God’s Economic Solutions
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 73-75)
by Bob Burridge ©2011
God made everything to work a certain way in his world.
When the basic principles set up at creation are not followed the consequences effect our lives. Each of the Ten Commandments illustrates a primary moral principle. The 8th Commandment is about the proper ownership and management of our possessions. The Westminster Shorter Catechism introduces this Commandment in question 73.
It asks, “Which is the eighth commandment?”
The answer is a quotation of Exodus 20:15 which says, “You shall not steal.”
The Catechism expands upon that Commandment in questions 74-75.
Question 74. What is required in the eighth commandment?
Answer. The eighth commandment requireth the lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.
Question 75. What is forbidden in the eighth commandment?
Answer. The eighth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever doth, or may, unjustly hinder our own, or our neighbor’s wealth or outward estate.
In the most simple terms economics comes down to the fact that God is the Lord over all things. We are responsible to properly manage what he gives us, and to respect what he gives to others to manage.
Today’s economic problems are very complex. What our Creator says about how we should manage our things is not being followed. Solutions that ignore God’s moral principles make the problems worse.
The first principle of Biblical Economics is
that everything belongs first and foremost to God.
God owns all things because he made everything that exists, including all of us. Psalm 89:11 is just one of the passages that makes this very clear. It says, “The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; The world and all its fullness, You have founded them.”
In the New Testament, Colossians 1:16 repeats this important first principle. “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”
God is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is. He made everything for his own special purpose.
The second principle is that we humans were
created to be managers of God’s things.
Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that we were created to rule over his world and to have dominion over it. We are held responsible for how we manage it all for God’s glory. We are to use what he gives us to provide for our daily needs, to advance God’s Kingdom, and to show his compassion by how we care for others who have legitimate needs.
This transforms all our work into Kingdom Work. If you raise crops, pour sidewalks, sell furniture, teach children, or repair diseased hearts, it is all to be done to fulfill this mandate we were given in Eden.
We are here primarily to live for, and to work for God’s honor and glory. Any comforts we have beyond our basic needs are pure undeserved blessings. Coveting beyond what God is pleased to give us is the driving force behind the sin referred to in this commandment.
If God owns all things, then our ownership, though very real, is a secondary ownership. What we have are things we were given to mange for our King in Heaven.
Things become ours to manage primarily by earning them. By our labor, God assigns us as secondary owners of some of the things that are his. Genesis 1:26 tells us to subdue all things in God’s creation by our labor. What we make or earn becomes ours to use wisely for his glory.
This is what makes stealing so wicked. It violates God’s assignment of things to individuals. It is open rebellion against God himself.
There are right ways for ownership to be
transferred from one person to another.
What we grow, make, or do can be traded, sold, inherited, or given to other people. Payment for products or services changes the ownership of things. 1 Timothy 5:18 says that “the laborer is worthy of his wages.”
What you earn can be used to buy other things you need or want. At that point they become yours to manage responsibly. What you sell is not your responsibility any more. It becomes the property of the buyer to use for himself, but the obligation remains that all property is always to be used for God’s glory.
At death, your ownership can be transferred to your loved ones or friends as an inheritance. The ones chosen by the owner when he is alive become the legitimate and responsible managers of these entrustments from God.
You can also transfer ownership by giving things as gifts. What you give is not yours any more. It belongs to the one to whom you give it.
Sometimes you get compensations for your things if someone steals or damages them. The restitutions they pay become yours in the eyes of God.
When you bring your tithes and offerings to the church, they belong to God’s Kingdom. From the beginning, even indicated in the early chapters of the Book of Genesis, this basic economic principle was evident, even though few details were recorded of daily life in that period of history. 10% of all you earn by your labor belongs to God. That part of your earnings is to support the preservation of God’s word and ways, to provide for corporate worship, and to offer counsel, help, and comfort for God’s people.
If you keep back your tithe, to use it for your own use or investments, it is stealing from God. In Malachi 3:8 God uses exactly that language. There he says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.”
That was one of the big sins in the time of Haggai.
It was an important issue in the New Testament to provide for the survival of the church, and for the early spread of the gospel. While the additional tithes connected with the Levitical system no longer bind us, the basic creation principle was never abrogated in God’s word.
The Reformers, and all those who let the Bible set their priorities, have always recognized the biblical mandate of tithing for Christ’s church in our era.
Taxes are another way we legitimately transfer to others what God gives us. Romans 13 reminds us that God raises up legitimate governments. Their duty as ministers of God is to provide for national defense, and civil justice. When Jesus taught that what is Caesar’s belongs to Caesar, he was referring to taxes.
There can be wrong uses for taxes and unbiblical ways to tax people. However, what you are asked to give to your government becomes theirs to manage for God’s glory. If the government does not use it that way, they are held responsible, not you. Certainly neither Paul nor Jesus were approving of all the tactics and budgets in use by the Roman Empire of their day.
We need to be responsible citizens to make sure we elect fiscally responsible leaders who use our taxes for biblical reasons, and who will tax us fairly and rightly. Many things are wrongly taxed in our modern society. The fact remains however, that what is given to a government becomes their responsibility before God.
Stealing is when someone violates these legitimate transfers of ownership.
The most obvious violations of this moral principle are robbery and theft. What is taken this way does not rightly transfer ownership. It is a crime that deserves punishment. The Bible requires that what is taken because of theft must be paid back. The offender is obligated by moral law to make full restitution for the damage he causes.
Not all theft is done by armed criminals. Not long ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that employee dishonesty costs American businesses over $50 billion every year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that 75% of all employees steal at least once. Half of those steal repeatedly. It reported that one out of every three businesses fail directly because of employee theft. It is a violation of God’s 8th Commandment.
Deceit is another form of theft. False advertising, keeping the money when you get back too much change from the store, or hiding flaws in what you sell, are all forms of financial deceit. It is stealing.
Lazy workers are stealing by avoiding what they are supposed to do for their wages. A lazy person tries to get paid for not working, or for not doing his share. He is happy to let others do the work, then collect the benefits for himself. This is a direct abdication of the creation mandate from God to labor for your provisions.
Some in the early church in Thessalonica were content to let others support them. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Paul said that violated the traditions taught by the Apostles. In verse 10 the Apostle said, “… we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” In the next verse he said these were leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, and acting like busybodies.
Compassion should make us want to help the truly needy, and those out of work. However, if we support laziness and dependency, we encourage ungodliness. It is not love to help an individual avoid responsibility. The poor should be helped to find legitimate work. It is wrong just to give able people money, housing, and health benefits while others do all the work.
Sloth, and Laziness are repeatedly condemned in the Book of Proverbs. Laziness also violates the 4th commandment. It says there that six days out of every seven are to be spent in labor to provide for our basic needs.
One sure way to destroy our country, church, or family is to let some able people just sit around expecting others to support them as if they are entitled to not have to work.
Withholding what you owe others is also a form of theft. Once you owe something, part of what you earn belongs to the person to whom you owe payment. To avoid paying off debts or obligations violates this 8th Commandment.
Socialism violates this commandment because it confuses God’s law of ownership. What you earn is yours to manage. It does not belong first to the state. When governments try to re-distribute wealth they sin grievously against God.
The responsibilities God gives to businesses, homes, and churches should not be taken over by governments. The abuse of taxes and undue regulations weaken a society, destroy incentive, wreck hopes of a sound economy, and forfeit God’s material blessing.
Gambling can also be a form of violating this commandment. In the eyes of God, the only legitimate transfer of ownership of money and the things it buys is by commerce, inheritance, gifts, restitutions, tithes, and taxes.
Games you play at a fair, or with friends are not gambling if you are paying to play the game. The money spent is a form of commerce or recreation. It is not to get wealth without earning it. The motive and amount spent is very important. Prayerful and honest judgment of you intentions should be guided by the principles of biblical economics, not by greed, coveteousness, or laziness.
This does not forbid taking legitimate risks in making business or financial investments. The Bible sees investments as part of commerce. It is a way of providing for labor and the launch of new products and services. It is legitimate to invest capitol in businesses hoping to make a fair profit.
When gambling becomes an irresponsible risk of what God has entrusted to you, or is done with hopes of getting wealth without work, it is neither wise nor morally good. It is wrong.
In the year 539 BC Israel’s horrible years of
captivity in the heathen empire of Babylon ended.
Some were still alive then to remember the devastating invasion about 47 years earlier. Many of their friends and loved ones were brutally killed. The rest were rounded up and taken away as slaves. All they had worked for, all their memories were left behind or stolen by soldiers. As they left the city of Jerusalem, all they built, owned, and their place of worship, were totally destroyed.
The children born to the Jews in Babylon were told about the past when when their nation was still free. They grew up in a pagan culture, spoke another language, and served cruel masters.
After 47 years, God answered their prayers and moved the heart of King Cyrus to set them free. They came back to a city in ruins. In gratitude to God they started rebuilding the Temple to restore obedient worship in their lives.
After a few years, with only the foundation of the Temple completed, the people became distracted by their own comforts and prosperity. They turned their attention to fixing up their homes with fine paneling and decorations. They had stopped bringing the whole tithe to the Elders for the work of God. The center of worship was neglected, and their duty to God became a remote interest.
In about 520 BC the Lord told the prophet Haggai to warn the people. In Haggai 1:4-5 he said, “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins? Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’ ”
In verse 6 the Prophet described the futility of their foolish greed. He said, “You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.”
They were not satisfied with all the nice material things they were laboring so hard to get. They kept wanting more, so they kept God’s portion for themselves. That just made it worse. They had plenty to eat and drink, but they wanted more. They were busy earning money, but it was not enough to buy happiness, it was as if their money bags had holes in them. They were violating the principles of economics built into God’s world.
It is God who blesses, not the things in themselves. When people believe they can have more by ignoring God’s ways, true blessings are often withheld from them.
Economics is a study of the principles that guide us in how to manage material things. God’s economics is very different than what develops in a society not centered in Christ. In the time of Haggai, God’s economics was turned up-side-down.
When you understand and obey this commandment,
there should be a true joy in your labors.
This biblical work ethic, and God’s principles of ownership, ensure economic stability. The moral principle again comes down to our place as creatures made in God’s image. We are here to show that our Creator owns all things, therfore all we have is first of all his. God does not deserve just what we do not need or can live comfortably without. All we have should be managed responsibly for his glory.
We need to respect the ownership God gives to others of all they have. We should never take what is not rightly ours. We should be responsible in paying what we owe and in doing the work expected of us.
We need to appreciate our responsibility in using all God provides for us. We should never buy things frivolously or to provide for improper activities. We should not let his kingdom go silent by keeping his tithe for ourselves.
A while ago I received some of those mass e-mailings that get circulated around the web. One was about how imbalanced our economic priorities are as individuals. It challenged us to consider what we budget monthly for entertainment, eating out, and hobbies, then compare it with how much we regularly commit to the work of our church. Such an inventory of our budgets can be an eye-opening and sobering exercise.
God gives you all you have. The tithe of it is his. With it you show the ownership of your King.
The gospel hope we have in Christ is
the way to restore God’s economics in your life.
Jesus came to rebuild your relationship with God. Sin and guilt separate you from your Creator, and produce materialistic attitudes. That is what makes people want to get things in wrong ways. That is what keeps them from being satisfied with their possessions and labor. Jesus suffered and died in your place to remove the barrier of sin and the burden of its guilt.
We need to appreciate the blessing of being a part of displaying God’s dominion in this world. The empty drudgery of our daily work is transformed into rewarding service for the King. The things God lets us own and earn become more valuable and satisfying to us.
Many today think that the happiest person is the one who has a lot, but does not have to work. That is the opposite of the teaching of God’s word. When you are restored through Christ to being able to see the Sovereign God at work in all things, your work becomes a daily engagement in the grand scheme of all creation.
We were made to enjoy the work God gives us to do, and to responsibly manage all he gives us to own. That is how God created us to live.
What ever God gives you to do today is a joy when you do it as service to your King. All that you earn, make, grow, and produce is truly satisfying only when you display the restored image of God in your life by managing it all well for his glory.
It is an awesome blessing to be able to show our love for our Sovereign and Loving Savior by how we acknowledge him as Lord of all we have and of all he gives to others.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)