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Is Socialism a Biblical Concept?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

 

Much to my surprise, for the first time that I can remember since the Cold War, there is a flurry of national interest in socialism.  As someone who is a student of history, this concerns me.  As someone who is politically unaligned, I’m not sure what to do about it. 

I have seen, though, a small minority of brethren with left-leaning political views justify their embrace of socialism by pointing to the communal practices of the first-century church.  They cite texts such as Acts 4:32, which reads, “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.”  Ergo, the argument goes, adopting a democratic-socialist form of government is Biblically acceptable, if not outright Biblically justified.

From my perspective, though, the argument appears to suffer from the usual problems with basing public policy on the Bible.  New-Testament Christianity is concerned with the conduct of individuals and small groups, not nations.  It assumes that those individuals and groups will be motivated to obey by love.  The less true those things are, the less applicable the code of the Bible becomes.

Take, for instance, Acts 4:32.  It certainly describes a communal moment in the history of the early church.  However, we see plainly in the text that everyone who was involved in sharing their possessions did so willingly.  If a group of people chooses to pool their possessions, whether Christians or not, I don’t have a problem with that.

However, socialism is never 100 percent voluntary.  No political system is.  It invariably involves coercion.  Somebody who is a citizen of a socialistic country but doesn’t want to have his possessions redistributed will have those possessions redistributed forcefully. 

I think that generosity among brethren is beautiful.  I think that forced redistribution is hideous.  It is provoked by greed, not love.  Historically speaking, lots of people have died in the course of state redistribution of property.

Second, Acts 4 captures a particular moment in time.  It comes on the heels of the establishment of the church on the day of Pentecost, during which thousands of Jews from all over the world who were in Jerusalem for the festival obeyed the gospel.  Most of those converts didn’t own property in Jerusalem.  They didn’t have employment there. 

As a result, if they wanted to remain in Jerusalem and be taught, they had to rely for their needs on others.  The native Christians were driven to sell their property to meet the need.  This took place only for a limited time, and if the situation had continued indefinitely, it would have been unsustainable.  There’s a sense in which the persecution of Saul did the Jerusalem church a favor by forcing it to scatter.

Political socialism, by contrast, does not advocate state assumption of assets as a limited-term response to a crisis.  Instead, to at least some degree, it contemplates the permanent collectivization of property.  This too is unsustainable.  People who are not motivated by the prospect of reward will not work. 

In summary, there is a facial resemblance between the economics of the Jerusalem church and socialism, but the parallel doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.  What a church might do when many of its members are in need has little to do with how a nation should organize itself.  As always, we are on solid ground when we seek to apply the word of God to ourselves and our churches.  The more we stray from the intent of the Holy Spirit, the more fraught the exercise becomes.

Out of the Depths

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

 

As many of you are aware, a few weeks ago, I took a trip to Texas to work on a project called Timeless.  Its goal is to rewrite all 150 psalms so that we can sing them in our worship.  On the Saturday morning of that trip, several dozen brethren and I sang through about 20 of the psalm paraphrases that have been written so far.

Many of them were good, but there’s one in particular that I haven’t been able to get out of my head ever since.  It’s called “My Soul Waits for the Lord”, and it’s taken from Psalm 130.  I’ve been stuck on it partially because the music is so beautiful, but primarily because the thoughts are so powerful.  I want to share my meditations with you this morning as we consider what it means to cry to God out of the depths.

The first section of the psalm presents God as A GOD WHO LISTENS.  Look at Psalm 130:1-2.  These are dark words, brethren.  These are the words of somebody who is calling out to God from the depths of uttermost despair.  The emotion here is so raw that it should make us a little bit uncomfortable if we understand what it’s saying.  And yet, the Holy Spirit inspired this raw, dark, emotional song so that it would be part of the worship of God’s people forever.

There’s an important lesson here for all of us.  It tells us that we shouldn’t be afraid of darkness in our song worship.  We shouldn’t come in here and only sing about light and joy and happiness because that isn’t true to our walk with God.  Sure, hopefully all of us experience light and joy and happiness from time to time, but we also experience suffering and sorrow and heartbreak.  We shouldn’t try to hide those things from one another and from God.  Instead, we should sing about them together, so that our song worship can spring authentically from our lives.

Second, this psalm should remind us that there are no depths too deep for God.  This is true of the depths of physical and mental illness.  It’s true of the depths of the trials of life.  It’s true even of the depths of sin.  In fact, I think this psalm is about sin.  It’s the cry of somebody who has wrecked his life so thoroughly that only God can fix it.  Even then, no matter what we have done, we cannot go so far that God will refuse to hear us when we cry to Him. 

Second, the psalmist shows us that God is A GOD WHO FORGIVES.  Consider Psalm 130:3-4.  He begins with the darkest thought in a dark psalm:  the possibility that God could be a God who marks iniquities.  Imagine that.  Imagine that the God of heaven and earth is still perfectly holy, perfectly just, but that He is no longer a God of mercy.  Instead, He’s looking down from heaven, writing down every sin that every one of us commits, so that when the day comes, He will judge every one of us justly, and He will justly condemn every sinner to eternal torment. 

Could you stand up and face a God like that?  I know I couldn’t!  If all of my sins were exposed to the light of His presence, I could only hang my head in shame.  If God were only a God of justice, it would be better for all of us if we never had existed.

Thankfully, though, the word doesn’t tell us that God is justice.  It tells us that God is love.  He is rich in mercy, and He overflows with forgiveness.  Indeed, so great is His desire to forgive us that He sent His Son to die in our place! 

If God is only just, there’s no point in serving Him.  I know that I’ve already blown it.  Why bother?  However, because there is forgiveness with Him, it makes sense to fear and honor and worship Him.  He is a God of second chances, and I know that if I seek Him, He will give a second chance to me.

Indeed, God’s nature is the source of HOPE FOR US.  Let’s continue our reading with Psalm 130:5-6.  I think that the entire psalm is beautiful, but in my opinion, this is the most beautiful lyric in the whole thing.  Here is this man who is crying out to God from the depths and the darkness of sin, and he is waiting for God more than the watchmen for the morning. 

I know we have many veterans in the congregation, and I suspect that just about all of you have had to stand a watch that lasted until morning.  In fact, some of you may even have done that in a time of war, when the darkness might conceal enemies who wanted to sneak up and kill all your sleeping friends.  In the midst of exhaustion and fear, how anxiously might a watchman long to see the dawn!  And yet, the psalmist says, we should long for God even more than that.

However, this longing, this hope in God’s presence, isn’t founded on our wishful thinking.  Instead, the text tells us that it is founded on His word.  God isn’t merely a God of mercy.  He is a God of faithfulness.  He has promised to forgive and bless His people, and through thousands of years of Bible history, we see Him doing exactly that, over and over again.  Even if we are down at the bottom of the well, even if we have sunk as low as we can possibly go, still we can wait on the Lord.  We can wait with hope and expectation because of the promise of His word.

The psalmist concludes by observing that God is the source of HOPE FOR EVERYONE.  Let’s read Psalm 130:7-8 together.  It’s clear to him not only that he should turn to the Lord from the depth of his sins.  He sees that his entire nation should turn to the Lord from the depths of their sins. 

In particular, God has three attributes that make Him the source of eternal hope.  They are His steadfast love, His plentiful redemption, and His complete forgiveness.  All of these attributes are based on the first.  “Steadfast love” is a translation of the Hebrew word hesed, which doesn’t have an English equivalent.  Hesed is God’s covenant love, a mingling of love and faithfulness.  He offers plentiful and complete redemption because those things spring from the depths of His nature.

We’ve been talking a lot this year about evangelism, and when you get right down to it, this is what makes evangelism so important.  We have to tell other people about God because there are so many people who so desperately need to know His steadfast love.  They’re down in the depths.  They’re down in the depths of depression and suffering and sin.  They know that they can’t get themselves out, but they don’t know that God can get them out.  They’re hopeless, and they’re hopeless because nobody bothered to tell them the truth.

That’s where we come in.  Evangelism isn’t for us, so we can boost those attendance numbers and puff ourselves up for doing the Lord’s work.  Instead, evangelism is for them.  It is for everybody who is hurting and hopeless and doesn’t know where to turn, because everybody can turn to God.

Chapter Summaries, Job 6-10

Monday, February 18, 2019

 

Job 6 is the beginning of Job’s first reply to Eliphaz.  In vs. 1-7, he argues that despite Eliphaz’s insinuations, he is being treated unfairly.  If he were being treated fairly, he wouldn’t be complaining!  In vs. 8-12, he insists that the best thing God could do for him, if God is determined to be unfair to him, would be to destroy him completely.  From there, he turns his critique on Eliphaz.  He complains that Eliphaz is being a faithless friend to him, and he sarcastically insists that if he has done something wrong, Eliphaz should tell him what it is.

Job 7 continues Job’s complaint.  He explains that his days are miserable, and he anticipates that he will die soon.  In those circumstances, he doesn’t see any reason to hold anything back from God.  He complains that God is persecuting him through every hour of the day, and he points out that if God continues to do so, He will kill him.

Job 8 is the first time that Bildad the Shuhite speaks.  He insists that God would never behave unjustly toward Job, that all the bad things that have happened to Job’s children are deserved, and that if Job is righteous, God will surely deliver him.  He says that this has been proven by history.  Furthermore, everyone knows that the wicked will be destroyed, but that God will sustain the righteous.

Job 9 contains the first part of Job’s reply to Bildad.  He begins by pointing out the impossibility of contending with God.  When God is so powerful and has done so many wonderful things, who can call Him to account?  Job then imagines the outcome of a contest between him and God.  If it’s a contest of strength, God will crush him.  If it’s a contest of justice, God is so shrewd that He will make Job look guilty even though he is innocent. He says that God is arbitrary in His dealings with mankind, treating the blameless and the wicked alike.  He is afraid that no matter what he does, God will continue to punish him.

Job 10 is entirely addressed by Job to God.  He wants to know why God is oppressing him so.  He is bewildered that God made him so carefully, only to begin to treat him so badly.  No matter what he does, he is confident that God will continue to persecute him.  Job doesn’t get it.  If this was the purpose that God always had in mind, why go through all the other stuff first?  Why not simply let him die in the womb?  All Job asks from God at this point is to leave him alone so he can die in peace.

Temptation by Overstatement

Friday, February 15, 2019

 

During my Texas travels a couple weeks back, I worshiped on Sunday morning with the Kleinwood church in northwest Houston, where my in-laws are members.  That evening, Brent Moody preached on Genesis 3.  He pointed out that the devil still tempts us today using the same strategies that he used to tempt Eve in the garden of Eden.

I thought Brent made several good points in the course of the sermon, but his first particularly stuck with me.  He focused on the devil’s statement in Genesis 3:1, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”

As Brent pointed out, this was not a diabolical request for information.  The devil knew perfectly well that God had not said any such thing.  Indeed, he knew that Eve knew that God had not said any such thing. 

Instead, the devil’s goal was to sow doubt.  It would have been unreasonable, irrational, for God to command Adam and Eve not to eat from any of the trees in the garden.  What else were they supposed to eat?  God didn’t say any such thing, but the devil’s suggestion that he did cast doubt on God’s wisdom, with later, catastrophic effects.

If we pay attention, we will see that the devil frequently tries the same strategy with us.  The most obvious case I’ve ever encountered was in a study with a young woman who was a new convert.  She had had some association with the churches of Christ in her past, but she knew very little.

During this study, which took place shortly after she was baptized, she asked me, “Now that I’m a Christian, I can’t listen to any more music in my car, right?”  She had confused the Bible’s teaching about a-cappella worship with a general prohibition of listening to any instrumental music, ever. 

As with not eating of any of the trees in the garden, such a prohibition would be ridiculously overbroad.  In fact, it would be impossible to live in our society if such a commandment existed.  Music is everywhere, and we wouldn’t be able to watch TV, sit in a doctor’s office, or even walk down the street without sinning.

Once the devil puts the notion in our minds that God might be so unreasonable, though, he opens the door for the suggestion that God’s actual commandments are either unreasonable or much less restrictive than we think.  “God doesn’t really expect me to be intimate only with my spouse, does He?”  All of a sudden, the devil has maneuvered us into the seat of judgment ourselves, and once we start living based on what is right in our own eyes, we’re dead meat!  Indeed, after a short while, I never saw this sister in Christ again.

Ignorance of the word can be much more dangerous than we think.  It leaves us vulnerable not only to direct temptation, but also to misrepresentation of the Scriptures, if only by ourselves to ourselves.  The only cure for the disease is to hide the word of God in our hearts, so that no satanic overstatement ever can find any room there.

I Am With You Always

Thursday, February 14, 2019

 

I am with you always,
Joining in each moment,
Sharing each emotion,
Tasting joy and weeping.
When your hours are lonely
And their joys desert you,
You are not forsaken;
I am with you always.

I am with you always,
When your foes assail you;
Though they press you greatly,
Still I will be greater.
Strong despite your weakness,
Faithful through your doubting--
Who can stand against you?
I am with you always.

I am with you always,
When your time is nearing;
Mine, the hand that guides you,
Ending to beginning.
When the darkness gathers
And your eyes are closing,
Hear My final whisper,
“I am with you always.”

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