Our minister writes a weekly column for our local newspaper, the Roanoke Beacon. Here is one of the latest columns.
Years ago, while serving a church in another state, I was made aware of a problem between two men in the congregation. One of the men, hearing about the other’s need, had loaned him some money at a favorable interest rate. Now the debtor refused to repay, and it caused friction between the men and their families. The debtor told me that he didn’t need to repay the loan for two reasons. First, he said, God doesn’t want the lender to charge me interest, that’s usury. I explained that usury isn’t interest, it’s excessive interest, when one takes advantage of another’s need and charges exorbitant rates, like a loan shark. He was actually paying less interest than he would have owed a bank.
The debtor stated his second excuse: “He’s rich, and I don’t have much, so he should cancel the loan. After all, that’s Christian love.” The debtor couldn’t see that love was shown in the granting of the loan in the first place, because otherwise he would have been at the mercy of a bank and would have paid more in interest. He also didn’t grasp that his own love should prompt him to keep his word and repay the loan.
Preachers should wear striped shirts; we referee far too often. That situation illustrates a common misunderstanding – the belief that the Bible teaches socialism, that the wealthy must share their riches so that everyone becomes “equal.”
Part of this misunderstanding stems from Paul’s instruction in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15 (NIV): “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’” Paul encourages the Corinthians, one of the wealthier 1st Century congregations, to share so that impoverished believers in Jerusalem could have their basic needs supplied.
Consider the context. Famine hit the Middle East in 47 A.D. and lasted for several years. Conditions in Jerusalem and the surrounding area were especially difficult. The Apostle Paul knew of Jerusalem’s need and encouraged the Christians in Corinth (and elsewhere) to alleviate the poverty of those Jerusalem Christians so that everyone could have “equality.” So if all we knew came from those 3 verses in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, it might be accurate to say the Bible teaches socialism.
But that isn’t all we know. Actually, Paul here encourages the Corinthians to follow through on an idea they originally presented to him; they asked (2 Corinthians 8:10-11; 9:1-2) if they could give to help others! Paul answers, in effect, “Do what you said you were going to do, because your gift will result in others being able to survive.” Second, note that Paul addresses the specific situation at that time; he doesn’t write an ordinance for all time. Lastly, notice that Paul asks the Corinthians to give out of their own generosity; he doesn’t command church leaders (or the government) to confiscate and redistribute wealth. The Bible doesn’t endorse socialism nor champion capitalism. The Bible teaches God’s truths for all people under all circumstances.
So here’s the takeaway:
Love is demonstrated when those who have share with those who don’t. From early on in Church history, believers shared their wealth because of their love for one another. Acts 2:45 says about the believers in Jerusalem: “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”
Love is also demonstrated when honest people refuse to take advantage of the generosity of others. When some in Thessalonica refused to work and waited for others to feed and provide, Paul wrote: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).