The Gospel and the Christian Social Imperative

The Gospel and the Christian Social Imperative


You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.  -2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV

I’ve heard the word ‘socialism’ spoken a time or two in recent political discussions. There appears to be a bit of angst over the possibility that the federal government may begin to redistribute the wealth of the American people to those it deems worthy. Governmental economic policy and theory are not my area of expertise. I’ll leave those discussions to other blogs and render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. I am interested, though, in probing how the Gospel speaks to economic issues that affect the City and specifically what the Christian imperative is with regard to social concern.

I’m reading portions of the Scriptures with a whole new perspective, an experiential lens I never had before. Poverty and struggle have always existed in cities. However, we are witnessing an economic struggle now that connects suburbs and cities like many of us have never seen before. Many average families are struggling to pay for basic needs like shelter, food, and clothing. Experts claim that the unemployment rate will climb to nine percent before the end of the year. What is the Christian social imperative in times like these? What is my responsibility as a follower of Christ to my neighbor in need? There is something about me as an American that says “don’t tell me what to do with my money.” Citizens of a free nation have the right to debate about the government’s role in bailing out corporations and individuals. Again, not my point here. Here is my point: Does the Gospel tell me what to do with my money? The answer is a qualified yes and no.

2 Corinthians 8 provides an important lesson here. The apostle Paul in this chapter is attempting to persuade the Christians from Corinth to fulfill their promise to give to a collection for poor believers in Jerusalem. He informs the Corinthians that the poorest of the poor from their sister churches in Macedonia had begged to take part in the collection and even gave more than what Paul had hoped! In light of this, Paul wrote:

I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches…Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have. Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality. Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal. As the Scriptures say,

“Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough.”

What Paul says here should make us take a step back. Notice:

  • Possessing a desire to give is not enough, so Paul says “finish what you started.”
  • God expects us to give in proportion to what we have. The Macedonians had little, but gave it, which made it a great gift. The Corinthians apparently had plenty, so Paul urged them to give in proportion.
  • Paul sought for economic EQUALITY among Christians. He didn’t ask the government to enforce it, he asked Christians to do it voluntarily.
  • Why? Because those who had plenty had an opportunity to share with those in need. He adds that later on the Corinthians may be in need and will require help from those with plenty.
  • Lastly, Paul did not command the gift as a rule but worked subversively to overturn greed and fear.

Don’t get me or the Scriptures wrong here. I don’t think Paul is making the case that all Christians should make the same amount of money and that, if they do not, the Church should force a redistribution. What Paul is asking for is a little common sense. If there are people in need does it not make sense to ask those who have excess to pitch in to relieve their suffering?

What I love about the Scriptures is how quietly subversive they are. Paul doesn’t shout out a command but instead suggests that the Corinthians’ love is being put to the test. I may claim I love other people but until I put my money where my mouth is, my words are just noise pollution. But how do we get there? The answer is the Gospel. Paul reminds the Corinthians,

You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.  -2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV

It was sheer grace that made Jesus, residing in the comfortable confines of heaven with glory and splendor, decide to leave to occupy the slums of the universe. He who was rich, for your sake became poor, so that out of His poverty you would become rich. Talk about redistribution of wealth! Amen, Amen, and Amen! I was poor and destitute, separated from God, without any hope, a rebel at war with God and Jesus came and took my place as a poor man. Now I have everything for which I could ever hope. Money, possessions, and the comfort and security they bring no longer have the grasp on me they once had. I can give it all away because Christ gave me something better when He gave me Himself. He gave me God.

I said earlier that the answer to the question “Does the Gospel tell me what to do with my money?” is a qualified yes and no. Paul didn’t command the Corinthians to give, so the answer is no. But, but he did say that their giving would show how far the Gospel had penetrated their hearts, so the answer is yes. How can we say we grasp the Gospel if we do not constantly empty ourselves for the needs of others. The Gospel requires that I take someone else’s problems and make them my own. This economy is giving you and me opportunity to do that. I am spending less money on those things that I WANT. That little bit of money left at the end of the month that probably should go into savings is going to buy grocery cards for the family out of work who can’t afford groceries. I’m trying to take my plenty and supply someone else’s need because the richest person in the universe came to me, the poorest in the universe, and made my problems His very own.

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