For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich . . . For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 2 Corinthians 8:9-14
I grew up during the cold war, during which time, I knew Russia as the great enemy. I didn’t know a lot about communism, but I knew that they were godless heathens, and I knew that we were the righteous capitalists, chosen by God’s himself. Years after the cold war ended, communism is still a pejorative term and – at least in the circles I move in – calling someone a socialist implies that they might be an atheist and/or communist and therefore, cannot be trusted with political power.
Socialism is evil. This is the mindset and background that I carried into my reading of today’s passage. When I read Paul’s instructions that those Christians who have a lot should give to those who have little, to bring about fairness, I cringed a little. That sounded an awful lot like the godless, communist Russians from my childhood.
Paul of course, wasn’t prescribing a political revolution or a compulsory redistribution of wealth. But still, what he taught was radical and probably somewhat offensive to us. He insisted that as Christians, we must love those around us, sharing of our time, effort, and money to help those who are struggling. If we have, we must give to those who don’t.
Perhaps as a product of the cold war mentality, many of us see capitalism as a Christian philosophy, as opposed to socialism, which is an evil one. We support capitalism as an economic theory (I do as well), but then we extrapolate that to our private lives. We believe that it’s God’s will that we make money and gather possessions for ourselves. If others are struggling, it’s their own fault for being lazy or making poor choices.
To be clear, the Bible doesn’t promote a communist government and I’m not endorsing socialism. This isn’t about politics. I’m just trying to follow Jesus, who gave up his treasures, becoming poor, so that we might become rich. Paul taught that as Christians, we must follow him, giving our love, time, and money to those around us in need. This isn’t communism or socialism. It’s just basic Christianity.