The Inescapability of Slavery
We are coming up on one of America’s feast days: Tax Day. Some of you don’t celebrate it at all, as Uncle Sam requires you to give your “fair share,” but for many Americans they begin planning vacations, acquiring new cars or boats, and the like as they see the tax return they have coming. The trouble is most of that money isn’t being returned at all. Which means that Tax Day represents an enormous claim to sovereignty. Of course the claim is that this is all for the common good, for the care of the poor, and in the name of freedom. But as Christians, we need to ask: Is this true?
God’s Heart for the Poor
We should begin by laying out the clear case for God’s heart for the orphans, widows, immigrants, refugees, disabled, and elderly. “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with a sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him…” (Ex. 22:21-25ff, cf. Prov. 22:22-23) “‘Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs.’” (Ps. 12:5) When Paul met with the apostles in Jerusalem about his ministry to the Gentiles, they gave him the right hand of fellowship, only asking Paul to “remember the poor” the very thing Paul says he was eager to do (Gal. 2:9-10). And of course James famously insists that “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (Js. 1:27).
God’s Plan for the Poor
All of this is true, but it is not enough to say this and then do whatever comes into someone’s mind. Remember, Judas was in charge of the moneybag, which the disciples kept for the poor, and he had some ideas about how that ministry should be carried out (Jn. 12:4-6, 13:27-30). In other words, it is not enough to feel sorry for the disenfranchised, disabled, and unprotected in society. Feeling bad may be the very first step to being used by Satan to further their plight, all in the name of helping them. So, in addition to being committed to upholding justice for orphans and widows, we must be committed to doing that the way God says to do it. And perhaps the single greatest biblical principle in this is the fact that God says that it is not the government’s job to visit orphans and widows in their affliction or make sure that we do. There are no civil penalties in the Bible for failing to give money to the poor, for failing to give clothing to the naked, or for refusing to offer hospitality to foreigners. Those positive commands are given to the people of God, but they are enforced by God Himself. “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Dt. 10:17-18, cf. 2 Chron. 36:21). It is the government’s job to carry out God’s wrath on evildoers (Rom. 13:4), and that includes those who prey upon the needy. But the Bible insists that the best care for those in distress starts with the individual and works outward: individual, family, church, and then broader society. While it may not always be a sin for the government to intervene, the current deified State is a false god that needs to be toppled.
What Does Biblical Care for the Poor Like?
Community: The Bible teaches that man’s fundamental poverty is a poverty of community. When man sinned, fellowship was broken between man and God, man and fellow man, as well as man and creation (Gen. 3:12-19). The gospel is the proclamation of reconciliation through the blood of Jesus across the board but in that order (Ps. 51:4, Lk. 14:26, 2 Cor. 5:11, 18-20, Eph. 2:14-19, also see When Helping Hurts). The state cannot properly care for orphans and widows because it cannot provide meaningful community. And taking money from strangers often reinforces isolation rather than alleviating it. For example, welfare (e.g. food stamps) often discourages single mothers from marrying the father of their children.
Personal Responsibility: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Eph. 4:28) “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). In other words, there must be a sharp distinction in our minds between the “righteous poor” and the “wicked poor.” Helping the wicked poor is helping the wicked. There will always be medical emergencies where we must imitate the Good Samaritan, but that is no model for ongoing mercy ministry. Unemployment/disability often discourages able-bodied people from finding honest work, and thereby perpetuates dislocation, isolation, and brokenness.
Family: “Honor widows who are truly widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God… But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:1-8). The Church is to financially support true widows, but the gospel causes people to seek to support those closest to them (family).
Church: Tithing is central to God’s plan for mercy: “You shall tithe… and the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled…” (Dt. 14:22-29, Mal. 3:8-12, 1 Cor. 16:1-3, 2 Cor. 9). The deacons are specifically tasked to administer these funds for the needy (Acts 6:1-7). This is also why we have a Deacons Fund and an Education Fund.
Conclusion: Slavery & Freedom
The Bible teaches that slavery is inescapable, and this is why in the Old Testament slavery was regulated but not entirely outlawed (Lev. 25, Dt. 15). Ultimately, everyone is either a slave of Christ or a slave of sin (Rom. 6:16, Phil. 1:1). This is why when people ask if we are for or against slavery, the biblical answer has to be which slavery? Which kind of dependence? When a financial hardship strikes who do you immediately look to? Your family? God’s people? Or do you immediately start filling out medicaid/unemployment forms? Who is your master? Who is your savior?
The kidnapping and buying and selling of human beings is always abhorrent to God (Dt. 24:7, 1 Tim. 1:10, Rev. 18:11-13), but we need realize that America became enslaved to a much harsher master at the very moment it announced the end of “slavery.” Nearly 60 million babies have been murdered on Master Sam’s plantation since 1973, and he sends you a check every April to keep you docile. But Jesus died for us and forever earned the right to be our Master (Phil. 2:9). He suffered for us to become our Lord and Savior. “The Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Is. 33:22). Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:29-30).