The ethics of ownership

The nature of the Kingdom is such that we can find God and salvation regardless of the economic system we happen to live under. Contrary to some folks’ thinking, economic systems do not save. In the USA, we find ourselves in an economic system based on private property. How do we view this biblically?

Both Old and New Testament teach positively on private property. Both also note the need for good stewardship in handling our property (see Deuteronomy 8; Psalm 112; Proverbs 31 & etc. in the Old Testament. Meditate on Luke 12:13-15, Acts 5:1-4 & Ephesians 4:28 in the New Testament).

Keep in mind that God claims ownership over all the Creation. God stated in Exodus 19:5 that “… all the earth is mine.” (ASV)

In the 50th Psalm (vs 7, 10 – 12) God says:

For every beast of the forest is mine, And the cattle upon a thousand hills. … And the wild beasts of the field are mine. … For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.”

In the New Testament, Paul repeats this (1 Corinthians 10:26) writing, “for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.”

Under the Old Covenant with Israel, the land and its family’s ownership (via inheritance) were in everyone’s best interest. The bond between the land-owner and his land is not cut off by the death of one generation; the next stands ready, having grown into the bond – and the community has every reason to protect this natural continuity under God’s covenant, keeping it safe from whatever might affect it in any fundamental way.

For the Israelite, there was a higher reason for the hereditary principle of possessing land. At the head of Israel’s economic theory stood the principle that the land belonged to God:

the land shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine: for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (Leviticus 25:23).

The Promised Land was given as a sacred trust from God. It was to be handed on from generation to generation. The Ahab – Naboth affair of 1 Kings 21 illustrates a violation of a basic right of the Israelite, the right to possess home and land. In the Old Covenant, forcible seizure of property is essentially a violation of religious sanction. For this reason the prophets laid down the judgment of God on the culprits (See Amos, Hosea and Micah in particular). The holding of property by the family, the clan, the tribe, was a matter of covenant with God, both a legal and religious matter. The right to private property was both confirmed and qualified. The qualification being that God was the true landowner. The right to private property was confirmed because the Divine Landlord stood behind his tenants to support them against unauthorized eviction.

The accumulation of property through theft (Exodus 20:15), confiscation of property by government decree (1 Kings 21) and the willful destruction of property (consider the events of Genesis 26:12-22) are lawless acts, harmful to an orderly society.

This right to property is one of the basic rights of the individual, which is the duty of any community to protect. This qualification sits with the Christian view of property as well. Brunner expresses it well:

“With respect to other men, man is an owner…. With respect to God he is always a steward, a man with an account to render” (Justice and the Social Order, p 134).

And what will the good steward do with his property? Meditate on Matthew 25 and the judgment, and the meaning of “Love thy neighbor as thyself“.

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