The Divine Economy (2)
“You shall not steal.” Deuteronomy 5.19
For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? 1 Corinthians 4.7
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1.17
Property in the divine economy
In our nation today, property is a primary measure of prosperity and wellbeing. Property is to be sought, acquired, developed, used, and enjoyed as central to realizing the hope and promise of an economics of material wealth.
Next to life and liberty, the right to private property is the most cherished right of practically every American.
The teaching of God’s Word, however—beginning in His Law—is along different lines. In the divine economy, an economy based not on material wealth but on justice and love, private property is a gift and trust from God. Individuals do indeed have a right to private property, and wealth is not an evil per se. But only within the framework of justice and love, which characterize the divine economy, can people realize the full purpose and potential of the property entrusted to them by God.
We see this in Israel’s having plundered the Egyptians. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. They possessed almost nothing of their own. However, they came out of Egypt laden with all manner of material goods, provided for them by the judgment of God against their oppressors. God expected His people to use this material prosperity to sustain themselves and their neighbors and to honor Him during their sojourn in the wilderness.
We also discern this view of property in Israel’s acquiring lands and farms and cities in the land of Canaan which they did not cultivate, sow, or build. God caused the wicked nations of Canaan to forfeit the goods He had entrusted to them, and He gave all their possessions into the hands of His people as a gift and trust.
We also see this view of property in the instructions in God’s Law concerning tithes, gleaning, respect for the property of neighbors, proper use of the land, and the return of property to original owners during Sabbath years. The people of Israel were to understand, as the apostles explained, that all their property had come to them from God. It was given to them as a trust, and they were ultimately accountable to Him for the use they made of His good gifts. Each person’s allotment of property was their own possession before the Lord, but not merely for their own indulgence or enrichment. Neighbors were expected to care for one another with their property, to respect one another’s property, and to be content with, and make the best use of, the property entrusted to them by the Lord.
The Christian view of property
But at all times the people of Israel were to remember that God alone, the Giver of every good and perfect gift, could define the right use of private property. This same understanding carried over into the Christian era. The Christian understands that he is not his own; he has been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ and all that he is and has, having come from the Lord, belongs ultimately to the Lord and is to be used in such a way as to reflect the interests of divine justice and love (1 Cor. 3.21-23; 4.7; 6.19, 20).
All our property—every good and perfect gift entrusted to us by God—is to be used, therefore, in a manner that will redound to the glory of God (Matt. 25.14-30). Our approach to private property must not be seen, in the first instance, as something with which to enrich ourselves, but as something to invest for the love of God and neighbors.
Of course, we must use our property in a responsible manner to meet our needs and the needs of those entrusted to our care. But beyond this, God requires that we use all our property to demonstrate love for Him and for our neighbors. We must hold our property as though it were not, in fact, our own (Acts 4.32). Instead, we must see ourselves as stewards of God’s property and be ready to use His gifts for furthering His Kingdom, building His Church, and the meeting our neighbor’s material needs.
In the divine economy, material prosperity is a resource for loving God and neighbor, not for indulging one’s fleshly passions. And we need not fear, as we use our private property in such ways, that we shall ever be in want; God is able to supply all our needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4.19).
Property and the larger community
Within the Christian community material wealth is to be used for the love of God and neighbors. Within the larger community Christians must demonstrate individual and community lives of charity, self-denial, and service.
Further, we must work for and support public policy initiatives that maximize individual freedom and responsibility in the use of private property, and that protect the right of each individual to exercise stewardship of their property without fear of encroachment from neighbors or government.
Especially should Christians resist efforts of the State to presume to know best how to use private wealth to maximize material happiness for all. Systems of taxation which impose unequal burdens on the wealthy can become little more than a means for politicians to purchase the support of those who are favored by their arbitrary manipulation of the tax codes.
Christians must work to express the divine economy within an economics of material wealth. By our lives and witness we must consistently declare that the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Ps. 24.1), and that we are all to be held accountable before the judgment seat of Him with Whom we have to do (Heb. 4.13).
All property is a blessing from God, to be used for His purposes in advancing His reign of love on earth as it is in heaven. All property must be received as a trust, invested and used with love, and valued as a means to the end of advancing Christ’s Kingdom, and not merely for personal indulgence or enrichment. And while such a view of property may not be de rigueur in our materialistic age, it is the very warp and woof of the divine economy.
1. What do we mean by saying that private property is a gift and trust from the Lord?
2. Look at Acts 2.44, 45 and Acts 4.32-35. What do we learn here about how the first Christians regarded private property?
3. Private property can become a hindrance in knowing and serving the Lord. Explain.
Next steps—Preparation: In prayer, thank God specifically for the property He has entrusted to you. Ask Him to help you learn how to use all your possessions in a manner consistent with His purposes.
What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling in God’s Kingdom. Order your free copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here. To gain a better understanding of how the Law of God applies in daily life, order a free copy of our book, A Kingdom Catechism, by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.