The FISHERS Magazine (Issue 227)

Am I Owner or Steward of all my Stuff?

Christian Living

Here is a poser for us, “Am I owner or steward of everything that I own?” A poser suggests a problem, a predicament, a role dilemma. So, do I really own my “stuff”? Should I contend for ownership? Or should I do my best as a steward to manage them with no rights of ownership? In essence, the poser is a question of rightful ownership.

If you are a believer of God, the answer seems to be a no-brainer. How can we be owners when God is Owner? Only God has the rights over all our “stuff”. We are but custodians managing for God all that belongs to God!

However, if we are honest with ourselves, from the rise of dawn till the set of sun, how often and to what extent do we consciously or subconsciously, overtly or subtly or obliquely refer to everything, things and persons around us as, 'my money', 'my home', 'my job', 'my relationships', 'my time', 'my goals', 'my way', 'my everything'!

Perhaps, there is more than meets the eye in this role dilemma. I would argue that we are often in such a dilemma because of a 'heart’ issue. It is an issue about the value or significance we place on our relationship to things, people and opportunities around us. Essentially, the role dilemma reflects the condition of our heart where we contest God’s will, and it boils down to our relationship with God.

God is Owner of All Things
As the matter is about God, the right place to start, therefore, must be with God. The Bible states plainly, unequivocally and explicitly that God is Owner of ALL things. It is declared in the Bible, “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deu 10:14). This point is driven home by the Apostle Paul where he says, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen” (Rom 11:36). This doxology (hymn of praise) proclaims that God is the source 'from Him', the means 'through Him', and the goal 'to Him' of all things, all creation, everything, including us.

Everything comes from the will of God. Everything is advanced through His knowledge and wisdom. God is completely self-contained. He needs nothing and no one. Finally, everything and everyone will confess His glory. As surely as God’s glory increases, so must man’s glory decrease.

The Battle of Rightful Ownership
While we recognise that everything in the universe is from God, by God, and for God, yet, we are often conflicted, battling with ourselves on the matter of rightful ownership.

How do we know that we face such a dilemma on a daily basis? Do we habitually put God first and over all of our desires and plans? Is there evidence that we glorify God in all we do and with all we have? More often than not, we are more self-absorbed (even when we give ourselves and our time to other people or things), self-oriented and self-directed than we care to admit.

How do we, in our daily grind, shift from a paradigm of self-orientation to a God-orientated one and move from man’s viewpoint about life to seeing things from God’s high vantage point?

We shall look at three caricatures that illustrate our heart condition in relation to God and our relationship to our possessions.

The Godless Man – The Rich Fool
“The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21).

From a quick look at the parable, it is quite difficult to see what this man did wrong. He was a farmer, a noble and a rich man. The parable does not suggest that the farmer obtained his possessions by dishonest means. There was also no mention of anyone who was hurt in the process of his accumulating wealth.

In many farming societies, a man who made his fortune in farming is well respected. Such a man is likely to have strong work ethics. He probably has good business sense, he plans, organises and deploys his resources well. Most of us, like the farmer, also strive to do our best, in the best possible way for the best possible results.

In the parable, this farmer farmed his way to the top and was rewarded with plentiful harvest. As a result, he now faces an interesting problem. He had all the grain he needed, more than he expected, and had not enough barns to hold the bumper crop. So, he planned to expand his storage space, confident that future yields would be as good, if not better.

Most of us would think that is a really nice problem to have. To have so much of everything that you need nothing at all. It is like having more dresses than one wardrobe can hold, more smart devices that your two hands can handle, or more cars that you can drive at any one time.

Jesus was not reproaching this man for working hard and being fruitful. The problem is not his outward success. His problem is also not his wealth or his plans to expand his buildings. This is not a parable about the dangers of being rich and successful.

The problem was in the man’s heart. Jesus condemned this man because he did not give God the rightful place in his heart. He had no regard for God when he made plans for himself. He did not acknowledge God as the ultimate Giver and Owner of all his possessions. He had no concern for spiritual matters or the destiny of his soul. He saw no need to be accountable to God, the Giver of all life. The rich man is an illustration of many people who make the mistake of thinking and behaving as if they are the owners of their possessions when they are just caretakers.

There is clear danger in putting our trust in possessions. We can hold on to our belongings so tightly that they become our idol, something dearer than life itself. The thing we hold on to may not be evil or bad. In fact, it can be a good thing, a loved one, or meaningful work, or a notable accomplishment, that has become an idol that we do not dare give up. An idol is anything or anyone that becomes too important in our life. It occupies our minds, our hearts, our very being and all our doing, with little or no regard for God. Material possessions were the rich man’s idols. The question is, what is our idol?

God First in Their Hearts
The Bible has many examples of people who hold God dearly in their lives rather than their possessions. Two examples can be gleaned from King David and Job.

David declared in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” As flawed and imperfect as David was, an adulterer and a murderer, he has been commended as a man after God’s own heart. David knew very well that everything belongs to God. He had a deep desire to follow after God and do His will. He demonstrated his faithfulness to God in the manner he prepared for and contributed to the building of God’s temple.

Job, too, knew that everything belongs to God. All his “stuff”- his children, his property, his possessions, his health - were taken away from him. His wife and three friends added to his misery with ungodly counsel. Not knowing what God had up His sleeve, Job continued to worship God in his trials as shown in Job 1:21-22, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”

We too need to watch out for those dearest and sweetest things of life that take first place in our heart and in the process, relegate the pleasure of seeking, knowing and loving God to second, third or last spots in our heart. If we struggle to hold on to our possessions, God, in His grace, may want us to experience the privilege of having our hands emptied of everything and filling them with Himself.

Are we at risk of being like the rich fool who did not revere God as Owner and instead made an idol of his possessions? Or are we like David and Job, with God first in our hearts?

The Double-Minded Believer
From a research study on the character of believers, Dr Ken Boa, an evangelical author and speaker, found that believers tend to separate and compartmentalise their faith from other aspects of daily life, such as their job, finances, friendships, marriage and parenthood. Their character and decision making are greatly shaped, not by the Word of God, but by the culture they live in. So, we have here an illustration of a double-minded believer who straddles two worlds, espousing God’s values while living the world’s philosophies.

All of us have an in-built God-given hunger for security, significance, and satisfaction, but instead of finding all these in God, the world teaches us to pursue these in the wrong places. Dreams and goals promoted by the world have also infected our spiritual life. We are encouraged by the world to set our heart on goals that distance us from God. Believers are constantly confronted with having to choose between two divergent value-systems: the worldly and the eternal. When we plant our feet onto both value-systems, we will find ourselves wavering between making idols of all that is in and of world and the desire to honour God who is Giver of all things.

Jesus did not mince His words when He said “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk 16:13).

Jesus drove home this point with His disciples when He reminded them, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk 12:34). He commanded all believers to set God in His rightful place in our lives, that is, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Mat 22:37).

The Single-minded and Whole-hearted Believer
The third caricature is painted by Apostle Paul in Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal (beseech, implore, exhort) to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (reasonable service). Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Here is a believer who knows his place in relation to God and the grand scheme of things. Like Paul, this believer knows that everything in the universe originates from God, is sustained by God, and is for God’s glory. Motivated by God’s overwhelming mercies, he offers himself as a living sacrifice, set aside to God and for God alone. He presents to God his whole being - his thought-life, his lived-out life and all his possessions - as an act of spiritual worship.

Here is a believer who appreciates God’s immense grace and responds with a desire to serve Him unreservedly, unlike the rich fool who had no regard for God and held dearly to his possessions. And unlike the double-minded believer with a divided heart in Dr Boa’s study, the believer here is single-minded and whole-hearted in his devotion to God.

The three caricatures are an attempt to paint the state of a man’s heart in relation to God and consequently the relationship with his possessions. The answer to the apparent role dilemma is resolved when he submits to a sovereign God, holding Him in the highest regard as Lord of all his “stuff”. In this way, he will then gladly be steward of all that God entrusts in his care.

Deborah Tan
- Deborah Tan is a member of The 'Fisherman of Christ' Fellowship.

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