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Sometimes Christians think of ownership of property as a kind of “greed” that is morally tainted. In a perfect world people wouldn’t own personal property, or so the thinking goes. But this isn’t the teaching of the Bible. God gave us the sixth commandment,
“You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15)
When God gave us this commandment, He affirmed the ownership of personal property and He ascribed moral goodness to the concept of possessions. I shouldn’t steal your car or truck because it belongs to you, not to me. Unless God intended us to own personal possessions, the command not to steal those possessions wouldn’t make any sense.
I believe that the reason God commanded us not to steal is because ownership of possessions is a way that we imitate God’s sovereignty over the universe. We learn something of the power and control of God over His creation by exercising a comparable power and control over our possessions. We don’t possess the same kind of ultimate power that God has. For example, we can’t simply speak a word and cause something to spring into existence. Nor can we speak a word and cause something to fall out of existence. But we are granted a comparable power, different in expression, scope and extent, but similar in manner to that of our God. We are called by God to exercise a form of sovereignty over our tiny part of the universe.
When we take care of our possessions, we are imitating God who takes care of the universe. In addition, when we take care of our possessions, it gives us the opportunity to imitate many of the other attributes of God such as wisdom, knowledge, beauty, creativity, love for others, kindness, fairness, independence, freedom, exercise of the will, blessedness or joy, and other characteristics.
Allow me to give an example. Our family was recently able to purchase an old boat for a very reasonable price. We now own the boat. We have a power over this boat that we didn’t have before, and with this power comes responsibility, knowledge, creativity, and freedom.
For example, I must now learn how to take care of the boat in order that it will continue to function as it should. I also am granted an additional tool that I can use to bless others in my church. Many of you here at Bridge Baptist Church had the opportunity to go boating with my family this last summer. We shared many hours of great fellowship, enjoyed swimming, skiing, and we even laughed at a few memorable “wipe-outs” from towing the kids around on the inner tube behind the boat.
But this boat also brings a certain degree of freedom that I didn’t have before. Previously, if I wanted to go water skiing I would need to make arrangements to rent or borrow someone else’s boat, and my use of another’s boat would always be restricted by their availability and schedule. So ownership grants freedom.
Sometimes Christians refer to ownership as “stewardship,” to remind us that what we “own” we do not own absolutely, but only as stewards taking care of the things that God has given us. Everything we have really belongs to God in an absolute sense, and it only belongs to us in a limited and temporary sense. This is because the “earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” (Psalm 24:1).
When we are responsible stewards, whether taking care of our pet cat at the age seven or managing the factory at age forty-seven, if we do this work as “unto the Lord,” God looks at our imitation of His sovereignty and his other attributes, and He is pleased. This is just one way that we are image-bearers.
Ownership of property is fundamentally good, and stewardship is the distinctively Christian approach to the ownership of property. God protected this right among all mankind by stating unequivocally, “You shall not steal.” As we raise our kids, it is important to teach them not to steal. Every child will need to be taught that not everything belongs to him or her, and they should be properly corrected when they are caught stealing. But as parents, we also need to teach our children how to own and steward the gifts that God gives them.
Give your child the opportunity to acquire a possession. Don’t just take them to the toy store and let them choose any toy to purchase. Ask them this question, “What is something that you would like to be able to do for others? What is a fun activity that you would like the freedom to share with others at any time, bringing them as much joy as you would bring yourself?”
I asked my daughter this question, and she thought about it for a few minutes and proudly exclaimed, “I want to buy a swimming pool! I could share that with all the neighborhood kids.” I was impressed by her ambition, but decided that, as her father, I needed to lower her goals a bit. I don’t want her to be discouraged by reaching too high too soon. So I prodded her further, and she said, “A trampoline!”
Well… I suggested a Lego set. She smiled and said, “Yeah. I would like that and I could share that with my friends!”
The next step is to give your kids a few chores to do around the house, and pay them a small allowance. Teach them to put a percentage into savings (even if they don’t want to), and teach them to tithe (even if they don’t want to). These are lessons that you will be able to help them understand later. For now, it’s good to get into a habit. As soon as they save up enough money for that Lego set, take them to store and let them buy it! Let them enjoy it. Let them learn how to take care of it, and remind them to make sure they don’t lose all the tiny pieces. After awhile, sit down and play with them, and begin to tell them how much they are acting like God in that moment by enjoying the work of their hands. When they have had the chance to enjoy their toy, be sure to encourage them to invite a friend over to play with them.
Your kid won’t understand the concept of stewardship or personal savings at the age of six or seven. But very soon, when you begin to read Bible verses to them pertaining to this topic, they will understand it intrinsically.