our productivity? To live a life of luxury and ease? “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let him do good, they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share . . .” (I Tim. 6:17,18). By sharing our wealth with others here we gain wealth in heaven, where it lasts forever.

God wants us, then, to be honest, productive members of society, and to use the wealth we gain thereby for the good of our fellow human beings. In so doing we create a genuinely prosperous society.