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Jesus and social questions

Two opposing views have been held regarding Jesus' attitude to social questions:
1) Jesus did not concern Himself with social questions, as He was only interested in the spiritual life of man. This view has resulted in Christians separating their religion from their social duties.
2) Jesus was primarily a social reformer, as He taught that social ills must be addressed before men can be redeemed. This view sees man as a product of his social environment, and thus not to be held responsible for his actions.

The true answer lies somewhere in between these two views. Jesus came preaching an all-encompassing kingdom of justice, mercy and truth. Because His is a moral government, it does have social implications. He came to change the world through changed men, and if men are truly changed according to the principles of His kingdom, then there will be no distinction between sacred and secular concerns.

Jesus' attitude to social questions becomes clear when we examine His teaching on three kinds of social relationships: 1) family life; 2) wealth and poverty; 3) the state and politics.

1. Jesus' teaching on family life

Among the Jews, a higher estimate of the institution of the family prevailed than among any other nation, because they saw the origin of family life as a divine creation, and the Jewish law helped to prevent the moral degeneration of other nations. In all of His teaching and life Jesus transcended Old Testament beliefs and practices, and so He did the same for family life:


Jesus was brought up and lived for 30 years in a big family, [1] and had to assume responsibility for the support of the family after the death of Joseph. By His own devotion to family life, He has set His followers an example for their lives.

Jesus saw the family as an example of the kingdom of God. He constantly compared human fathers to the Father in heaven who will never forsake His children even though human parents might. [2] As children born naturally into a family possess the nature of their parents, so children born of the Spirit into the kingdom of God, possess the divine nature. [3] As children inherit possessions in their natural family, so believers are heirs of God through Christ. [4]

Jesus' attitude to women has been largely influential in the change in women's position in the home and in society. Thus Peter exhorted husbands to respect their wives as heirs with them of the gift of life. [5] By His loving attitude to children, He elevated childhood [6] and stressed the importance of the kingdom principle of humility. [7]


Nevertheless, despite the importance of family life, Jesus taught that it must take second place to Himself, [8] the will of the Father [9] and the call of the kingdom. [10]

2. Jesus' teaching on wealth and poverty

Having created all things,[11] Jesus lived as though He didn't own anything. Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor, so that we through His poverty might become rich. [12] Because wealth and poverty are inextricably bound up with our social lives, Jesus gives guidance about it in many of His parables and other teachings.

The Old Testament taught private ownership of property in that each man worked his own piece of land. Jesus went further and taught that material riches are neither good nor bad in themselves, but only as they are properly or improperly used. Thus in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, [13] the rich man stands condemned because he was callous to the needs of the beggar.

The rich should not lay up treasure for themselves, but should be "rich toward God" [14] in distributing their money to the poor, and especially to the saints among them. [15] Jesus said, "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me." [16] Wealth can therefore be dangerous in that it may prevent a rich man from entering the kingdom of God. [17] Jesus warned against the worship of money as idolatry. [18] The love of money is the root of all evil [19] and may lead to a man gaining the whole world, yet losing his own soul. [20]

On the other hand, Jesus did not teach that poverty is necessarily blessed. The essence of His teaching was that it is more blessed to give than to receive. [21] Everything we have is from God, [22] therefore we are to act as trustees of God's gifts. But God's richest gifts are without money and without price. Money cannot buy deliverance from sin, peace with God, and everlasting life.

3. Jesus' teaching on the state and politics

The Pharisees "laid plans to trap Him in His words," [23] and sent their disciples and the Herodians to ask Him whether it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. As teachers of the law they should have known about the rule of the Talmud which states that "he is the king of the country whose coin is current in the country." [24] They were hoping that if He truthfully said 'Yes,' the Jews would turn against Him; and if He said 'No,' the Roman government could be turned against Him.

Because of Caesar's image on the coins of the country, and because man was made in the image of God, Jesus ruled that they should "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." [25] He thus left the church some standing rules in this regard:

a) The Christian religion is not an enemy to civil government, because Christ's kingdom is not of this world and it is through God's providence that kings reign.

b) It is the duty of Christians to be subject to the laws of their country. The government of a country is entrusted with public welfare, the protection of subjects and the keeping of peace. As all citizens benefit by these things, they are obliged to accept the responsibility of paying the government what they owe. The issues at stake are thus not purely political but rather moral and religious.

c) When Christians give the government what is due to it, they must give God what is due to Him of their time and money. Their hearts must belong to God first and foremost; if the government's commands interfere with God's, Christians "must obey God rather than men." [26]


In every aspect of life, whether it be one's dealings with the state, family life or money, the rules of God's kingdom are absolute. "And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." [27]


1. Matthew 8:55ff; Mark 6:3
2. Isaiah 49:14-16
3. 1 John 3:19, seed=nature
4. Galations 3:29
5. 1 Peter 3:7
6. Mark 10:13-16
7. Matthew 18:4
8. Matthew 10:37
9. Matthew 12:50
10. Luke 9:59-62
11. John 1:3
12. 2 Corinthians 8:9
13. Luke 16:19-31
14. Luke 12:21
15. Romans 12:13
16. Matthew 25:45
17. Matthew 19:24
18. Matthew 6:24
19. 1 Timothy 6:10
20. Matthew 16:26
21. Acts 20:35
22. Matthew 5:45; 1 Chronicles 29:14
23. Matthew 22:15
24. Henry, p.1728
25. Matthew 22:21
26. Acts 5:29
27. Micah 6:8


1. Douglas, J.D. (ed.) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1962.

2. Henry, M. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Massachusetts, U.S.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

3. Lockyer, H. Everything Jesus Taught, San Francisco, U.S.A.: harper and Row Publishers, 1976.

4. Stewart, J.S. The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, Edinburgh, Scotland: The Church of Scotland Committee on Youth, 1965.

5. The Thompson's Chain-Reference Bible.


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Posted in: Bible by on August 25, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

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