Social Responsibility

As we continue on with the laws in Exodus we’ll see an overarching theme for each section in addition to the individual rules laid out for the nation of Israel.  Because the Ten Commandments gives us an outline of all of the laws of God it is no surprise to see that most of these rules simply clarify one of the facets of the Ten Commandments or discuss punishments for different degrees of breaking the law.

And because the Ten Commandments can be summarized with two simple rules – love God and love others – the additional rules that are given in Exodus can mostly be placed into one of these two categories as well.

Exodus 22 looks at our social responsibility.  This means that it concerns how we are going to treat other people.  But many other laws concern how we treat people as well.  I don’t want to make too general of a statement here but these social rules may not have been enforced as strongly as some other rules.  This doesn’t make them unimportant some of these rules had less serious consequences than murder or adultery for instance.

Once again, not to downplay the importance of social rules but the best equivalent to them might be traffic laws.  Whenever you make a turn while driving or change lanes, you’re required to use your turn signal.  It is the law to do so.  It is a matter of safety for both yourself and the other people on the road that you do this.  On top of that, in some instances it is just rude not to alert traffic that you are turning or changing lanes.  But many people do this all of the time.  You can be ticketed for this and people do get ticketed for doing so but in most cases it feels like a police officer must be having a slow day if you get pulled over for a failure to signal.  There has to be more important things to do with their time.

Some of the social rules in Exodus 22 are cut and dry, don’t do them.  In fact, the first half of the chapter deals with property, theft, and making restitution at the loss of property.  Property is important because it is a matter of loving people.  We harm another person by intentionally harming their property.

There are other laws that are pretty straight forward as well such as the fact that a sorceress is to be put to death as well as anyone who has sex with an animal.  It’s pretty clear that these things are not acceptable behavior.

This morning I want to concentrate on three particular rules that are given that have a lot of relevance to us today as Christians.  The difficulty with these rules is that not following them can certainly lead to sinful actions but just ignoring these rules themselves doesn’t seem like sin.  It would be hard to call someone out as a sinner just on the basis of one of these rules.

Let’s pick up in Exodus 22:22-27

22 “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.

25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.[e] 26If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, 27 because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

These are two separate rules that I’m treating as one for our purposes.  In the conservative Christian church there are a lot of conservative political ideas.  This isn’t a surprise and by acknowledging that I expect to see a lot of Republicans in a conservative church I’m not expressing a political view for or against that political party.

This passage is one that Democrats have to take a lot of delight in as the two political parties fight for moral high ground.  The Democrats are the party of the downtrodden and oppressed to say the least.  But it’s not like Republicans are anti-widow.  At least most people are not going to look for ways to take advantage of poor people despite the accusations on both sides.

The church needs to find a balance that it is comfortable with when it comes to helping those in need.  The truth is that balance is probably going to be affected by your political view at least a bit.  And your view on what the church should do to help the needy is definitely going to color your political view.

There are a lot of people out there who are legitimately in need.  And there are also lots of people who want to take advantage of a system designed to help those who can’t help themselves.  And there are probably an even larger group of people who legitimately qualify for help and who are too proud to ask for help or are too frustrated with the red tape involved in getting help to get what they need.

Where does this leave us as a church?  It leaves us with an answer that isn’t easy.  There is a difference between not taking advantage of someone and giving them handouts.  If I have $500 and someone else needs $500 but I won’t give it to them for some reason it is not the same as if I stole that $500 from them.  Possession of wealth is not the same as taking advantage of someone to get that wealth.  Unfortunately many wealthy people do take advantage of others to gain their wealth and the two are often equated.

The church does not have unlimited resources to help people.  And if the government hasn’t figured it out yet, they will soon realize that they don’t have unlimited resources to help people with as well.  If there’s a person connected to the church who has a legitimate need, I’ll bend over backwards to help them.  People who randomly stop at the church and expect a handout upset me in most cases.  That’s not to say that there aren’t people like that who legitimately need help, but I have no way of knowing what is legitimate and what isn’t.  And just as it is wrong to take advantage of those in need, I feel that it is equally wrong to squander the limited resources that God has blessed us with by giving it to someone who may not have a legitimate need.  Or even worse, it may be enabling an unhealthy lifestyle.

If others feel compelled to give, that certainly isn’t wrong.  I don’t believe that there is a black and white answer in this area.  There’s a lot of grey.  I believe that we have a duty to help those with legitimate needs but help may not be in the form of money.  And on the other hand, I believe that we have a responsibility to not enable someone to continue to live an unhealthy lifestyle.

Vs 28

“Do not blaspheme God[f] or curse the ruler of your people.

Blaspheming God is a fairly straight forward idea and it is closely related to taking the Lord’s name in vain.  What I want to focus on is the second half of this verse.

Come November there are going to be a lot of people who are happy with whoever we elect as our leader and there will be almost as many people who are unhappy with our choice of leader.  And no matter who is elected, there are going to be some very unflattering things said about that person.

Even though it would seem to be very different circumstances on the surface, I’m not sure if things are much different today than in Moses’ time when God gave this rule.  We can argue that Moses was appointed by God and that we elect our leaders today.  Certainly complaining against Moses and then Joshua was akin to telling God that you didn’t care for His choice of leaders.

But do we believe that we are entirely in control of who is elected leader today?  Does God idly sit by on election day or does He answer the prayers asking for Godly men and women in office.  Or on the other hand, might we reap what we sow and if we want to live a life of sinful indulgence, perhaps we’ll be handed over to our sins thanks to whom we elect?

I believe that God allows our leaders to serve according to His will, regardless whether they are good or evil.  God’s will will be accomplished regardless of who is in office.  And if a leader needs to be removed for God’s will to be accomplished, God will remove that leader.  While they serve in office, they are God’s choice.  David recognized this of King Saul even though Saul continually tried to kill David.

In 1 Samuel 24:10, David has the opportunity to kill Saul and take the throne that he has already been promised by God.  But David will not do so.  He tells Saul in verse 10, “10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’”

Instead of cursing our leaders, we need to support them and pray for them.  The writer of Hebrews writers in 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

We are not always going to agree with our leaders.  If they tell us to do something against God’s Word, we must resist them.  We also have every right to work with them to promote the passage of Godly rules.  But we should not waste our time attacking them because this is not what the Lord wants us to do.

Vs 29-30

“Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.[g]

“You must give me the firstborn of your sons. 30 Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.

These final verses for today go back to our respect for God.  Scripture talks about the idea of offering firstfruits in many locations.  We don’t practice firstfruits in the idea of dedicating the firstborn child to God or by offering the first of our livestock.

Here’s what the concept of firstfruits is supposed to teach us however.  God is the one responsible for blessing us.  We may think that we worked hard and we earned all that we received but it is only by the grace of God that we have anything.  God asks for the firstfruits because this is the hardest to give up.  It is the greatest sacrifice.

Now, I know that if I plant tomatoes this coming summer, two plants will probably provide more tomatoes than I can use and unfortunately many will go to waste.  It’s easy to give them away knowing that there will be plenty for my purposes.  But what if I didn’t know if I was going to get any tomatoes after the first ones I pick?  It would be a lot harder to give those tomatoes away that I planted and watered all summer.  Even if the plant looks healthy and should yield plenty more, a storm could damage the plant.   Things could get very hot and dry and wither up my plant.  In short, there’s not guarantee that I’m getting anything more.

That’s the idea of firstfruits.  It’s a celebration because God has provided something at all.  And it’s a serious sacrifice because there is no guarantee that anything else will be provided.  But it’s also an act of faith because it trusts that the same God who provided the firstfruits will continue to provide in abundance.

This applies to far more than just tomato plants of course.  It should apply to our giving to the church.  It is our tendency to wait until all of our bills are paid before we determine what we are going to give to the church.  This is opposite of the idea of firstfruits.  We should first determine what the Lord wants us to give.  Then we should plan the rest of our budget around the remainder.  In short, God comes first in our budget, not last.

Many people hold religiously to the idea of giving ten percent of your income.  And some are adamant that the ten percent has to come out of your gross earnings and not your take home pay.  I’m going to tell you that sticking to a percentage because you feel obligated is not the way to go.  God wants you to give cheerfully and not out of obligation.  All of that being said, I believe that a ten percent tithe is a good goal to aim for.

Each person needs to determine for themselves what they believe they should give.  Whatever number that is, my recommendation is that it is done prayerfully.  I believe that it should be done before the rest of your budget is made.  And I believe that it should be done sacrificially.  Giving should hurt a bit whether that amount is $10, $100, or $1000 a week.  And finally, giving should be done with joy and not reluctance.  You are giving to God, not being held up at gunpoint.  I strongly believe that God will bless those who give but I don’t want you to give for this reason.  I want you to give because you want to give.

Ordinarily I’d try to wrap everything up together but this week I’ll close with one final point on giving.  Right now we’re entering the season of Lent.  There isn’t any biblical basis for Lent – in fact the basis of it is pagan.  But the idea behind it is still a good one.  It is a good time to focus on the Lord and deny oneself.  I’d encourage you to look at your giving and prayerfully consider if you are where you think the Lord wants you to be.  God may be asking you to give more on a weekly basis or perhaps you may have it laid upon your heart to make a one time gift.

This is not a plea for money.  I’m not begging to raise our offering totals.  I do not fear budgets or balances because God is in control of finances.  This message is the same whether we are in surplus or in want as a church.  It is between you and God.  It’s no one else’s business including mine.

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