I. God Owns the World
The first principle of a Biblical covenant is the principle of transcendence: God’s absolute supremacy. God reigns supreme over everything. This means that He is high above the creation, and totally different from it. We deal with a sovereign God. In short, God runs the show.
This principle of transcendence relates to economics because ownership is ultimately theocentric (God-centred). He created all that exists, and He is at the centre of the universe as its owner. This means that ownership is ultimately a religious concept. It cannot be properly understood without reference to God as the absolute owner of the creation. Similarly, it is impossible to discuss properly
the responsibilities of ownership (which is what this book is all about) without also discussing what God specifically requires of men in their capacity as owners of property.
Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” What does this make clear? God and His creation are separate. He is infinite, but what He made isn’t- it is finite. And if God as the sovereign of the universe made it, then He owns it. As the Bible says elsewhere, “…everything that moves in the field is Mine” (Ps.50:11).
Because God made and owns everything, then He does with it what He likes, because it’s His! Speaking as a landowner, Jesus said in His parable, “is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own?” (Mat.20:15) He gives account to no one; as the owner, He makes the rules.
But He doesn’t wish to rule what He has without delegation, and His declared vice-regent (Gen.1:26-28) is man. He placed the first people in the Garden of Eden, so they could learn responsibility in this training ground. They had tasks to apply themselves to in the garden, and they had a wonderful relationship with God, Who was teaching them many things.
They were learning property management. They had great freedom, but didn’t own what was entrusted to them, and so they were stewards of God’s resources, like every person today. Paul encouraged the Corinthians, “let a man regard us in this manner as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (I Cor.4:1).
A steward has obligations and responsibility; he does not have the position merely to please himself, but to honour and please the one who placed him there. That means accountability for use of time, what tasks are engaged in, and how the work is done.
The first law of the garden was obedience: “the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘from any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it, you will surely die’” (Gen.2:16-17).
Just as God revealed what He required of Adam and Eve in the garden, so He has shown us today what He requires of us, in the Bible. The Ten Commandments speak of the issue of ownership: “you shall not steal” (Ex.20:15). This commandment teaches us that private property is a Biblical concept, established by God right from the beginning as the owner of the garden. To ignore the issue of private property today leads to theft.
God’s ownership of all things has important implications for everyone, today. When men own things, they tend to act faithfully to the Biblical teaching that we are made in the image of God: we want to get the most out of our assets by putting them to the most effective use. That means a profit and loss analysis, which is a good thing to do. Most of the time, we want the best return: “more bang for your buck,” we say today. If place A promises more return in a year than place B, I’ll put my money in place A. “Highest bid wins.”
What God established as the rule of the garden of Eden, is certainly just as applicable for us today. He effectively said to Adam and Eve, as representatives of humanity, “this is My land, so work here My way.” Every owner of assets says the same thing today, and has Biblical justification for doing so.
We can begin our study of economic principles by assuming the following beliefs:
1. God is the supreme Creator.
2. God is the absolute owner of all property.
3. God declared that man should rule over (have dominion over) the other creatures of the earth.
4. God gives man the responsibility of property management (stewardship before God).
5. Ownership is a social function (stewardship before men).
6. God has established standards for legal ownership.
7. God has established laws for man’s management of God’s property.
8. Biblical law reveals these standards.
9. Man, unlike God, has limited knowledge.
10. Profit-and-loss standards help men discover the best use of the property which God has entrusted to them.
11. The free market economy is a giant auction.
12. The normal rule of this giant auction is “high bid wins.”
13. The middleman is the economic agent of consumers.
14. Biblical law establishes the proper rules of ownership and administration of property.