Why Limited Government is Integral to Biblical Flourishing
Each one of us is passionate about some issue that’s close to our hearts. Personally, I’m passionate about economic freedom. Why? Because I see how it impacts my ability to be faithful to what God has called me to do. Recently, I’ve written four posts explaining why Christians should care about economic freedom:
- We are called to work.
- We are called to serve the poor.
- We are called to flourish.
- Private property rights are biblical.
Today I will tackle another key point: Economic freedom requires limited government, and limited government is supported by a strong, biblical foundation.
Looking at Government Through a Biblical Lens
Every time the state enforces a new law, regulation or “service,” it does so through coercion. A representative government is defined as an institution that possesses the use of force by the consent of the governed. It’s important to note, however, that many representative and constitutional governments, including the United States, act in ways that are not consented to. Often violating their own constitutional arrangements.
Limited government broadens the path to flourishing by liberating each person to use his resources to best serve himself and others.
What does the Bible have to say about this use of force and when it may or may not be legitimate? Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland examines the two types of central texts on the issue of government:
1. Old Testament prophets and the obligations of pagan rulers and nations:
- The book of Amos (in chapters 1 and 2) gives the best example of the prophets berating pagan rulers for not protecting persons and property from the force and fraud of others. For example, they were chastised for forced deportation of a population and for murder.
2. New Testament passages on the state in general:
- Jesus teaches that the church and state are separate and operate in different realms of authority (Matt. 22:21).
- Paul tells us to submit to the governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7). He does not tell us to obey the government. His use of “submit” implies that there are cases where one would be justified in disobeying. Paul clearly delineates the limits and scope of the state. The text also implies that the state should protect those negative rights when they are violated.
- The function of the state is to provide a stable social order in which people can live peaceably. We are to pray for our leaders to succeed in that specific function (1 Tim. 2:1-2).
- Another view of limited government is presented in 1 Pet. 2:13-14 where government is described as a body that is to protect the negative rights of others and punish violators of others’ negative rights.
(Additional references on a biblical perspective of limited government are available here.)
States Do Not Create Wealth
The scriptures emphasize limited models of government to protect our natural, God-given rights. Limited government broadens the path to flourishing by liberating each person to use his resources to best serve himself and others. Governments that extend beyond the protection of person and property into the provision of positive rights — such as medical care, education or a job — can only do so at the expense of other rights.
Moreover, states do not create wealth. They are only capable of taking and transferring wealth. The more we expect the state to provide positive rights, the more we limit the people’s broader abilities to help create opportunities for others. This is especially damaging to the poorest among us, for whom we are called to care.
As Christians, we should want everyone to have a job, shelter, food and medical care. Yet a good understanding of economics, history and human nature helps us understand that the state cannot fulfill many of our desires, no matter how much we might wish it could.
Economic freedom, even in partial doses, has lifted millions out of poverty. In China alone, limited market reforms since 1978 have lifted 600 million people out of abject poverty. If we fail to advocate for economic freedom, we will continue to lose it, slowing the triumph over poverty. The United States dropped from the second most economically free country in the world to eighteenth in the past ten to twenty years. We are currently ranked sixth.
Promoting a Flourishing Society
We cannot afford to further jeopardize our ability to flourish as a people. Christians who embrace a biblical understanding of work and freedom can make a big difference.
By pursuing our gifts and doing what God has called us each to do, we become salt and light. In doing his job with excellence, the Christian promotes flourishing and gives others a glimpse of the coming of God’s kingdom and the restored earth.
To paraphrase Martin Luther, the most powerful way to love one’s neighbor consists of doing one’s job well. The assembly line worker who makes steering wheels for Honda may not feel like he is promoting flourishing. But he is, if he does it with excellence. He is part of a much bigger market economy that requires many different skills and talents to bring about greater prosperity for everyone, including the poorest of the poor. He is taking individual responsibility in embracing and promoting economic freedom by doing his job well and serving others.
A free market under a limited government that upholds the rule of law provides each individual with the liberty and stability to use his gifts to support himself, serve others and promote a flourishing society.
Read more from Anne Bradley about thinking economically about our call to stewardship in Be Fruitful and Multiply: How Economics Is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.
This article is republished with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE Daily Blog.