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What Do You REALLY Own?

I am a man of three children. They are all grown now and run their own lives. But even though they are adults, they are still referred to with possessive language just as they were when they were children. For instance, I might introduce them as “these or my children, or this is my son, or this is my daughter.” Others around me also use the same kind of possessive language. They might ask, “are those your children?” Such language provides a way (often unfairly) for me to take credit for some good they did or are doing. It also (often justifiably) provides a way for others to assign to me blame or responsibility for evil choices they made or are making. But the one thing the language was never intended to do, and does not do, either now when they are adults or when they were children, is confer to me actual ownership.

I do not own my children in the same way that I do not own my wife. The possessive language confers to me ownership of the responsibility of managing, protecting, growing, and stewarding the children and the wife that have been placed in my care. It does not confer to me material possession. Any kind of ownership I have is the same kind of ownership I have when I refer to my job. My job is something that lawfully can be taken away from me, either by a boss that finds my performance sub-par, or a God who has something else in mind for my life. Curiously, I get to enjoy the benefits of children, a wife, or a job. But only insofar as they flow freely to me as a natural consequence of the ownership of my responsibilities.

Most people with any moral fiber have an understanding of that linguistic idea. But they tend to lose that understanding when it comes to things like money. We easily harden the possessive language regarding money because we believe we earned it solely upon our own efforts, and forget that any energy or talent we used to earn it was first gifted to us by God. This hardened ownership concept finds itself in the subtleties of our linguistic constructions. For instance, we like to say that we give back to God. But the truth is that you cannot give something that you do not actually own. If God entrusts me with money, I can bring it back to him, but I cannot really give it to him because it isn’t materially mine to give.

The truth is that any material wealth we have is given to us by God partly for our benefit and enjoyment, but also as a way to measure our faith and responsibility. We own it only in that we have been tasked with managing it, protecting it, growing it, and using it for his intended purposes. We do not actually own it. Instead, what we own is the grand privilege and pleasure of bringing back to God the fruits we have grown with the resources he has entrusted to us.

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