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Life, Liberty, and Property

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God’s sovereignty includes ownership of all His creation. Melchizedek, in blessing Abram, said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19; cf. v. 22). The Bible continues the relationship between sovereignty and ownership by declaring to Israel that all the Earth is His (Ex. 19:5). God demands obedience from His people because they live in the midst of His creation. They are responsible as stewards of God’s order. They cannot claim independent sovereignty or independent ownership. The Psalmist records God’s words: “Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you; I am your God … For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills … For the world is Mine, and all it contains” (Ps. 50:7, 10-12). The New Testament continues the relationship between sovereignty and ownership: “For the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contain? (1 Cor. 10:26). No aspect of the created order lies outside God’s claim of absolute ownership. What’s true of the individual is also true of civil government. When the State rejects God as its sovereign, no one’s property is safe.

Because God is absolutely sovereign, no earthly institution can claim independent and absolute ownership of property. Only God can claim such a right. Man’s claim to absolute sovereignty is foolish in light of the fact that “God is the Creator, and therefore the Proprietor, Owner, and Lord of all things; apart from him there is neither existence nor ownership; he alone has absolute authority; his will is decisive everywhere and always. Again and again Scripture makes mention of God’s sovereign will.” [1] This does not mean, however, that individuals, families, and corporations cannot own property. Rather, it means that the ownership of property is regarded as a stewardship to be governed by the Word of God. The accumulation of property through theft (Ex. 20:15), confiscation of property by governmental decree (1 Kings 21), and the willfuldestruction of property by the envious (Gen. 26:12-17) are lawless acts, destructive to an orderly society. The possession of property is a way for the godly to fulfill their dominion assignment under God. God gives His creatures possession of the Earth to extend the boundaries of the kingdom as they fulfill their calling in obedience to His Word; therefore, the confiscation of property is an attack upon the kingdom and its advance.

Since the family is the primary institution whereby the Dominion Covenant is to be extended, laws were given to protect the property of families. The Jubilee laws of Leviticus 25 insured a family that it would always have land so that dominion could be exercised. Property could not be taxed. Even the father could not dispossess his family from the land because of carelessness, poor stewardship, or debt. Fathers were instructed to lay up an inheritance for their children so that the work of dominion under God could continue.

When a man is secure in the possession of his property, he has an area of liberty and dominion which is beyond the reach of other men. If no man and no state can reach in to tax and confiscate his property, man can enjoy true liberty and great security, whether he be prosperous or poor. Every attack on private property is, therefore, an attack on man’s liberty. Man’s freedom and security in the possession of his property is not only basic to man’s independence, but it is also basic to his power. A man has power if he can act independently of other men and the state, if he can make his stand in the confidence of liberty. Every attack on private property therefore is also an attack on the powers of free men as well as their liberty. [2]

Is it any wonder, therefore, that Karl Marx in his Communist Manifesto declared that the right to hold individual private property was a crime against the State? Marx’s called for the “abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.” “Public,” of course, means “for the State.” He also want to abolish “all right of inheritance.” Both of these edicts sought to overrule biblical laws against theft and the protection of inheritance. Marx understood that “property is power.” The Bible secures private property for many individuals and many families. Communism consolidates power under the umbrella of the one State. From this position of consolidated power the State controls the individual, the family, church, school, and every other institution God ordained for the proper ordering of society. The state therefore becomes both sovereign and owner, displacing God as the absolute sovereign and owner over all creation. The direction of the people comes from the State’s central planning committee to determine what’s “best” for the people.

Those who wish to deny private property, and thus, the biblical mandate of stewardship, fail to recognize God’s order for society. A person’s property is tied to the past and has meaning for the future because it is seen in the context of the family as God’s means of insuring future dominion. This is why Naboth was unwilling to sell his vineyard: “The LORD forbid that I should give you [Ahab] the inheritance of my father? (1 Kings 21:3). Property must be seen in the context of a man and his family’s calling under God. The commandments “You shall not steal” and “You shall not covet” (Ex. 20:15, 17) are meaningless unless there are prior owners responsible to God as faithful stewards of His property.

Since the creature’s relationship is one of steward under His heavenly Master, we can expect God to require an accounting of property He places in our possession. A steward manages the household and resources of his owner. The parable of the unfaithful steward shows how serious God is about the resources He places in our care. He expects a return on His investment. The Christian is told to “do business” until Jesus returns: “A certain nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return.And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back’” (Luke 19:12-13). The slave who refused to develop and extend the stewardship that was given to him lost even the original possession: “Take the mina away from [the poor steward], and give it to the one who has the ten minas” (19:24). When the bystanders protested, Jesus silenced them with these words: “I tell you, that to everyone who has shall more be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away” (19:26).

Those who fail to recognize their ownership as a stewardship seldom understand that without the hand of God they would have nothing. Even the ability to use the property God gives comes from Him. It is God who gives gifts to men (Eph. 4:8) and supplies resources for productivity:

It is God who gives rain upon the earth, and sends water upon the fields. He makes His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. He clothes the grass of the field, causing the grass to grow for cattle and herb for the service of man. He feeds the birds of heaven. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge and will. He gives us our daily bread … He crowns the year with goodness and the paths drop fatness. He even gives that which is abused and used in the service of another god. He gave grain and new wine and the oil and multiplied silver and gold which they used for Baal. He makes the wind His messengers and flames of fire His ministers. The whole earth is filled with His glory. So that the pious contemplation of His working brings forth the exclamation of adoration, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches” (Job 5:10; Matt. 5:45; Ps. 104:4 104:24; 65:11; Hos. 2:8). [3]

The unrighteous steward claims to be the absolute sovereign. He claims absolute ownership because he fails to recognize that all good things come from God’s gracious hand. God will have His day of accounting where He will determine the faithfulness of our stewardship under Him (Matt. 25:21). The unrighteous steward considers himself the source and distributor of wealth. He is accountable to no one for how he uses “his” own property.

  1. Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books), 223.[]
  2. Rousas J. Rushdoony, Law and Liberty (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1971), 65.[]
  3. John Murray, The Sovereignty of God (Philadelphia, PA: Great Commission Publications,  [1943] 1977), 9-10.[]

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