Sunday Morning Greek Blog

November 5, 2015

Jesus, the Bible, Taxes, and Charity: Part 2

Filed under: Acts,Biblical Studies — Scott Stocking @ 8:58 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

In the previous post, we looked at how the greedy heir of Solomon wanted to impose even greater financial burden on the people of Israel, wealthy and poor alike. In fact, if Israel was working the way it was supposed to, there would be very few poor, if any in Israel. Deuteronomy 15 talks about the “year of cancelling debts,” which was to happen every seven years. Anyone who has ever felt the burden of great debt knows how that weighs on the soul and drains the livelihood out of life. Fortunately, our society has a mechanism to allow this freedom from debt: bankruptcy. Some Christians might say it’s a sin to not pay off your debts, but I believe God understood human nature well enough even in the days before MasterCard to establish a means for that kind of freedom.

Aiding the Poor, Old Testament Style

Care for the poor has always been the responsibility of the people of God. It was virtually unheard of that a government in biblical times would have considered the kind of wealth redistribution we practice in America today. As early as Leviticus 19, God was commanding the Israelite people, NOT the rulers, to make accommodations for the poor. “Do not reap the very edges of your field” (v. 9); “Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner” (v. 10); “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them…[They] must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (vv. 33–34). (“Foreigners in the land” is quite different from illegal aliens today, but that will have to wait for another post.)

The Psalms and Proverbs are full of blessings for the poor and warnings about oppressing or mistreating them. There are even verses about God defending the cause of the poor and the orphans. But never once in Scripture will you find God or the biblical writers ever encouraging political leaders to extract money from the rich to give to the poor. Meeting the needs of the poor is always a voluntary compassionate effort. Wealth redistribution, on the other hand, is neither voluntary nor compassionate, unless you consider those who could be working to be voluntarily unemployed!

Aiding the Poor, New Testament Style

When we get to Acts in the New Testament, we see almost immediately a community that voluntarily shares their possessions or sells them to meet the needs of their newfound family of faith. Acts 2:44–45 says, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” No taxation, no big brother government taking from the rich, keeping their own cut, then redistributing to the poor. It was a self-sustained community. Acts 4 continues the theme. In fact, they took the voluntary nature of giving so seriously, that when Ananias and Sapphira sold a field and lied to God about having given the entire sale price, they were struck dead! Peter even asks Ananias the question he never got to answer: “Wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4).

The seriousness with which the young church handled charity is further seen in Acts 6. There was a complaint that the Greek Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. (Widows were an especially vulnerable demographic group, because family, if they were nearby, were their only means of support otherwise.) The disciples recognized the Old Testament principles discussed above and chose seven men of character and integrity to oversee the distribution.

But as far as charity goes in the New Testament, freeloaders need not apply. Paul is very clear about his attitude toward those who can work but don’t, even to the point of implying that they are thieves. “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28); “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b; 3:6–14 is an extended warning about idleness). Even Paul himself worked at his own trade to pay his own way as he ministered across the northern Mediterranean region.

The Lesson for Today

Taking charity out of the hands of a bloated, corrupt government and reenergizing the church to fulfill its biblical calling to care for the poor is the absolute best thing we can do to fight poverty in our nation. The local church can do a much better job of weeding out frauds and phonies than the government ever will do. Here’s something to chew on: Medicare and Medicaid are number 1 and 3 when it comes to improper payments for government programs. Medicaid’s 2014 overpayments were $17.5 billion (that’s billion, with a b); NASA’s 2014 budget was $17.6 billion! And Medicare’s improper payments were beyond the reach of NASA: almost $46 billion.

Much of that is fraud and abuse, but even with program integrity efforts, it’s difficult to keep up with all the schemes perpetrated out there. But improper payments also reflect payments made that technically should not have been made because of honest human error, that is, someone didn’t dot their I’s and cross their T’s. Medicare and Medicaid regulations are about as thick as, if not thicker than, the tax code! So some providers who make an honest attempt help the poor and needy by accepting Medicare and Medicaid patients wind up losing money on the deal because it’s so hard to keep up with the ever-changing regulatory climate and the 55,000 new ICD-10 codes! Handling these things on the local level helps deal with fraud and abuse much more efficiently, because hopefully you know the people in your community.

Food banks, food pantries, and local shelters and “soup kitchens” run by the church or other charitable groups have the potential to be far more efficient than a government-run welfare program. I’ve seen many churches and religious groups get very creative in the things they do to help the poor and needy. You can find ministries that do everything from providing food and shelter to job training to medical care and legal services. And in some cases, big brother Government has stepped in and squelched their generosity by imposing a bunch of needless regulations and rules. The government that’s supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people has become a self-perpetuating behemoth swallowing up the people. It’s time for the church to rise up and reclaim the biblical principles of charity. Let’s show the world we’re not afraid of the politically correct bullies.

Scott Stocking

The views expressed in my blog are my own. Period.

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