4 Reasons Why Income Inequality is Not Always a Justice Issue

There are many voices in our culture right now calling for “justice.” But knowing exactly what “justice” means can be very confusing. Everything from open borders, to voting rights for felons, to defunding the police are now being called “justice issues.” And in some cases, we hear Christian leaders calling these policies  “Gospel issues.” 

Wealth gaps are regularly presented as examples of “injustice,” generally without debate. Usually, the remedy involves taking income from “the rich” and redistributing it to “the poor.” Some people having more resources than others is considered "unfair" and something that must be remedied. But are all wealth gaps a legitimate example of injustice from a biblical point of view? 

When examining whether anything is a “justice” issue, it is important to start with Scripture. Here are four points to consider.

1. It’s not a sin to be rich.

In spite of the rise of socialist sympathies in our country, the Bible doesn’t actually say that being rich is a sin. In Scripture, income disparities are a brute reality. The world is filled with the rich, the poor, and everything in between. “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me” (Mark 14:7). It has always been that way, and it will always be that way until Christ’s return. 

According to God’s point of view, there are four kinds of people when it comes to money. 

The picture that emerges from this survey shows that money –– or lack of money –– is not humanity’s most basic problem. It is the wickedness of the human heart. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Jesus describes the Pharisees as “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14) and a “love of money” is a sign of the end times (2 Timothy 3:1–4). This is why one of God’s standards when choosing a local church leader is that he cannot be a “lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2–4).  This heart posture was the hindrance for people like the rich young man in Matt. 19.

Ironically, nowhere in Scripture are God’s people commanded to engage in economic equity as a sign of righteousness. God does give some general instructions for how to prosper, such as hard work, staying out of debt and planning ahead so you can leave a legacy for the next generation. He also makes provisions to meet the poor’s basic needs, but they still must work to glean the harvest. I discuss these issues in some detail in these two recent teachings on my YouTube channel.

2. The Bible teaches that wealth gained through theft or deception is a sin.

The possession, and even the accumulation, of wealth for the next generation is not inherently sinful. In fact, Scripture teaches that wealth is an expression of God’s blessing (Deut. 28:12; Job 1:10), not a form of wickedness. Creating wealth can be a noble endeavor (Proverbs 13:22).

What would make wealth building sinful is if we gained money through theft or deception. The eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). This command is repeated multiple times in the New Testament (Romans 13:9; Ephesians 4:28).

It's interesting to me that the command against stealing is located adjacent to the commands against lying and coveting. Those seem to be frequently connected sins. In fact, there are even specific laws prohibiting God’s people from gaining wealth by taking advantage of the poor (Exodus 22:22–23), stealing private property (Exodus 22:1–3), engaging in deception (Leviticus 19:11) and taking an item essential to a poor person’s livelihood as collateral for a loan (Deuteronomy 24:17). All of these actions violate God’s moral character. Again, I want to emphasize that wealth itself is not the problem

3. God does not give preferential treatment to the rich...or to the poor.

The common narrative in our culture right now is that God favors the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. However, the Bible doesn’t actually say this. 

What Scripture does say is that God doesn’t act with partiality when it comes to common grace. He allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:44–46). Rich and poor alike can benefit from His creation (Hebrews 6:7). But then, each must work to create the harvest. 

God is also described as acting without partiality in salvation. He judges everyone according to the same standards. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. No matter our social status, there is only one to come into a relationship with a holy God, and that is through His Son, Jesus Christ. In turn, He gives the same measure of the Holy Spirit to all. He doesn’t give one amount of the Holy Spirit to adults and another to children. He doesn’t redeem one group of people differently than another group. Jesus extends the invitation to eternal life to all (Acts 10:34-35; 17:30). But not all actually make the decision to enter into eternal life. Yet, this unequal outcome is still "fair" because the same standard is applied to all.

God wants His people to reflect His moral character. “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15; cf. Exodus 23:2–3). To judge our neighbor fairly is to apply the same rules to all and treat all with dignity. To do otherwise is wicked: “So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law” (Psalm 82:2; Malachi 2:9). In other words, we act like God when we give people what they have earned, when we hold people accountable for their actions. We don’t have one set of laws that favor the rich and another set of laws that favor the poor. We don’t treat one ethnic group kindly and another ethnic group with contempt.

God’s standards of impartial justice also become perverted when His people accept favors in order to look the other way when sin happens. No one can bribe God to do our bidding. Neither should His people accept bribes or withhold justice from the poor. “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent” (Deuteronomy 10:17; cf. Exodus 23:6Deuteronomy 16:19). All people should be treated equally under the law. We should be judged innocent or guilty based on our individual responsibility, not what group we belong to or the result of favoritism.

This principle of impartiality is clearly restated in the New Testament: “believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1–4). God wants His people to treat all members of the church as equally valuable. We don’t segregate according to income status, ethnicity, or gender because all are one in Christ.

Let me give an illustration here. When I grade a student's paper, I should grade all papers according to the same standards. Some students will work hard and do well. Some students will work hard, but still get a "C." But that's still fair according to God's standard of justice because I am using the same measure for everyone. I don't grade according to the person's economic status (e.g., "Poor students get a bonus of 10 points") or their sex (e.g., "Girls get a bonus of 10 points for being girls"). Fairness requires that I grade everyone the same. That's equality.

Does God promise to advocate for the poor and the widow? Yes, He does. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18). He promises to be a husband to the widow and a father to the fatherless. And He commands His people to reflect His character and do the same. But that’s not because He gives favoritism to the poor. It’s because He knows that the poor are vulnerable. 

So when Scripture says things like, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern” (Proverbs 29:7), it is not teaching income redistribution or income equality. It is calling God’s people to stand for equality for all under the law. Rather, the righteous express their relationship with God by ensuring that the rich don’t take advantage of the poor through theft, deception or bribery. 

4. The righteous use their wealth to help those around them.

God’s people live according to His standards of justice when they engage in personal acts of righteousness. A righteous man joyfully expresses gratitude for salvation and makes restitution to those he’s stolen from (Luke 19:1–10), while a wicked man continually passes someone he knows is destitute and does nothing (Luke 16:19–31). The differences between these acts is a reflection of each man’s heart posture: being moved with love and compassion. 

Here are a few examples of how a righteous person may use their wealth based on God’s standards of justice:

If I'm going to live like Jesus, then I'm going to recognize that the world is filled with rich people and poor people. And all of them have the same fundamental need: they need a Savior. As I grow in faith, I will see my neighbor’s needs and consider how my resources can meet those needs (Luke 10:25-37). This springs from gratitude to God for sharing the wealth of heaven with me through His forgiveness of my sins. When we do this, the “Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to” (Deuteronomy 15:10; cf. 28:12).

In all these things, we should notice that these acts are the result of free will decisions, between people, under the assumption of private property rights. These actions are not the result of government wealth redistribution programs, where wealth is taken from one group and given to another. Nor do these acts involve the poor demanding their “fair share” of another man’s wages in the name of justice. To do so would break God’s standards of justice, particularly the sins of coveting and theft.

In an age where wealth building and generational inheritance are labeled as “unjust,” Christians must consider Scripture before “following the crowd” and perverting God’s standard of justice. No, income inequality is not always a “justice issue,” nor is it a “gospel issue.” However, helping to meet my neighbor’s needs ought to be an expression of my gratitude to God. 

Questions to Consider:

  1. Does this so-called "justice" issue violate God's moral character?

  2. Does God's Word have anything directly to say about this so-called "justice" issue or is this a man-made standard of justice?

  3. Is this so-called "justice" issue trying to sell me on the idea that "fairness requires" that all outcomes be equal? Then, it not be actually be a justice issue from God's point of view.

  4. Is this so-called "justice" issue applying the same rules to all? Then it might be just, even if there are unequal outcomes.

  5. Is God calling me to meet the legitimate needs of my neighbor?

© 2020 by Krista Bontrager