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Sunday, August 7, 2011

8/8/11- The Eight Commandment- Tensions Between Ownership and Generosity

Devotional on the Ten Commandments (with reference to the New Testament)
Eight Commandment: "Thou shalt not Steal" (Deut. 5:19).

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something useful to share with those in need. (Eph. 4:28)

(Miserliness contradicts Godliness- for God is generous- He owns it all)

Thoughts: The premise of this command is that it is possible to steal something from someone else in that a person can be said to "own" something else.  Pierre Joseph Prouhon said that all private property is theft.  For in his eyes, nothing is owned by the individual, but it is owned by the community.  This is a form of communism.  There have been various Christian experiments in communal living in which people give up their private property recognizing God owns it all.  Most of these have been short-lived, with certain forms of monasticism as an exception.
     Traditionally, with some exceptions, Judaism and Christianity have believed that it is possible to own something on earth, but that everything we have is a gift- a sacred trust- from God.  We are called to be stewards of everything we have (as a gift from God), and to in recognition of that give a percentage- a tithe back to God.  When the people of God are generous, poverty is mollified, and people become more sensitive to the plight of the poor to whom they are giving.  When the people of God are sacrificially generous, there is usually not a debt problem for people are careful to measure their 90%.  Tantamount to that is that the poor do not feel so oppressed when people are sacrificing for them.  But when the rich think they deserve their possessions, and begin to horde or live extravagantly (think "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"), the poor feel alienated.  Christianity lives little room for miserliness or greed.  The other extreme, communism, puts the state as the arbiter and doler of wealth.  But the state too often becomes corrupt and wealthy while the people live in oppression or squalor. 
    An interesting thing is happening in Wenzhou, Peoples Republic of China.  It is an experiment in both Christianity and capitalism.  In 1999 the state mentioned the word "Christmas" in a traffic ruling, and a revival broke out thinking that the state was allowing Christianity.  Today over a million Christians live in Wenzhou.  At the same time (and I don't think unrelated), Whenzhou's economy began privatization.  Wenzhou's GDP increased 16% per year from 1978- 1996 and today Wenzhou's per capita income is $3,000, double the national average.  Perhaps capitalism and economic progress go hand in hand. 
    It is not wrong to have possessions as long as those who possess them see them humbly as a gift from God and respond in generosity to others. 

Prayer: Lord, first thank you for all that I have.  Help me to be a good steward of it.  Keep me from stealing, but also keep me from forgetting that all I have is a gift.

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