STRONG WORK ETHIC AND PROSPERITY
Are you a producer or a consumer? Any honest person would admit to being both. However, it is possible to be more of a producer than a consumer. It is possible to give more than you take and to leave behind blessings for others. Hard work has always been a key element to productivity and productivity can create prosperity as well as a sense of accomplishment. These are key elements of society and when they are discouraged, society slumps. The all-consumer looks to others to step forward and work and to produce while he or she sits back and consumes. How is productivity encouraged in society and how is it discouraged?
Socialism is a powerful, left-wing, political ideology which seeks to divide wealth equally or to spread resources more widely among the largest number of people possible. It is the political idiological system of government where the means of production within society is completely controled by the government aledgedly to the benift of the community rather than to the bennit of private individuals. 1 One viewpoint is that this is only fair and right and that it creates equality within society. However, despite the advance of socialism, the more human history unfolds the more we see within socialist society inequality and the abuse of trust. In a socialistic society, who is being trusted to redistribute the resources of a nation? It is the government of that nation. Socialism is simply the state-enforced redistribution of wealth in which government takes from the producers and gives to themselves first and, then, sparingly, to the consumers. This discourages the producers in society and discourages productivity. Discouraged producers often become converted to being mainly consumers, instead of being mainly producers.
On the opposite side of the fence from socialism is capitalism. Capitalism is the belief in the investment of resources into private enterprise. Capitalism is premised on a strong work ethic and on becoming upwardly mobile through hard work and wise investment. Prosperous businesses grow and, as they grow, they hire others, generating economic growth. As businesses grow, others are given the opportunity to generate wealth through employment in the business. This causes economies to grow and expand. These are positive aspects to capitalism. However, capitalism, if not properly managed, also, in many cases, has led to greed and the hoarding of wealth.
What is a biblical perspective on wealth and the work ethic? It begins with the premise that everything belongs to God. We read; “The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1). We don't own anything. Is this socialism? No. Governments and consumers don't really own anything either, that is, in the absolute sense. Everything belongs to God and we are stewards of what we are put in charge of. What does that stewardship involve? It involves supporting God's kingdom and, also, our families. Families have growing needs and productive families meet those needs through hard work and a strong work ethic. Families that are allowed to generate wealth are in a good position to support themselves and, also, God's kingdom. Stewardship extends beyond God's kingdom and our families; it also includes helping the poor. Who are the poor? The Bible speaks of many poor but repeatedly seems to draw special attention to a specific segment of the poor. The Bible repeatedly speaks up for widows (see 1 Timothy 5:3) and orphans (see James 1:27). These are members of society who are especially disadvantaged and need our help. They don't have the necessary resources to invest in the economy and are struggling with personal sorrow. We are called to help them.
How does society work, and the poor receive help, if God owns everything? God's unlimited ownership of the whole Earth is understood in conjunction with our limited ownership of possessions. The Ten Commandments are premised on the limited ownership that people have of belongings. The tenth commandment said that “'You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.'” (Exodus 20:17). This command is against coveting another's property and establishes the right to ownership of property. Society functions well when people recognize that they are limited owners of their assets and then use their assets to provide for themselves and their families, for God's kingdom and for the poor.
Who should make the decision on how resources in society are divided up? Socialism says that the government should decide. Socialist governments take away the God-given right to personal property and destroy the profit motive. Then government, allegedly, supports the poor. If this is true, then why do socialist and communist countries generally remain among the poorest of countries, at least in terms of resources being distributed to the citizens? The answer lies in the greed and corruption of governments and the lack of incentive to produce on the part of citizens. That lack of incentive is such, in large part, because the governments and the political system has destroyed that incentive.
In capitalist countries, are there not many poor who would be helped by socialism? No doubt there are, but should all of the poor be given handouts? I have talked above about the widow and the orphan whom Scripture describes as helpless and needy. I believe that seniors (Jesus speaks of the responsibility of children to support their elderly parents. See Matthew 15: 4-9) and the handicapped should also be helped by government support. There is another category of poor whom the Bible does not defend and that is the sluggard. The sluggard is an able-bodied man or woman who chooses not to work. (See Proverbs 13:4, 10:2-4). The Bible does not defend the sluggard; it rebukes him. Socialism punishes the productive person and rewards the sluggard. The sluggard is the product and the beneficiary of socialism; he is the great consumer of other people's resources.
What happens when individuals are allowed to divide up their own resources? Potentially, they learn responsibility. Potentially, they spend their resources responsibly to care for themselves and their families, God's kingdom and the legitimate poor. Does this always occur? No, of course not. There are always many people who spend their resources irresponsibly. However, they must answer to God for this failing. It is not the job of government to regulate and redistribute the greatest portion of the resources of hard-working people. Has having the government take all of a productive person's resources and earnings resulted in the poor being relieved from poverty? No, it hasn't. It has just made governments richer and generally creates a dependent relationship that the poor have with government. Study will show that generally socialist countries have some of the worst and most widespread poverty. When people are given the right to divide their own resources, they are treated with respect; they are given the opportunity to act responsibly and a strong work ethic is encouraged in them.
Doesn't the Bible warn against riches? The Bible does bring many warnings about riches. The Bible tells us that "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (1Timothy 6:10) and greed is rebuked. God knows that riches can steal away a person's heart, that is, if they allow this. I do not think that this means that it is wrong to have wealth. I believe that God wants us to recognize His ownership of all things and, then, to be both productive and generous. He loves to bless people who are faithful to Him. We read; “Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year an hundredfold: and the LORD blessed him.And the man waxed great, and went forward, and grew until he became very great:For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.” (Genesis 26:12-14). Here, we see one example of God's blessing upon a man.
Will we honour God with our lives and be more of a producer than we are a consumer? Will we walk through life giving more than we take? Will we be productive? Will we have a good work ethic? Only we can answer these questions. God owns everything and He has given us limited ownership of property and possessions so that we might support ourselves and our families, His work and the poor. He wants us to help the needy such as widows and orphans. May governments not take away from their citizens the incentive and ability to carry this out.
1. The Webster's Unabridged International Dictionary of the English Language (New York: The Publishers Guild, 1976), 1722.
Chillon, David. Productive Christians : In An Age of Guilt-Manipulators. Tyler: Institute for Christian Economics, 1981.
Hughes, Philip Edgcumbe. Christian Ethics in Secular Society. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983.
Keck, Margaret E. and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists Beyond Borders. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Macionis, John J., S. Mikael Jansson, et al. Society The Basics. Toronto: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2002.
Schaefer, Richard T. and Bonnie Haaland. Sociology. Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
The Webster's Unabridged International Dictionary of the English Language. New York: The Publishers Guild, 1976.
Scripture references taken from the King James Version.