Text: St. Matthew 20:1-16
It is common in churches to use a prayer during the offering which includes the words, “All things come from thee, and of thine own we have given thee.” We Christians readily recognise that everything in this world, everything we own, everything everybody else owns, the whole universe, ultimately belongs to God. If we have it in our hands for our use, it is because of His providence. He is the Creator. Everything comes from Him. And when He made man, he made him to have dominion over his creation – this small part of this creation, the earth. In this way, we reflect God’s image of sovereignty. God rules over all, he delegates the rule, the dominion, the management of this earth to us, as his representative. To the end that we may exercise this dominon, in his name, he has also granted us to mirror his ownership of the world. He who owns everything has delegated ownership – trusteeship might be a better word – of those things in this world he has placed in our hands that we may use them as we exercise our dominion over the earth.
He has also given us direction concerning this ownership in His Word. In the Ten Commandments, we read:
15: Thou shalt not steal.
17: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
We find here, in the Law of God, that private ownership is assumed. “Thou shalt not steal” makes no sense at all unless it is assumed that the property a person owns is really his own private property and it cannot be taken away from him in a righteous manner without his consent.
We observe this kind of thing throughout the Bible. For example, the parable about the landowner Jesus tells us in Matthew 20. The lesson the Lord is teaching there seems to be that God is free to do what He will with His own. He is not under any kind of legalistic obligation to dispense his grace to anyone, and certainly not according to their own idea of what he ought to do. The Pharisees could think that God owed them salvation as if it were a wage due to them for their righteousness. This parable certainly speaks to that kind of thinking. But it more directly applies to the disciples. Jesus had been dealing with them about their attitudes and concepts previously. In chapter 19, we see him trying to teach them through the children around him and in the words about how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom. It was afterwards, that Peter said,
Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?
28: And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
29: And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.
30: But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
Hopefully, your ears stood up when you heard those last words, because you remembered that they were also at the end of the parable about the landowner. In 20:16 Jesus says, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” The parable in chapter 20 is a continuation of what Jesus is trying to teach Peter in 19. There will be a reward for the disciples, but it will not be according to some idea of wages they may have. They are instead to be humble and recognise that there may be others who will get more honour than they. God is under no coercion to do what he will with his gifts. As the landowner says in the parable, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” The whole lesson is founded on the recognition of the righteousness of owning private property.
We have both positive and negative examples in the story of Ahab and Nabaoth in I Kings 21. You will remember that Ahab knew the vineyard belonged to Nabaoth and offers to buy it from him. Nabaoth knew it belonged to him as an inheritance and refused to sell it, as it was his right to freely decide to do. Ahab then, steals it from him, murdering him in the process and the terrible justice declared against him by Elijah begins with the words, “Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?” Ahab is punished for both murder and violating the right of private property. Private property is a God-given, inherent human right supported by the plain teaching of Holy Scripture.
Now none of us likes poverty. We do not like being poor. We do not like to see other people poor. Every Christian not only has a duty to care about the poor but should have a heart that cares for the poor as well. The question is what is to be done about the poor? For a long time, in the west we’ve had lots of people who think that we have the power to eventually eradicate poverty. Jesus disagrees with that, as you know. Not everything is bad about poverty, by the way. Remember that Jesus said riches can keep you out of the kingdom! Of course, he cares about the suffering of the poor and he alleviates it, but he does not, in his providence do away with it. And if He, the Lord of Creation says, “the poor you will always have with you,” then it is utterly useless to think we can eradicate poverty. But we have a duty, in light of the Golden Rule, to do all we can to help our neighbour who suffers. The question arises, however: how are we to do it?
For a long time now, in the west, people who have sincerely cared for suffering – and people who have only cared about political power – have believed that the answer to relieving economic suffering is through the economic ideal of socialism.
Unbelievers start with themselves and their own resources to answer the problem of poverty, which they call “inequality of wealth”. They start by denying the principle of private property. They see this principle as one of the main causes for inequality. They can deny this principle with ease because they do not believe in the God of the Bible. Instead of individuals owning property, the society owns the property – thus the term socialism. Everything belongs to everyone.
The question then arises: how to get everything so distributed that everyone has their fair share of all that belongs to them. Who determines the size of the fair share? Who is going to administrate the parcelling out of