Publication: Pastoral Letter, November 2010
Dear Friend in Christ:
John Adams said, “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.” History proves this to be a profoundly wise statement. We are blessed in the United States that the right to possess was written in our Constitution; it is a right derived from the Bible and one that I pray will not be lost. But as our culture moves toward the secular, will ownership more and more move from individual to state?
There are two stories to which I will refer; one is in I Kings 21, the other is a parable given by Jesus in Matthew 21. The first is about a righteous man named Naboth. He owned a vineyard next to the palace of King Ahab and Ahab’s treacherous wife, Jezebel. Ahab wanted Naboth’s vineyard, though it belonged to Naboth and his family for generations.
“Give me your vineyard,” Ahab requested. Naboth refused. “I’ll pay you,” Ahab pressed. “I’ll just get you a better one.” Naboth’s answer is a telling reminder to all posterity. “The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you.” (Naboth opposed “eminent domain”). It wasn’t just the vineyard that motivated Naboth; it was his heritage, his life, and his sacred honor. I hope that will motivate us as well.
But Ahab, who had no honor, sulked and pouted. He went home and would not eat. He lay down and turned his face to the wall. “Why is your spirit so sullen that you eat no food?” Jezebel asked. “Because Naboth will not give me his vineyard,” he whined.
Note Jezebel’s answer: “You now exercise authority over Israel! Arise, eat food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard.” So she did. She wrote letters to the elders and conspired to raise up false witness against Naboth; then she had him killed. Ahab got the vineyard. But, of course, that is not the end of that story.
The story of the second vineyard occurs in a parable given by Jesus in Matthew 21: A certain landowner had a vineyard and leased it to vine dressers. When it came time to harvest the grapes, he sent servants to collect his rightful share. But the vine dressers killed the servants. Finally, he sent his son thinking that they would respect the son. Instead, when they saw the son they said, “This is the heir; let us kill him and seize the inheritance.” This they did. However, that was not the end of that story, either. (Jesus was prophesying His own death at the hands of those who tried to steal His vineyard).
The truth is that we are all stewards of the gifts of God, beginning with Adam and Eve. So there are certain natural laws pertaining to our stewardship that give both rights and responsibilities. A failure of stewardship has cost every generation since the beginning. The founders of our nation recognized these rights to possess and steward under God as inalienable. Government was designed, not to give rights, but protect them. As John Adams said, once those protections are lost, anarchy and tyranny follow. Life and liberty are bound up in personal stewardship or “ownership”. Note that Naboth and the man in Jesus’ story were owners. They had certain rights and duties that were usurped by those who used power to violate stewardship.
Our founders were skeptical, if not fearful, of power, having lived under the tyranny of King George III who could and did confiscate wealth. They understood the depravity of human beings and were determined to protect themselves and their posterity from an overreaching government. They understood that whatever it could give, it could also take. Therefore, it was not government-given rights but God-given rights that they recognized.
They separated the powers of government into executive, legislative, and judicial branches in order to set up checks and balances that would function within the Constitution. And they vested the ultimate power in the people-“of, by, and for”. This was done to protect the liberty that God intends for all. As long as government was limited, the people were free to serve and give an account to God.
It is interesting that in the two aforementioned stories the abuses came at the hands of a king and at the hands of laborers. Human beings of any station are capable of abuse once absolute power is given to them.
Proverbs 29:2 tells us that “When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.” Therefore, the founders believed that a religious nation was essential to the republic (note republic not democracy). Only a people of self-restraint could avoid a tyrannical government. Righteousness and self-restraint are essential to power, peace, and joy (see Romans 14:17).
Great books have been written on this topic. I recommend The 5000 Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen. If we desire to keep our inheritance, we must re-educate ourselves about the nature of power and rights, who should have them, and where they come from.
I think that I have formerly underestimated the grave danger of covetousness. It is a sin of the heart and once entertained, leads to devastating acts. Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard. The vine dressers coveted the owner’s inheritance. Both cases resulted in murder. Coveting another’s possessions, mate, or position will lead to very bad results.
Satan is not a creator; he is a coveter and a usurper. That is, he covets what others have and attempts to appropriate it to himself. This occurred before creation in eternity, as he coveted the very Throne of God. Not only did he fail, he was cast out, losing what he already had. Unfortunately, he arrived here.
Covetousness is the basis of Communism, Nazism, and Socialism, as by some forceful means, those who covet appropriate the possessions of others for themselves. Often, it involved murder on a mass scale. Sometimes it takes another person’s mate, reputation, or even possessions. It is Satanic. We have no biblical right to what belongs to others. If there was no other reference but the “Golden Rule” that would be enough (see Matthew 7:12).
The redistribution of the wealth of others is not the result of compassion. It is the confiscation of one person’s wealth to satisfy the desire of another. Covetous people envy the “rich” (or those who have something that they themselves want) and vote into office those who will satisfy their covetous nature. Charity is not charity if it comes from confiscated possessions. It may become popular, but not with the God who gives us the power to create wealth and steward it (see Ecclesiastes 5:19-20).
Robin Hood may be a popular character, but would have been a wicked ruler. “Hood” was an appropriate name, but “Robbing Hood” is more accurate. When rulers covet the possessions of their constituents, a spirit of covetousness is released among the people. The greatness of George Washington was revealed in many ways; one such trait was that he served as General of the Army and President without pay. While I believe that public servants should be paid, covetousness is a disqualification, whether it is a king or laborer.
We should not forget that excessive taxation was a major impetus for the American Revolution, and that confiscation is the major impetus of socialism. Freedom from oppressive taxation has produced an unparalleled prosperity because it is a natural and spiritual law. Confiscation always ends in poverty because those who become “stewards”, the usurpers, have no ability to manage what they did not produce.
Some theologies are actually lenient on theft, and the cultures that they have produced have lots of it. The theory is that if one has not enough, it is somehow moral to take from one who has more than enough. The assumption is that wealth is unrighteous. There certainly is unrighteous wealth, but if individuals are left to decide based upon selfishness or covetousness, then anarchy will result.
I would add one more thought on the issue of unjust taxation and confiscation of property: the inheritance tax is a classic example of the confiscatory policy by the federal government. The taxes were paid upon earning, and then heavily taxed at death to prevent heirs from their just inheritance. Lest someone think that I have said that for personal reasons, I assure you that my estate will not face that problem.
However, be it noted that the great mission endeavors, schools, and humanitarian projects are supported by wealth. The more it is taxed, the less can be given by the rightful choice of the creator of that wealth. While some who are Christians may support a heavy tax on wealth, do not forget the effect that it will have upon missional and benevolent causes (not to mention many other unwanted results).
Whether it is the judgment of God or simply a natural law that catches up with us, coveting-or stealing just because one has the power to do so-ends in disaster. Ahab and Jezebel are classic examples. Read I Kings 21 carefully. Elijah prophesied that the dogs would eat their remains. And so it was. Apparently, God hates the disregard of another person’s life and property.
In the case of the wicked vine dressers, Jesus asks this question: “When the owner returns, what will he do to those vine dressers?” The disciples answered correctly, “He will destroy them.” Those who ignore life, liberty, and the right to own property bring judgment upon themselves. Governments or people who unjustly appropriate power or wealth are doomed to fail. Here is why, to quote W. Cleon Skousen: “They destroy incentive; they deprive the fruits of labor: They encourage confiscation among the people; they produce poverty.”
To be sure, there are those who gain wealth unrighteously, confiscated from others, as we saw in the recent financial meltdown. The government not only failed to protect wealth, it aided and abetted the criminals. Then, when trillions were lost by the public, the government borrowed our children’s future to bail out those who stole in the first place. Some of them are still in power. That is unrighteous!
What can we learn from all of these things?
- There is a God-given right to own.
- We answer to God as stewards for what we own.
- The Golden Rule is essential to civil order.
- Covetousness is the source of civil strife. When vineyards are unsafe, so are you.
- Covetousness will result in judgement for anyone motivated by it.
I pray that our motives in the coming season will be to elect those officials whose desire is to serve in keeping with our nation’s founding principles and the Word of God. I pray that we can be a people worthy of God’s favor and good leaders.
Please continue to pray for CSM and remember us in your giving. This has been a very difficult year for us financially, but the mission and the needs continue. We appreciate you and remember you often in our prayers. We would love to see you May 4-6. 2011 at our annual CSM Leadership Conference (see www.csmpublishing.org for more information). Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus!
Scripture Reference: 1 Kings, Matthew, Proverbs, Romans, Ecclesiastes,