“For the world is Mine, and all its fullness (Psalm 50:12b).”
There’s little doubt you have noticed the lower gas prices we have been paying recently. It’s a simple function of supply and demand – there is an oversupply of oil globally and the price per barrel has declined below $60. The United States is becoming the world’s leading oil and gas producer thanks largely to fracking, the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal posited the theory that this is all due to one unique advantage the U.S. has that nearly no other nation can boast – private property.1 Americans often have mineral rights to their property and were able to invest in fracking more than a decade ago when all of the consensus was betting against the process. Also in many other oil-rich countries if treasure is found, those governments will seize whatever doesn’t already belong to them (1 Kings 21:15-16) or exact a hefty tribute. Some Americans risked loss on the promise of great reward and it seems to have paid off at least in the near term.
While some believe that the concept of private property is fairly unique in the world and history to the U.S. it is actually an ancient principle and biblically grounded. Nearly 4,000 years ago the Bible records Abraham’s purchase of a plot of land in which to bury his wife Sarah (Genesis 23:9). This episode establishes that such standards for buying and selling property were well developed by that time in the Ancient Near East.2 Also, based on the 8th and 10th Commandments, against stealing and coveting, we infer that there were things that belonged to other’s that we were to respect as given from God.
We see God’s explicit endorsement of this principle as the Israelites came into the Promised Land and the entire land was divided and given to each tribe and family (Joshua 13-19). God instructed that each one’s property landmarks should be respected and not tampered with (Leviticus 19:14). In the event that one fell into financial troubles and had to sell his land God made provisions by which the property must be restored to that family – a family member might redeem the debt (Leviticus 25:25) or in the year of Jubilee all the land was to revert to original family’s possession (Leviticus 25:13).
In the New Testament we see the picture more clearly in that while God intends for individuals to have the right of private property it is to be viewed as a stewardship with God ultimately holding the title (Matthew 21:33). While property is in our care we may do with it as we please (Acts 5:4). The parable of the talents demonstrates that God rewards those who use all that He has given them for His glory (Matthew 25:23, 29). Many in the early church sold lands in order to provide for the needs of their fellow Christians (Acts 4:34). It is good to have property but it is deadly to allow property to have us and that is at the heart of Paul’s instructions to those who were blessed by God with wealth that it should be used to be a blessing to others (1 Timothy 6:17). With whatever property God has given us we are to care for it as though it were His and to seek to make it fruitful. Even if we risk loss because at the end of the day He will expect an accounting of our stewardship (Luke 19:15).
All of this instruction in how to manage private property is preparation for the greater blessings that await the faithful in eternity (Luke 16:11-12). Although Abraham had great possessions in this world his eyes were on that heavenly country (Hebrews 11:14-15). There is a place with many mansions prepared for the faithful (John 14:1-3). If God can entrust us to be faithful with the things of this world He will bless us with far more in heaven.
“The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me (Leviticus 25:23).”