Christian Freedom (Bible Study) – Part 3

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]

The Four Fundamental Freedoms
Now that we have reviewed the Bible’s freedom verses, as well as Jesus’ sayings and actions, we can look back and find the Four Fundamental Freedoms of the Christian Faith:
1. Freedom from sin’s control
2. Freedom from the ill effects of each other’s sins
3. Freedom from fear of breaking the law
4. Freedom from man-made religious rules
Most theologically conservative Christians (those who hold to traditional beliefs) understand the concept of freedom from sin’s control. It means that the Holy Spirit enables us to obey God rather than obey our sinful desires. Where Christians often falter is in the application of being free from the law, and understandably so. At first glance, being free from the law appears to mean that we no longer have to obey the law and are free to do what we want. Of course, this interpretation is contrary to the rest of the Bible, and it is especially contrary to the concept of being free from sin, since the definition of sin is “breaking God’s law.” Thanks to this apparent contradiction, many Christians ignore the concept of being free from the law and focus only on the concept of being free from sin. They then use “freedom from sin” as a reason to enforce man-made Christian rules.
The proper approach for Christians is to fully enjoy both freedom from sin and freedom from fear of the law. How does this look in everyday life? Since we are guided by the Holy Spirit and not governed by sin (Freedom #1), we do our best to avoid breaking the laws of the Bible. When we obey biblical law, we free others from the harmful impact of our sins (Freedom #2), as Jesus implied when discussing The Greatest Commandment. But since we no longer have to fear breaking the law (Freedom #3), thanks to the grace we have received through Christ, we are free from having to follow man-made rules designed to keep us from breaking it (Freedom #4).

The Freedom Defeaters
If most of us Bible-believing Christians are familiar with stories of Jesus’ opposition to man-made religious rules, why do we continue to embrace these rules rather than enjoy our freedom in Christ? There’s no single answer to that question, but I’m about to share with you four reasons why Bible-believers deny themselves and others the freedom that God intended for us. I call them the Freedom Defeaters.

Sin-preventionisms
Sin-preventionisms are man-made religious rules designed to keep people from sinning. A sin-preventionism results from turning something that is not a sin into a sin in order to prevent a sin. Their enforcers claim that these man-made religious rules are from God, and they claim that anyone disobeying these rules sins against God.
The Pharisees’ law requiring the washing of hands before eating was a sin-preventionism. It was designed to keep people from breaking the law that disallowed the eating of unclean foods. Their Sabbath day laws limiting how far a person could walk or how much a person could carry (“It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet,” said the Jews in John 5:10) were also sin-preventionisms. They were designed to keep people from breaking the Sabbath day commandment.
As I stated earlier, Jesus had no regard for the sin-preventionisms of the Pharisees. He broke them in plain view of everyone and criticized the Pharisees for “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men [Matthew 15:9].” Jesus’ opposition to sin-preventionisms conflicts with the attitudes of most Bible-believing Christians today. We believe that any act that might somehow lead to sin is forbidden. If drinking a drop of alcohol might somehow lead a person to become a drunk, it is forbidden for everyone. If listening to a certain song might somehow lead as person to think an evil thought, it is forbidden for everyone.
To most of us, sin-preventionisms make sense. Sinning is bad; therefore, we conclude that anything that might lead to sin is bad. I would have to agree with this way of thinking, if it weren’t for Jesus’ opposition to it. His teachings and examples show us that God thinks differently than we do, because, unlike many Christians, God hates sin-preventionisms.
Why does God oppose sin-preventionisms?
One reason is that they don’t prevent sin. We assume that we know exactly which acts and thoughts will lead us to sin when, in reality, only God understands such things perfectly. We Christians commit sins every day, even when we obey sin-preventionisms. Not only do we commit sins like arrogance and judgmentalism, for which there are no sin-preventionisms, but some of us commit sins of sex, violence, and greed, despite having followed the sin-preventionisms as instructed. The Pharisees are biblical proof that perfect obedience to sin-preventionisms fails to prevent sinful behavior and sinful hearts.
The other reason God hates sin-preventionisms is that He wants us to be free from the fear of sinning and from pointless suffering(as we discussed previously), so we need not imprison ourselves by adding rules to God’s rules to prevent sin.
Why does God want us to be free?
Because He loves us! That’s why.
How amazing is it that God loves us so much that He hates to see us weighed down with an overabundance of oppressive rules? Why do we still think, even if it is in the back of our minds, that God is happy when we are unhappy, that God likes to see us suffer out of our fear of sinning, or that He wants us to suffer to prove our worth? It is the other religions of the world which oppress their people with pointless man-made rules. Christianity is so much better than that!
God is indeed a loving Father who wants His children to be happy. No good father cares about himself more than he cares about his children. Likewise, God created the law not out of His selfishness, but out of His selflessness. When He made the rules, He made them to protect His children from harming one another or from ruining themselves. He did not make the rules so that His children would suffer to please Him. Isn’t this purpose of the law what we should expect from a God who made a personal sacrificed on the cross so that His children may have eternal life? God’s nature is consistent! In everything He does, He places our well-being ahead of His!

Measurable Sins/Sin-Boundaries
A measurable sin is the breaking of any law that can be measured or the crossing of any boundary that is not to be crossed. Unlike sin-preventionisms, which are unbiblical, the Bible contains some measurable sins. For example, the sin of stealing is measurable. We can measure the quantity that has been stolen, and we can count how many times the sin occurred. We can, in most cases, draw a boundary that, if crossed, transforms a person from being a law-abiding citizen into a law-breaking thief. In other words, you either steal or you don’t steal. There is no grey area (in reality, there are some grey areas, like borrowing and forgetting to return).
Almost every world religion has measurable sins, and every country has laws in which the crossing of certain boundaries is forbidden. What makes Christianity so special, however, is that its laws tend to be immeasurable. They address the intentions of our hearts. The first occurrence of an immeasurable law in the Bible is the 10th Commandment, “You shall not covet…” The Bible later shows that God also hates such immeasurable sins as arrogance, jealousy, hatred, and gluttony. With these sins, it is impossible to set a sin boundary. For example, we can’t count how many arrogances and jealousies we commit in a day.
Immeasurable biblical sins tend to frustrate us, because many of us desire to be perfect before God in our deeds and want to have the ability to identify our sins and then eliminate them, a goal that’s more easily accomplished when our sins have well-defined boundaries. However, God didn’t make it that easy. He is most concerned with the intentions of our hearts, from which all sorts of evil originate. But rather than focus on the difficult task of overcoming these sins of the heart, we focus on the much easier task of eliminating man-made sins that have clear-cut boundaries.
Just as Jesus’ opponents, the Pharisees, were guilty of creating sin-preventionisms, they were also guilty of dwelling on measurable sins while ignoring the sins of the heart. Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:23, “…you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness….”
These weightier matters of which Jesus spoke are hard to measure. The Pharisees excelled at performing measurable duties like tithing and fasting, but they failed miserably at obeying these weightier immeasurable matters of the law. How similar are we to the Pharisees in this regard? Isn’t it a lot easier for us to follow a bunch of rules than it is to change our behavior and attitudes? We can just put our minds and souls on cruise-control and follow the same old routine, while having cold hearts toward others, as the Pharisees did.

Penitent Deeds
God has a given us great freedom in this life that many people find hard to accept. Other religions of the world heap loads of strict, pointless rules upon the shoulders of their members. These rules often make little sense, but most people feel that the more they restrict their activities, the more pleasing they are to their gods. They have to avoid enjoyment as a way of punishing themselves for their sins, so their gods will lessen the severity of their impending judgment. They don’t have a savior to bear that punishment for them as we have in Jesus Christ.
Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, in which He bore God’s wrath for our sins, we don’t have to make pointless sacrifices to please or appease God. To be justified in His sight, we only have to repent (through Christ) of our sins. Any sacrifices we make to please God don’t count, because they are overshadowed and nullified by Jesus’ perfect sacrifice. If we make the sacrifice of abstaining from something good, we are no more pleasing to God than if we enjoy it.
Unfortunately, the chains that bind the believers of other religions have found their way into conservative Protestant Christianity. Even though we Protestants claim not to believe in penance as Roman Catholics do, we often find ourselves practicing our own form of penance: not one where we have to inflict punishment upon ourselves to appease God, but a penance in which we deny ourselves a non-sinful pleasure or make up a new rule in order to please Him. It’s as though the Roman Catholics give themselves spankings, while we Protestants make ourselves go to bed without dinner. We don’t have to go without anything to please God. That’s not to say that we can’t replace a pleasure in our lives with an activity that serves Him. For example, we can spend less time watching sports and more time helping those in need. But for us to give up watching sports, just for the sake of giving it up, is of no value to God.
It’s sad to see people who have a great love for God try to please Him by creating more restrictions for themselves, and thus, place heavier shackles on their souls. They simply have the unbiblical idea that the more rules they follow, the happier God is. They fail to realize that they can do nothing to further please Him, because Christ did it all for them on the cross. What’s even worse is when those in ministry promote man-made religious rules, so that their followers are robbed of the freedoms that God intended for them out of His love. In addition to that, non-Christians see us pointlessly denying ourselves good things, so they refuse to give Christianity a chance, because they want to avoid such self-imposed suffering.

Wearing the Christian Uniform
Imagine an army that neither defends nor helps anyone, an army in which each soldier does nothing but recruit other members; and once they succeed in bringing in a recruit, they dress him in an army uniform and make him a full-time recruiter, too. I can’t help but liken some forms of Evangelical Christianity (which focuses primarily on recruiting new Christians) to an army consisting only of recruiters. I fully support bringing people into the flock. I am not opposed to evangelism. It’s the uniform that new recruits are told to wear that concerns me.
Many Evangelicals believe that once a person becomes a Christian, they have to look like a Christian—they have to wear the Christian uniform; and since the new recruit is born again, that is, starting a new life in Christ, his or her new life must result in a new lifestyle. While repenting of sins and having a changed heart are biblical requirements for a new believer, many new believers are forced to go beyond that and follow new rules and routines not required by the Bible. It’s as though their entire daily existence must change as evidence of their new life in Christ—they must look different than the rest of the world.
As I have opposed man-made Christian rules over the years by demonstrating that they are unbiblical, numerous conservative Protestants have opposed my view by arguing, “Christians are supposed to be set apart. If we don’t follow these rules, we will look just like the rest of the world.” Their argument, however, couldn’t be more incorrect. Plenty of biblical rules will set us apart from everyone else if we obey them. These rules are not pointless restrictions, like the man-made rules. Rather, they are intended by God to ensure that we love Him and love our fellow human beings. When we follow pointless man-made religious rules, that’s when we look like the rest of the world’s religions who do the same.
The belief that we need to wear the Christian uniform is not only a common modern-day misconception among God’s people, it was a common misconception during Jesus’ time, too. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus exposed the Pharisees by saying, “You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so, you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly, you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” While this verse does not detail exactly what it was the Pharisees were doing, it’s clear that they were following man-made rules and practices that made them appear righteous to others. Meanwhile, they failed live the life God required. Like some of today’s Christians, they might have argued, “If we don’t follow these (man-made) rules, we will look just like the rest of the world.” But God wasn’t concerned about whether or not they looked righteous to outsiders. He was concerned about whether or not they actually were righteous on the inside.

When we let the Freedom Defeaters control our lives and the lives of others, we create a barrier between God and His children. Like many Christians, I used to think to myself, “The only reason I’m a Christian is so I don’t go to hell. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t adhere to all of these unbearable rules.” In those days, I loved God because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t. And that’s not true love.
Today, now that I know how God puts our needs ahead of His, I love God because I love what He’s all about. I’m a Christian because I think Christianity is the most beautiful religion in the world. I don’t live a biblical lifestyle out of a selfish fear of where I’ll spend eternity; I live it out of a desire for a loving relationship with God and others, and to make life better for everyone involved.

Divorce & Remarriage (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
When I moved from my home town of Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Belmont University in the fall of 1990, I experienced unanticipated culture shock as my life in the land of nominal Christianity gave way to life in the Bible Belt. Thrilled to be among other Christians my age, I immersed myself in conservative Protestant doctrine and lifestyle, and I learned the verses upon which they were based. One of those verses was, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery [Luke 16:18].”
As a young man looking for a wife, these verses convinced me that marrying a divorced woman was the worst thing I could do, because every time I made love to her, adultery would result. I feared that marrying a divorced woman would force me to live in sin for the rest of my life and risk eternal hellfire.
Nonetheless, most conservative Protestant churches allowed remarriage of the divorced. Their only defense of this practice was to say that mercy allowed those who committed the sin of divorce to remarry. Like many Bible-believing Christians, I disagreed with them, because Luke 16:18 didn’t label the divorce as sin, but the remarriage. So I believed that churches intentionally sinned by performing second marriages in the name of grace, because Romans 6:1 says, “Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?”
This thinking dominated my pursuit of women for many years and forced me to leave divorced women to their loneliness. But thanks to my study of this issue by applying the Every-Verse Method to it, the Bible has since changed my beliefs.

Leviticus 21:7, “They [priests] shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled; neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband. For they are holy to their God…”
Leviticus 21:13-14, “He [the priest] shall marry only a woman who is a virgin. A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, a prostitute, these he shall not marry. He shall marry a virgin of his own kin.”
Context: Chapter 21 contains various laws that apply only to priests.
Analysis: These commands only apply to priests. They do not apply to Protestant Christians, because Jesus is our eternal high priest. Priests had the job of seeking atonement for the sins of their people, and Jesus now does that for us. None of us are seen as priests in God’s eyes—saints maybe, but not priests.
We could look at these verses and argue that the holiest marriage is to a virgin, and we Christians need to strive for that, because the New Testament tells Christians to be holy. But to be holy is to obey the law (in Leviticus 19:2, God presents the law to the Israelites with the reasoning, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”) And no statement in the law declares that it’s a sin for any non-priest (that would be all of us) to marry someone who is divorced, widowed, or defiled by prostitution.
The difference between God’s laws for the priests and His laws for the common people demonstrates that God sees a difference between sin and imperfection. A sin occurs any time we break God’s laws. Sins invoke God’s wrath, and the wages of sin is death. Imperfections, on the other hand, fall short of God’s original design. They are not sins, and there exists no punishment for them. By these verses, we can determine that it’s God’s design for everyone to be virgins until married, but that it’s okay to marry anyone who is divorced, widowed, or defiled by prostitution.
Some Christians might oppose this point by quoting Matthew 5:48, which says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” However, if we apply the Every-Verse Method to this argument, we find that no other verse in the Bible tells us to be perfect as God is, but that many tell us to avoid sin. Since being as perfect as God is impossible, we must conclude that Jesus made this statement to convince His listeners that they could not hope to please God through their own efforts; their only hope for justification was the grace that would ultimately come through Jesus.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4, “Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her [‘indecency’ in the NASB], and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who marries her dies); her first husband who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord…”
Context: Chapter 24 is another collection of miscellaneous laws.
Analysis: This passage is the one that Jesus’ opponents reference in Matthew 19:7. Jesus’ response of, “whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery,” is consistent with this verse referring to a man divorcing his wife “because he finds something objectionable about her [‘indecency’ in the NASB].” This verse allows a man to divorce his wife only if she has done something indecent, not for any reason whatsoever.
This verse does, however, allow for remarriage of women who have been divorced. If remarriage were a sin, a severe punishment would be required for it (for example, adultery was punishable by death), but that is not the case here. What is a sin, according to this verse, is when a twice-divorced woman returns to her original husband for re-marriage. It’s uncertain why this is a sin. Perhaps it’s because going from one man to another and back again is similar to a woman committing adultery and returning to her husband.

Ezra 10:10-11, “Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.’”
Context: The princes of Israel approached Ezra, informing him of how so many of the Israelites had been sinning by marrying non-Israelites.
Analysis: The princes’ concern was “that the holy race had intermingled with the people of the lands.” While we cannot find any verses in which God opposes inter-marrying due to racial objectives, we do know that He opposed inter-marrying with other faiths.
Surprisingly, people were told to separate from their wives—the equivalent of divorce. We cannot be sure, however, whether or not God was speaking through Ezra at this point in time. We know that Ezra was His prophet, but we cannot assume that every word proceeding from Ezra’s mouth was God’s word. Ezra didn’t say that God gave this command.

Jeremiah 3:1, “‘If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?’ says the Lord.”
Context: Through the prophet Jeremiah, God compares the unfaithful Israelites to a woman who leaves her husband, marries another man, and then returns to her first husband. This verse is not intended to be about an individual’s sexual conduct, but is one of many prophetic verses comparing the unfaithfulness of the Israelites to the sexual unfaithfulness of an individual.
Analysis: This quote lends support to Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

Malachi 2:14-16, “Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did not one God make her? Both flesh and spirit are his. And what does the one God desire? Godly offspring. So look to yourselves; and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth. For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, say the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless.”
Context: God’s explains why He looks upon the sacrifices of the Jews with disfavor.
Analysis: Even though this is the first verse of the Bible in which God says that He hates divorce, that doesn’t mean He didn’t hate it all along. He only allowed it in Deuteronomy when the wife did something indecent. God never allowed no-fault divorce.

Divorce & Remarriage (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Matthew 5:31-32, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Context: Sermon on the Mount. In chapter five, Jesus applies well-known sayings, some of which were based on Old Testament laws, to daily life.
Analysis: Jesus’ statement here is consistent with the law given in Deuteronomy 24. Divorce was not to be done casually, but was to occur only under severe circumstances. Notice, however, how Jesus says that a man who divorces his wife “causes her to commit adultery.” While I hesitate to build a theology from one little word or phrase, this statement implies that the woman has no choice but to remarry. Jesus says nothing of the woman having the choice to stay single after the divorce.

Matthew 19:3-9, “Some Pharisees came to him, to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?’ He said to them, ‘It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’”
Context: This is one of many unrelated stories appearing in this part of Matthew. With this story, there may be a backdrop that we tend to miss but can piece together by looking elsewhere in the Gospels. We see in verse 3 that the Pharisees, Jesus’ opponents, are testing Him as they ask about divorce. They ask not because of their curiosity, but because they are up to no good. By asking Jesus about divorce, they may have hoped to get Him in trouble.
If we read Luke, chapter 14, it tells us how King Herod the Tetrarch (the son of Herod the Great, who reigned at the time of Jesus’ birth) had John the Baptist thrown into prison and later beheaded, because he had told King Herod that it was wrong for him to have divorced his wife in order to marry his brother’s wife. The Pharisees would have loved to see Jesus suffer the same fate as John the Baptist. Whichever answer Jesus could have given them presented danger for Him. If He had supported divorce for any cause, He would have been in conflict with the Old Testament law He claimed to support. If He had opposed divorce, the King might have imprisoned or killed Him.
Analysis: Never one to shy away from the truth just to avoid danger, Jesus explained that He opposed no-fault divorce. Jesus’ first answer raises few eyebrows. However, His second answer (regarding Moses) stirs debate. Was Moses wrong to allow divorce? If so, was Moses giving his own law rather than God’s law? If he was, is the book of Deuteronomy wrong for claiming that the law came from God and not from Moses’ own thoughts?
As we see in Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus fully supported the Old Testament, so He could not have been disagreeing with Moses when responding to the Pharisees. Divorce under severe circumstances is still permissible, and so is remarriage. God did not intend for marriages to be broken, but the “hard-hearted” nature of humans sometimes leaves us no choice but to divorce. We incorrectly assume that this “hard-hearted” nature refers to our willingness to divorce, when, in reality, it refers to our sin nature which inspires us to sin in ways that destroy marriages. That’s why Moses permitted divorce.

Mark 10:2-12, “Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.’ Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”
Context: This encounter with the Pharisees is likely to be the same one recorded in Matthew 19. The order of the events in Mark parallel those in Matthew. And this story is again followed by the story of the rich, young ruler.
Analysis: The wording of this version of the story differs slightly from the Matthew 19 account. The main difference is that Mark includes an account of a later discussion between Jesus and His disciples. Here, Jesus places the sin of the divorce on the divorcer and not the divorcee, regardless of whether the divorce is initiated by the man or the woman.
The other major difference between this account and the accounts in Matthew is the lack of the phrase, “except for unchastity.” This divorce quote in Mark indicates that the divorcer is always the one acting in sin, whereas the Matthew quotes let the divorcer off the hook if the divorcee has committed adultery. This difference is yet another example of why the Every-Verse Method is so important. By examining the quote in Mark alone, we would draw the wrong conclusion about divorce resulting from adultery. But by examining all the quotes in the Bible which address divorce, we get a clearer picture of God’s will.

Luke 16:18, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
Context: The last few verses in Luke 16 seem to be unrelated and thrown together in no particular order. It’s unlikely that Jesus spoke these lines in the order in which they appear in the text.
Analysis: Luke may have chosen not to record Jesus’ divorce quotes as thoroughly as Matthew and Mark did, if he was already aware of the existence of one of those books.
While verses like this one may have been directed toward situations like King Herod’s, there’s another possible interpretation—that sex equals marriage. We see this particularly in Genesis, where the marriages of Adam and Eve, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah, Jacob and Rachel, and Jacob and Bilhah consisted not of a ceremony led by a pastor, but of the groom having sex with the wife to start the marriage. We also see in Exodus 22:16-17 that “if a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife.” Why? Because in God’s eyes, they were already married when they first had sex.
So if this theology is accurate, then divorce and remarriage, as well as promiscuity, would be equivalent to adultery, because a person’s first sexual partner is effectively their spouse; while pre-marital sex would count as marriage and not as sin as long as the couple stayed together for life.
So does this make remarriage a sin? Did Jesus “raise the bar” and make the law way tougher than it had been in the Old Testament?
Not necessarily. Since God’s law allowed for divorce, as we saw in Deuteronomy, divorce and remarriage were never sins. Jesus’ main point here may be that God never intended for marriages to be split. Jesus may have made difficult statements like this one to drive people to humility and grace by showing them that, even when they obeyed the law, they still fell short of impressing God.
Your view on this issue ultimately comes down to whether or not you believe that Jesus came to greatly change, and even contradict, the Old Testament law, or whether you think He came to support it and help others to better understand it. I think He came to do the latter.

Romans 7:2-3, “Thus a married woman is bound to the law by her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning her husband.”
Context: Paul uses these facts to set up an analogy of how Christians are free from the law (our dead husband) and are now joined to Christ (our new husband).
Analysis: These verses lend support the idea that widows are free to remarry.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11, “To the married I give this command—not I, but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.”
Context: Paul addresses sex and marriage issues throughout this chapter.
Analysis: Despite the existence of Old Testament laws that allow for remarriage, churches have used this verse to imprison people in terrible marriages for centuries. If churches have been correct in believing this quote to be a universal command from God, then the Old Testament laws allowing re-marriage are in error. But since Paul was well-trained in the Old Testament and wrote in II Timothy, chapter 3, that he fully supported it, this quote cannot be an override of the Old Testament law. For the Bible to be consistent, Paul must have been addressing a specific incident within the Corinthian church in which a woman left her husband without proper cause. In such cases, God forbids divorce, and marrying another counts as adultery.

1 Corinthians 7:12-14, “To the rest I say this—I, and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy [‘sanctified’ in the NASB] through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”
Analysis: Paul begins by making it clear that these are his personal instructions and not the word of God. Yet, his advice is consistent with the word of God. God opposes divorce, so Christians should remain united with their non-Christian spouses. For the non-believer to be “sanctified” is not to say that they are saved. To be sanctified is to become more like Christ. It is not the same as being justified in God’s sight as a result of Christ’s sacrifice.

1 Corinthians 7:15-16, “But if an unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.”
Analysis: As we learned in the Gospels, the sin of divorce falls on the divorcer (if the reasons for divorce are illegitimate), not the divorcee. Paul tells Christians to stay with their spouses in verses 12-14. But in verses 15-16, he removes all responsibility from Christians in the event that their non-Christian spouses initiate divorce. By being “not bound,” the divorcees are free to remarry once their spouses divorce them.

This Every-Verse analysis of divorce has given us an excellent example of how we need to examine the whole Bible when establishing our beliefs and not just the New Testament. As Christians, we have a tendency to dwell on the New Testament and ignore the Old, because we believe that we are to model ourselves after the early church. We fail to realize that the New Testament writings apply the Old Testament law to daily life in the times and places in which the New Testament was written. They do not override the Old Testament.

Fasting (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Fasting isn’t exclusive to Christianity. Buddhists, Muslims, Native Americans and people of many other faiths engage in fasting and have done so throughout history. Due to its prevalence worldwide, it’s easy for Christian fasting to resemble the fasting of other religions, both in the way we do it and in our attitudes toward it.
The following study, which examines every fasting passage in the Bible, will surprise most readers. Church teachings about fasting (which, of course, differ from church to church) rarely align with God’s attitudes toward fasting as revealed throughout the Bible. Most churches build their fasting theology around just a few passages while ignoring what the entire Bible has to say about it.
What makes this study so important is that our understanding of God’s attitude toward fasting is key to our understanding of His attitude toward us. If we misunderstand what fasting is all about, we understand what Christianity is all about.

Exodus 34:28, “He [Moses] was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”
Context: God had Moses write the law on tablets.
Deuteronomy 9:18, “Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin you had committed, provoking the Lord by doing what was evil in his sight.” (The NRSV does not capitalize personal pronouns referring to God or Jesus; therefore, I avoid capitalizing them when quoting the NRSV.)
Context: Moses speaks at length to the Israelites throughout early Deuteronomy. Here, he describes how he pleaded for God to not destroy the Israelites.
Analysis: This is unlike any fasting we do today. The only way to survive a fast of both food and water for 40 days is by being sustained by God. Therefore, it’s difficult to let these passages to influence our behavior.

Judges 20:26, “Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept, sitting there before the Lord; they fasted that day until evening. Then they offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being before the Lord.”
Context: The Israelites lose 18,000 men in a battle to the Benjaminites.
Analysis: At an unknown point in history, fasting worked its way into Israelite culture. Since God had never commanded it up to this point in time, the Israelites must have adopted it from neighboring civilizations. Some will say that God commanded fasting on the Day of Atonement, but the instructions for that occasion in Leviticus 16 mention no such thing. The Israelites may have chosen to incorporate it into the Day of Atonement, but God never required them to.
In this example, the Israelites fasted out of mourning after suffering heavy loss of life in a battle. Mourning for the dead often included fasting in the ancient Near East. We no longer practice this bereavement ritual today. So we must be careful not to equate this fasting with religious fasting.

1 Samuel 7:6, “So they gathered at Mizpah, and drew water and poured it out before the Lord. They fasted that day, and said, ‘We have sinned against the Lord.’ And Samuel judged the people of Israel at Mizpah.”
Context: Samuel had told the Israelites to destroy their idols from foreign religions and they obeyed. They followed the act with this fast.
Analysis: Here we see the first Old Testament example of fasting as a form of penance. It appears to have been done as a demonstration of remorse or as a means of staving off God’s judgment.
We must ask ourselves, however, whether we need to fast to repent since Jesus’ sacrifice stave’s of God’s judgment for us. We know that we no longer need to make sacrifices to receive God’s forgiveness, so makes no sense to fast to receive His forgiveness. Some might argue that we should fast as a sign that we’re sorry, but one would have to think that the New Testament would mention such a requirement since it contains lots of passages explaining repentance and forgiveness.

1 Samuel 31:13, “Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”
Context: These bones were those of King Saul, who had just been killed by the Philistines.
Analysis: The Israelites fasted not only when mourning the death of loved ones, but also when mourning the death of kings. Again, this is not a religious fast.

2 Samuel 12:22-23, “He [King David] said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, “Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.” But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.’”
Context: Through the prophet Nathan, God informed King David that the child born of David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba would die. This was God’s discipline, not only for David’s adultery, but also for his murder of Bathsheba’s husband. As the child was sick and dying, David fasted in an attempt to change God’s mind.
Analysis: David gives us the first biblical explanation for fasting: to persuade God. Did it work? No. God administered His discipline of David according to plan, despite David’s attempts to change His mind.
David’s fasting resulted from his own thinking, not from the command of God. Some Christians say that we must follow David’s example and fast, because he was a hero of the Old Testament. But no Bible verses tell us to do that. They only tell us to obey God’s commands.
Nonetheless, from this passage we learn yet another inappropriate reason for fasting—attempting to persuade God to change His mind.

Ezra 8:21, 23, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might deny ourselves before our God, to seek from Him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our possessions… So we fasted and petitioned our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.”
Context: The prophet Ezra prepares to lead people from Babylon back to Judah, once the Babylonian exile had come to an end.
Analysis: Ezra combines fasting with prayer to ask God for guidance and protection on a journey. Apparently, the Israelites had developed a belief that fasting made prayer more effective. In this case, the prayer was effective, but we have no way of determining whether or not the fasting was a factor in God’s decision to protect them.

Ezra 10:6, “Then Ezra withdrew from before the house of God, and went to the chamber of Jehohanan son of Eliashib, where he spent the night. He did not eat bread or drink water, for he was mourning over the faithlessness of the exiles.”
Context: God had repeatedly instructed the Jews not to marry people from other nations and religions, but many of them had disobeyed. Ezra was greatly upset by this.
Analysis: This verse informs us that mourning was the reason for this fast. It was not done as a religious ritual. Notice also that this fast, along with some other biblical fasts, includes abstinence from water, something that few Christians incorporate into their fasts today.

Nehemiah 1:4, “When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
Context: Nehemiah heard of Jerusalem’s destruction in the preceding verses.
Analysis: Once again, fasting is added to prayer as a means of increasing its effectiveness. Mourning may be a reason for the fast as well, since Nehemiah is greatly distressed by the news of his homeland’s destruction.

Nehemiah 9:1, “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth and with earth on their heads.”
Context: The Israelites spent a day listening to the reading of the Book of the Law, worshipping and confessing their sins before God.
Analysis: Some Christians insist that we fast because the ancient Israelites practiced it. But unlike the fasting practiced by today’s Christians, Old Testament fasting included the wearing of sackcloth and ashes (or in this case, dirt). If we fast because we believe that we are to behave as the ancient Israelites did, then we also should wear sackcloth and ashes like they did.
The purpose of the Israelites wearing of sackcloth and dirt was to inflict humiliation upon themselves. It, along with fasting, was an act of self-imposed suffering intended to appease God. Such self-imposed suffering through fasting and other acts has been common in many other religions as well.

Isaiah 58:3, “‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.”
Context: Isaiah prophecies against Judah. The questions asked here represent the complaints of the people. The final sentence is God’s response.
Analysis: In Isaiah 58, God speaks on the issue of fasting for the first time. He does not command it, as many Christians might expect. Rather, He questions it and downplays its importance. He implies in verse 3 that the Jews’ priorities are out of line. Their fasting fails to gain His favor, because they continue in selfishness and oppression of the poor as they fast.

Isaiah 58:5, “Is this a fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”
Analysis: A paraphrase of this verse: “Did I tell you to fast and look pathetic? Why should I be pleased by your self-imposed suffering?” Just as God grew weary of His people’s animal sacrifices (even though He had commanded them in the Mosaic Law) as they continued in sin, He was unimpressed with their man-made sacrifice of humiliation and self-imposed suffering through fasting.

Isaiah 58:6-7, “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
Analysis: God is far more impressed when we love others than when we deny ourselves food. In the study on Greed and Oppression of the Poor, I reveal how far we fall short of satisfying God’s commands to feed the hungry and stop oppressing the poor. Since we fail in this way, should we even bother to fast? If God desires us to fast at all, He desires it far less than He desires that we obey His commandments and help those in need. The fasting that we Christians do today is likely nullified by our selfishness and disregard for the poor.

Joel 1:14, “Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.”
Context: Joel prophecies impending judgment upon God’s people.
Analysis: Like Ezra and Nehemiah, Joel orders a fast. Some might say that these fasts were from God since prophets ordered them. But we must remember that prophets spoke of their own accord, too. Not every word they said was from God. Had the order to fast been preceded by the common Old Testament phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” then we’d have to conclude that they were God’s orders.

Joel 2:12, 15, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning… Blow a trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.”
Analysis: Here we have God’s only instruction to fast in the Bible. This particular fast (as well as the one in Joel 1:14) was part of a “solemn assembly” in which the Jews gathered to mourn and fast over the suffering that was prophesied to come upon them. Therefore, this fast was an act of mourning rather than an element of worship. The purpose of most fasting in Protestant churches today is not as an act of mourning, and is, therefore, inconsistent with the purposes of Old Testament fasting.
Notice also that this fast appears to be an isolated event rather than a regular practice. God never instructs anyone to fast as a part of their religious routine.

Fasting (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Jonah 3:7-10, “Then he had proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no heard or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; He may turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’ When God saw what they did, and how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”
Context: After surviving in the digestive system of a great fish, Jonah obeyed God and preached repentance to the enemy city of Nineveh, and its inhabitants repented of their sins.
Analysis: These verses give us the reason for this fast in the words, “Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; He may turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” In this story, God changes His mind, but He probably does so because the people of Nineveh turned away from their evil ways (as the verse says), not because they and their animals fasted.
Some Christians today argue that we should fast as a sign that we are sorry for our sin, much like the Ninevites do here. If it weren’t for Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross, they might have a point. The Old Testament covenant, which was given by God, required that animals be sacrificed in order for sins to be forgiven. Fasting was a sacrifice of a different sort that originated from human minds instead of from God’s commands. Once Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for our sins, however, God’s people no longer had to make animal sacrifices (which never fully atoned for human sin anyway, because animals were not created in God’s image and, therefore, were not of the same value in God’s eyes). Whether God’s people sacrificed animals or their freedom to eat (fasting), these sacrifices have become worthless before God, because Jesus’ sacrifice covers all of our sins, since He, as the Son of God, is of greater value than any human.

Zechariah 7:5-6, “Say to all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for Me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink only for yourselves?”
Context: The Jews, after returning from exile in Babylon, inquired of God whether or not they were to fast as they had in Babylon. Through Zechariah, God replied that they were to no longer fast as they had, but were to conduct themselves properly instead.
Analysis: God indicates that our fasting is for our own benefit and does Him no good, just as our eating and drinking does Him no good.
I’ve known Christians to say that fasting makes them feel closer to God—that every time they experience hunger, they think of Him. If you are one of these Christians, I say this: Fast all you like! It’s not a sin to do so. If it works for you, that’s great! Just don’t kid yourself into thinking that God gets something out of it. He’s far more impressed with you when you follow His commandments and reach out to others in Christ’s love than He is when you fast.
I’ve heard others say that fasting removes toxins from the body and is good for one’s health. If that’s the case, then go ahead and fast! Nothing in the Bible says fasting is a sin. We’re all free to do it if we please. If you love to fast, do so. If you hate to fast, then why burden yourself? You benefit neither yourself nor God with self-imposed suffering.

Zechariah 8:18-19, “The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful festivals for the house of Judah: therefore love truth and peace.”
Context: God promises blessing on the Jews upon their return from exile in Babylon.
Analysis: Here we have the loving nature of God revealed! God replaces the fasts with festivals that likely included feasting. He wants us to enjoy life, not to suffer unnecessarily by denying ourselves food. Unfortunately, I’ve never heard a pastor or Bible study teacher quote either this passage or Isaiah 58 when addressing fasting. We only ever hear one side of the argument when it comes to whether or not to fast.

Matthew 4:1-3, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”
Luke 4:1-3, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, He was famished. The devil said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’”
Context: Jesus had just been baptized by John the Baptist at the end of chapter 3. Before Jesus could begin His ministry, He had to withstand this great temptation.
Analysis: Many Christians make the mistake of believing that Jesus fasts in this story as a means of gaining strength from God so that He may endure the temptation to come. This belief is in error, because Jesus is the Son of God and has total access to God’s strength without having to fast to obtain it.
The purpose of this fast was to increase the temptation. Had Jesus just eaten before the temptation, He might have responded to Satan by saying, “No thanks. I’m full. I can’t even look at a loaf of bread right now.” But, as the Scriptures say, Jesus “was famished.” His hunger made the temptation much more meaningful than if He had been satisfied.
In most situations, we should try to follow Jesus’ example, but this fast is a rare exception to that rule. Jesus, knowing that He would pass the test of temptation, increased the amount of temptation He faced in order to prove that He was the Son of God. We should never try to increase our own temptation for the obvious reason that we may fail and sin as a result, so we should never emulate Jesus’ 40-day fast.

Matthew 6:16-18, “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you that they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your father who is in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Context: This quote is of Jesus as He gives the Sermon on the Mount. It is the third of three examples that Jesus uses to show that we should not flaunt our piety in order to impress others.
Analysis: This is it—the one Bible verse upon which all fasting promotion is based. Those who insist that we fast say, “Jesus says, ‘When you fast,’ not, ‘If you fast.’”
As I stated in the Every-Verse Method Introduction, we must be careful not to build theologies out of isolated verses, because we may have an improper translation, an unoriginal quote, an inexact quote, or a misunderstanding of context. Here, we can’t prove whether or not we have an improper translation or unoriginal quote, but the possibility for either always exists.
We do know that the Gospels use inexact quotes which vary in wording from Gospel to Gospel, but keep the point of the message intact. This quote from Matthew 6 is absent in the other Gospels, so we cannot compare wording. However, the point of the message, which Jesus conveys with two other examples in this chapter, is that we are not to flaunt our devotion to God so that others may be impressed by it. The focus of this message is pride, not fasting.
As for the context, it’s likely that the recipients of this message, Jesus’ disciples, grew up under the influence of the Pharisees. Since they fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), and they loved to display their devotion to God in front of others, it’s likely that Jesus speaks of them in this quote. He uses the words, “Whenever you fast,” because He’s addressing people who had fasted regularly.
If those who use this verse to insist that we fast are to be consistent in hanging on every word of every quote, then they must refrain from public prayer, because Jesus says in verse 6 of this very same chapter, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Unlike the words, “Whenever you fast,” this verse is a command, because Jesus instructs the people to pray in secret. Yet I know of few Christians who refuse to pray in church services or Bible studies out of obedience to this verse. If they were to do so, they would not defy the Bible, because it neither commands us to pray in groups nor does it give examples of Jesus and His disciples joining together in group prayer.
Most Christians will argue that Jesus uses this private prayer command to discourage showing off our faith, and that He doesn’t intend to forbid group prayer by it. Since nothing else in the Bible forbids group prayer, I’m fine with that argument. In fact, it’s the same argument that I apply to the issue of fasting: Jesus uses the example of fasting to discourage showing off; He is not requiring us to fast.

Matthew 9:14-15, “Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.’”
Mark 2:18-20, “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples fast and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”
Luke 5:33-35, “Then they said to him, ‘John’s disciples, like the disciples of the Pharisees, frequently fast and pray, but your disciples eat and drink.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You cannot make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.’”
Context: In all three Gospels, this story appears to be unrelated to those surrounding it.
Analysis: Notice that Jesus doesn’t deny the claim that His disciples don’t fast. Therefore, we may conclude that they did not fast during His ministry. For many years, I assumed that they fasted regularly after His crucifixion, because Jesus says in these quotes that they will fast when He is gone. But, according to Matthew 9:15 (see above), the fasting of which He speaks is one of mourning like when a bridegroom is taken away. The disciples likely fasted as they mourned His crucifixion, but that fasting came to an abrupt end when they met Him in His resurrected state.
The Bible never records any of Jesus’ twelve disciples fasting. Neither do they recommend, nor even discuss, fasting in Acts or in any of their Epistles.

Acts 13:2-3, “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid hands on them and sent them off.”
Context: Paul, who is called Saul for the last time in this verse, is sent by the Holy Spirit on his first missionary journey, and he takes Barnabas with him.
Acts 14:23, “And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.”
Context: After successful preaching in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, Paul and Barnabas return to these cities to establish church leadership in each.
Analysis: Having been a former Pharisee, fasting was a way of life for Paul, so he continued to fast after becoming a Christian. Unlike most early Christians who were converted by Jesus’ disciples and their followers, Paul was converted to Christianity through a miraculous vision (Acts 9) and was taught the gospel by revelation from Christ (Galatians 1:12). We cannot assume that He was taught all spiritual knowledge, but that He was taught the gospel. So he may not have realized that fasting was unnecessary, or he may have realized it but continued to do it because he enjoyed it.
Once Paul meets Jesus’ disciples at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the Bible never again records Paul or any other Christians fasting. He may have learned from the disciples that Jesus never required it. At that point he either stopped fasting or, at least, stopped instructing others to fast. In fact, the last 22 books of the Bible, many of which were written by him, make no mention of fasting.

Why Fast?
So what have all of the Bible’s fasting verses taught us?
First, we learned that much of the fasting was not for religious purposes, but was for bereavement or mourning purposes.
Second, we learn that Old Testament fasting was not a regular religious ritual. Fasts only occurred under special circumstances. It wasn’t until the centuries approaching Jesus’ day that the Pharisees made it part of the weekly grind.
Third, we learned that fasting fails to influence God. It can’t change His mind, stave off His judgment, earn His forgiveness, impress Him, or benefit Him.
Fourth, we learned that fasting can be abused, defying God’s will. We should never use it to impose suffering on ourselves, increase temptation, manipulate God, or show off how righteous we are.
So if all of these reasons for fasting are inappropriate, what’s a good reason to fast?
Some will argue that fasting is necessary for development of spiritual discipline. In other words, if we can avoid eating when hungry, we will then be able to avoid sinning when tempted. Paul opposes this idea in Colossians 2:20-23, when he says, “Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with the use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence [‘no value against fleshly indulgence’ in the NASB].”
We cannot prove that Paul speaks of fasting here, but it’s hard to believe that he would use a phrase like “severe treatment of the body” to describe abstinence from pork or some other food that could easily be replaced with a different food. Paul makes it clear that rules and practices involving denial of food are ineffective in preventing sinful behavior, are man-made, and result only in unnecessary suffering. Fasting didn’t keep the Pharisees from sinning (see the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer in Luke 18:9-14); neither will it keep us from it.
The reason fasting is ineffective in preventing sin is that the psychologies behind fasting and sinning differ. When we fast, we give up something good temporarily. With regard to sin, we are to give up something evil permanently. If you’re fasting, and good food tempts you to break the fast, you can resist the temptation by telling yourself that you may have that food many times over when the fast ends. But when presented with an opportunity to sin, you cannot tell yourself that you may indulge in that sin later, because we’re called to put it off forever.
In fact, some sinful temptations are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. For example, if a man is tempted by an amazingly attractive woman, he may reason to himself that he may never have another opportunity like this one if he refuses her advances. Or a man might be tempted to steal money from his corporation or church in a manner that’s unlikely to be detected by anyone else. Heightening this man’s temptation is the knowledge that he’s unlikely to ever have such an opportunity to easily obtain riches again. This temptation is far greater than that of eating while fasting, since we know that we will eat regularly when the fast is over.
Others argue that we should fast, because when we do, we deny ourselves and carry our own crosses as Jesus required of us. I agree that we are to deny ourselves and take up our own crosses. But we must do it like Jesus did. Did Jesus say, “Hey everybody, can you come nail me to this cross? I need to inflict suffering upon myself, because that makes God happy.” No, Jesus simply focused on fulfilling God’s purpose for Him. His ministry sometimes forced Him to have no place to lay His head, and ultimately, He was killed for doing what was right. Likewise, we Christians often have to make sacrifices, giving up money, popularity, etc., in order to carry out God’s will. But we need not give up anything or inflict suffering upon ourselves pointlessly, because Jesus never took up His cross in this manner during His ministry.
Yet another argument in favor of fasting is that we hear God’s voice better when doing so. Most religions throughout history have shared this belief. But the Bible never states that we hear God’s voice better when fasting. The idea that fasting helps you hear God’s voice comes from people who fasted so long (sometimes without water) that they starved their brain and hallucinated and then “saw God” in their hallucination. It’s not much different than taking LSD in order to see God.
Again, why fast? Based on what the Bible teaches us, it’s hard to come up with a good religious reason to do so. The best one I’ve heard is, “Fasting makes me feel closer to God.” If that’s how you feel, by all means, go ahead and fast all you want. You may even encourage others to give it a try. But don’t guilt people into fasting by making them think it’s required by God, because such an argument is a lie, and it may do more harm than good by placing too heavy of a burden on those who find no value in fasting.

Greed & Oppression of the Poor (Bible Study) – Part 1

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
I know what most people are thinking as they approach this study: “I already give to the needy, so I don’t need to examine all of the greed and oppression verses in the Bible. I get it, already!” Or, “Yes, yes, I know I need to give more, but must I endure a whole study that’s going to guilt me into it?”
The reason you need to read this study is that it’s about so much more than personal giving. Most of the Bible’s greed and oppression verses are intended to influence other parts of our lives, such as our business dealings and even our politics. We Christians tend to let greed and oppression issues take a back seat to issues that we think are more important. And that’s a mistake. I’m about to present to you an overwhelming number of verses that prove it.
The Bible contains so many verses that address greed and oppression of the poor that I will not analyze them all, but I will relate as many of them as possible to modern-day scenarios. I have divided these verses by subject and will begin with a brief analysis of immigration. I will then follow with an examination of every verse that addresses greed, greed of the poor, interest, oppression, God’s judgment of the oppressors, and taxes.

Immigration

Exodus 22:21, “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Context: Included in a listing of various laws.
Exodus 23:9, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:33-34, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Leviticus 25:35, “If any of your kin fall into difficulty and become dependent on you, you shall support them; they shall live with you as though resident aliens.”
Context: Chapter 25 addresses the year of Jubilee as well as mercy on the poor.
Ezekiel 22:7, “Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the alien residing within you suffers extortion; the orphan and the widow are wronged in you.”
Ezekiel 22:29, “The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery; they have oppressed the poor and the needy, and have extorted from the alien without redress.”
Context: Ezekiel prophesies against Jerusalem.
Zechariah 7:10, “…do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”
Context: God appeals to his people to act righteously rather than fast.
Analysis: The Bible’s first oppression verse (Exodus 22:21) strikes at the heart of an American controversy. God expected His people to show kindness to immigrants and to let them live among them as long as they followed the law. God’s reasoning: the Israelites were aliens in Egypt, and they were oppressed by the Egyptians; therefore, they were to have empathy for aliens and treat them as they would want to be treated. God hates oppression, not only of His own people, but of all people.
The most common argument that Christians make regarding these immigration verses is, “I’m okay with immigration; it’s illegal immigration that I hate.” So what does the Bible say about illegal immigration? It says nothing, because there was no such thing as illegal immigration in ancient Israel. Throughout history, earthlings have been able to settle anywhere on earth they wanted. So what we really need to ask ourselves is, “Is it right to make immigration illegal? Does God give us the right to keep the needy away from our prosperity?”
I’m not going to present a definite answer on that. These are complex issues that involve national security, overpopulation, the need to keep track of people in case they commit crimes, and the nation’s responsibility to protect its citizens from incoming criminals, such as kidnappers and drug dealers. However, we must obey God and show His compassion and mercy toward immigrants and avoid the “It’s mine, and you can’t have any,” attitude that so many of us exude.

Greed & Oppression of the Poor (Bible Study) – Part 2

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Greed

Deuteronomy 17:17, “And he [the king of Israel] must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself.”
Context: God provides guidelines for future kings of Israel.
Analysis: Even the king of Israel was to avoid materialism.

Proverbs 23:4, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; be wise enough to desist.”
Context: Proverbs don’t really have a context. Most of them were written by King Solomon, and each one is usually unrelated to the verses preceding and following it.
Analysis: Many Evangelical Christians subscribe to the politically conservative belief that there’s no such thing as working too much, that the person who works 15-hour days, six or seven days a week, is the kind of righteous person who makes America great.
God disagrees. It’s a sin for us Christians to be slaves to business success. That’s not to say we shouldn’t work hard when we work. But we must realize that God didn’t put us here to get rich and to meet the world’s requirements for success. Rather, we need to put relationships and serving God, neither of which pay money, ahead of worldly business.

Proverbs 23:6, “Do not eat the bread of the stingy; do not desire their delicacies;”
Analysis: The eating of bread mentioned here is reminiscent of Jesus’ warning to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus, of course, cleared up His disciples’ confusion by explaining that He was warning of their teachings. Therefore, this proverb is similarly a warning against the teachings of the stingy.
Christians today often love the teachings of the stingy, many of which blame the poor for their poverty and credit the wealthy for their successes.

Proverbs 28:22, “The miser is in a hurry to get rich and does not know that loss is sure to come.”
Analysis: Misers are not generous, so they resist helping the needy. This proverb tells us that those of us who are devoted to pursuing riches will lose them in the next life or, very possibly, in this life, so it’s vain to devote ourselves to the pursuit of riches.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-11, “The lover of money will not be satisfied with money, nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. When goods increase, those who eat [‘consume’ in the NASB] them increase; and what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes?”
Analysis: This is why trickle-down economics—in which the wealthy voluntarily pass their economic gain down to the workers and consumers—doesn’t work. When the wealth of the wealthy increases, the wealthy desire even more wealth. In fact, people at all income levels fail to be satisfied with increased prosperity.
This verse also addresses the pointlessness of buying expensive mansions, cars, clothes, etc., which provide no more tangible benefits than ordinary houses, cars and clothes. All we can do with these over-priced items is look at them or hope that others will look at them and be impressed.

Ecclesiastes 5:13-17, “There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to their hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have for toiling for the wind?”
Analysis: We are often fascinated with the fall of the wealthy, from people who strike it rich and lose everything, to seemingly brilliant businessmen whose ventures nose-dive amidst the shifting winds of the economy. This Bible quote reminds us how fleeting wealth can be, and what a waste it is to work our lives away in order to acquire it, since we can’t take it with us when we die.

Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Context: This is one of Jesus’ various teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.
Luke 12:33-34, “Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.”
Context: This quote caps off Jesus’ instructions to His disciples not to worry.
Analysis: Yet again, the Bible reveals how is easy it is to lose earthly riches and how it’s far better to focus on things of eternal value.
Today, we may not worry so much about thieves, moths and rust, because we have insurance to restore our losses. But those worries have been replaced with concerns about losing one’s home due to job loss or losing all that one has ever worked for thanks to medical bills from an illness or injury.

Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Context: This is one of Jesus’ various teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. This same quote also appears in Luke 16:13.
Analysis: Having worked in corporate sales for fifteen years, I’ve often had to choose between serving God and serving wealth. Nearly all corporations deceive potential customers through their marketing and sales tactics, because they will do whatever it takes, and hurt whoever they have to hurt, to reach their financial goals. The rallying cry of most sales executives is, “We must hit our numbers at any cost! No excuses!”
A recent example of this is the mortgage industry from approximately 2005-2007. When the housing boom cooled off around 2005, the mortgage bankers were unwilling to lower their sales objectives. Like almost all corporations, they raised their sales quotas year after year, never satisfied with their wealth, threatening to fire managers who failed to achieve them. Therefore, managers created a new way of obtaining lots of business—offering adjustable rate mortgages to those who couldn’t afford to buy a home and convincing them through aggressive sales pitches that they’d be able to refinance when the interest rates went up after two years. Some sales reps failed to inform their borrowers altogether that their rates would increase.
These companies and their employees placed their love for their true master, wealth, ahead of God’s law, and multitudes of unsuspecting people lost millions of dollars.

Matthew 13:22, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth chokes the word, and it yields nothing.”
Context: Jesus explains to His disciples the parable of the sower. In this parable, a person spreads seeds upon the ground, yet most of the seeds fail to produce plants because of various conditions. Jesus then likens these natural obstacles to obstacles in life that keep us from being productive in serving God.
Analysis: For many years I thought this parable’s message is that having wealth keeps us from doing God’s will, because we spend our time enjoying the pleasures money buys rather than serving God. However, I’ve since realized that even the working poor have no time to serve God, because they must work their lives away in order to barely pay the bills. So not having time to serve God isn’t the sin here.
Rather, it’s the “lure” of wealth that chokes the word, not wealth itself, according to Jesus. In other words, it’s the greed, deception, and taking advantage of others that angers God.

Matthew 13:44-45, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Context: These verses are included in a chapter full of parables and metaphors.
Analysis: This is the first of Jesus’ quotes in which he mentions selling all of our possessions. That makes most of us uncomfortable, myself included.

Matthew 19:21-24, “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me… Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Context: A wealthy man had approached Jesus with the question of what he must do to have eternal life. Jesus told him to obey the commandments, but the man was not satisfied with that answer. So Jesus told him to sell everything he had and follow Him. The man then walked away disappointed, because he was wealthy. Also see Mark 10:17-27 for a repeat of the same story.
Analysis: In the Divorce study, I distinguished between a sin and an imperfection. That theology applies here as well. We do not sin if we fail to give away all of our possessions. But, according to this story, we have a shot at obtaining perfection if we do.
Why is it so hard for a rich man to enter heaven? It’s probably a combination of two things, one of which I’ve already mentioned: people usually obtain wealth by sinful means. The second reason is that wealth is a source of pride, and pride is one of the biggest sins in the Bible (see the study on Pride, Arrogance and Judgmentalism). The wealthy usually credit themselves, not God, for their success and believe themselves to be more deserving of its benefits than the poor. Also, those who grow up wealthy, or easily acquire wealth, rarely have merciful attitudes toward those who don’t, because they blame the poor for their poverty. If our friends and family live a life of ease, we lose touch with those who struggle to support their families. Those who have not experienced or witnessed the struggles of the poor lack empathy and, therefore, neglect the needs of the poor.

Luke 3:11-14, “In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with him who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do? He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusations, and be satisfied with your wages.’”
Context: These quotes are from John the Baptist. He would go on to baptize Jesus.
Analysis: These verses can be difficult to apply to modern American life. Thanks to our society’s wealth and organizations like the Salvation Army, few people lack clothing. Likewise, thanks to food stamps and school lunch programs, as well as food charities like Philabundance, few people go hungry. (May God bless those who created these programs.) Similarly, American soldiers don’t threaten people for profit, and the CPA’s and the IRS don’t take more than the law allows.
While I usually take the opportunity to chastise Christians for how we fall short of God’s will with regard to money, this time I just want to give thanks for the fact that we live in a country that grew up on Christian values. We’ve achieved a lot of what God wants in a society. Yes, greed still reeks havoc and the poor still suffer, but our society is not as cut-throat as the Roman Empire, and our poor are much better off than the poor in biblical times.

Luke 12:15, “And he said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”
Context: Jesus responds to a man who asks Him to force his brother to share the inheritance with him. Jesus then follows this quote with a parable about a rich man who was unable to enjoy his wealth, because he died before he could do so.
Analysis: The man in this story expects Jesus to scold his brother for keeping more than his share of the inheritance. That sounds fair, doesn’t it? Much to his surprise, Jesus chooses not to scold the man’s brother for being unfair, but warns this man who made the request not to obsess over money. To Jesus, the relationship between brothers is of greater importance than fair distribution of money.

Luke 19:8-9, “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.’”
Context: Jesus was headed to Jericho, and Zacchaeus was so eager to see Him that he climbed a tree for a better view. After Jesus requested to stay with him, the man repented, as we see here.
Analysis: Thanks to this verse, we may now wipe the sweat off of our collective brow. Zacchaeus only gives up half of what he owns, and Jesus appears to be content with that. Jesus rejoices not over the giving of money, but over Zacchaeus’ repentant heart.

1 Timothy 6:5-10, “…and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Of course there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.”
Context: Paul instructs Timothy on running a church.
Analysis: Verse 10’s revelation that some have left the church in their “eagerness to be rich” suggests that wealth is often obtained by means contrary to biblical teaching. Yet today, many American Christians see wealth as God’s reward for good behavior, and they tie faith and prosperity together into an anti-biblical theology.
God’s call to us is to be content. That doesn’t mean we may never try to improve our financial situation; the desire to do so is not true greed. It means we must be satisfied with what we have when financial gain is only possible through sinful acts that “plunge people [others] into ruin and destruction,” like selling investments designed to fail or sneak-charging customers with fees they don’t expect.

2 Timothy 3:1-2, “You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money…”
Context: Paul warns Timothy about a future increase in sinfulness.
Analysis: Loving ourselves and loving money go hand in hand. When we love ourselves more than others, we make our desires our priorities, and then we seek money at the expense of others, and spend it on our pleasures rather than on the needs of others.

Hebrews 13:5, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’”
Context: The writer of Hebrews gives various instructions to the Jewish Christians in the last chapter of this letter.
Analysis: This call to contentment emphasizes the fact that our relationship with God is of greater importance than our financial status.

James 1:9-11, “Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. For the sun rises with its scorching heat, and withers the field; its flower falls and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.”
Context: This quote appears to be unrelated to the messages preceding and following it.
Analysis: The Bible is pretty hard on the rich, and it makes every attempt to destroy their arrogance and prove them to be no better than others if not worse than others. Unfortunately, many conservative American Christians today see the rich as heroes who create our jobs, yet the Bible never speaks of them in this light, even though the rich were employers in biblical times just as they are today.

[Economic Note: Contrary to what some say, the wealthy don’t create jobs; consumer spending is the only thing that can create jobs. The wealthy (and even small business owners) merely seek to maximize profits. If demand for their products and services increases, they add jobs to take advantage of that demand – in an effort to maximize profits. If demand for their products and services falls, they cut jobs rather than pay idle employees – in an effort to maximize profits. The wealthy are not heroes who choose, out of the kindness of their hearts, to convert their money into jobs. The wealthy, rather, invest their money in whatever gives them the best return on investment (ROI), and in an economy like ours where consumers have seen their spending power cut in half, the best ROI is definitely not from job creation, but rather from investing in gold, oil futures, short-selling stocks, high-end real estate, etc.]

1 Peter 2:16, “…for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the father, but from the world.”
Context: Peter warns against living by our fleshly desires rather than by living as God desires. The next verse states that the world is passing away, but those who live by God’s desires live forever.
Analysis: Wealth is temporary. Not only may we lose it in this life, but we are certain to lose it when we move on to the next life.

Greed of the Poor

Exodus 23:2-3, “You shall not follow a multitude in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute.”
Context: This is one of many laws that follow the 10 Commandments.
Analysis: This verse opposes lawsuits in which groups of poor people attempt to steal from the wealthy by making false claims.
Today, winning a big lawsuit is the new American dream. Thanks to the growing popularity of victim mentality, we blame others for our problems, especially when they have money that we desire. We sue corporations for accidents resulting from our own negligence. And we sue the government and school districts for their employees’ mistakes and, in turn, sue our neighbors, since the government and schools are funded by taxes which we all pay. Not all lawsuits are evil, but we may only sue with just cause and honest testimony.

Proverbs 30:15, “The leech has two daughters; ‘Give, give,’ they cry. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough.’”
Analysis: While the Bible opposes oppression of the poor, it also denies the poor permission to demand unnecessary handouts. The poor must do the best they can and not develop the attitude that society owes them a living.

Proverbs 21:25-26, “The craving of a lazy person is fatal, for lazy hands refuse to labor. All day long the wicked covet, but the righteous give and do not hold back.”
Analysis: Those who work hard and are generous please God, while those who are lazy and desire riches disappoint Him.

Greed & Oppression of the Poor (Bible Study) – Part 3

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Interest

Exodus 22:25, “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them.”
Leviticus 25:36-37, “Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit.”
Context: God instructs the Israelites to treat family members who fall on hard times as they would a resident alien.
Deuteronomy 23:19,20, “You shall not charge interest on loans to another Israelite, interest on money, interest on provisions, interest on anything that is lent. On loans to a foreigner, you may charge interest…”
Ezekiel 22:12, “In you, they take bribes to shed blood; you take both advanced interest and accrued interest, and make gain of your neighbors by extortion; and you have forgotten Me, says the Lord.”
Context: Numerous, unrelated laws are listed in Exodus 22 & Deuteronomy 23. Ezekiel 22 prophecies against Jerusalem.
Analysis: Israelites were not to charge interest when lending to one another. Charging interest to one’s own countrymen for necessities and consumer products does nothing to benefit the national economy. It only makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. It’s the rich who have the excess money to lend, and it’s the poor who lack funds and need to borrow. Over time, as the poor continue to pay interest, their limited income is transferred to the rich who collect that interest.
Does this mean that we should eliminate charging interest in America? First of all, doing so would be a tremendous shock to our economy and would probably collapse it. The country would have to have been set up as interest-free from its inception. Second, these passages only address lending to those in need, not those who seek to buy non-necessities despite lacking the money to do so.
By modern American standards, God’s rules on interest are unfair, because the lenders lost real dollars if inflation increased while the debt was owed. Lenders were only to lend money as a charitable act, not as an effort to profit from those in need. God expects the rich to make sacrifices for the poor, because He wants the poor to enjoy a quality lifestyle, since they too are created in His image.

Matthew 25:27-28, “Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents.”
Context: In verses 14-30, Jesus tells the parable of the talents in which a man gave three of his servants money to invest for him while he went away, and when he returned, the two men to whom he had given the most returned the money with interest, while the man who had only been given one talent had buried it in the ground and returned it without interest. Verses 27-28 are the man’s response.
Analysis: Most Christians interpret this parable as a directive for us to use our God-given gifts (talents) to serve His purposes. We follow this interpretation, because the word “talent,” which once described a monetary denomination, now means ability. I won’t dispute this interpretation, because serving God with our abilities is a good idea. But let’s not ignore this parable’s literal interpretation.
When we make money and desire to give more than the required 10%, we should invest the money and grow it for God’s purposes, rather than turn around and give it right back to Him. If Christians had done this over the centuries, the money available for ministering to others would be exponentially more than it now is.
So why haven’t Christians invested for future giving? Many have avoided it because they believed that Jesus’ return was imminent. They didn’t invest in the future, because they didn’t believe in a future. That’s one of the dangers of proclaiming that Jesus will return within the next few years or decades (the other danger is that people will lose faith in Jesus when He fails to return within the predicted time).

Greed & Oppression of the Poor (Bible Study) – Part 4

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
Oppression

Exodus 22: 22-24, “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.”
Context: Various laws are listed in this section on Exodus.
Analysis: Why are widows and orphans so special? Because, along with aliens, they had no inheritance in the land. In Israel, men inherited land from their fathers as they became adults (they did not have to wait for their fathers to die like we do today). As women reached adulthood, they left their fathers’ lands to live on their husbands’ lands. On these lands, people grew their food and built their homes with the resources of the land. So this inheritance of land gave young Israelite families what they needed to survive. It’s quite different from our society in which young people venture out on their own lacking both food and shelter and having to earn enough money to obtain it.
Widows, orphans, and aliens, however, could not share in Israel’s inheritance, and therefore, lacked proper food and shelter. That’s why God so frequently calls the Israelites to look out for their interests.

Exodus 23:8, “You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.”
Context: Various laws are listed in this section on Exodus.
Analysis: Bribes still exist today, but are illegal. They’ve been replaced by campaign contributions from those who seek to influence politics to their own benefit rather than the benefit of the common good.

Ezekiel 18:5,7, “If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right…does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment…”
Context: This quote ultimately ends with God promising life to someone who is this righteous.
Analysis: This passage calls for a righteous man to be both passive and aggressive in his righteousness. In other words, he must avoid oppressing and robbing others, but he must actively help those lacking food and clothing. Too many times, we base our righteousness on what we don’t do and fail to balance it with charitable actions.

Leviticus 25:39-40, “If any that are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of jubilee.”
Context: Chapter 25 addresses the year of jubilee as well as mercy on the poor.
Analysis: Bankruptcy was non-existent in ancient Israel. If someone owed a debt greater than they could pay, they had to sell themselves into slavery. Here God requires that fellow Israelites receive better treatment than slaves would have received, and that their debts be forgiven in the year of jubilee, which occurred every 50 years.

Deuteronomy 5:14, “But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.”
Context: The Ten Commandments are reiterated in Deuteronomy. This time, God explains why the Sabbath is so important for the people.
Analysis: The penalty for breaking the Sabbath was death. Most of us judge the death penalty to be far too harsh for such an act, because we think of the Sabbath in terms of our own decisions to work. However, as we see in this verse, God prohibits work on the Sabbath primarily for the sake of others. Throughout history, workers and slaves have been forced to labor seven days a week—wasting their lives away while suffering physical exhaustion. God hates this oppression so much that He required the maximum penalty for those who imposed it upon others.
This is why Jesus would later say, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” God didn’t create the Sabbath day laws or any other laws for His direct benefit; He created them for our benefit, so that all of His children may live a quality life instead of a miserable one.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 11, “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be… Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’”
Context: Chapter 15 begins by requiring that the Israelites grant a remission of debts every seven years—yet another one of God’s commands of mercy toward those in need.
Analysis: This mercy toward the poor, while not well-defined in terms of percentage of income, was mandatory for all of God’s people who had more than they needed.
The question we need to ask ourselves is whether God is calling for personal or government-enforced charity. Here in Deuteronomy, God gives laws to the nation of Israel. These are not suggestions on how individuals should behave; these are requirements for how an entire nation must behave. So we can conclude that God required the nation of Israel to force its people to share their wealth. How they carried this out is not entirely known.

Deuteronomy 23:15, “Slaves who have escaped to you from their owners shall not be given back to them. They shall reside with you in your midst, in any place they choose, in any one of your towns, wherever they please; you shall not oppress them.”
Context: Numerous, unrelated laws are listed in this portion of Deuteronomy.
Analysis: These are likely to have been slaves that escaped from other nations. They were to know a better life among the Israelites. It’s likely that many of them came to love God as a result of this compassion (that is, if the Israelites actually obeyed this command).

Deuteronomy 24:14-15, “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt.”
Context: Numerous, unrelated laws are listed in this portion of Deuteronomy.
Analysis: Nobody does this today. In the sales world, some companies delay commissions as long as possible so that the payroll expense will be pushed into the following quarter and the resulting numbers will deceive potential investors into believing that the company is more profitable than it really is.

Psalms 10:2, “In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.”
Context: The psalmist beseeches the Lord to bring justice upon the wicked and rescue the oppressed.
Analysis: Out of our arrogance, many of us blame the poor for their poverty. We then credit the wealthy for their success and regard them as righteous, and thus, we join the wealthy in schemes to keep the poor in their poverty. Should Christians continue to support the wealthy at the expense of the poor, more and more of us will be “caught in schemes they have devised,” and join the poor in their poverty over time.

Psalms 12:7, “‘Because the poor are despoiled; because the needy groan, I will now rise up,’ says the Lord. ‘I will place them in the safety for which they belong.’”
Context: In this psalm, God comes to the rescue of the poor.
Psalms 14:6, “You would confound the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge.”
Context: King David laments of all the evil in the world.
Proverbs 11:24-25, “Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.”
Proverbs 13:23, “The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.”
Proverbs 14:31, “Those who oppress the poor insult their maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor Him.”
Analysis: How do we insult God by oppressing the poor? Many politically-conservative Christians say that those who are smart and work hard achieve financial success, while the poverty of the poor results from their laziness and stupidity. As for laziness, many hard-working people struggle to support their families. And as for being smart, we can’t all be Einstein. If we were born too stupid to figure out how to get rich, we are as God made us. Does the Bible tell us that less intelligent people should struggle to survive as punishment for their stupidity? If God gives us our smarts, skills and lucky breaks, we have no business being arrogant toward those who receive a less lucrative package of abilities from Him. When we blame the poor for their lack of intelligence, we insult God for making them as they are.

Proverbs 19:17, “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his good deed.”
Analysis: This verse brings to mind Jesus’ statement, “As you’ve done it unto others, you’ve done it unto Me.” As I’ve previously stated, God creates rules not for His own direct benefit, but for the benefit of His children (which is all people, not just the ones whose beliefs match ours). Yet, somehow, according to this verse, God benefits when we love others well, especially the needy.

Proverbs 21:6, “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.”
Analysis: When we Christians think of committing sins with our speech, we tend to think of using bad words. But the Bible shows us here (and in many other passages) that lying to gain wealth and take advantage of others financially is a far greater sin of the tongue.

Proverbs 21:13, “If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard.”
Analysis: In our modern society, where exactly do we hear the cry of the poor? Those of us who live well, live in areas where there are no poor. And even when we walk or drive through an impoverished area, it’s rare that we hear people cry out.
Yet the poor do make their voices heard in our society, but in an organized fashion. They organize politically to cry out for money to pay for health care. They organize into unions to cry out for fair wages – wages that provide food, clothing, shelter, basic enjoyment (yes, having some pleasure in life is a necessity), and a respectable share of their company’s profits. Yet many of us ignore and oppose their organized efforts, because we believe that those who fail to prosper in the land of opportunity deserve their poverty, and those who prosper in the land of opportunity shouldn’t have to share.
But remember that opportunity is only opportunity. Opportunity combined with hard work doesn’t assure prosperity. Many try their best and still come up short. The formula for prosperity is hard work, plus opportunity, plus God-given ability, plus knowing the right people, plus luck (changes in market conditions, etc.). Only hard work is within our control, the rest is beyond any person’s control; therefore, we must not arrogantly close our ears to the cry of the poor in our country. Much of their suffering is beyond their control.

Proverbs 22:9, “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.”
Proverbs 22:16, “Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss.”
Analysis: How does a person enrich oneself by oppressing others? One way is to make employees work too many hours, thus depriving them of the quality life that God desires for all people. We live in a culture, even a Christian culture, which smiles upon those who work too hard. Christians have their favorite Bible verses that call for hard work and responsibility, but they overlook passages like this one that warn of working people too hard.
When we work too hard, we fail to have the quality relationships with others that God desires, and we find no time to serve Him, because we devote our lives to serving our employers instead.
How does the sin of “giving to the rich” while “oppressing the poor” “lead only to loss?” This verse may merely speak of spiritual loss or God’s retribution, but it may, on the other hand, be a warning to us today as many politically-conservative Christians seek to cut taxes for the wealthy while making life harder on the poor and working class. Such an approach is bad for the economy, ultimately hurting the rich too, because the fewer people you have spending money, the worse an economy is. (For example, if 80% of the population can afford to have their carpets cleaned, more jobs are needed, and more money is earned, in the carpet-cleaning industry than if only 20% of the population can afford to have its carpets cleaned. Since it only makes sense to clean carpets every so often, the wealthiest 20% will not spend their extra wealth on enough carpet-cleaning service to make up for the money not being spent by the bottom 80% of income earners.)

Proverbs 22:22, “Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate.”
Proverbs 23:10, “Do not remove an ancient landmark or encroach on the fields of orphans.”
Proverbs 28:3, “A ruler who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food.”
Proverbs 28:27, “Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse.”
Analysis: Altogether, we have eleven Proverbs opposing oppression of the poor. Anything addressed eleven times in a single Bible book must be one of God’s top priorities. We can no longer allow other issues to take precedence over this one. This is far more important that worries about gay marriage, creationism, alcohol consumption, secular music, etc.

Proverbs 25:21, “If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink.”
Analysis: Jesus’ teachings were often based on the Old Testament. His command to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) may have been inspired by this verse. Taking care of the needy is of greater importance than loyalty to our causes. It doesn’t matter if they believe what we believe politically or religiously. What matters is that they live a quality of life that anyone created in God’s image (which is everyone) deserves.

Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, “Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive; but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.”
Context: King Solomon shares his God-given wisdom.
Analysis: Does this mean that we should encourage abortion, because the never-born are better off? Of course, not! However, this verse teaches us that suffering oppression in this life is worse than being dead or never having been born. Therefore, politically active Christians need to adjust their priorities accordingly.

Isaiah 1:17, “…learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”
Context: This verse is part of a vision Isaiah had concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the years prior to Babylon’s conquest of Judah. It commands the Jews to behave as God had always desired.
Analysis: If we American Christians have a political calling from God, this verse reveals it. It’s not simply enough to personally avoid hurting others. This passage calls us to rescue the oppressed from the harm of those who oppress them.
How do we do that?
Do we kidnap them from their workplaces and take them somewhere nice?
No.
This verse commands us to plead their cases, to defend their causes. Only politically-oriented action will accomplish this. It’s a sin for us to neglect their causes.

Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”
Context: Early in Jesus’ ministry, He read this quote from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue and proclaimed that this prophecy had been fulfilled in Him.
Analysis: Some might argue that this quote refers to the poor in spirit, but there’s no evidence for that. The “good news” to which Jesus refers is that God’s supports the poor and opposes their oppressors.

James 2:5-6, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?”
Context: All of chapter 2 addresses the sin of favoring the rich over the poor.
Analysis: It’s unlikely that the rich oppressed Christians by taking them to court to sue them over money, since Christians probably had little of that. Instead, the rich may have made false accusations against Christians because they hated them for supporting the needs of the poor over the desires of the wealthy.

James 2:15-16, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”
Context: All of chapter 2 addresses the sin of favoring the rich over the poor.
Analysis: Contrary to what many Evangelical Christians believe, life on this earth does matter. Notice that neither this verse nor any other verse requiring us to help the needy says that we should do so for the sake of converting them to the faith. We are to help the needy…period!

James 5:4-6, “Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.”
Context: Verses 1-3 also warn the rich, but do not address specific sins.
Analysis: Holding back wages is a sin that many Christians think is impossible to commit in modern America. But let’s think for a minute what happened when these laborers were hired. They were told they would receive a certain amount of money for a certain amount of work, yet once the work was performed, the failed to receive all of what they were promised.
Having spent over 15 years of my life working in sales, I’d have to say that the majority of employers deceive potential sales reps about the income they will likely earn. This is easy to do since sales reps are paid, at least in part, in commissions. A set income cannot be pre-determined, so recruiters exaggerate the amount a given rep is likely to earn. So the reps wind up earning less than they were told for the hours they work.
The inverse of this is when an employer accurately tells potential employees what salary they will receive, but fails to inform them how many hours they will have to work to receive that salary. When employers overwork salaried employees, this too is stealing wages.

1 John 3:17, “How does the love of God abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
Context: Love for others is a dominant theme in 1 John. John encourages Christians to make sacrifices for others, much like Christ made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
Analysis: Both James and 1 John call us to action in helping the poor. Prayer, worship, and preaching the gospel are essential to the Christian life, but should not take so much of our time that we fail to serve the needs of others.

Greed & Oppression of the Poor (Bible Study) – Part 5

[To read this study in its entirety, please go to the Bible Studies page on this website and download the PDF.]
God’s Judgment of the Oppressors

Isaiah 3:14-15, “The Lord enters into judgment with the elders and princes of His people: ‘It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?’ says the Lord God of hosts.”
Context: Isaiah prophecies against Judah (the southern kingdom) during the time period in which Israel (the northern kingdom) was under siege by Assyria.
Analysis: One of two things is happening here. Either, the wealthy vineyard owners are underpaying their workers (and God is saying that the workers deserve more of the spoils), or the nation’s leadership is taking from small, local farmers and hoarding the spoils to support their luxurious lifestyles.
Some might see the latter explanation as one that opposes taxation. But, as we’ll see later, there’s a difference between taxes that take from the wealthy to help the poor and taxes that take from the poor to enrich the wealthy, as these taxes do.

Isaiah 5:8, “Ah [‘Woe to’ in the NASB], you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!”
Context: Isaiah prophecies against Judah (the southern kingdom) during the time period in which Israel (the northern kingdom) was under siege by Assyria.
Isaiah 10:1-2, “Ah [‘Woe to’ in the NASB], you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!”
Context: Isaiah prophecies against Israel.
Analysis: Notice that God addresses politics as He rebukes those “who write oppressive statutes.” I’m unaware, however, of any civilizations that have passed laws requiring the wealthy to oppress the poor. It’s not what the law commands that oppresses the poor; it’s what the law permits. Allowing business and legal practices that make life harder for the working class is the sin of which this verse speaks.

Isaiah 58:3, “‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’ Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.”
Isaiah 58:6-7, “Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
Isaiah 58:9-10, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”
Context: Isaiah prophecies against Judah.
Analysis: Verses 3-9 demonstrate that God turns His back on nations that neglect the needs of the poor. Some Christians say that the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are evidence that God is turning His back on the United States. If they are correct, it may not be the sins of the non-Christians (such as homosexuals) fueling God’s anger, however, but the sins of the Christians who oppress the poor. Remember, it wasn’t the World Gay Center that fell; it was the World Trade Center. If this disaster was indeed God’s punishment on America, it was our business practices He was judging, not the sexuality of non-Christians.

Jeremiah 5:28-29, “They have grown fat and sleek. They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. Shall I not punish them for these things…?”
Jeremiah 6:6, “For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Cut down her trees; cast up a siege ramp against Jerusalem. This is the city that must be punished; there is nothing but oppression in her.”
Context: Jeremiah prophesied to Judah during the years prior to its fall to Babylon.
Analysis: Notice that, in chapter 5:28-29, God wants the wealthy to “make” the orphans prosper. He denies the wealthy the right to do whatever they want with their money and power. When they assume such a right, God’s punishment follows.

Amos 2:6-7, “Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way.”
Amos 4:1, “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring something to drink!’”
Amos 5:11-12, “Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.”
Amos 8:4, “Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring ruin to the poor of the land…”
Context: God speaks against the sins of Israel and goes on to promise a day of judgment upon it.
Analysis: We’re seeing an abundance of verses in which God promises wrath for His people who oppress the poor. Will we American Christians experience this wrath? Will oppressing and neglecting the needy, while supporting the wealthy, be acceptable as long as we do it in Jesus’ name?

Ezekiel 16:49, “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and the needy.”
Context: Ezekiel is prophesying against Jerusalem.
Analysis: This is yet another example of God infuriated with a nation that fails to care for its poor.

Daniel 4:27, “Therefore, O king, may my counsel be acceptable to you: atone for your sins with the righteous, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged.”
Context: Daniel interprets the dream of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.

Micah 2:2-3, “They covet fields, and seize them; house, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance. Therefore thus says the Lord: Now, I am devising against this family an evil from which you cannot remove your necks; and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be an evil time.”
Context: Micah prophecies judgment against Samaria and Jerusalem.
Analysis: Here the word “covet” again applies to the desire to acquire someone else’s property.
Unlike portable objects, houses and lands are immovable. To take them requires a political or financial scheme. In modern times (at least up through 2008), this scheme might involve a loan to someone who’s unlikely to be able to keep up with the payments, or even an Adjustable Rate Mortgage in which the lender knows that the borrower will be forced to foreclose when interest rates rise, thus allowing the lender to seize the property and sell it at a profit in the event that prices rise after the loan is issued.
Many people support schemes like these by placing all blame on the borrower for wanting and borrowing more than they can afford. But I know from both sales experience and being the target of mortgage industry sales pitches that mortgage sales reps twisted numbers in order to deceive potential homeowners into borrowing more than they could afford. The mortgage companies didn’t care if the people couldn’t pay (because they sold the mortgages off to be bundled into securities); they only cared about the size of their commissions—the bigger the loan, the more they earned. Granted, in the end, this wasn’t a scheme to take property, but it was a scheme to run up prices, earn big payouts, and earn additional refinancing income when the rates adjusted on the ARM’s, all at the expense of unsuspecting individuals. Either way, it’s an example of oppressing “householder and house, people and their inheritance.”

Malachi 3:5, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts.”
Context: Unhappy with the behavior of the Jews during the decades following their return from Babylon, God promises future judgment upon Israel again, but this time, through the coming of Jesus.
Analysis: How are “hired workers” oppressed in their wages? It’s possible that their promised wages were withheld, but businesses that practiced such things probably had trouble recruiting workers after a short time. It’s far more likely that these businesses oppressed their workers by paying them too little.
As Americans, this makes no sense to us, because we’re taught that it’s right, as well as “just good business”, to pay workers as little as the free market will allow. The goal of any supposedly efficient business is to minimize the cost of labor in order to maximize profits. In such a world, there’s no such thing as paying a worker too little; if an employer’s compensation for a particular job is below that job’s market value, then qualified workers will find “fair” wages elsewhere and the job will never be consistently filled.
But this passage indicates that God holds a different set of values. Maybe workers deserve more than being paid as little as the free market will permit. Maybe they should be paid wages that reflect the value of the workers’ contribution to their employers’ success. Or maybe they should be paid enough to afford food, shelter, clothing and basic enjoyment of life, since they’re of great value, being created in God’s image.
That’s not to say that businesses struggling to survive are guilty of sin when they pay workers low wages. But when corporate executives and investors earn several hundred times as much as their employees, who are paid as little as the market will allow, they likely violate God’s words in this passage.

Matthew 25:41-46, “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they will also answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you? Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Context: Jesus explains that on Judgment Day, He will separate the righteous from the evil. The righteous will receive eternal life, while the evil will face God’s wrath.
Analysis: In the Old Testament, God brings wrath upon the nation of Israel for their neglect and oppression of the poor. Jesus’ ministry, on the other hand, focused upon individuals rather than upon a nation.
We who oppress and neglect the poor will suffer eternal punishment. Many Christians might argue that we receive forgiveness for this if we believe in Jesus, but that’s only if we repent of this behavior and try to turn away from our sin. Remember, in Matthew 7:21, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my father in heaven.” Jesus makes it clear that mercy on the poor is a vital part of God’s will. Therefore, it’s a requirement for eternal life.

Luke 6:24, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.”
Context: Chapter 6 is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. Some will argue that this is a different sermon, because verse 17 says that Jesus came down to a level place. However, many mountains have level areas, and the text does not say that He came off the mountain. Also, the events that follow the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew follow this sermon as well.
Analysis: Are all wealthy, full, and happy people going to hell? Probably not. Here, Jesus warns the wealthy that their prosperity on earth will one day end, and that if their prosperity results from oppression of the poor or causes neglect of the poor, they will be the ones suffering for eternity.

Acts 5:1-5, “But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the Apostles’ feet. ‘Ananias,’ Peter asked, ‘why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were of the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!’ Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard it.”
Context: See Acts 4:32, 34.
Analysis: Why did Ananias and Sapphira lie? Were they required to sell their property and give all the money to the church, or had they promised to do so in an attempt to impress others? I guess we’ll never know. It’s enough to make us wonder whether all Christians must sell their homes and give the proceeds to the church. There are, however, biblical references to Christians owning homes, such as 1 Corinthians 11:22 in which Paul says, “Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?” So we need not jump to a rash conclusion based on this example.