God's Economy of Togetherness

by J. Mark Bowers


"The Year of Jubilee" by Henry Le Jeune

During an election year, everyone is an expert on the economy—from billionaire businessmen and career politicians to your high school Facebook friends.

For many Republicans, the free market is the answer to our economic woes, tapping into human potential and bestowing merit on those who are creative and hardworking.

To most Democrats, balanced government intervention levels the economic playing field in a broken world, justly redistributing resources and opportunity where needed.

While both sides make a point, Yahweh's economic vision for us aims at something larger: a community of shalom—people that live generously, justly, and sustainably together, embodying the economic life of Yahweh's new creation.

Whatever way you might lean, partisan solutions to our economic woes fail to fully realize God's ideal for creation. When we outsource responsibility, whether to the market or the state, we deny our God-given role in creating the kind of economic community God envisions.  What is Yahweh's dream for shalom, and how do we fit in?

Yahweh's economic vision

You won't find policy recommendations on Fed interest rate hikes or minimum wage in the Old Testament. But look at the overarching narrative and you will find a model for a just, restorative economy where both wealthy and poor are encouraged to move toward one another, striving for shalom.

Jubilee, gleaning, and Sabbath laws described in Leviticus ensured God's people would not become economically estranged from one another.  Knowing that, because of the Fall, people would exploit each other and the land, God established laws to ensure that success and failure were not entrenched for generations.

At Jubilee, families were given restored access to the means of providing for themselves by working the land.  If a family had lost their land and fallen into poverty, it would be returned to them. This way no one would be permanently without access to work.

Similarly, gleaning laws ensured that people who were poor would always have access to work for their food. By leaving the perimeters of their fields unharvested, landowners gave the poor and immigrants an opportunity to eat and earn an income.

How do we practice the principles of Jubilee and Sabbath in the modern day, fostering an economic system of justice and togetherness?

Even Sabbath laws prioritizing rest for people, animals, and the land were by their very nature a relinquishing of maximum profit. In God's economy, quality of life together matters. More does not always mean better.

These economic laws provided a framework for how God's people are to work, rest, and live together. They discouraged avarice, ensuring every community member had the hope of freedom and justice—even the poor. God's intention was that the poor brother may "continue to live among you." Ultimately, this model served to remind rich and poor alike that everything ultimately belonged to God and they were simply managers. God rescued both the rich and poor from slavery.  All economic classes were reminded that Yahweh is Owner of all things, and their earnings were not by their own efforts.

By now, your political alarms may be sounding, sirens of right or left wailing. Our culture has trained us to shrink these tough issues into the manageable, sociopolitical boxes of the day. Yet the kingdom of God doesn't fit in these categories. There's a larger question for Christians of all leanings: How do we practice these principles in the modern day, fostering an economic system of justice and togetherness?

Follow King Jesus to the margins

In contrast to the self-protective, power-preserving ways of the empire's economy, the kingdom that Jesus set up invites us into a new community of abundance that finds its treasure in small, strange places—mustard seeds and the mite of widows.  This peculiar people, a city set on a hill, shine light together on new ways of measuring value. Their kingdom appears upside-down, for their King became incarnate on the poorest margins, flipping the world's economic and power norms on their head.

The kingdom economy of Jesus invites us into new conversations and new ways of living alongside people who are materially poor. Around the US, communities of Christians like CCDA are intentionally making their homes in under-resourced neighborhoods, quietly rejecting mainstream wisdom, living against the grain. These networks of Jesus-followers are raising their families on the margins. They are committed to re-neighboring America—striving alongside low-income neighbors for economic, social, and spiritual renewal.

Similarly, through Faith & Finances and Work Life, communities across the country are challenging the status quo of comfort or security, as people of different income levels, races, and backgrounds come together to incarnate God's economic vision for finances, work, and life together.  These new communities are pushing toward Yahweh's ancient vision for shalom, made flesh in the coming kingdom of Jesus, where the haves and the have-nots are bound in community to each other.

Right or left—the economies of the world run on scarcity, clinging to security in finite power or wealth. In the upside down kingdom of Jesus, He does not outsource economic woes to the market or the state—He engages them with the shocking abundance of Himself.  His children are invited to follow, living vulnerably in His new, narrow way.  Like Old Testament Israel, our security is not based on hoarding limited resources or segregating ourselves from danger, ugliness, or poverty. Instead, we find our rest and peace in the abundance of Yahweh our Father, the generous Owner of all things.  In sharing stake and friendship across financial lines, we begin to experience the shalom God intended, fulfilling His dream for an economy of togetherness.

Mark Bowers writes and trains for the Chalmers Center, a church-equipping organization that spawned the When Helping Hurts series. After hours, he spends his time ideating, creating community in the neighborhood, and pretending adolescence doesn't end until you're 40.

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16 Responses

  1. Dan Swanson says:

    Hey Mark, good article…we over at Jubilee Economics (JEM) are always excited when someone retrieves the concept of the Jubilee and makes it known today. Thanks.

  2. RustbeltRick says:

    Government interventions in the economy certainly don't bring about the Kingdom of God, but that's no reason to ignore the important role they can play. A $15 minimum wage would be a great place to start if we seriously wanted to address U.S. poverty. And increased oversight over things like payday lenders is essential if we want to maintain a modicum of justice in an economy that too many perceive as rigged against the powerless.

    • Great word, Rick. I totally agree that systems are broken and often set against the powerless, and that the government has a key role to play in upholding and even creating incentives toward justice. While that's an important issue to address, this article aims to challenge the church to start having larger conversations about just what we should long for in terms of God's vision for a just economic system.

    • Would it give God more Glory if Christian business owners arbitrarily raised the minimum wage to $15? Would God perhaps bless that effort? Paul Cuny wrote an interesting book called the Kingdom Economy

  3. Sam Moore says:

    Thank you for this article, Mark. I constantly need this reminder that God's shalom is much more radical – and beautiful – than the competing visions that fight for my allegiance. Good words for an election year!

    • J. Mark says:

      Good insight, Sam. Now if only I can figure out what it means to practice this faithfully in community, amidst all of those competing allegiances and voices!

  4. Excellent article! God's Shalom – a beautiful picture of what we should be seeking!

  5. Xuan Minh Nguyen says:

    We try to explain things in our earthly ways, but still there are inevitable facts we call paradoxes. Economically speaking, in recession, we try not to pull the greenback from our pockets in a shop because we need to save up for the rainy days. However, if we do so, products can't be sold, factories can't operate, workers are laid off, and businesses die. If so then we have less salary, try to save more, and worsen the demand for consumption, and stiffle even more businesses. The vicious circle goes on until some unnecessary death happens to get rid of the problems created by our greed. At that time, people will be much more humble and thankful for their survival. Any way, the balance we claim to be capable of changing is the most complicated structure one can think of. The government's job is to make its citizens believe in the direction it is leading them, not to make decisions for them. Think about how hard we change our neighbour's thinking. I doubt that changing social behaviors of more than 300 million Americans is easier than that. Therefore, there is always a loophole which people need to fill with prayers. We pray for humankind to recognize the right things to do, to lessen paradoxes, to erase vicious circles, and to lead a humble life even in the heyday.

    • J. Mark says:

      I especially like the ways in which you've called us to approach our economic opportunities and outlooks with humility. Yours is a helpful perspective from outside a US context. Blessings my brother.

  6. Rich Gutowski says:

    When we outsource responsibility to the market or to the state, whether to the market or the state, we deny (abdicate) our God given responsibility to create the economic.community God envisions…..one of the best lines of all time. I will use it all the time and may get the shirts made up for my men's group…..

  7. OK this is dangerous but could we apply the same logic to abortion. Are we outsourcing our responsibility to the state by outlawing abortion? Would it give God more Glory if abortion were legal but no one chose it? Is outlawing it the easy way out for us? No offense not in favor just posing the question? It seems we sacrifice so many other social.justice issues for this particular legal objective

  8. Jerilyn Sanders says:

    This reminds me of the crowds that walked away from Jesus because of His "hard sayings." This is convicting and challenging to live out! But, as God's people, we should probably be concerned if we're not being counter-cultural in some way.

    • J. Mark says:

      I'm convinced of the same, dear friend. I'm always longing to define, control, and thus make sense of faith, yet Jesus keeps flipping my small ideas upside down over and again.

  1. April 2, 2018

    […] This article was originally printed at http://www.evangelicalsforsocialaction.org/economic-justice/gods-economy-of-togetherness/. […]

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