Was Jesus a Socialist?
Many people question whether or not Jesus of Nazareth promoted and supported the ideas of a socialist government. That question can be emphatically answered no. Socialism can be defined as “an economic theory or system in which the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned by the community collectively, usually through the state. It is characterized by production for use rather than profit, by equality of individual wealth, by the absence of competitive economic activity, and, usually, by government determination of investment, prices, and production levels” (World English Dictionary). By this definition, Jesus can be said to espouse some socialist views, but he does so only within the confines of His Church, not secular government. Out of love for God and fellow man, Christ taught His followers to voluntarily and charitably give of their possessions to care for and respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in society; the sick, elderly, poor, widow, and orphan.
The visible church, the people of God, was to be a conduit for healing and deliverance through proclaiming the good news that Jesus Christ saves; a message of hope to a lost and dying world. All who acknowledged and turned from their sin, received Him and placed their trust in His name (whether rich in this world or poor) would be awarded eternal life (Jn. 1:12). Through Christ’s example, His disciples were taught that preaching the gospel of the Kingdom, the worship of God Almighty, and righteous living were to be primary focuses in this life, not accumulation of wealth or material goods. The poor were warned not to covet (Lk. 12:13-21) or be anxious about temporal hardships (Phil. 4:6), and the rich were cautioned not to trust in uncertain riches (1 Tim. 6:17) and admonished to give generously. Because of sin, the poor and the rich alike were both spiritually depraved and in need of salvation. The Church was tasked to share the gospel, while showing the same concern for the needs of all people as Christ did.
The Problem with Socialism
The concept of socialism in government (government sanctioned equality of outcome) is not biblical. Joel McDurmon said it best when he affirmed that the Bible has “never spoke a single verse in support of government involvement in charity, health, education, or business . . . Where is universal health care in the Bible? Where is government-guaranteed minimum wage in the Bible? Jesus accepted wages to be negotiated between workers and employers, not guaranteed by government decree.” Jesus never proposed that any secular king or government should take on the role of provider or savior. Government was established by God to punish evil and promote good (Rom. 13:1-5), and administer justice (1 Pt. 2:13-15). Its function was not to make victims of its citizens by robbing and forcing charitable acts upon the most productive in society to subsidize government prioritized charity; where its citizens were forced to succumb to that government’s definition of equity and fairness concerning one’s fortune, health, and personal sustenance; where acquiring wealth was considered criminal and immoral; where a man’s worth was measured merely by earthly standards; where Christ was nowhere preached.
Besides increasing poverty through minimizing economic growth and opportunity, socialism creates a vast social and financial imbalance by placing most societal resources in the hands of a few bureaucratic bandits and politicians who relegate individual freedoms. These bandits, as McDurmon has noted, “redistribute wealth evenly despite an individuals’ productivity.” Thus, socialism reduces incentive and motivation, and discourages hard work. Scripture taught just the opposite. Individual responsibility, owning private property, inheritance of wealth, hard work in exchange of personal reward or profit, and wise stewardship were encouraged throughout Scripture. Laziness, idleness, and gratuitously remaining a monetary burden to others were rebuked. All able-bodied men, poor or otherwise, were required to work (Ex. 23:11, Lev. 19:9). The poor were encouraged to help themselves; the disciples taught that every able-bodied individual was to work and contribute toward their own livelihood. The Apostle Paul commanded this, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:6-10). Other biblical passages support the same. Socialism remains unbiblical even, like McDurmon said, when you use the poor to try and justify it.
Some proponents of socialism claim the advice such as the Apostle Paul gave to the Church at Corinth in His second epistle to them prove equality of outcome is a biblical principle that should be held by all. The Apostle stated,
“I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. And in this I give advice . . . by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality” (2 Cor. 8:9-13).
Essentially, Paul knew that all wealth belonged to the Lord, and men were mere stewards. His advice and challenge for believers was to emulate Christ’s selflessness in giving. People with material wealth, because of their abundance, were in a position to help the poor. If everyone followed Christ’s example, then men’s basic needs would be met. Jesus showed mercy to all people and He especially cared for the poor; He loved them, He rebuked them, He corrected them, He taught them, He fed them. Believers should do the same.
Generosity was a principle strongly promoted throughout the Bible and the concept of giving was valued, not only so that none should lack anything, but so that money would not become their taskmaster. Those who gave charitably were considered good stewards (1 Pet. 4:9-10). Christian giving was always voluntary and “as each has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Cor. 9:7) unlike in socialist governments in which giving is coerced and involuntary. Biblical charity involved choice. God commanded men that when they gave, they were to give generously and do so without a grudging heart” (Deut. 15:10).
Stay tuned for Does the Bible Promote Socialism Part 2, “Wealth is Not Evil.”