Ownership of private property is one of those issues where we find polarizing views. Are possessions good or are they evil? Should man be allowed to own things individually or should everything be shared in community? Benedictine monks believe that it’s better to not own any private property and are only allowed to do so with prior approval. Marxism is a form of government that believes individuals shouldn’t own personal property and everything should be controlled by the government. To a lesser extreme, some Christians will argue that we shouldn’t have savings because it demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s provision. So, is it really better to not have possessions? As we strive to be good stewards, the concept of owning property is going to be fundamental to a lot of other issues.
(To properly set the stage, I need to clarify that the idea of owning personal property will only be referring to temporary, earthly ownership. God is the real owner of all things and at most, we’re stewards and caretakers of His property during our lives.)
We get an initial indication of God’s plan for man and his stewardship over creation as early as Genesis 1 when He creates man in His own image and gives him dominion over all the earth and tells man to multiply and subdue it. Wayne Grudem explains being made in the image of God like this, “The fact that man is in the image of God means that man is like God and represents God.” God shared many of His attributes with man by placing them in us at creation. We are able to glorify God by reflecting His image to the rest of creation. Ephesians 5:1 says “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” God is pleased when He sees His character on display in our own lives. We reflect God’s attributes in the way we:
- are creative and make things
- desire for the truth and for justice to be served
- extend grace and mercy to others
- strive for holiness
- seek order in the world around us, and
- exercise sovereignty over creation.
In ruling over creation, man is able to reflect God’s sovereignty. Our purpose in creation is to glorify God, and through our sovereignty over creation, we’re empowered to use the earth’s resources for His glory.
God built the desire for sovereignty and dominion inside us before sin and the curse entered this world. Just as the desire for power and pleasure are God-given desires (see Is It Wrong To Want Eternal Rewards?), the desire to own possessions is a God-given instinct and not always a result of greed. It’s when we lose focus on the eternal picture and desire them for sinful self-gratification and refuse to acknowledge God’s ultimate ownership that we can quickly cross that line from godly desire to one of sin. In its pure form, the desire for ownership is aligned with God’s command to subdue the earth.
When Adam and Eve were the only two people on the planet, there wasn’t much need for property rights since all things were under their rule and management. As time passed and more people entered the equation, it became necessary for boundaries to be established with property rights to clarify who was responsible for each piece of property.
Let’s fast forward to Exodus, where we see two of the more clear verses in the Bible supporting the private ownership of property, which are both part of the Ten Commandments.
- Exodus 20:15 – “You shall not steal.”
- Exodus 20:17 – “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
We’re instructed to not take what is rightfully owned by someone else, nor are we to desire, or covet, the things that are owned by someone else. Private ownership is clearly implied in both of these commandments.
We also see possession of property being alluded to in Deuteronomy.
- Deuteronomy 19:14 – “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.”
Ownership of possessions is a part of the act of stewardship. God has entrusted us with assets to care for and use for His glory. He is the ultimate owner and all property rights revert back to Him when our time on this earth is done.
As stewards and earthly owners, we are responsible for making wise choices with the resources under our control. We should always be thankful that God has entrusted us to make these decisions and pray for wisdom along the way. Here are a few of the ways we can use our resources to glorify God:
Enjoyment – It’s okay to spend money on enjoyment as long as we’re still meeting our other responsibilities and honoring God with our spending. 1 Timothy 6:17 tells us, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”
Provide for our families – Scripture clearly point out the importance of taking care of our own family. “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Providing for our families also includes saving money for times when we can’t work for health reasons or are unemployed, such as during our retirement years.
Give them away – Hebrews 13:16 – “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
Subdue the earth – We often see this in a person’s occupation. A farmer uses the land to produce food. A mechanic uses his knowledge to build machines that allows us to have greater dominion over the earth’s resources. A person in the technology industry uses knowledge to build systems that help others be more efficient in their business.
Gain stewardship over more resources – We can invest our resources so they grow to become more, to get an education, or to grow a business so we can employ more workers and have a bigger impact on the world around us.
Stewardship doesn’t end with our own property though. Since everything is God’s, we have a responsibility for other people’s property as well. In Deuteronomy 22:1-3 we read that “If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner. If they do not live near you or if you do not know who owns it, take it home with you and keep it until they come looking for it. Then give it back. Do the same if you find their donkey or cloak or anything else they have lost. Do not ignore it.”
Ownership of property gives us the ability to glorify God, but it also sets the stage for a battle over our hearts. It’s easy for us to be tempted with greed or build idols when possessions enter the picture. If you ever wonder if you own your possessions or if they own you, just ask yourself if you’re willing to give each of them up. If there is something you aren’t willing to give up, then you really need to seek godly counsel in an effort to protect your heart. It may be that you should part with that asset for your own spiritual well-being.
Thankfulness is another reliable heart test. Let us not become like the unrighteous we read about in Romans 1:21-25. In this passage, we’re told that “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” And, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!”
Are we always acknowledging and thanking God for the things he’s given us or are we taking the credit? Prosperity is one of the most difficult spiritual tests in life. It’s common for people to draw near to God in times of adversity, but we’re often quick to forget God when things are going well.
“We can stand affliction better than we can prosperity, for in prosperity we forget God.” – D.L. Moody
As we often see in scripture when it comes to the area of finances, God has given us a lot of grace in the decisions we make. While man-made rules and restrictions may seem wise in our own eyes, we need to always fall back on the sufficiency of God’s Word and not add to it. Ownership of property is a God-given privilege that presents us with an opportunity to bring Him glory. It’s only when our sin gets in the way that problems emerge. Instead of rejecting the gift, we need to fight against the sin that tarnishes the gift. As long as our hearts are free from greed and acknowledge God’s ultimate ownership, it is actually good for us to own personal property. When men or governments set up systems and rules that forbid private ownership, they’re going against our God-given instincts.
This post originally posted October 5, 2016
Brad Graber, CFP® has been working with clients on personal financial planning and investment issues since 1996. He invests his time mentoring and educating individuals on ways to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them.