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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
 www.frcsr.com/fellowship/melville/
 
Title:God's gifts are for freedom
Text:LD 42 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 8th Commandment (Stealing)
 
Preached:2019-01-20
Added:2020-01-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

2014 Book of Praise

ESV

Psalm 72:1,7

Hymn 1

Psalm 62:1,6,7

Hymn 17:1,5,6

Psalm 73:8,9

 

Read: Deuteronomy 15:1-18;  1 Timothy 6

Text:  Lord’s Day 42

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When we entered this world, we came with nothing.  When we leave this world, we leave with nothing.  But in between, it sometimes looks as though we want everything. 

It starts early.  As babies grow into toddlers, they learn to say “Mine!” before they learn how to say “Yours!”  It is in their nature to hold on to what is theirs’ and to grab what it not theirs’ and claim it for their own.  And as people get older while the method might change, they still want to get more than their share.  They sacrifice much to do well and be successful.

And in many ways that is encouraged.  Capitalism is a hungry beast that never says “enough”.  Capitalism wants to see continual growth in personal and communal wealth.  We are encouraged to believe that greed is good.  We are told to believe that the meaning of life can be found in the enjoyment of heaping up for ourselves treasures on earth. 

But God’s Word does not agree.  As the apostle Paul told Timothy, the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  It leads to greed, to selfishness, to wasteful, prodigal living, to defrauding our neighbour, to using all kinds of wicked schemes and devices to get what does not rightfully belong to us, and even to outright theft and robbery.  The love of money and the love of what money can buy causes us to be a slave of our passions.  It is the god of our age, and it is a god that never says “enough”.

But God does not want us to be a slave.  To the contrary, He saved us from being slaves!  He redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and all of us His children from slavery to sin.  And He has redeemed us for a life of freedom.  And the physical blessings of food and clothes and houses and computers and iphones and lawnmowers have been given to us so not so that we serve them, but so that we might serve God through them.  And we must use these gifts to help those who are in need, so that together we might serve the LORD with gladness.

I preach to you the Word of the LORD as we have read it in Deuteronomy 15 and 1 Timothy 6 and the church has confessed it in Lord’s Day 42 under the following theme:

God’s Gifts are for Freedom.

  1. Freedom for the Poor.
  2. Freedom for the Rich.

1. Freedom for the Poor.

Although we have so much ourselves, the poverty in other parts of the world is so huge and so extreme that it is hard to know what to do. 

  • Almost half of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day.  These families struggle to find food, clothing and shelter.
  • In this world one child in two lives in poverty, and every single day 22,000 children aged 5 and under die as a direct result of poverty.
  • 72 million children of primary school age are not able to go to school and a billion people are unable to read.
  • Water problems affect half of the world’s population, and 1.1 billion of those have inadequate access to clean water.
  • For every dollar given in aid to developing countries, $25 is owed in debt repayment.

These are not mere statistics:  they describe how men, women and children, created in the image of God, are forced to live in extreme poverty.  There is not one Lazarus at the rich world’s gate:  there are ten of them!  We regularly hear of millions of people in Asia, displaced due to typhoons and flooding, lacking food, water and medical supplies.  We see pictures of emaciated women with tiny, stunted babies in Africa, desperate for food.  There are crippled men in South America, begging for their survival.  You can find entire families and communities in the Philippines, scavenging in the city garbage dumps like dogs.  And there are homeless people in Perth and Armadale.

And it makes us feel guilty.

But we don’t know always what to do about it. 

And so we often turn, and walk the other way.

But what can be done about it?  What should our response be to the overwhelming poverty and despair that is reality for so many in the world today? 

The first thing that we need to understand is that poverty is not simply an economic problem:  poverty is a result of sin. 

It is sometimes the result of the sin of those suffering from poverty.  Sinful choices might have left them homeless and friendless.  Poverty is also the result of the sin of laziness, the sin of gambling, alcohol and drug addiction or other abuse or squandering of God’s gifts. 

Poverty is also the result of the sin of others.  Stealing, fraud, destruction and war leave individuals and entire nations destitute and prevent them from being able to earn money or plan for the future.  Unfair laws that oppress the poor and government corruption are also reasons why the poor remain poor.

And poverty is also the result of the fallenness of mankind.  Some people are poor because they are disabled and unable to work.  Others are poor because their father or both parents died.  And droughts, floods, earthquakes and fire can cause poverty to people and entire nations.

Poverty, therefore is a result of sin.  And for that reason it should not surprise us that the LORD does not want His children to remain in poverty, but to be freed from it. 

We read together from Deuteronomy 15.  In this chapter the LORD acknowledged in verse 11 that the poor would always be there.  But He gave laws to encourage His people to be generous and to keep His people from being enslaved by debt and poverty.  The poor were to be cared for, and the people of Israel were to lend them what they needed.  But every seventh year, their debts would be cancelled and those who were servants would be allowed to go free.  And Leviticus 25 explains that every 50th year would be a time of full redemption when all land would be returned to the families that God had originally given it to.  These were laws the LORD gave His people to keep them from being slaves and caught in a cycle of poverty. 

And the LORD also gave other laws concerning the poor.  God’s people were encouraged to lend them what they needed, but they could not charge interest from their fellow Israelites.  One must loan the money out of compassion, and not for reasons of greed, to gain from his poor brother.

In addition to this, the physical well being of the poor had to be protected.  A pledge as down payment for money loaned was not to be received from a widow.  And one could never take a poor man’s clothes, nor a millstone or something else that he needed to earn a living.  The people of Israel were not permitted to deliberately keep another person poor but were to help them stand up on their own feet once more. 

And the reason why God gave these laws to His people is given a number of times in the book of Deuteronomy including chapter 15:15,

"You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today."

 

The LORD God redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt, and He did not want to see them in bondage in any shape or form again.  God’s gives His gifts so that we can live with Him in freedom.

The problem with poverty is that it turns people into slaves.  When people lack the basic necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter, they become caught in a trap.  They are no longer free, but enslaved by debt, by hunger and by circumstance.  Poverty humiliates.  Poverty shames.  Poverty demeans and debases mankind.  And that is something that the LORD does not want for His children.  God’s revealed will for the people of Israel was that every person might live in peace, under his own vine and fig tree, able to serve Him in freedom with the gifts that the LORD had provided.

And so we may not steal from our neighbour or defraud him in any way.  We may not take from what the LORD has given him by outright theft or by lying and cheating through counterfeit money, promising to pay but not doing so, or by using false weights and measures.  We also may not make laws that force some people into a life of perpetual poverty so that we or others might benefit from that.  The LORD is the owner of all things, and He gives us His gifts so that we might live in freedom before Him.   And He wants the poor to live in that freedom also.

And for that reason the LORD showed Himself to be a friend to the poor.  Not only did He give His laws to the people of Israel that they might protect the poor, the strangers, the widows and orphans, but He also spoke strongly to the people of Israel when they failed to care for the poor.  He commanded His people to share their food with the hungry, to invite the homeless into their homes, to give clothes to those who were without and to let the oppressed go free.  (See for example Isaiah 58:6-9.)  And the LORD Himself took delight in showing Himself as a friend to the poor.  Psalm 113:5-8 asks,

"Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, 6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, 8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people."

The LORD raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy out of the ash heap.  The LORD is the God who delights in rescuing the poor, setting them free and seating them with princes.

But for as long as sin and the effects of sin remain, the poor also will always be there.  And so to truly lift the needy out of the ash heap and seat him with princes, the LORD sent His Son.  In sending His Son, Mary sang in Luke 1, in sending His Son Jesus, the LORD has exalted the lowly and filled the hungry with good things, while sending the rich away empty.

Jesus had come to bring freedom, and to clearly display this freedom, with His coming was also to be the removal of oppression for the poor so that they too might live in freedom before the God who provides.

In preparing the way for the Lord, John the Baptist told the people not to steal but to care for the poor.  He told the people in Luke 3:11,

“Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

Tax collectors were to collect no more than was appointed for them and soldiers were not to intimidate anyone or accuse falsely and to be content with their wages.

And then when Jesus Himself came, He proclaimed that He was anointed “to preach the gospel to the poor” and “to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”  And He did so.  Jesus gave food to the hungry and healing to the sick.  He lifted up lame beggars from the ash heap and commanded the people to love their neighbour as themselves.

And yet the giving of money and other physical help for the poor is not all there is to say.  For money alone will never grant true freedom.  For as long as there is sin, the poor will be with us, and the cycle of  being slaves to poverty will continue.  True and complete freedom will never be achieved only through the giving of economic aid, since the problem of poverty is not one of money in the first place, but one of sin. 

And that is why, although He gave food to the hungry and healed the sick, Christ did not come to be the economic Saviour of His people.  He did not come to overthrow the Romans.  He did not come to lead a rebellion, a revolution.  He did not come to immediately set right all the injustices that could be found in Israel.  He came instead to defeat the root of poverty.  He came to defeat sin.

And that is the message that must be proclaimed to the poor today.  To give our money but not the gospel is not enough.  And so when we seek to help the poor today, we too should, as much as is possible, address the root of poverty, the root of sin.  We can keep giving to those who are in need.  We can help the poor in Pakistan and the hungry in Haiti.  And we should do that.  But poverty will not go away until men repent and return to the LORD and sin is banished forever.  The ultimate freedom that must be proclaimed to the poor is the freedom that only the gospel can bring.  But it is a freedom that the gospel does bring.  It is in God’s greatest gift, the gift of His Son, that true freedom is offered for the poor.

2. Freedom for the Rich.

The 8th Commandment, You shall not steal, calls us to have a right view on both the gifts that God has given others and the gifts that He has given to ourselves.  We are not to steal, for stealing takes away the blessings that God wishes to give to others, and by stealing we are displaying our dissatisfaction with what God in His good pleasure has given to us. 

But the message of the 8th commandment does not only prohibit stealing in any shape or form, but also requires that we promote our neighbour’s good wherever we can and may, and that we work faithfully so that we are able to give to those in need. (Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 111)

But how then should we live?  What should we do about the Lazarus at our gate?  What should our response be to the suffering and the poverty that so many people are faced with?  And what should we do with our wealth?

There are some who have said that we should sell all of our possessions and give all our money to the poor and then be poor with them.  Just as the disciples gave up everything to follow Jesus, so we must do the same. 

But there is nothing wrong with wealth in itself, and the Bible does not tell us to get rid of our worldly goods. When wealth is obtained through legitimate means, that is through work, through inheritance or through gifts, then that wealth is a blessing from the LORD.  That was the case in the Old Testament, and it remains the case today.  Although it is true that Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the  eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven, the problem is not the man’s riches, but his relationship to them.

The problem with wealth is that we so easily become enslaved to it.  When we lust after the wealth of this world, when we are obsessed by it, and obsessed by how we dress and what we eat and where we live, then we are no longer free but enslaved by the god of this age.  Paul warned Timothy in chapter 6 that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare.  Worshipping the god Mammon causes us to drown  in destruction and perdition.  Do not be greedy.  Do not covet after more and more wealth, never satisfied with what you have.  For God did not give you wealth to be enslaved by it, but to rejoice in it and to serve Him through it.

Both the Catechism and the Bible also point out that to use God’s gifts rightly means that we do not abuse or squander them.  God gives us His gifts not for us to waste or to use on an extravagant or worldly lifestyle.  As Christians we must be modest in our use of what the LORD has given us.

And another reason why riches can so easily separate us from God is because we so quickly become proud, as if our hand and our strength made us rich. 1 Timothy 6:17 says, "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty." Being rich can make us feel self important.  Our house, clothes and car can make us proud, and we can judge others according to what they own.  But the rich must remember that before God we are all the same, and we must all be poor in spirit, dependent on Jesus for all things.

And so when we consider what we should do with our wealth, we must acknowledge the danger that we become enslaved to our riches and our desire for more  and more wealth.  (For that is the root of the sin of stealing.)  And if we find ourselves enslaved to either what we have or what we want, we must repent of our sin.  Rather than be enslaved by wealth, the Bible calls us to live a simple and sober life, in all contentment.  As Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:8, “Having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.”  Concentrate on what you need, more than on what you want.  Rejoice in God’s gifts but free yourself from anything that distracts you from showing love to God and your neighbour.

And then be generous.  Concerning the rich, 1 Timothy 6:18,19 says,

They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

We are to do good, especially to those who are fellow Christians.  If you are rich in worldly goods and see your brother in need, do not shut your heart from him, but give generously, just as Your heavenly Father has given all things to you generously.  May the poor of this world be blessed through your generosity. 

But remember:  when we give to those in need, we must do so to call them to freedom.  And our freedom does not lie in wealth as such, nor can our treasure be found in possessions.  Our freedom lies in Jesus Christ in whom we have all become rich.  And so, as you give your gifts to those in need and do good to your neighbour, do not give them the gift alone, but point them to the One who is really behind the gift, point them to Jesus Christ.    

God’s gifts are for freedom.  Use them for freedom.  Let neither poverty nor wealth turn you into slaves.  Rather, be content and rejoice in what God has entrusted to you.  Support those who are in need, sharing the wealth that you have in Jesus Christ.  Rely on God, for He will save and bless.  Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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