2 Corinthians 8 and Giving

I read 2 Corinthians 8 today in my quiet time and was taken aback by how much we can learn from it about giving! My impression was that the Bible did not say very much specifically about financial giving; I do not think that impression took the wealth of information in 2 Corinthians 8 (pardon the pun) into account. I recommend reading it yourself, but here are some of the things that I noticed:
  • Paul describes the generosity of the Macedonian churches as a grace given to them by God (v. 1).
  • "[I]n a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints" (vv. 2-4). Wow!
  • We should "excel" in our giving (v. 7).
  • Our giving reflects the sincerity of our love (v. 8).
  • The goal is equality (vv. 13-15). That is certainly worth some thought.


The Unacknowledged Success of Neoliberalism

What I read, what I write, and what I think has become less political in the past years, for a few reasons: the chances that I can meaningfully influence politics are slim to none; expressing opinions on political issues can foment unnecessary division within Christian circles; politics and the economy are frickin' complicated, and I do not have the time or desire to become an expert in either; and, finally, talking about politics (and especially arguing about politics) is unhealthy for me.

That being said, I really liked this column by Scott Sumner. What I liked about it the most was that it distinguished between two different topics that often seem to be conflated in our thinking: government control of the economy and transfer of wealth. (That's probably an oversimplification on my part, but it's better than nothing! I've never even taken an economics class.)

To me, the evidence is quite clear that government control of the economy - price controls, tariffs, direct government ownership of different companies, &c. - is generally bad. Free markets are better.

However, I think the evidence about transfer of wealth - taxes, social services, &c. - is more mixed. Sumner notes how the Nordic countries have done quite well for themselves even with high tax rates (to the chagrin of many right-wingers here in the States); there's also the moral question (which can't be answered solely by economists) of whether it is worth sacrificing some efficiency for some equality. (Again, this is all muddled simplifying on my part!)

I think this distinction is absent in most American discourse on politics, and I think that is unfortunate. Conservatives think that the Nordic countries are all left-wing, when in fact some of them do quite well on scales of economic freedom (see the article for details). Liberals, meanwhile, probably resist a lot of pro-market reforms because they think "pro-market" means "anti-poor people"; again, the Nordic countries show that this thinking is incorrect.

Anyway, good article, and what Sumner says is of much more value than what I say.


The Log and the Speck

The simple message of Jesus' famous speck-in-the-eye analogy in Matthew 7.3-5 is that hypocrisy is bad. And that is a worthwhile message, as far as it goes.

But I think the analogy runs deeper than that. Notice what Jesus says in v. 5: "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye." What Jesus is saying is not "Focus on your own log; the speck is none of your business." Rather, he says that you cannot see clearly enough to take the speck out of your brother's eye until you have first dealt with your own log. Intuitively, hypocrites do not judge themselves as they should. Jesus' point, though, is that hypocrites cannot judge others as they should as a result of their hypocrisy.

I am sure this is not an original observation, but I had not really thought about it before.