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Acts 4:32-5:16 by Robert Dean
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 3 mins 43 secs

Usury, the Poor, the Rights of the Employers. Acts 4:32-5:16


If we believe that God is the creator of everything, that He is not just part of creation but is different and distinct from creation, that He had a plan, a blueprint in His omniscience, and that He created everything so that everything from within creation intersects, interrelates and interacts with everything else…

Has revealed to us in His Word certain truths, certain eternal realities about Himself that mean that He is a certain way. He knows all of the knowable, and if we take the time to reflect upon that and the fact that we have the order in the universe that we have because there is a God who is the mater planner, master architect who designed everything from even the smallest particle to the largest entity and all of the interconnections in between, when we come to study anything within that creation we can extrapolate from a known principle to unknown principles because we know there is stability and order in the universe. And what was true thousands of years ago in terms of mathematical principles, physics, meteorological principles or any universal law related to creation, we know it is just as true today. If evolution were true then that would change.

But God not only created laws related to the physical universe. There are also social laws, social absolutes that God built into creation. We have studied those in the divine institutions. Individual responsibility means that the individual is responsible to God, for his relationship to God and his relationship to other human beings. That vertical relationship to God has to do with his spiritual life; the horizontal relationship to other people in terms of society has to do with the social life—how human beings organize and relate to one another within a social structure. The Greeks had a word for this. When it involved a city they called it the polus [poluj], the city, and that is the origin of our English word "politics." They also talked about the administration of a city and used the word oikonomia [o)ikonomia], which had to do with stewardship or administration, and which is where we get our English word "economy." So concepts such as politics and economics ultimately relate to social structure, how man organizes himself in terms of society. This impacts things especially in terms of marriage and the family. When God established certain absolutes regarding marriage and family, and government later on, they were designed to perpetuate stability within the human race. When they are violated and the creature comes along and says, for example, we can do away with marriage there are incredible consequences.

We have looked at some other principles and other passages which emphasize that we are not to take into account a person's economic condition in coming to judicial decisions. In the courtroom when the issue is criminality or a civil suit one thing that should never be taken into account is the wealth of one side or the poverty of the other. Nobody should be given the benefit of the doubt because they are rich or because they are poor. Leviticus 19:15.

Then the issue of usury. This was a major problem throughout the Middle Ages because usury was not correctly understood or defined. In Roman Catholic theology usury was defined as charging interest for a loan. Any payment of interest on a loan was considered usury and this stifled business and development, and is basically would not allow for the development of any kind of free market economy. But there were groups here and there that began to work out different tricky ways to get around this. Some did it by taking out a loan in one currency and then through various means of currency trading would bring it back around and make a little money on their money. But when we look at the way usury is handled in the Scriptures it has the idea of charging interest to anyone who was poor, destitute. So the loan was not one to develop in terms of business. Deuteronomy 24:14 was the general principle to be followed: don't take advantage of someone who is poor or without. Exodus 22:25. The word translated "interest" [KJV], also sometimes translated "usury," is the Hebrew word neshek which is related to the Hebrew word for servant. Literally it means to bite. It is the opinion of many biblical scholars today is the usury wasn't charging interest for business loans; it was charging interest from those who could not pay it, those who were destitute, as a way of taking advantage of them and basically destroying their ability to take care of themselves.

It was the responsibility of the Jewish community in the ancient world to take care of the poor; not the government but the individual. Proverb 28:8 NASB "He who increases his wealth by interest and usury Gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor." In other words, the assumption is that ultimately God is the one who will bring justice and though one person takes advantage of the poor He in turn will be judged by God, and the one who will ultimately benefit is the one who has a true compassion for the poor because the Supreme Court of heaven will eventually right all wrongs. This verse should be understood within the context of verse 3 where there is a poor man who oppresses the poor: "A poor man who oppresses the lowly Is {like} a driving rain which leaves no food." So the principle is that it is wrong to take advantage of those who do not have. There are also many passages in the prophets, one is a passage in Ezekiel dealing with the responsibility of the sins of the father and the punishment of the father, and the responsibility of the sins of the son and punishment for the son. The theme in this section is the son is not punished for the sins of the father unless the son is repeating the sins of the father. Ezekiel 18:17 NASB "he keeps his hand from the poor [not taking advantage of the poor], does not take interest or increase [treated them with grace], {but} executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes; he will not die for his father's iniquity, he will surely live." So once again we see that God is emphasizing the fact that it is grace orientation and true compassion towards the poor.

What are the biblical causes for poverty? We basically suffer for one or two reasons. We suffer from our own bad decisions or we suffer from bad decisions of others. We can be poor because of our own bad decisions or we can be poor because of decisions of others, including the sovereignty of God. The first cause is due to a responsibility for making bad decisions on the part of the poor. The second category is decisions made by others.

Eight different categories or causes listed from Scripture: The first two have to do with personal violation of the first divine institution, irresponsibility in the use of money. The first is personal laziness or failure to work; the second cause is that they make foolish decisions with regard to their money—spending on the wrong thing, over-spending, getting into debt, gambling it away. They are poor either because they fail to work or because they have mismanaged their money. In both cases their poverty is due to their irresponsible decisions.

The next six categories are based on the decisions of others. The third category is the sovereignty of God. God chooses to take us through tests of adversity—in this case poverty—in order to teach us to trust Him. So we can be doing everything right: be diligent, manage our money well, make the best decisions we can make in light of the knowledge available to us, and yet for whatever reason it doesn't seem to ever get us ahead. God is taking us through a poverty test, teaching us to trust Him.

The other categories are basically negative in terms of others we are associated with. Category # 4, this may mean government decisions. There have been people who have lived in different countries where they had governments that have been abusive, tyrannical, have taxed them beyond their capabilities and wiped out any incentive for business, agricultural development or anything of that nature. So we can be in a nation where there is a corrupt government, and because the government is corrupt it destroys any possibility of economic blessing and the citizens suffer. And they really don't know why because they are not aware or knowledgeable about all of the corruption that is going on inside of government. Another can be corporate decisions. The powers that be are misusing the money of the corporation and become involved in criminality, and eventually things fall apart and we are left without a career, a job, and are the ones who suffer.

A fifth category is market decisions. We have no control over the market place. It is not necessarily because of a bad or ill-informed decision, it is just that we invest our time or money in things that seem to be really good decisions and then the market took it somewhere else.

Sixth: personal decisions or associations. Somebody in our family takes the gold and poorly invests it and loses everything.

Seventh: criminality. We can be the victim of theft, investment in something that was a fraud.

Eighth: natural disasters.

Some of the passages that relate to this: Proverbs 10:4 NASB "Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, But the hand of the diligent makes rich." Wealth comes from hard work. The idea of laziness is expanded in Proverbs 24:30-34 NASB "I passed by the field of the sluggard And by the vineyard of the man lacking sense, And behold, it was completely overgrown with thistles; Its surface was covered with nettles, And its stone wall was broken down. When I saw, I reflected upon it; I looked, {and} received instruction. 'A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest,' Then your poverty will come {as} a robber And your want like an armed man."

Proverbs 21:17 NASB "He who loves pleasure {will become} a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not become rich." Spending all of your money on the enjoyable luxuries of life rather than taking care of the responsible things of life.

Proverbs 20:13 NASB "Do not love sleep, or you will become poor; Open your eyes, {and} you will be satisfied with food."

What the attitude of the believer should be towards the person who is poor. This is based again on grace orientation, not having a judgmental attitude towards those who are poor. Proverbs 14:21 NASB "He who despises his neighbor sins, But happy is he who is gracious to the poor." The neighbor in context here is the one who is impoverished. We operate in grace towards others—undeserved mercy. Proverbs 14:31 NASB "He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him." The one who honors God has mercy on the needy. Proverbs 17:5 NASB "He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker; He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished." Proverbs 19:17 NASB "One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, And He will repay him for his good deed." Who are you giving to? You are giving to the Lord; you are giving because of who God is and understanding grace. And God will pay back what is given. In other words, because we look to the Lord to sustain us in our logistical needs we can give to others. It doesn't matter whether that person responsibly or irresponsibly uses it.

  1. Our attitude toward the person who is destitute is not to be an attitude of being judgmental but an attitude of grace.
  2. Scriptures teaches that the responsibility for taking care of the one who is destitute is the individual, not the government.

Proverbs 21:13 NASB "He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be answered." This is echoed in Jesus' statement in the Gospels that if you are coming to the temple with a sacrifice and recall that you have offended your brother, then you need to go and seek forgiveness from him before you come to the Lord for forgiveness.

Proverbs 28:27 NASB "He who gives to the poor will never want, But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses [divine discipline]." 

Isaiah 3:14 NASB "The LORD enters into judgment with the elders and princes of His people, 'It is you who have devoured the vineyard; The plunder of the poor is in your houses.'" The indictment is for the government of Israel, not because they haven't given to the poor in the sense that they have provided everything that the poor need but because they have taken advantage of the poor. It is over-taxation and it is destroying the capability of the people to produce a living. [15] 'What do you mean by crushing My people And grinding the face of the poor?' Declares the Lord GOD of hosts." This is done through over-taxation. It destroys the ability of the people to earn, to save for the future.

Other verses: Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; 24:17. The issue here is justice and righteousness.