Was Jesus a Socialist?

I recently heard someone say: Jesus was a socialist.

Some campaign buzzwords and phrases that have been used these past four-plus years include “socialism” and “share the wealth.” Most of the time, these words and phrases are linked to attacks on President Obama.

Republican talking heads do all they can to cast the president in a negative light when it comes to universal health care and the beefing up of  government-run programs such as welfare, food stamps, etc. to care for the poor.

At the National Prayer Breakfast, the president tried to use a “What would Jesus do?” theme as a tactic to advance his political objectives.

In light of this national discussion, I’ve actually had to challenge my Republican leanings and my Christian beliefs and ask myself: Was it Jesus’ desire for us to share our wealth with others and support them through the funnel of government?

Scripture repeatedly points to Jesus’ unwavering love for those whom society has cast aside for thousands of years — the poor, the old, the sick, widows, children, the disabled, prostitutes, prisoners, the uneducated, etc. In Acts, we learn how the members of the new Christian Church, guided on Earth by men like Peter and Paul, saw early Christians give all they had — and then some — to help the poor and others who needed provision. People gave and gave and gave because they had brothers and sisters in Christ who were in need.

So, in reading these things, I tried to square my understanding of the Bible with my strong belief that the U.S. government has gone too far with its welfare programs. In fact, I almost caught myself saying: “My beliefs on these issues might not be biblical, but this is one place where I might have to differ with the Bible.”

However, a few weeks ago, when my wife was leading our Bible study, she read from Corinthians, and something clicked.

In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul is asking the church of Corinth to give, as he had seen the church in Macedonia give. We learn a lot in Chapter 9, verses 6-15.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

I believe President Obama called upon a scripture in Luke during his speech when he said: “To whom much is given, much is required.” If that is from the Luke passage, I believe he took that out of context. In the passage, it’s describing someone’s obedience to do God’s will — basically saying: If you know what God expects of you, you are required to do it.

So, does God tell us to give to the poor? YES!

Does this nation (particularly us Christians in obedience to God’s command) do a good job of that? No, I don’t believe we’re doing enough.

Is a tax increase on anyone to fund more government programs the answer? I don’t believe so. Especially not now.

In the passage above, it says: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

I think a tax is “compulsion.” Most people don’t get excited — and aren’t very cheerful — when they need to give more money to the government. Why? Because we, as a nation, do not (or should not) have faith in our elected officials to care for us.

Let’s consider this scenario. If you see that your neighbors are struggling — let’s say they lost their jobs and cannot buy food — is it best to say: “I’ll give more to the government, then when my neighbors file for welfare, I can say with confidence that every extra penny I gave in taxes went to help them.”

OR, is it better to go to the grocery store, buy them a week’s worth of groceries and hand them a $100 bill for some expenses? Maybe organize a fundraiser to help with some medical bills? Open your door to them? Let them vent to you? Pray with them?

Jesus said: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Give to God what is God’s.”

If we must pay taxes to the government, then we must pay taxes. That’s our civic duty as democratic Americans to fund education, parks, roads, libraries, police, fire, etc. And I’m proud to do it, if it’s something that’s voted on or if it lends to the betterment and the defense of our country. But I don’t think it’s correct for any politician to ask “What would Jesus do?” when trying to sell something like universal health care or other such things.

If you haven’t read Richard Stearns’ book, The Hole in our Gospel, you should pick up a copy today. In that book, it shows very graphically how much we are failing as Christians. Stearns tells us that if American Christians gave out of their abundance, the face of the world would change — hunger and poverty could be wiped out.

So, no, we Christians, as a whole, do not sacrifice like they did in the early Church. We need to do more. We MUST do more. There certainly needs to be a revival in this area. I’ll admit it: I don’t do it. I fail miserably in that area. I want to change.

BUT, giving more to the government to have it filter down to the people is not the answer.

I tend to lean on this argument. Congress has an ABYSMAL approval record. As a whole, we believe our senators, representatives and presidents to be greedy and self-serving. They have proven they can’t use the tax money we give them responsibly. How can any American support giving them more money to throw into a black hole? Do you really think “the people” — or the appropriate people — are getting the money?

So, at this point, I say this: Jesus commands us to do what he did — love (and take care of) our brothers and sisters. That commandment is second only to “Love God with all your heart.” He wants us to reach out to people, accept them, and love them. Just like we’d want them to do for us. If they cannot support themselves, He wants us to house them, clothe them, feed them, get them medical attention. He wants us to do this with our whole heart. And through this love, the people to whom we minister will, in turn, see Jesus! That’s the goal. But I believe we should do this in God’s strength and with  cheerful hearts as individuals, churches and communities — not through more forced government programs.