The Eighth Commandment: Fostering Prosperity
The U.S. is, by any measure, the wealthiest, most powerful, and most influential country in the history of the world. It is not difficult to understand why so many immigrants want to come here to pursue their dreams. The United States is far and away the most likely destination for immigrants (5x more than the second country). That is true of those wanting to come through legal channels as well as those who will risk their lives in order to cross the border illegally. Either people are feeling pushed out by oppressive regimes, or they are being pulled by opportunities for economic prosperity. The image of the American dream remains a strong motivation for moving here.
However, something that has been gaining interest over the past decade is an obsession with the origins of America’s prosperity. For some, that interest goes back before the founding of our nation. Revisionist historians want to paint a timeline of our nation that is almost entirely evil, even before any of the founding documents were written. They point to various economic disparities as proof that our nation remains infected by racism from top to bottom. The only question for them is how we ought to go about correcting these disparities. This inevitably leads to a discussion about reparations.
Is the present generation responsible for reparations, the repayment of the devastating impact that chattel slavery has had upon the Black community? The subject of reparations was debated before congress in June 2019. California Governor, Gavin Newsom, just instituted a nine-member task force to study how we might practice reparations in this state. It seems almost inevitable that some system will be developed in this state that will eventually be replicated in every other state.
In an episode on Uncommon Knowledge, Thomas Sowell, makes the point:
Slavery has been a universal institution for thousands of years, as far back as you can trace human history. But the situation is portrayed as if slavery is something that happened to one race in one country, when in fact the spread of it was worldwide and included people from all ethnicities in almost every country on Earth.
Sowell goes on to point at that for any attempt to provide reparations for slavery, we will need to repay half the population of the world.
The eighth commandment, and the rest of Scripture, speaks to this subject in fairly clear terms. Obviously, this will not be a sermon about reparations, but the way we secure and distribute wealth as a nation ought to be influenced by the morality of owning private property. There is also a biblical concept for restitution that needs to be discussed. It is not as simple as declaring that reparations violates the eighth commandment.
We love our neighbor by valuing their life (6th Commandment), their marriage (7th Commandment), and their right to private property (8th Commandment). While the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, it is possible to pursue money for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. Money is not the problem, but the sinful ways people often obtain or spend it that is the problem. My goal is to encourage you to find contentment in gospel riches so that you will devote generous resources to its advancement.
Read Exodus 20:15
As we have done with every other commandment, we will examine the positive implications this morning and consider the negative aspects next week.
I. Wealth Allotment
Far more important than sorting out reparations is the establishment of a just and equitable opportunity to generate wealth. We should not hesitate to remove any barriers to economic opportunities that are clearly defined. If anyone is going to be held responsible for a crime, they should be proven guilty.
The freedom to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not only defined in the Declaration of Independence as being endowed by our Creator, but they are biblical principles as well. All men are created after the image of God and given the cultural mandate to “be fruitful and increase in number; to fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). That certainly includes the pursuit of wealth, but it is not a reckless pursuit. God told Adam to tend to the garden by working and caring for the land (Genesis 2:15). In other words, there is a principle of stewardship involved. We look out for the interests of others more than our own.
If anyone lacks money, they should work. We looked at the creation ordinance of marriage the last two weeks, but another important ordinance that was given prior to the fall and is relevant to all humanity is the command to work. Work is the prescription Paul gives to reform the thief so that he might become generous (Ephesians 4:28). When Paul heard there were idle busybodies in Thessalonica, he commanded such individuals to busy themselves with work in order to “earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
Our income needs to be adequate to support our own family, including our relatives in need. The person who denies to support his family denies his faith. Paul says he is worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8, 16). He should not be slack or slothful, but diligent in his work (Proverbs 10:4; Romans 12:11). In fact, “a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22).
In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus promotes the value of investing and gaining interest (Matthew 25:27). At the same time, loving our neighbors means that we won’t charge excessive amounts of interest.
There is nothing wrong with having money as long as it is obtained honestly and spent responsibly. Contracts for employment need to be honored on both sides. The employer needs to pay what he has committed to pay, but the employee or contractor ought to accomplish the work that he was hired to perform. Where that has occurred, a proper rendering of what is owed should occur (Romans 13:7).
All of this shows that the possession of private property is a biblical concept which means that communism and socialism are not. These secular ideologies do not work. We ought to carefully consider Scripture’s teaching before adopting or promoting the latest popular theory.
Jeremiah’s letter to the Babylonian exiles shows us that national welfare is something to prayerfully pursue because it leads to personal welfare (Jeremiah 29). National prosperity was a covenant blessing. It is not wrong to earn an honest wage or even to pursue promotions and raises. Possession are good even though they can become idols. The rich are encouraged not to trust in their riches, but to be generous and content (1 Timothy 6:17-18).
The key is learning to enjoy…
II. Wealth Contentment
Chanel Wapner’s store, Just My Essentials in Old Town Clovis (the same location where Ed Flores ran The Book Nook), was vandalized and graffitied with racial slurs. Whatever was not stolen was destroyed. The generosity of the citizens of Clovis has been remarkable in response. Rather than creating some sort of new tax law that would require citizens to repay for restoration projects, they chose to freely give to her need. Clovis councilmember, Bob Whalen, setup a gofundme page with the goal of raising $5,000. Within seven hours it was already at $11,000. 668 donors gave more than $29,000.
The fruit of contentment is generosity toward those in need. Generosity will vary depending upon our own abilities and the needs of our neighbor. But we must learn to be content in order to willingly give (1 John 3:17). We are to be generous givers with a particular heart for the needy (Proverbs 19:17; 28:27), especially fellow believers (Galatians 6:10). We are to give in secret, not drawing attention to our generosity (Matthew 6:3-4). Giving to the needy is one way we store up our treasures in heaven (Luke 12:33).
This voluntary giving was a characteristic of the early Christians who sold their own possessions in order to provide for one another (Acts 2:45; 4:34-36). The other apostles instructed Paul to “remember the poor” as part of his mission to the Gentiles, which was something he was eager to do (Galatians 2:10). And he passed that instruction on to Timothy (1 Timothy 6:18).
This voluntary giving extends into our offerings and gifts to God under the new covenant. Not giving anything to God is a grievous form of stealing (Malachi 3:8-10). But the amount we give must not be compelled, it should be given cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7).
The congregations in Macedonia and Achaia raised support for the saints in Jerusalem who were suffering poverty (Romans 15:26). What makes this even more remarkable is that the Macedonian Christians were living in “extreme poverty” themselves, but according to Paul, they gave “beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints…” (2 Corinthians 8:1-4). We also know that the church in Philippi supported Paul’s ministry (Philippians 4:15-18). Paying pastors, elders who shepherd and teach, was to be the norm (1 Timothy 5:17-18). Those who learn from that teaching were expected to support the ministry (Galatians 6:6).
This voluntary giving is far superior to forced communism. Plus, it is far more reflective of the generous heart of God held out to us in the gospel. It is the overflow of a heart that is not striving after worldly goods (1 Timothy 6:6-9), but is satisfied in Christ (Galatians 6:14).
Due to the nature of our Lord’s mission, Jesus gave up personal property and the pursuit of career and family. He gave up the riches of heaven, in order to grant us access to those riches for all eternity (2 Corinthians 8:9). The gospel of Jesus Christ models for us the importance of sacrificial giving. Christ treasured the glory of God above everything, and his sacrifice represented that treasure. When we give we show that our treasure is in heaven, not in money and worldly possessions. Give in the direction you want your heart to go.
This is where our third aspect becomes important…
III. Wealth Management
The Westminster Larger Catechism Q.141 concludes with the following duties required in the eighth commandment:
…and an endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.
God has entrusted his children with talents that we are commanded to maintain and multiply through lawful endeavors. These resources ultimately belong to him, but we have them on loan and we will give an account for how we managed them. We don’t live extravagantly, flaunting our wealth before others as the prosperity preachers are fond of doing. We gratefully receive what God has entrusted to us and we spend it for His glory and the furtherance of his kingdom purposes.
Steward in order to share generously. Ultimately, pursue eternal wealth!
Fesko If we truly value the riches of heaven and God’s immeasurable love towards us in Christ, we will not take what does not belong to us and belongs instead to God, but we will recognize how generous He has been with us. By the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, our desire will be to share our possessions, time, and money with others. Our desire will be to love our neighbors.
Those who find contentment in gospel riches will devote generous resources to its advancement. What better way to store up our treasures in heaven? Work diligently and manage the resources God has granted you because you are content to look forward to the heavenly inheritance that awaits you! It is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4).