God's Labor Laws, part 2
Aug 14, 2018
The eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal” (Deuteronomy 5:19). It is based on the idea that a man has the right to own that which his labor has produced and that no one else has the right to take it from him or use it without his consent.
Nations violate this law by the man-made law of conquest, which, they say, gives the conquering nation the right to steal whatever they wish from the conquered nation. It seems that the more power a person has, the more he is tempted to steal from those who are weak. It is normal, then, for governments to steal, not only from foreigners but also from their own people. They plunder foreigners and they tax their own citizens beyond the rate that God has established in His law.
The Kingdom of God, however, does not permit this. The law does not permit the conquest or enslavement of others, except as a judgment for sin. Likewise, the law of the tithe limits taxation to ten percent of that which is produced using nature.
In the Beginning God Labored
Genesis 1:1 says,
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
At the end of six days of creation, we read in Genesis 1:31,
31 And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
In Genesis 2:2 we read that “He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”
By the law of labor, God owns whatever He creates, by virtue of His labor or work. Labor is one’s most sacred property right, and any confiscation or usurpation of another man’s labor is a violation of the eighth commandment. Hence, the law of Creator’s rights is a subset of the general law of labor that applies to all men.
God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Authority
Man was part of God’s creation; therefore, man is owned by God. Man does not own himself, because he did not create himself. This is a fundamental principle of biblical law that has enormous implications. When men usurp their own bodies and treat them as if they are independent of God’s laws, they violate the eighth commandment, “You shall not steal.”
Man was given authority, not sovereignty. In Genesis 1:26 we read,
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Because God is sovereign over all that He created, He was able to create something called authority, which was a subordinate (lesser) form of power. Man was authorized to rule the earth under God. God retained sovereignty, and man’s authority was limited by His will. Man’s behavior was regulated by His laws defining right and wrong.
God did not give man sovereignty over himself or over the creation. What men call “free will” implies sovereignty and independence, as if man were allowed to act outside of the sovereignty of God. But free will is not a term found in Scripture. Scripture shows that man has authority, which is not the same as free will. Free will usurps God’s sovereignty, assuming a power that was never given; authority recognizes God’s sovereignty and submits to it.
When God created Adam, He placed him in the Garden of Eden and gave him work to do. Genesis 2:15 says,
15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
The work that he was to do was done according to his level of authority. He was not free to do as he pleased, as if he had been given sovereignty. Hence, his authority was limited, being allowed to eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). His right to eat from the other trees was granted by another labor law which is the law of hope. It was put in writing later in Deuteronomy 25:4,
4 You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:6,
6 The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops.
Just as the ox is the first to partake of the fruits of his labor, so also is it with any laborer. In this sense, the law in Deuteronomy 25:4 is derived from the law of first fruits, which in turn is one of the labor laws. Rendering the first fruits to the laborer recognizes his lawful right of ownership, whether we apply this to God or men.
So we read that no man was allowed to partake of the new barley harvest until God had been given the first fruits (Leviticus 23:14). In fact, the three first fruits offerings each year (barley, wheat, and grapes) were all to be given to God in recognition of His sovereignty, ownership, and labor before others were allowed to partake of these crops. Thus man recognized that his own labor was subordinate to God’s labor, and man’s authority was in submission to God’s sovereignty.
This law is explained further in 1 Corinthians 9:9, 10, which says,
9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops.
Such “hope of sharing the crops” indicates that even those who labor under authority may expect (or “hope”) to be rewarded for his labor. In other words, God does not steal the fruits of man’s labor but respects his right to own that which he has labored to produce. So again we read in 1 Timothy 5:17, 18,
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says [in Deuteronomy 25:4], “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and [in Luke 10:7] “the laborer is worthy of his wages.”
Paul’s second citation shows that the gospel of Luke was already written—or was in the process of being written—when Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy. He even equates it to “scripture.” Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he referred to “my gospel” in Romans 2:16; 16:25; and 2 Timothy 2:8. Luke was Paul’s co-worker and scribe for all of his epistles.
At any rate, we learn from Paul’s letter to Timothy that the elders who were “preaching and teaching” were “worthy of double honor” on account of this law of hope. The idea of a “double honor” brings in the idea of the law of birthrights, where the firstborn son was given the double portion when the inheritance was divided among the sons.
All who labor are entitled to receive a reward (or wage) for their labor, but the firstborn son was to receive double, because his responsibility was greater. On him fell the responsibility to care for his aging parents as well as to oversee the entire inheritance entrusted to him. Paul applies this law to the elders of the church.
It is clear, then, that each laborer has the right to hope for a reward according to his level of responsibility and amount of labor. Not everyone gets the same reward. Each man’s right is based upon his level of authority and the manner in which he exercises that authority.
Being Fellow Workers with God
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:8, 9,
8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.
Paul was commenting on the fact that God had labored to lay the foundation (Christ) in the construction of His temple on earth. We, then, also labor to build upon that foundation. Some build with indestructible materials such as “gold, silver, precious stones,” while others who are not so wise use “wood, hay, straw” (1 Corinthians 3:12). In the end, everyone receives their reward when their work is tested by fire, Paul says.
In other words, one’s labor is rewarded according to its quality.
It is clear from this that we are “God’s fellow workers.” We are workers who recognize the sovereignty of God. Therefore, we must labor according to His instructions in the Word, because our authority is limited and must conform to His laws. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:23, 24,
23 And I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may become a fellow partaker of it. 24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
Paul’s labor made him “a fellow partaker” of the gospel. He illustrates this by comparing it to a race, admonishing all of us to conform to the rules of the race. In verse 27 he shows the importance of following the rules (laws of God), saying, “lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
It is very disappointing to win a race only to find one’s self disqualified for breaking one of the rules. If we claim to be fellow workers with God, we must also recognize the sovereignty of God and submit to His laws. Paul says again in 2 Timothy 2:5,
5 And also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules [nomimos, “lawfully”].
To abide by the rules is to recognize the validity of those rules. To labor as a fellow worker in the Kingdom of God requires conformity to the laws of God. To cast aside the law and to labor according to one’s own ability to know right from wrong is to usurp God’s sovereignty and trespass the boundaries of our authority.
So let us not violate the rules—God’s labor laws—lest our works, when tested by fire, should be burned up as wood, hay, and straw. If we violate the laws of labor, we will not be rewarded by the law of hope. Lawless labor will be burned up by the “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV). So let us recognize that we are created by God’s labor, and that our authority is limited by His laws (instructions). If we truly recognize the nature of authority, we will honor Him, respect His law, and be obedient to Him.
This is part 2 of a series titled "God's Labor Laws." To view all parts, click the link below.