25 Feb What Does the Bible Say About Property Rights?
Understanding a Biblical View of Property Rights
The majority of Americans are in support of property rights. We have been blessed to live in a country that allows each of us to work for and protect our personal property. But many Christians wonder if this is a Biblical concept. Perhaps it is something that we have simply grown accustomed to in America.
So, what does the Bible say about property rights? Throughout the Bible, we find several passages and lessons that teach the importance of stewarding our personal property. We have been gifted with the ability to care for the things for which we have been given. However, we must also realize that, at the end of the day, God holds ultimate ownership of all property.
Much of the Bible supports the stewardship of personal property. However, we are also called to be generous with the things that we have been given. How are Christians to view and uphold personal property rights in America?
In this post, we will take a closer look at what the Bible says about property rights. Through this information, we hope to encourage and challenge you as you steward the things that you have been given.
What Are Property Rights in America?
Our Founding Fathers understood that the ownership of private property was important to both the prosperity and freedom of our nation. Because of this, they protected our personal property rights, through not only common law and state law but through The Constitution of the United States.
Both the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect American’s personal property rights. An important clause in the Fifth Amendment states, “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
Part of the reason we enjoy the right to personal property in America is due to the fact that our country operates under a mixed economy. This means that our current economic system has characteristics of both capitalism and socialism.
Capitalism is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”
America today is blessed to be listed as one of the countries with the greatest economic freedom. This allows us to maintain our personal property rights. In a study done by thebalance.com, other countries that experience economic freedom due to some form of capitalism include Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, Ireland, United Kingdom, Canada, United Arab Emirates, and Taiwan.
As Christians in America, we must understand the blessing of living in a country that values and protects our personal property rights. You can learn more about what the Bible says about capitalism here.
Does the Bible Support the Ownership of Personal Property?
While it is important to understand the common rules of government under which our nation operates, we must also seek to understand what the Bible says in regards to the ownership of personal property. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, we find many references and lessons regarding an individual’s ownership and stewardship of the property they have been given.
Bible Verses That Address Personal Property Rights
There are countless examples that point to and explain a Biblical view of personal property rights. Here are just a few of the times that we find the concept of personal property throughout the Old Testament.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
From the first chapter of the Bible, we see that God has given humans authority and stewardship over the earth. This establishes the basic concept of personal property. God has gifted us with the opportunity to steward the world that He has created.
Exodus 20:15 & 17
“You shall not steal….You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Both the eighth and tenth commandments convey the concept of personal property. One can not steal something that does not belong to another individual. If personal property didn’t exist, the offender would simply be ‘borrowing’ the item, not stealing.
Additionally, the tenth commandment introduces the concept of coveting something that belongs to another individual. This reinforces the concept and importance of personal property rights.
“But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death.”
In this passage, we gain insight into a situation in which something that belongs to an individual causes damage or harm to another individual. The individual to whom the ox belongs is responsible for the behaviors of the ox. This assumes personal property rights. The owner is called to be a good steward of the things which they have been given.
“And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.”
The year of jubilee is an Old Testament concept. However, the idea provides greater insight into the rightful ownership of property.
“You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.”
If the landmark does not belong to the individual, but rather the nation as a whole, why would it harm the neighbor to move the landmark? This example provides further insight into the Biblical concept of personal property.
How Should Christians View Property Rights?
So, how should Christians view property rights and the ownership of personal property in our society today? There are several things we must keep in mind in relation to this concept.
God Has Ultimate Authority of All Property
As Americans, it is far too easy to adopt a mentality of personal ownership forgetting the source of our many blessings. Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.”
In our pursuit for and stewardship of personal property, we must constantly remind ourselves that God has the ultimate authority over all property. He has blessed us with the ability to steward the world He has created during our time on earth. However, it ultimately belongs to Him alone.
Christians Have a Calling to Be Good Stewards of Their Property
As Christians, we have a calling to be good stewards of our personal property. Owning personal property is a tremendous blessing that brings with it an enormous responsibility.
We find one of the greatest examples of our calling to steward our resources and personal property in the book of Matthew. The Parable of Talents is found in Matthew 25:14-30. In this story, we learn of three servants who were given the opportunity to care for the resources given to them by their master. When the master returned, the servants who stewarded their resources well, increasing the amount they were given, were praised for their good deeds.
Christians Have a Calling to Be Generous With Their Property
One of the biggest downfalls of living in a society that values capitalism and personal property ownership is the temptation to be greedy and selfish. We are blessed with personal property that we are to use to bring glory to God. The most effective way to do so is to steward our resources well. This allows us to be generous with our personal property.
Americans Should Not Take Property Rights for Granted
Especially as Christians living in America today, we are prone to take our property rights for granted. It is easy to forget that not every nation has the great blessing of being able to steward personal property. We must realize that although we have generous personal property rights today, that may not always be the case.
It is important that we educate ourselves on our rights, freedoms, and liberties. By doing so, we will be able to steward the resources we have been given into the future. In this way, we can continue to work towards a country that provides equality, liberty, and justice for all!