Economic Flourishing

Ideas from the Book: The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in your Community’s Compassion and Capacity, Tom Nelson


To Flourish. This word has become a favorite of mine because I love how it rolls off the tongue and think it best describes some really important biblical concepts as it relates to economics. The definition itself provides such a positive picture — for a person to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.

In Tom Nelson’s book, The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in your Community’s Compassion and Capacity, he lays out the foundation for what creates actual human flourishing. To start, he shares some unique insights into one of the most well-known parables of Jesus, the Good Samaritan.

Jesus uses a very specific and important word to describe the Samaritan’s motivation to help the injured man. This word expresses deep, heartfelt feelings of empathy often manifested physiologically. So deep are the feelings that those experiencing them are moved to loving action. It’s worth noting that Jesus also uses this same word in the parable of the prodigal (Lk 15)….The word Jesus uses in Luke 10 and in Luke 15 is translated into modern English as compassion. (p.13)

Nelson goes on to describe this compassion as a kind of “familial love” – whereby you take care of your own family members.

At the heart of his parable, Jesus insists that neighborly love is an extension of family love. A neighbor, properly understood, is a fellow image bearer of God, a member of the family of humanity. (p. 14)

We notice the generosity of the Samaritan who offers “more than first aid but also leverages his resources to ensure the recovery of his injured neighbor.” And this leads to this important concept of economic flourishing.

We need to pay attention to the contrast between the economic injustice of the robbers and the economic capacity and generosity of the Samaritan businessman. (p.14)

What Nelson is leading us to here is the idea that compassion is only part of the lesson Jesus is teaching.

…an important truth built into Jesus’ story: loving our neighbor in need involves both Christian compassion and economic capacity. Jesus goes out of his way in this story to describe not only the merciful compassion of the Samaritan but also the economic generosity the Samaritan exhibited. Properly understood, neighborly love calls for truth, grace, and mercy to put on economic hands and feet. (p.15)

Which leads us back to the definition of flourishing — for a person to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment. In other words, the Samaritan — and you and I — are to show compassion, neighborly love, but recognizing that “compassion needs capacity if we are to care well for our neighbors.”

The Samaritan’s economic capacity came from diligent labor and wise financial stewardship within an economic system where he added value to others. (p.15)

We are called to love our neighbors and to do that well we need to create environments that allow people to flourish, to grow and develop. And we must not only “nurture compassionate hearts, but also [grow] our economic capacity.”


Read more by purchasing the book…

Tom Nelson. The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity. InterVarsity Press.

Tom Nelson is the founder and President of Made to Flourish, an national networking organization which empowers a growing network of pastors and their churches to integrate faith, work and economic wisdom for the flourishing of their communities.

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