Social Justice and the Grasshopper

Originally posted on August 18 ,2010

You probably know the fable about the ant and the grasshopper. The ant goes out and works all summer preparing for the future winter while the grasshopper enjoys being “fun-employed” and goes about playing all day.  When winter comes the grasshopper finds himself poor and starving.

Source: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

So what should the ant do to help the grasshopper?

How about the church the ant attends, what should they do? Should the national government where the ant lives do anything?

The answer to these questions depend on how you define social justice? Verses like Deut 15:7-8 and Isaiah 58:6-7 are used to teach us to help the poor. Rightly so but sometimes solving social needs is given greater emphasis than sharing the gospel and even leads to some Christians advocating government re-distribution of resources to provide “justice and fairness”. But does the Bible require all people to have the same resources in order for there to be social justice?  Many think that this is so, but I am not sure what they should do with passages like the parable of the talents where we see that each is given according to ability (Matt 25:15) and is rewarded according to how they used what they were given (Luke 19:16-19). Even God distributes resources differently.

So what should the ant do?

Some thoughts from Paul:

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thess 4:9-12 ESV)

In teaching the Thessalonians about brotherly love Paul urges them to continue to show this love adding among other things the need to work with your own hands and to be dependent on no one. The point seems to be that able bodied people should work so that they can care for themselves and not be dependent on others.  Paul made the same point to the Ephesians:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Eph 4:28 ESV)

The point seems to be that able bodied people should work so that they can care for themselves and the needy.  
So who are the needy? Let’s let Paul answer that one too.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.  (2 Thess 3:6-12)

Here the idle (and able) are commanded to “get to work”. If they are unwilling to work then they should not eat. Those who can work and do not are called a burden. Having nothing better to do they become gossips. Paul – who argues that as a minister of the gospel had a right to be cared for – surrendered this right to make this point. Able bodied people should work so that they can care for themselves and the needy. 

So who are the needy?
The orphans and widows (James 1:27) which are those who are truly in need and can not care for themselves. Paul gives guidelines for those who are truly widows in 1 Tim 5:3-16. From the context the true widows are not just those who have lost a spouse but those who have no resources and no one else to care for them.

Who should help the needy?
Apparently from God’s point of view the resources used to help the needy should come from family first (1 Tim 5:8) and should not be given out of compulsion but rather as each has chosen (2 Cor 9:7).

So what should the ant do to help the grasshopper?
That is up to the “ant” to decide. Living in the age of grace we should aim to be generous in our giving for we have a great Savior who has freely offered us salvation. In fact Paul tells us in 2 Cor 9:11 that we should be generous in every way so that God will get the thanks, having quoted Psalm 112 in verse 9:

It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
who conducts his affairs with justice.
He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn is exalted in honor.

(Psalm 112:5,9)

We are certainly not supposed to be selfish and hoard what God has allowed us to earn, but to live quiet, sensible lives making sure that we are able to care for the needy and wisely discern who they are.

For more ideas on how to answer the dilemma that the ant faces read all of Psalm 112, 1 Tim 6:17-19 and check out Kevin DeYoung’s series on social justice that include posts on Luke 4:16-21, Micah 6:8; Amos 5; Matthew 25:31-46; Jeremiah 22; Isaiah 58; and Isaiah 1.

[be sure to also read: God, the Jobs Bill, and Helping Others]

2 thoughts on “Social Justice and the Grasshopper

  1. Some good food for thought. One thing that really grieves me though is the complete disregard for the poor and otherwise disenfranchised especially when policies are supported that actually bring harm. There has to some kind of love for neighbor, I think.

  2. Lisa: I totally agree that we have to love our neighbor. I just think that our culture does not have a good idea of what Biblical love is. Of course the same could probably be said for Christians as well. Nor do I think I have it all figured out. I am convicted often when I read the Scriptures. I certainly struggle to properly apply love in many areas.

    It is frustrating to see federal policies that create a “culture of dependency” for people while enlarging financially unsustainable programs. Any call to reform these programs is met with accusations that we are uncaring and want to “push grannie over a cliff”. Few are willing to admit that increasing taxes alone will not “save” these programs. Fewer want to discuss the lack of character and morality when we impose massive debt on the future generations to pay for our benefits. And even fewer still want to discuss what it means to be “dependent”.

    On the other side, an average giving of 2-3% among Christians in the US is not going to be able to provide for the truly needy either. We need more Psalm 112 Christians!

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