“A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.”
Before the Heidelberg Catechism was published, John Calvin wrote his Institutes of the Christian Religion, applying his keen mind to explaining the Christian faith. Among the matters he addresses in the Institutes are the Ten Commandments, and Calvin’s teaching on the eighth commandment is worth quoting. Calvin lists several types of theft, including the violent seizure of goods by a recognized thief. Yet, human beings rob one another in other ways as well. “A second kind [of theft] consists in malicious deceit, when [goods] are carried off through fraud. Another lies in a more concealed craftiness, when a man’s goods are snatched from him by seemingly legal means” (2.8.45). Few of us are likely to burglarize others’ homes or rob someone at gunpoint. However, we are tempted to steal in other ways. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, the eighth commandment also prohibits us from taking our neighbor’s goods “by means that appear legitimate” (Q&A 110). Fraudulent merchandising and inaccurate weights and measures are two such means listed in the catechism. Unjust weights and measures are forbidden throughout Scripture, as they are in today’s passage. There are several ways that a seller can alter measurements to fool buyers into thinking they are getting more than they are actually receiving. This is equivalent to theft because it takes more from a buyer than he should be paying. Christians must never use false measurements or lie about what they are buying and selling. Some of the most sophisticated means of theft are codified in law by our lawmakers. Politicians routinely promise to raise taxes on one group of people to pay for services for another group of people. This creates tax rates that demand a higher percentage of income from some people than others, and it creates tax laws that are enormously complex and punish those who cannot hire accountants and lawyers to figure it all out. Scripture never explicitly sets an ideal tax percentage for the government (though elected officials are arrogant indeed to claim more than the 10 percent God allots for His church). Nevertheless, Scripture does not endorse different tax rates for different groups of people. Christians are to follow the laws in place and pay their taxes (Rom. 13:6–7), but, as they are able, they must not perpetuate legalized theft. Voting a tax rate on others that we do not vote on ourselves is the same as stealing from our neighbor.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
In a just economic system, the wealthy still pay more than those of lesser means in terms of the actual dollar amount. Yet, they do not pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes than those who are not as wealthy as they are. Asking the government to stick its hands in another’s pockets for our benefit is no better than doing it ourselves. It might look lawful, but it is still theft in the eyes of God.