At the beginning of the 20th century the German social historian Max Weber published The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. He was trying to explain why, at that time, in many societies those with the top jobs were predominantly from a Protestant background.
Whether you can connect the Reformation of the 16th century easily with the rise of capitalism, mainly in the 19th century, is a matter of conjecture. But it is certainly true that as Reformation leaders like Luther and Calvin taught the Scriptures a new spirit of industriousness and an enthusiasm for daily work was generated. The question raised by Weber’s thesis is not so much to do with work as what we do with the fruits of our labours. Jesus had much to say about money and the use of wealth, e.g. Matthew 6.24; Luke 12.13-21.
The Creator’s Property
Scripture teaches that the one who creates is the one who owns. Work establishes property.
Thus God is called the ‘Possessor’ of heaven and earth, Genesis 14.19, 22.
See also for example Psalm 24.1; Psalm 50.9-12.
Many of Jesus’ parables concerning the Second Coming speak in terms of an owner of property returning and those to whom he entrusted it having to give an account, e.g. Mark 13.32-36.
Already we therefore see that a Christian’s attitude to property ought to be different from that of others. We are merely stewards of things which actually belong to God.
The legitimacy of personal property
In the context of everything ultimately belonging to God, the Bible goes on to teach the legitimacy of personal property. Under God, some things legitimately belong to us.
God is the worker who made the world and therefore owns it. We are made in God’s image, Genesis 1.26, 27, and therefore man too has a certain right to the things he has made.
The Decalogue with its commandments not to steal and not to covet what belongs to others makes the legitimacy of personal property explicit, Exodus 20.15, 17; Deuteronomy 5.19, 21.
The New Testament makes the same point, Ephesians 4.28.
But the Bible also emphasises that personal property is only legitimate if its has been obtained in a legitimate way i.e., justly. Paying people low wages because they are too weak to stand up to a master will bring God’s wrath, James 5.1-6
The dangers of personal property
Within a limited sphere wealth brings both freedom and security. Thus material wealth often goes hand in hand with forgetting God, Deuteronomy 8.10-18. This is what has happened in the prosperous Western world.
Thinking ourselves as having no need of God, fallen human nature sees itself as free to indulge its sinful desires. Thus the love of money becomes a root of all kinds of evil, 1 Timothy 6.10.
When we replace God by the love of wealth and material things, not only do we worship the creature rather than the Creator, Romans 1.25, but we plunge ourselves into destruction, 1 Timothy 6.9.
The responsibilities of personal property
The gift of personal wealth carries with it at least two responsibilities.
First, as we enjoy the material things that God has given us to enjoy we have a responsibility to thank him and love him for his kindness to us, 1 Timothy 4.4, 5.
Second, as God has prospered us we have a responsibility to use our wealth to help others. The apostle Paul tells us to use our money to be rich in good works, 1 Timothy 6.18. The apostle John tells us that practical love towards others through giving is a mark of true conversion, 1 John 3.14-18.
Part 1 in the series is ‘Work and Creation‘
Part 2 in the series is ‘Work and the Fall‘
Part 3 in the series is ‘Male and Female in the context of Work‘
Part 4 in the series is ‘Work and Rest‘
Part 5 in the series is ‘Work and our Attitudes‘
Part 6 in the series is ‘Work and Ambition‘
A related post ‘7 Tips on handling stress in the work place’ can be found here.