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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

50 - Property, Tithing, and Taxes [C]

Acts 4:32-5:16 & Genesis 2 by Robert Dean
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 4 mins

Property, Tithing, and Taxes. Acts 4:32 - 5:16, Genesis 2


Stealing is what happens under socialism. It is what happens when a person does not have the right to determine what to do with their own productivity. It is what happens when a government comes in and abuses their authority of taxation by taking that which it has not produced and is engaged in a social experiment to redistribute wealth. "You shall not steal" recognizes that there is the right to private ownership of property. 

Then the tenth commandment, Exodus 20:17 NASB "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." This focuses on a mental attitude of jealousy and envy and lust for what is not yours. This we see in a number of different movements like "Occupy Wall Street." While they are out on the street accusing and being critical of corporations for their "excessive greed," on the other hand they want all student loans to be wiped out. Well that is just their form of greed. They just want to substitute their form of greed for the form of greed that they perceive to be in various corporations. It is just one form of evil fighting another form of evil, one form of greed fighting another form of greed; and neither is righteous.

We go to the parables not to look at what the message of the parable was at the time that Jesus gave it, but as He gives the parable He is validating certain economic practices and principles. That is what we are looking at. Luke 20:9 NASB "And He began to tell the people this parable: 'A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time.'" The certain man here is the landowner. He plants the vineyard, he owns the land, he plants a crop and he has the right to earn a living from the land. The way he is going to do it is through tenant farming. [10] "At the {harvest} time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, so that they would give him {some} of the produce of the vineyard…" He wants to enjoy the benefits of his production which he owns because he is the landowner. He owns the factory, the corporation, and so he has a right to the profits of that corporation. "… but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed." But when he sends his assistant to pick up the profits the employees, the tenant farmers, beat him and send him away empty-handed. What has happened? They want to keep the products for themselves. That is a violation of the eighth commandment, "You shall not steal." They are stealing. They don't own the means of production or the results of production, they are merely the workers. This is not unlike Marxism or what happens in many labor unions. So here we have this situation where the workers want to own what is not theirs.   

Luke 20:11 NASB "And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. [12] And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. [13] The owner of the vineyard said, 'What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.'" Of course we know this is designed to teach the principle that God is the owner of everything on the planet, especially the land of Israel, and He has sent His servants the prophets many times with messages and they have been rejected, so finally God sent His Son. [14] "But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, 'This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.'" Their motivation is to steal the property of the one who owns it. Remember the main idea of inheritance is property ownership, so what they want is for the inheritance, the property to be theirs. [15] "So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him." So they want to steal what belongs to the owner. In this case it is God, so they want to steal the planet from God. That is essentially the viewpoint of those who are unbelievers and those who are not following God's Word. They want to run the world according to their views, their standards, and not God's.

So we pick a few principles and an illustration here of what covetousness is. It is envy. Taking something that isn't ours, something that we haven't earned.

The validity of wealth accumulation: the validity if not the righteousness of wealth accumulation with no limits. Think about that. How many times have we heard that it is okay to make a couple of million dollars or twenty million or thirty million, but if you are making 20-billion or 30-billion that is just too much money? Who has the right to say that? What human being has the right to limit another person's ability to produce? Because that is what it is. Somebody who is smart enough and talented enough to produce something that is valuable to the rest of the human race and to make unbelievable amounts of money, ought to reap the rewards of their work. Each one has the right to enjoy everything that they produce, except for that which is legitimately taxed.

Proverbs 13:22 NASB "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, And the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous." A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children means that someone who is wise and mature and operating on biblical wisdom is going to be so productive that he will leave property and money and valued goods to his children's children. Some people, say they want their money and their life to run out at the same time. That is not biblical. What is biblical is to accumulate as much as you can and to preserve it so that that wealth is transferred to the next generation. But what we hear from the world today is, let everybody start at the same place and we'll tax that inheritance so that nobody gets a head start. That is a fraudulent idea; it is not biblical; it is not the righteousness that the Old Testament extols. That is unrighteousness.

The idea that is often heard today: We want everybody to pay their fair share. Fair share does not mean that the more you have the more you give in taxes. That is not fair; that is not righteous, according to the biblical standard; that is unrighteous; that is theft on a biblical basis.

The divine viewpoint on this is that property was to be accumulated over the generations, so that one generation would pass on more property, more wealth to the next generation. What does this develop? This develops and provides for the next generation and the generation after that to go through a prosperity test. We know, sadly, that no group of people and no culture has really passed the prosperity test. But that is what this was for, to put them in a position where they were prosperous. Why was that a test? Because the second greatest command in the Torah was to love your neighbour as yourself. You can't give if you have nothing. If you have much wealth then you have much to give, and so it becomes a test of generosity, a test of grace. So with wealth comes the prosperity test, and with that comes the test of grace and of compassion for those who are less fortunate.

Sometimes people may be less fortunate because they have made bad decisions, they have been lazy, irresponsible. Is that a reason not to extend grace to them? Sometimes we talk like it means that. That wasn't a reason for God not to extend grace to any of us! There is a line that we have to draw between what we see in the Scripture and being responsibly helping people and irresponsibly helping people. But helping people who will still abuse our help is not a reason to not help them. That is clear from Scripture.

2 Corinthians 12:14 NASB "Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for {their} parents, but parents for {their} children." The economic principle there is that it is the responsibility of the parents to set aside wealth that is later passed on to the children. It is not the responsibility of the children to go out there and have a good job so that they can take care of you in your senior years. It is great when that happens but that is not the standard of Scripture. The standard of Scripture is that we should so responsibly use what God gives us and save that we are not a burden to our children but, in fact, when it is all over with they have been blessed with extra.

Tithing, the limited safety net. When we look at how culture was in biblical times, when we look at the Mosaic Law at that time there was a certain vulnerability that widows and orphans had that men did not have. So God provides for them, and He does this through the tithe. There were three different tithes in the Old Testament. The tithe was basically a tax system in the Mosaic Law to provide for the needs of the nation. So it recognizes the legitimacy of a nation to tax the citizens a certain amount. But a tithe was a flat tax, ten per cent for everybody whether a person was poor or filthy rich. That is righteous by God's standard.

If we say we need to have a progressive tax system and the rich should pay more percentage-wise than the poor, that is unrighteous according to the Word of God, foolish, and it is destructive to a nation, the poor in the nation and the people in the nation. Because it teaches people who have less to be dependent upon those who have more and it destroys their pride, their self-esteem and their desire to labor and work for that which is theirs. But God did recognize that there was a need to have a minimal safety net.

Deuteronomy 26:12 NASB "When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied." This was a tithe that was taken up every third year. It was a tithe that was to be given to the Levite because he had no possession in the land. The stranger is the alien, the immigrant, the non-Jewish resident within the land; the orphans, those whose fathers had been killed in war or had died from disease. In that culture the father provided everything, the women did not necessarily produce. The widow was sometimes left destitute. Sometimes they had property, but notice it is not making a distinction here between the fatherless that have property, the widow that had property and those who didn't. The assumption from the text is that without this they wouldn't eat, so this is distributed to those who otherwise would not eat. So there is a minimal safety net there.

Deuteronomy 14:28, 29 NASB "At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit {it} in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do." In other words, if you are not taking care of the Levites, the fatherless, the widows, then God is not going to bless you. That is really clear. The nation needs to take care of those who can't take care of themselves, but it is a limited safety net.  

The next two tithes were taken every year. Numbers 18:21-26 NASB "To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting." Is this a free gift? No, they are working, not just getting a handout. "The sons of Israel shall not come near the tent of meeting again, or they will bear sin and die. Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting, and they shall bear their iniquity; it shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, and among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, 'They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.'" One tithe went to the Levites.

In today's governmental world the role of the Levites was that they were the government workers. They were the ones who took care of the theocracy. God was the ultimate authority over the nation and the place from which He administered His rule was the tabernacle. Those who took care of the tabernacle and who stood as the intermediaries between God and the people were the Levites, and so they were worthy of pay and earning an income from their work. That was the purpose of this tithe.

Deuteronomy 14:22 NASB "You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year." So you take ten per cent of your gross national product. [23] "You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always."

Party time! Every year they were going to take ten per cent of their gross national product. Think about this. One year you are having a party: the finest wine, the finest prime beef that money could buy. Everything is cooked by the finest chefs. Ten yeas later you are eating stringy old chicken, the vegetables are overcooked, the cooks that are there haven't done it much, and the wine is a little flat. This is a visual example that something has changed. What has happened? What caused that? This is the real concrete example that when the Israelites were obedient to God, God would bless them and they would have this enormous party and were not going into debt for it. They weren't spending money they didn't have.

So one tithe went to support the theocracy or the bureaucracy, one tithe went to have a party every year, and then one tithe was taken every third year to take care of the widows, the orphans, the stranger and the Levites. One principle we learn about taxation is that for taxation to be fair or to be righteous it had to be an equal percentage; it was a flat-rate tax.

Does that mean that today it would be wrong to have a consumption tax, like a sales tax, instead of other things? That is not necessarily the right conclusion, but it is the right conclusion that a progressive income tax where the more money you make the higher percentage of tax you pay is unjust and unfair. And to turn it around and say that it is unjust for the rich, or those who are so-called rich, should pay the same as a poor person pays and say that is unrighteous is exactly the condemnation that the later prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel—came long and said would happen. People were coming along and calling good bad and bad good. They reversed the polarities of what is right and wrong. And that is exactly what we see in this nation—people at government level and all over, demagogues saying that we need to tax the rich more. On the basis of what the Hebrew Scripture says that is unrighteous and it is evil, and it will lead to the destruction of a nation.

So we see that God had a minimal safety net in terms of the tithe, but the primary safety net is personal responsibility and personal compassion. The basic principle for this is laid down in Leviticus 19:18. They were to love their neighbour as themselves. It was the responsibility of each citizen in Israel to take care of one another. The second basic principle is grace orientation. Grace orientation means good things, kind things, generous things, are done to undeserving people.

Deuteronomy 15:7 recognizes this principle. NASB "If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; [8] but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need {in} whatever he lacks." Maybe he is failure but there is not that qualification in there. Does that mean you throw common sense out the door? No. if all he does is abuse it then maybe there is need to put some stipulations on this. God did that in Leviticus 19:9 NASB "Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. [10] Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God."

What is the principle? It is not a free handout. They have to get up, go out and work for it. They are still working for what they are given. So the principle in Deuteronomy 15:7, 8 doesn't mean you can't put some stipulations on the gift that you are giving to help somebody.