Glorifying God with Life and Possessions
From an early age, I was taught that the earth and everything in it belongs to God
(Psalm 24:1). And this includes me! I am not my own because God has bought me with
a price and desires that I glorify God with my body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
But what would it looks like to fully understand and to live out the truth that God owns everything, including me?
Should I give away all of my possessions and beg for food? Should I spend my days wandering the streets, preaching the gospel while dressed in camel's hair and eating nothing but locusts and honey?
But not necessarily.
Those who study the theory and the law of property know that to say that I own something doesn't really say much at all. Property is best understood not as a singular concept but rather a bundle of rights, many of which can be separated and assigned to different people.
For instance, I was quite confused as a twelve-year old when my friend proudly showed off a new van that his family had leased.
I said, "Wow! That's a nice car. When did your family buy it?"
My friend replied, "No, we didn't buy it. We leased it."
The next thirty minutes were spent with my friend trying to explain to me – at least as best as a twelve-year old can – what a lease was. But no matter how hard he tried, as a twelve-year old, I could not wrap my mind around the difference between a purchase and a lease. To me, if my friend's father had the keys to the car and had the right to drive it around anywhere he wanted to at any time, the car was his.
Property refers to a bundle of rights that can be separated and assigned to different people. When I lease a car from a bank, we say that the car is the bank's property even though I have the right to drive it wherever and whenever I want. I have the right to use it, benefit from it to a certain extent, and exclude others from using it. But I do not have the right to sell it directly as if it were mine, nor do I have the right to keep it without purchasing it directly from the bank once the lease is up.
To say that God owns the earth and everything in it, then, doesn't necessarily mean that I have no right to use my possessions or to exclude others from it.
In fact, since God owns me, that might imply that I shouldn't give away all of my possessions (although I should probably give away more than I would like!). God owns the earth and everything in it, but God has purchased me specifically as well. Recognizing that God owns me and everything that I have might thus entail recognizing that God has called me specifically to be a unique steward of the resources that I have at my disposal.
As a result, giving away all my possessions might be a way of avoiding God's purpose for my life. It would be akin to burying what God has given me in the ground rather than using it for God's purposes.
Of course, unlike some secular accounts of private property that rely on the idea that I own myself and thus have the right to do whatever I want to do with myself and my possessions, acknowledging God's ownership of me and my possessions requires that I give up the idea that I have the right to do whatever I want with my possessions.
Instead, what I need to do is to figure out what God desires for my life. Not in general terms, but in rather specific terms, given the circumstances in which I find myself.
Of course, I don't have it all figured out. Not even in the slightest.
And things get more complicated because it's one thing to ask what I should do with what I have and another completely different thing to ask how I should come to have them.
Stewarding my possessions will require more generosity from me. And even if I reduce my own spending, I'd still have bills to pay. Living a life of stewardship will involve incurring expenses, no matter how frugally I live. And as I begin to see my bank account balance begin to go down, I'd probably ask, How should I get more resources to pay for what I need?
I can't expect money to fall straight from the heavens and into my lap. I'll need to find a source of income somewhere.
But how should I go about getting more resources, and how much should I try to get?
Are there limits to how much I should ask from my employers or clients? How hard should I work to try to get more? There is a part of me that will always want more. In some ways, it seems like the more that I have, the more that I want. How much is enough?
And how should I go about getting more, if I should be getting more at all? How hard can I negotiate? How much should I think about others, including those who have not yet been born?
Again, I am not sure what the answers should be to these questions.
All I know is that I should figure out what God wants to do with me. And as I figure this out, I'll have clearer answers to how much I need to get and how. I'll know that I should be getting enough to make sure that I can do what God calls me to do. And if what I want to get will hinder me from doing what God wants, I should not get it. If, for instance, what God wants for me is to treat my customers with generosity and respect, I should not try to get as much as I can from them.
The first step, though, is to simply take seriously the idea that God owns the earth and everything in it, including me. I was bought with a price, and I am called to glorify God with everything at my disposal.
Oh, only if it were so simple and easy to do so...
|Dr. Jooho Lee is an assistant professor of business ethics and law at Pepperdine University. He received his PhD in business ethics and legal studies from the University of Pennsylvania. He also holds a JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests focus on the ethical and legal issues associated with theories of markets and firms.|