Paul: Apostle Of Capitalism

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Posted: Nov 19, 2019 12:06 PM
Paul: Apostle Of Capitalism

Source: AP Photo/John Minchillo

People with means should help those without means. This has not been affirmed by many societies in history. But with the spread of Christianity the idea has taken root that we all have an obligation to help others.

Weirdly, this idea has come to be associated with another one: that capitalism is evil or at least morally questionable. Helping others is thought to conflict with wanting to make money.

This is morally and logically backwards. If you don’t make money, then how can you have anything worth sharing with someone in need?

Back many centuries before the time of Christ, Solomon associated diligent labor with helping the poor while laziness meant one was unable to help:

The desire of the sluggard kills him,
 for his hands refuse to labor.
 All day long he craves and craves,
 but the righteous gives and does not hold back (Proverbs 21:25-26; ESV).

The Apostle Paul claimed that Jesus taught the same doctrine and appealed to this teaching to justify his own behavior as a model for all Christians to follow:

You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:34, 35; ESV).

Luke, the author of Acts, shows us what Paul was talking about when he said his “hands ministered to” his “necessities.”

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:1-4; ESV).

Apparently, Paul’s lifestyle appeared to be substandard in the eyes of some of his Christian critics (I Corinthians 9). But Paul pushed back, insisting that his lifestyle was a model that others would do well to imitate.

All the evidence we have from Paul’s writings is that he considered this work ethic, and his way of making a living and providing for the needy, an essential part of his ministry and message. For example:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12; ESV).

Again, one reason for this ethic and culture, which Paul saw himself as responsible for promoting, was to help the needy. In his earlier letter to the Thessalonians he is clear about this.

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12; ESV).

He instructed other pastors to encourage and enforce the same ethic. He wanted every able-bodied person to work hard to help those who could not do so, beginning with their families:

Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God… But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:3, 4, 8; ESV).

And, of course, converts who had formerly lived by taking the property of others must now engage in honest labor to help the poor.

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need (Ephesians 4:28).

To apply this to our own politics: Let the socialist no longer rant for taking wealth from others, but rather let him labor, honestly trading with those who can use and afford his services, so that he can redistribute his own income with the needy.

Thus, it is no accident that Christian culture produced both modern charity and modern capitalism. They have a common source in the culture of the Bible, and charity would not be possible if people didn’t learn how to produce and save wealth.