It is a frequent argument from atheists that Jesus doesn’t want us to own anything; that we are to sell everything and trust God alone to provide for us. This assertion is patently false, as we will soon see. It relies on taking a verse out of context. The Bible supports and defends ownership of property; it is one of the ways in which we are made in God’s image. Our ownership of property mirrors his ownership of the universe, and it pleases him when we are wise with the use of our resources.
First, let’s look at the atheists’ side. They cite Luke 18:18-22 as saying that Christians must sell everything and own nothing in order to get to heaven. They don’t tell you that this is a command given to only a particular ruler who had great treasures on earth. Jesus was trying to send the message not to rely on material possessions.
To refute this point, let’s look at what the Bible has to say about ownership of property. Often, everything goes back to Genesis, so we’ll start there. What we find is God giving the earth to man:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Gen 1:28-30, emphasis added)
In this perfect creation, man is to subdue the earth, make it his own, and God has gifted it to him. But we live in a post-Fall world, which we all know isn’t perfect. What does God say after the Fall?
Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Gen 3:17-19)
God doesn’t revoke ownership of the planet. Instead, he curses the ground and makes it grow thorns and thistles. Man has to work to provide himself with food now. Post-Fall, man still owns and cares for the planet.
It’s obvious that corporately, we own the planet. But is there private ownership? It turns out that the Ten Commandments hold a clue to that in the command, “You shall not steal” (Ex 20:14). Obviously, if there are no personal possessions, then you can’t steal. This command makes no sense if personal ownership is forbidden. So individual ownership is biblical by the Mosaic Law.
It is also biblical to enjoy your possessions:
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. (Eccl 5:18-20)
But it is never biblical to rely on your material possessions (see Mt 6:19-20 and Eccl 5:10-12). Reliance on material possessions takes focus away from God.
Ultimately, God owns everything (Ps 24:1). So really we are stewards acting in his stead. We will have to give an account of how we used the resources that he gave us–time, money, health, and all of our other blessings. So it is important to exercise good stewardship over our little corner of the world. It pleases God when we get it right.
The atheist once again relies on a misreading of the biblical text in order to arrive at an unwarranted conclusion. Ownership of property is biblical and a blessing from God. Admittedly, it offers many temptations to sin. The most obvious temptation is theft. The next most obvious is coveting your neighbor’s PlayStation III. These are corruptions of something that was good from the start, and should not be confused with a biblical picture of ownership.
For more information on biblical ownership, stewardship, and similar subjects, please visit generousgiving.org.