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Acts 4:32-5:16 & Genesis 1:27-28 by Robert Dean
In our study of Acts, we are currently engaging in a side study of economics - what the Bible says about managing our resources. In this lesson, we are reminded that although God allows for flexibility within different cultures, His absolute social structures are universal and embedded in all of creation. As we look at the Divine Institution of individual responsibility, we learn that the emphasis is on accountability in the areas of personal responsibility, property, and value. We learn that value is imputed by God to His creatures, but the value of His Word, God, and Jesus Christ are the only values of an intrinsic nature.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 5 mins 15 secs

Property, Responsibility, and Taxes. Acts 4:32 - 5:16, Genesis 1:27-28

 

We can only be guaranteed an equal opportunity of freedom before the law; that is all a government can guarantee. And when a government starts to manipulate the circumstances to try to give everybody the same equal circumstances then it is destructive to families and to cultures because no one else—no government, no committee—has the right to come in and say: "I really think you ought to do it this way. This is what I find works for me and you have to do it this way." That is a loss of freedom. And we see this happen again and again and again, no matter how much we might think some action or activity or way of eating—diet, health practice or injurious health practice—is good or negative. What gives any of us the right to say someone else needs to do that and has to do it the way we think it ought to be done? Yet we have a culture today that is loaded with self-righteous people both on the Left and on the Right who try to dictate so that everybody does it their way.

Individual responsibility is one of three key elements that have to be a part of any economic system, an emphasis on the responsibility of the individual. One other thing we need to note when we talk about personal responsibility is that if you are responsible for your success, to take whatever it is that God has given you and make a success of it, in order to be truly free in utilizing those assets and be free to succeed you have to be equally free to fail. We learn more from failure than we do from success, and yet part of utopian socialism comes in and we want to protect people from the consequences of their bad decisions. And yet throughout Scripture there is an emphasis on the fact that we learn from our bad decisions. Most of us learn more from our bad decisions an falling on our face, learning that we can't do it our way, we can only do it God's way; and when we come in and try to protect the circumstances so that we can't fail then we are also limiting our opportunities to succeed. To the degree that we are able to fail to that same degree we are able to succeed. They only way we could level the playing field would be to take away from those who are successful so that we can limit the negatives of the people who fail.

So to have true responsibility and true freedom we have to be able to freely succeed or freely fail. Freedom always involves responsibility. In fact, it is more important to talk about responsibility than it is to talk about rights. Scripture doesn't emphasize our rights, it emphasizes our responsibility and that if we have freedom we have responsibilities, and we are responsible to some one, we are accountable to God.

At the beginning we saw that God established responsibility for man. He was to work but it wasn't toilsome, it wasn't burdensome, it didn't give him despair; it was joy because this was serving God. He had responsibility over all of the planet. Who owns the planet? God does. The foundational principle in a biblical view of economics is that God owns the resources. This has great implications if we wanted to divert to thinking about the environment. 

Leviticus 25:23 is specifically talking about the land that God gave the Israelites but the principle there was just a derivative of the overall principle, which is the land. The planet is owned by God. This is the foundation for all of the parables that Jesus talks about in the New Testament when He says, "There was a landowner." That's God. And He sends His son, a steward or representative. It always has to do with the landowner, and that represents God. NASB "The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are {but} aliens and sojourners with Me." God ultimately owns the resources; Man, the human race, is like a tenant farmer. We can buy and sell but if we think we are the ultimate owner of all of our resources that is when we get in trouble. When we look at passages dealing with giving, it is always looking at man as a responsible steward or administrator of land, property, financial resources that all comes from God. This is what truly separates a biblical view of economics from any of the secular systems that are out there. No matter how accurate they may be in places there are elements within a biblical worldview that make it very different, and this is one of them: the land, the property, the business, the financial resources, whatever it is we own, it is simply on loan from God. God is the ultimate owner of all the resources and He tells us how they are to be used and how we are to think about the things that we own.

The reason the Bible has intrinsic value is because it is the Word of God. God has intrinsic value, Jesus Christ has intrinsic value; there is not imputed value to either the Scripture or to Jesus Christ. Everything within creation has an imputed value but that which is related to God has unchangeable, eternal intrinsic value.

Genesis 3:17 NASB "Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it'; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life." The ground is judged. Before, the ground was not judged; the ground was unhindered and ready to produce bountifully, and we can't even imagine what that must have been like. But now the ground is going to fight the farmer. That is why work, serving God, becomes laborious, dreary, toilsome, negative, because now there is resistance from creation because it is under a curse. The word translated "toil" is that verse is a word that brings in the physical difficulty as well as the emotional difficulty of work. It was not that way before the fall. [18] "Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you…" So now the soil is not only cursed but it is going to produce things that also make it more difficult to be involved in positive production and utilizing the resources that God has given us. [19] "By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return." So we get a new concept of labor. Labor is no longer the unhindered, work, service to God that brings us pure joy in serving Him in utilizing and developing creation, it now becomes burdensome.

To understand the Mosaic Law we have to get into its structure. There are basically three components to the Mosaic Law, the first is the Ten Commandments which are a summary of the primary principles that underlie everything else that is in the Law. The approach to law that we find in the Mosaic Law is called case law where God doesn't say everything there is to say about every kind of situation, but He gives parameters, the principle, and then He will go into specifics—e.g. "Thou shalt not steal"—on what happens when there is theft and what the principles are and the different types of theft. He doesn't cover everything but He gives enough specifics there to where something that comes up that doesn't fit that scenario can be thought through by man.

When we look at the Ten Commandments, three of them have to do specifically with property. The fourth commandment, Exodus 20:8-11 NASB "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy." That word "holy" means to keep it set apart, it is distinct, there is something unique about that day; keep it separate from what you do on the other six days. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work…" "Labor" is the same word that is used in Genesis 2:17 when God put Adam in the garden and said he was to keep the garden and to guard it. The Hebrew word is a broad word, it can means work, service, even something more laborious. "… but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; {in it} you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you." The word "work" is from the Hebrew word which can mean work but it has a more specific meaning relating to craftsmanship, dealing with your property. It can refer to the activity of working itself or the skills related to work or the results that is produces. It emphasizes skill and benefit—the skill of production and the benefits that one has from working well. Even that word takes us back to the pattern of God's creation where He worked for six days and then He looked at His creation, satisfied that everything was according to plan, and He rested—ceased from His labor, from His creative work on the seventh day. "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy." This is a pattern of labor, that God is blessing labor. This is a command to labor, to work for six days. So the fourth commandment emphasizes labor and enjoying the results of your own productivity. Your neighbor doesn't get to enjoy them in the sense of some sort of socialistic environment where we all own the same property so that you make it and they enjoy it.

The next verse that talks about property is Exodus 20:15 NASB "You shall not steal." This is a short command, but stealing means that there is some property that we do not have a right to, someone else owns it. So what this command recognizes is personal, private ownership of property, and that it is wrong for one person to take that property that another person owns for themselves or give it to someone else. There is a principle there that private property must be respected.

Passages we are going through in the New Testament are not being looked at in terms of their overt lessons—this one in Luke 12, yes, more than others. Various parables that we will look at we are looking at the fact that for the parable to work it has to assume the legitimacy of certain business practices. If those aren't legitimate then the parable wouldn't work and Jesus would be using something illegitimate to try to teach truth, which is irrational. In Luke 12 Jesus has a large multitude of people who gather together to hear Him teach and they are about to trample one another, so they are an unruly crowd. It doesn't means they can't be believers, even Christians can become unruly.

Luke 12:1 NASB "Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first {of all,} 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.'" He is addressing His disciples first.

Luke 12:13 NASB "Someone in the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the {family} inheritance with me.'" This has to be "Occupy Wall Street," doesn't it?! Make them share it with us! Who has the right to tell that to any person who has worked for a reward? Nobody has the right to set a standard of wealth and say that anybody who makes more than that is wrong. Who are you to say that? Who has the right to put a limit on somebody else's productivity? It is the people historically who have made tremendous amounts of wealth who have then used that in order to endow many different institutions and to invest it. Here, one of the crowd wants Jesus to dictate to others to give their inheritance. [14] "But He said to him, 'Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?'" Jesus recognizes the principle that it is not for one human being to impose these levels of acceptable income to others. He recognized what the real issue is. It is just plain old greed, envy. The problem isn't that the person who has isn't sharing with the person who doesn't have. Jesus never de-legitimizes the wealthy person. He addresses, though, the poor person, the one who doesn't have and He addresses his greed and his covetousness. [15] "Then He said to them, 'Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not {even} when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.'" He is going to address the lust for possessions as having the key to meaning in life. Jesus isn't saying it is wrong to possess things, that it is wrong to be wealthy. He is saying it is wrong to think that the possession of things and wealth is the key to happiness and meaning in life. 

Then Jesus spoke a parable. Luke 12:16 NASB "And He told them a parable, saying, 'The land of a rich man was very productive. [17] And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' [18] "Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. [19] 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years {to come;} take your ease, eat, drink {and} be merry." [20] "But God said to him, 'You fool! This {very} night your soul is required of you; and {now} who will own what you have prepared?' [21] So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." The recognition is that everything that we have is temporary. God is the ultimate owner of everything, and everything we earn in life. Life is not guaranteed to have any kind of equality in terms of our circumstances. How dull would that be!

God says don't put your hope in the things that you have, that is not what gives you meaning in life because that is temporary. Never once in this entire parable is there ay indication that it is wrong to have wealth. It is wrong to have wealth and use it wrongly; it is wrong to have wealth and use it as if it is the means of life and to hold it. Because God gives it to us as a test to see how we are going to utilize that for others. But it is an individual decision; it is not a decision that anyone else, even a government, has the right to make for someone. Nowhere in Scripture, even in the Mosaic Law when it talks about tithing and taking care of the poor, is it done through a government mechanism. It is an individual responsibility.

Whatever we have in this life is simply to be a means, something that God gives us to enhance our spiritual life and/or the spiritual life of others—missionaries, orphanages, hospitals, whatever it may be, in order to enhance life and ministry.

Jesus goes on in the next verses on how we are to think about the details of life. Luke 12:22 NASB "And He said to His disciples, 'For this reason I say to you, do not worry about {your} life [details of life], {as to} what you will eat; nor for your body, {as to} what you will put on. [23] For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. [24] Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and {yet} God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!'" He goes on to talk about how God is going to provide for us in terms of our logistical needs. So ultimately you can't disconnect what he says in vv. 13-21 from what He says from vv.22-34. He will end at v. 34 saying, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

It is not something negative about having treasure or wealth, it is having it and using it wrongly that is the problem. It is not money that is the root of all evil; it is the love of money, covetousness, that is the root of all evil. 

So what we see here is that in the foundation of the Ten Commandments we have a recognition of property rights to the degree that we should not even want what somebody else has, in the sense that taking what they have away from them so that it becomes "ours." Scripture is based on the principles of individual volition, value that is imputed by man, and property rights.