Lecture 2 (19 min video)
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When man fell into sin and God came into the garden, God pronounced a curse on the serpent, on Eve, on Adam, and on the ground.
We have a hard time imagining how rich, how full of fecundity that original garden must have been. When before the fall, there was just beauty and power and just a richness of life. But a curse that God gives to Adam is that now you will get your bread by the sweat of your brow. Now there will be thorns and thistles.” Now friends, because we in this country enjoy so much prosperity, we can make the mistake that what God is saying is that, you know, Adam, you’re gonna have some minor hassles. You’re gonna have some irritations in your work. But it’s much deeper than that. What God is talking about is cursing the ground so that its fruitfulness would be diminished to the point that now it’s not just a question natural limitations of time and space. But now we have a genuine problem of scarcity. Now human beings will have to wake up every day and not think to themselves, “Shall I eat from this tree or shall I eat from that tree?” as they did in the garden. But now they wake up each day wondering, “Am I going to be able to produce enough to stay alive until the next day. Now the economic problem isn’t how prosperous, how blessed can we be. Now the economic problem is, will I survive? The scarcity problem is a survival problem. And rightly understood, this is what we mean when we talk about poverty. Poverty is the result of sin in the life of man. Now it’s certainly the case that there’s a connection between poverty and particular economic or political systems. Some of those systems are going to tend towards poverty. Some are going to tend away from poverty. But remember the wisdom of Jesus who said, “The poor you will have with you always.” No system is going to eradicate poverty. The question is, which is going to best alleviate it? Which is going to best marginalize it? which is going to put it in the corners of our world instead of making it a huger, bigger problem. And so what we want to do is understand that sin messes up what we are and it messes up the world around us. And so now again, we are faced with this horrible problem. Will we be able to survive? Will we live our lives surrounded by poverty? Or will we be able to prosper again as stewards over God’s creation? But before we answer that, let’s remember the definition that we’re working with with respect to stewardship. Stewardship is man governing and using the created order for God’s purposes and for God’s glory. But now we have men who are not fundamentally bent to please God. In fact, we’re fundamentally bent against pleasing God. We have man who’s not fundamentally bent towards cooperation with other men, but now we live in a world of competition in which we’re trying to fight against other men. So let’s understand that the fall has impacted who we are. We remember that we talked about who God is and how that’s revealed in creation, and in us bearing His image, that we reflect much of the same thing. Well, now that image is shattered. It’s distorted. And so we don’t think in a rational way all the time like we ought to. Now our minds are not bent on doing the right thing, but our minds are used for for self-justification, for strategizing how to wiggle out from under God’s authority, to strategize how to oppress other people. Because, of course, our wills are likewise fallen. And now it’s our desire to pursue what we want and to pursue it at the expense of others. And so now instead of living in the context in which our calling as stewards is to build, to create, and to trade, we face the fierce temptation to steal, to take, and to exploit.
And you see that even amongst the tools that God’s given us. We don’t cultivate the land that God gave us, we exploit it. We don’t use in a proper way the tools that God gave us, but instead we create tools for the sake of exploitation. Think about Lamech as we see the sort of the progression in the early chapters of Genesis between the line of Cain and the line of Seth, the godly line and the ungodly line, and how in the ungodly line you see the destruction of families rather than the preservation of families.
You see the making of weapons rather than the making of tools. And then you also have the exploitation of each other. We have this tendency to want to to control and to rule over others, to exercise a tyranny, a slavery over others. And this is only the beginning of how sin has radically affected our call to stewardship. The call is there, but we are carrying a a heavy, heavy burden, which is our own sinful natures. Throughout the Bible, when man finds himself in some deep weeds, God and His grace shows up. And that’s the case here, too. We have this problem of scarcity. And God comes and answers the problem in actually two ways. First, He demonstrates to us His law. reminds us of the boundaries in which we can find prosperity. And secondly, He demonstrates His grace to us. He gives us the opportunity to rest in the context of our need. He calls us to give back to Him and promises to bless us as we do that. And I would even say this, that in the giving of the law, He’s demonstrating His grace to us. Think about how when Noah gets off the ark, God has judged the world, and he’s rescued Noah and his family. And like another Adam, he’s called Noah and his family to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, to rule over all things. And so we get the opportunity to try again, to move forward in this first command. God speaks into Noah’s life as he would later speak into the life of his people corporately at Mount Sinai. God speaks law into their lives. Consider the 10 Commandments. Our tendency, I’m afraid, because we’re Americans and we tend to be more individually minded, is to look at the 10 Commandments as if God is saying to me, “This is what you must do.” And he’s saying to my neighbor, “This is what you must do.” And he’s saying to his neighbor, “This is what you must do.” It’s certainly true that we all have to do this. But you have to understand that the law of God has a corporate element as well. that these 10 commandments not only establish what I’m supposed to do in the pursuit of righteousness, but it actually establishes how a people, how a nation is supposed to operate, which means it even has impact, profound impact in how we understand economics.
That you see in the law of God in Mount Sinai, the application of the very principles that we’ve already been talking about. God graciously reminds us, this is the pathway to blessing, This is the pathway to prosperity. We all know that the 10 commandments typically are divided up into two tables, one dealing with our responsibility towards God, the other more focused on our responsibility toward each other.
But they’re still all touching on the economic issues. The first commandment calls us to have no other gods before God. Well, what is that telling us? Isn’t that reminding us that everything else that follows in all of our lives is to be lived under submission to Him. Isn’t that the reminder of where we started? That once there was God and He made all things and we’re under Him in our exercise of dominion, that we can’t pretend to be equal with Him or above Him. The second commandment tells us not to make idols of anything in the created order. That’s our temptation. You see it in Romans chapter one, in that we worship because we’re made in God’s image, but we worship creatures rather than the Creator because we’re fallen. The third commandment itself is again an examination of our tendency to exploit not just land, not just labor, but to exploit the very name of God, calling us not to treat God’s name as some sort of magic talisman that’s gonna bring us what we want, but to truly honor Him by honoring His name. How about the fourth commandment? We remember, in fact, we tend to feel like a burden that God calls us to rest one day in seven. And he certainly does, and that’s certainly an economic issue. But how much more so the call that God gives us in that command to work six days. “Six days shall you work, and the seventh day you rest because it’s a holy day.” Do you see here in this first tablet how we’re called to submit to God and how this impacts our entire economic lives. In the second table of the law, we have God establishing the guidelines and the boundaries for our interpersonal relationships. And because of that, of course, it’s going to touch on economics that much more clearly. God is saying, “This is how I want you to build your culture. These are the foundational documents that will guide your culture and also protect your culture. He begins with the protection of the authority of parents in the lives of children. And in fact, he tells us in the fifth commandment, honor your father and your mother that it may go well with you in the land.
God is here telling us the very pathway to blessing and prosperity. It’s not complicated. It doesn’t take mountains of business books. takes honoring your father and your mother. God gives us the prohibition against the taking of the lives of one another. Now friends, if there’s anything we value economically, we probably need to start with our lives because if we lose them, there’s not much value to anything else. You remember the old economic adage, “You can’t take it with you.” So the protection of life is of of critical importance in understanding how we’re going to build a culture. So God gives that prohibition against murder. God moves on from there to protect the sanctity of marriage because families are that which is called to fulfill the dominion mandate, to fill the earth and subdue it.
And so of course we have to build a hedge and a guard around families by prohibiting infidelity. God then goes on, of course, to deal with the issue stealing. Now let’s not miss this. You cannot even have a concept of stealing, of theft, unless you first have underneath it a principle of private ownership of property. And so we see here in this commandment the fundamental premise that recognizing that God does own all things, as his steward he gives us authority over that which is ours and calls on others to honor that authority.
In like manner, we understand that in our economic endeavors, we do a great deal of discussion and conversation and we sign contracts and we have agreements.
And here God tells us to tell the truth. If you don’t tell the truth, then you cannot engage in free trade. That in fact, in the context of economics, a lie is a form of theft itself. One could almost argue that this is redundant with the prohibition against theft. Finally, the Ten Commandments finishes with something we wouldn’t expect. If we were writing a new law for a new nation, for God’s people, I doubt that we would think, as God did, who was full of wisdom, to include a prohibition against covetousness. Remember that the fall distorts who we are. We’ve talked about our insatiable greed. We’ve talked about our temptation to rule over and to exploit others. This comes out in the context of covetousness, where suddenly we feel the need to be frustrated and angry and unhappy that this person has been blessed in this way, while we’ve only been blessed in that way. And so we tend to, in that context, exploit others so that we can elevate ourselves. God wants us to guard not only what we do, but our hearts, Because out of the heart comes all the actions of humans. We’ve seen how God in his grace gives us his law to direct us how we should live and therefore have some sort of chance, some sort of opportunity to do battle with our sin as we continue to fulfill our calling in terms of the cultural mandate.
Well, it’s not just giving us the information that God gives. It’s not just God telling us this is how to do this, but God has graced us still further in giving us law in another sense, that is the enforcement of law.
God not only tells us what to do, but God has given us a tool, a means of enforcement of His will in the civil government.
Now, civil government is first mentioned when Noah steps off the ark. And God says that if a man sheds a man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. This is God’s blessing on the idea of a government agency, which is by nature, and this is not intended to be an insult, it is an agency of force.
You see that highlighted again in Romans 13, the Locus Classicus, for a Christian understanding of what government is all about. There, Paul describes government as God’s minister justice, saying that they have not been given the sword in vain. The tool of the state is the sword because their calling is to punish evil doers, which by the way is a profoundly different calling from feeding people and clothing people and everything else that the government has gotten itself involved in.
No, no. God’s goal is that the government would punish evil doers. And you see how that again, like the fence that we talked about earlier, provides a context for freedom by which we might be able to do our work and prosper.
But you might also see that it provides a dangerous temptation. If God says to the government, here is the sword, you have my authority to punish evil doers. And there’s only essentially one legitimate sword. Aren’t men who are still fallen, who are still covenants, aren’t they going to be tempted to try to find a way to seize or to use that sword in order to exploit and oppress other people.
What we see in government systems of economics that aren’t founded on the principles of liberty is different groups of folks vying for control of that sword to oppress other folks. That’s That’s why we say it’s either liberty or tyranny. You cannot have no state, but you need to have a state who sees its function as protecting people rather than providing for some people at the expense of others.
Rather than taking from one group and giving to others. No no friends, the function of the state, and this is going to influence the fullness of how we understand economics, the function of government is to punish evil doers.
And when they do, we can prosper. Is all of this really true? Is there somehow a connection between how we understand who God is and the actual economic blessing or non-blessing that we receive? Well, it is. You don’t have to take my word for it. All you need to do is do an honest assessment of world history. But if you look for those countries, for instance, that have, frankly, been most influenced by the Protestant Reformation, which is again a return not only to how we have peace with God, but a delight in God’s law, and then the character of God. If you look at those nations, and then you look to those nations that have enjoyed the most prosperity in the world historically, you’re going to find that they’re basically the same nations. This happens because all of reality is tightly connected, tightly related. How we understand God is going to influence everything that we believe, beginning with how we understand who man is. So theology is sort of like the bedrock, and the next layer up is anthropology, our view of man. And that, of course, is also going to impact how we see economics. And it’s going to do it through this next step. One layer up is our political philosophy, how we understand the nature and calling of the political edifice. What is the government for? And that in turn is going to influence our political system. You have a political philosophy that creates a political system, which of course is going to very practically impact our economic endeavors. That in turn is going to, of course, establish or inform our economic philosophy, which ultimately is going to inform and drive our economic system.
All beginning with who God is, moving to who man is, moving to who we are corporately, politically, moving into the realm of economics. Who God is determines how we understand all of economics, which is going to determine again at the end of the day, whether we enjoy prosperity and liberty, or whether we live in want and tyranny.
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