Let us start with an obvious principle, and then go on to show that it is a biblical principle. Sometimes earthy observations are dismissed by Christians as having a carnal wisdom to them but, it is supposed, they somehow are not representative of the “way of the Spirit.”
The principle is that you get more of what you subsidize, and less of what you penalize. Now this means that when our missions culture has subsidized a culture of welfare-like dependency in poorer nations, and has stuck with this terrible blunder over the course of a century or more, we cannot act surprised when we find that we have created semi-permanent cultures of welfare-like dependency. You get more of what you subsidize, and less of what you penalize.
The unyielding truth of this principle is why liberals hate it so much. They don’t like having to deal with the idea that tax laws have consequences, for example, and on the flip side they don’t want to believe that deterrence works. As with all such departures from the wisdom of God, the whole thing turns into a mass of contradictions. They want to believe that a $10,000 fine affects behavior and that a $10,000 tax bill won’t. But like it or not, all real consequences affect all real behavior.
They are fond of saying that sociologists have not yet demonstrated that capital punishment has a deterrant effect. But it most certainly does, even if at the most rudimentary level. I once saw a comedian who had more insight into this issue than many of our crackerjack eggheads. He said that if you go down to the kitchen in the middle of the night, flip on a light, and discover a cockroach in the middle of the floor, you immediately move to crush it with your foot. You never stop yourself in mid-stomp to ask, “Wait . . . I wonder if this will actually deter the others?” At the most basic level, it will certainly deter that one.
Because liberals don’t want God to govern the world, they don’t want it to run the way He says that it does. And so this is why we need to show that this principle is not just a common sense observation, one that must give way to any appeal to the mystery moves of the Spirit. No, God insists that we will get more of what we subsidize, and less of what we penalize. This is not to deny that there are mystery moves by the Spirit. Here’s one. What He does is soften men’s sinful hearts so that they will accept the fact that a man reaps what he sows. It is only on this foundation of law that it becomes possible for a man to reap the grace that Christ has sown.
Here are just a few scriptural examples of the principle. We see general statements of it, and we see specific applications.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (Gal. 6:7-8).
“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecc. 8:11).
“A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again” (Prov. 19:19).
We are all familiar with the common saying that insanity is doing the same thing over again, hoping to get a different result this time. Insanity is planting morning glory and praying for a wheat harvest.
So if the West wanted to create a dependency culture in Third World cultures, what should we have done differently than what we actually did do? And if we wanted to create healthy native churches that were not perpetually looking for handouts, that were raised by the Spirit to stand on their own feet, what would we have done differently?
Any time one church plants another, it is necessary to guard against the perverse effects of the “differential” between the two churches. If this is true even within our own nation (and it is), how much more is it the case when there is a broad economic disparity? There is a difference between a gift that creates or restores the right kind of equality (2 Cor. 8:14), and a gift that becomes a wage rendered for the wrong thing, calculated to obtain perverse results. When someone is paid for being poor, it is often the case that they will do their job, and will work at being poor. When someone is paid for being entitled, then it is not surprising that they become indignant when someone points out they are feeling entitled. That’s their job.
And on the flip side, when someone’s livelihood is that of helping the poor, a real employment threat might consist of the poor not needing help anymore. As Judas Iscariot found out millennia ago, the poor are a gold mine.
And it is no use pretending that this kind of thing is a rare event, like a comet or something. It is happening all over the world, all the time. But even though it is most common, I don’t want to overstate my case. There are a number of missions and missionaries who are aware of this danger (and it is a danger), and who guard against it. But we don’t guard against it nearly enough. One indicator that someone has this problem is when they become indignant, as though I accused them personally when I did nothing of the kind. This is an “if the shoe fits” analysis, not a “one size fits all” analysis. If someone reads these words as though I were saying that all missionaries do this in the same way that all triangles have three sides, then that means, at a minimum, that these words probably do apply to them. The guilty run down the road with nobody chasing (Prov. 28:1).
So God calls us to be involved in missions as though we were parents, called to raise our children up to maturity and independence. But what we have actually given way to is the temptation of being silly grandparents, who think that our job is to spoil everybody rotten. But we need to be fathers, not sugar daddies.