I want to begin by sharing with you something I posted in another blog of mine I call “Tell Me A Story”:
Nathan Castens writes about a legend from ancient India that he first heard retold by Henri Nouwen (in his book THE WOUNDED HEALER):
Four royal brothers decided each to master a special ability.
Time went by, and the brothers met to reveal what they had learned.
“I have mastered a science,” said the first, “by which I can take but a bone of some creature and create the flesh that goes with it.”
“I,” said the second, “know how to grow that creature's skin and hair if there is flesh on its bones.”
The third said, “I am able to create its limbs if I have flesh, the skin, and the hair.”
“And I,” concluded the fourth, “know how to give life to that creature if its form is complete.”
Thereupon the brothers went into the jungle to find a bone so they could demonstrate their specialties. As fate would have it, the bone they found was a lion’s. One added flesh to the bone, the second grew hide and hair, the third completed it with matching limbs, and the fourth gave the lion life.
Shaking its mane, the ferocious beast arose and jumped on his creators. He killed them all and vanished contentedly into the jungle.
Castens continues, “We too have the capacity to create what can devour us. Goals and dreams can consume us. Possessions and property can turn and destroy us—unless we first seek God's kingdom and righteousness…”
Someone once said, “The only reason a great many American families don't own an elephant is that they have never been offered an elephant for a dollar down and easy weekly payments.” I don’t know about that, but in this series, we have highlighted God’s emphasis on his creating people in his image. God designed each person to regard neighbor as highly as he regards himself.
Among many teachings, Deuteronomy emphasizes to us the spirit of God with regard to things. Rick Atchley has written that God's people “… may own things, but they don't accumulate things at the expense of other people, because they know that God made things to be used and people to be loved.” Rick's statement expresses well a sentiment of Deuteronomy.
Remember: If things become gods, people become things.
As the recipient of God's gifts, his people were to accept the responsibility of sharing them with their fellow man in like kind. God's people had the responsibility of doing unto others as God had done unto them.
Scripture does not teach communism; scripture does make provision for the ownership of things. However, as again Rick Atchley writes, “God never gives the ‘haves’ the right to oppress the ‘have-nots.’ Any culture or economy that condones the accumulation of wealth at the expense of the others is going against the teaching of Scripture.”
As we should teach a more godly way with regard to sex and immorality, so too should we teach a more godly way with regard to money and immorality.
Here’s another example from Deuteronomy, this time 22:1–4:
1 If you see your brother’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him. 2 If the brother does not live near you or if you do not know who he is, take it home with you and keep it until he comes looking for it. Then give it back to him. 3 Do the same if you find your brother’s donkey or his cloak or anything he loses. Do not ignore it. 4 If you see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help him get it to its feet.
What is God saying here? God wants everyone's possessions to be secure.
Now, let’s move on to another subject in Deuteronomy regarding things. Throughout history, nations have encouraged the rich to dominate those less fortunate through debt. Ultimately, this led to a glorification of things at the expense of people. Not so in Israel. Listen to this: “1 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. 2 This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel the loan he has made to his fellow Israelite. He shall not require payment from his fellow Israelite or brother, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed”(Deut. 15:1-2.)
Why did God command this? Because he wanted to emphasize people over things. Remember, if things become gods, people become things.
The Law stated that the Israelites were to leave portions of their produce in the fields, in the trees, and on the vines as food for the poor, widows, orphans, and stranger (Deut. 23:24-25)–again, people over things.
Life in God’s nation sought to maintain a balance. God’s people were to understand that it was okay to own things… as long as they did not seek to own everything.
How did a nation achieve these noble objectives? By remembering that God owned everything. Every tithe and offering was to reinforce this reality. Yet, this goes against human instinct.
I like the story told about Dr. George W. Truett, the preacher at First Baptist Church in Dallas during the first half of the twentieth century.
OUR DAILY BREAD related a story about him a few years ago:
[Truett] was invited to dinner in the home of a very wealthy man in Texas. After the meal, the host led him to a place where they could get a good view of the surrounding area.
Pointing to the oil wells punctuating the landscape, he boasted, “Twenty-five years ago I had nothing. Now, as far as you can see, it's all mine.” Looking in the opposite direction at his sprawling fields of grain, he said, “That's all mine.”
Turning east toward huge herds of cattle, he bragged, “They're all mine.”
Then pointing to the west and a beautiful forest, he exclaimed, “That too is all mine.”
He paused, expecting Dr. Truett to compliment him on his great success. Truett, however, placing one hand on the man's shoulder and pointing heavenward with the other, simply said, “How much do you have in that direction?”
The man hung his head and confessed, “I never thought of that?”
What Truett’s acquaintance failed to understand was that not only did a holy God own all that was above him, he owned everything to the North, South, East, and West as well.
A nation that looks up to a transcending God will more likely view the things here below as things—not gods. And, more importantly, that nation will look at people as precious.