Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Real Individual Mandate



A phrase heard a lot today in the news is “individual mandate.”  This term refers to the law that states that all individuals have the responsibility to get health insurance.  I am not going to talk about that today, but I am going to talk about an individual mandate.  Many people believe that government has a responsibility to take care of the poor people of this nation.  If they believe that as part of a political ideology, then so-be-it.  I am not here today to talk about politics.  What I am here to talk about is the Bible and one thing that really infuriates me is the misuse of scripture to support some political ideology.  There is part of the church that subscribes to social justice being part of the Gospel.   They believe that government not only has the right, but also the responsibility, to take forcibly from those who have more to give to those who have less.  Those who subscribe to the social gospel believe that this is in line with the teachings of Jesus, but they are wrong.  The Bible is not about government social programs, but it is about personal responsibility and an individual mandate for each person to do their share, as led by God, to minister to those less fortunate.   I think this mandate is best told through the parable of the Good Samaritan. 
Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.  Luke 10:30-32 NKJV
This first part sets the scene.  An unfortunate man was mugged, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road.  Considering he was robbed, I am sure he had nothing of value on his person.  Considering this was long before any kind of electronic communication or means of swift medical attention or even transportation, this man was completely at the mercy of anyone else who just might have wandered by.  I think it is telling that Jesus chose a priest and a Levite to be the first people to have wandered passed.  It is ironic because these people were religious leaders.  Being religious leaders, they were also civil leaders.  These men were responsible for telling others how to live according to God’s law.  They lived and breathed self-righteousness, but we see here that it was just all for show.  When no one was watching, they neglected the poor man they encountered.  I say that it is telling because things have not really changed much.  Studies have shown time and time again that those who like push an agenda to take from others to give to the poor give less to the poor themselves than those who believe that it is a matter of individual responsibility.   Of course there are always exceptions, but that is the general rule.  The bottom line is that those who are more prone to force others to take care of the poor by threat of force are less likely to take individual action to fill those needs on their own. 
But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.  So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’  Luke 10:33-35 NKJV
This parable is the perfect illustration of our individual mandate to care for those in need.  Some love to throw “love your neighbor” around, but this is actually what it means.  In fact, Jesus used this story as an illustration when making the point as to whom one’s neighbor is and what it means to love him.  Loving your neighbor does not mean advocating taking from one to give to another, it means giving to another yourself, as the Lord leads.  It does not mean distributing the treasure of others, but distributing of your own treasure.   This illustration also raises the bar on our charity.  We are not called to give a token donation to someone and feel good about ourselves, but it means to really take care of the needs of another. 

I am not writing this post to argue against giving to the poor, I am only saying that the responsibility falls on us as individuals and not on government.   When we stand before Jesus, Jesus is not going to ask us if we voted for candidates who advocated for the taking of one to give to another, but He will ask what we did to care for those who needed it.  John the Baptist did not admonish those who had two to petition government to force those who have 3 to give to those who have none.  John the Baptist made it about personal responsibility.  I can go on, but I am sure you get the point.  If you do any kind of study, you will learn that God cares deeply about the poor, but the responsibility to care for them is between God and us as individuals.  Even in the Old Testament, when farmers were ordered to leave the leftovers of their crop in the field, those leftovers were to be collected directly by the poor.  The king was not to send armed agents to seize those leftovers and distributed to whom they deemed worthy.  It was about personal responsibility to God for the poor. 

Now I am going to take things a step further.  I not only believe that the idea of forcible wealth redistribution to be inconsistent with Scripture, but I believe it to be squarely against the Word of God.  This is so for several reasons that can be summed up in one Scripture:
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NKJV
There are three important principles about giving in this scripture.  First, we should give as we purpose in our hearts.  In other words, and we should follow the Lord’s leading on this, we are to decide what to give.  We should not give what someone else tells us to give.   Taxing one to give to another violates this premise as taxes are defined by the government.  Secondly, we are not to give grudgingly.  This also is violated by wealth redistribution because anything forced naturally leads to resentment.  There are very few people who look at their withheld tax and rejoice over it.  Finally, we are not to give out of necessity.  Perhaps a better translation is that we are not to give out of compulsion as that is what the world really implies in the original language.  This one principle cannot possibly be rectified with forced taxation or wealth redistribution.  As soon as you require someone to pay for something for someone else, they are doing it out of compulsion.  In other words, it is impossible to force someone to be charitable with their wealth in a scriptural way because once force is entered into the equation it is no longer scriptural.  

I know that many are greedy and stingy with their money and they have no issue being so while others are starving around them.  I know it seems like the right thing to do to force them to be generous.  Unfortunately, we must remember that whether you consider them to be your neighbor or your enemy, we are called in Christ to love them just the same.  It is never loving to steal from someone, no matter the motivation.   What I am saying is that your expression of love for the poor cannot be an expression of hatred towards another.  Your love for the poor person needs to be expressed as it was by the Good Samaritan.  The Good Samaritan did not give go out and rob another to give back to the man who was robbed, but he gave of his own treasure. 

Before I close, I want to give a warning to those who feel no need to help the poor.  Perhaps you read this and think that it is great that no one should make you help because you do not really want to help.  Perhaps also you take comfort in the fact that if you did give, it would be grudgingly and therefore God does not want you to give.  If that is your heart and you have any kind of claim of being a Christian, I need to share with you a grave warning from the Word of God:
But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 1 John 3:17 NKJV
If you have, and have no desire to share, there is a serious problem with your heart.  You should never take comfort in a heart that has grown cold or indifferent towards the poor.   That is a real danger sign that your faith and love are more in your riches than in the Lord you claim to follow.  John even questions how the love of God can reside in your heart if that is the case.  That is not a question one should take lightly.  In fact that question goes to the very core of your salvation.   Our salvation is not predicated on how we care for the poor or any other work for that matter, but once saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, our hearts should be for taking care of those less fortunate.  Our ministry to the poor is not a cause of our salvation, but it is an effect and if our lives do not show the effects of salvation, we really do need to examine our hearts. 

There will come a time when we will all stand before God and give an account for what we have done with what God has given us.  God is not going to ask you what you petitioned government to make other people do, God is not going to ask you what you told other people they should do, and God is not going to ask you what you felt like doing at any given time.  Actually, God is not going to ask you anything, God is merely going to show us all that we did and all that we didn’t do and it will be up to us to give an account to God.  For those of us in Christ, our works will be judged but we will be saved by the blood of Jesus into everlasting glory.  If that is your belief, than that is an awesome thing.  If that is not your belief, than any amount of charity is not going to overcome the debt of sin that you owe to God and you will enter everlasting judgment.  If you claim to believe, however, and you have no desire to help those less fortunate than you, then you had better check your heart to make sure that claim is not merely a lie.  Can you say that the love of God is in you?  The proof is in your actions. 
All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting 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 no drink;  I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’  Matthew 25:32-45 NKJV

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