Calculating the Right Answer

By Mark A. Taylor

“You don’t own your possessions. Your possessions own you.”

Not true for you, you say? Well, try this experiment.

Think about your time: For one month keep a running diary of every minute you spend fueling your car, washing your car, or taking your car to the garage. Then add time spent cleaning the house, performing maintenance at the house, decorating, replacing broken appliances, or doing yard work

Oct13_MT_JNTo this log, add any time you’ve spent purchasing, repairing, or maintaining other favorite possessions: electronics, computers, smartphones, and the like. And then add time spent shopping for clothes and keeping them clean.

After you’ve calculated time, think about money. Include your insurance payments for house and cars, service agreements, phone bills, and other costs to pay for the decorating, maintaining, and landscaping listed above. Then add in the mortgage or rent and the car payments as well as what you’ve spent for buying, laundering, or dry-cleaning your clothes.

What percentage of your waking hours is devoted to maintaining your stuff or buying more of it?

What percentage of your monthly income is spent paying for what you own or paying someone else to keep it in shape?

Most Americans will report a very large figure for both calculations.

I thought about this again last week as my wife and I spent several hours shopping, arranging for delivery, and going through the activation process for two new smartphones. Our current phones were already smarter than we are, but we wanted what’s new. So we committed a good deal of our time and money to having them.

In the same week, my Bible study group considered those challenging passages telling us that the first Christians “had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44, 45). “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (4:32).

Our group acknowledged this pattern may have been unique to the situation of the new Jewish converts huddled in Jerusalem. And we assured ourselves that nothing in the Bible forbids individual ownership. In fact, some see in the tenth Commandment a principle protecting our right to have and to hold (Exodus 20:17). But we left our session acknowledging that the example here is too compelling to ignore or explain away.

In fact, finding the right balance between accumulating for myself and giving to others has been a personal challenge in my mind for several decades. (A visit to India more than 30 years ago clobbered me with the reality that my middle-class American lifestyle must be labeled “affluent” compared with how most in the world live.)

In the most-listened-to episode of our monthly Beyond the Standard podcast, E. G. “Jay” Link cut through the confusion on this topic. “You can’t resolve the big issues of life simply by resolving to spend less,” he said. “The basic issue is: I own nothing. God owns everything. Christians acknowledge that, but we act as if we own what we own. We are simply couriers for the good that God wants to give. I am merely a steward, responsible to use what I have for his purposes.”

Such a mind-set does more than move me away from subservience to my possessions. It frees me to offer them all for God to use. And it compels me to think twice before deciding to spend any of God’s money on anything.

Do I own my possessions? Or do my possessions own me? The fact is that “yes” is the wrong answer to either question.

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  1. David Cole
    October 13, 2015 at 6:58 am

    This is absolutely ridiculous socialist and communist nonsense.

    Take a running diary of every minute you spend fueling your car, washing your car or taking your car to the garage and then compare it to how much time you would have to spend walking or waiting for the bus or bicycling to everywhere you needed to go if you didn’t have that car. Than ask yourself is having a car is worth it?

    Then consider time spent cleaning the house, performing maintenance at the house, decorating, replacing broken appliances, or doing yard work and compare that to how much time you would spend seeking shelter and imposing on others for shelter if you didn’t have a house. Then ask yourself if having a house is worth it?

    Then take a log of the amount of time you’ve spent purchasing, repairing, or maintaining other favorite possessions: electronics, computers, smartphones, and the like and compare it to typing your sermons on an archaic typewriter, or better yet handwriting them and sending snail mail to your church staff instead of calling or texting them. Then ask yourself if they are worth having. (Hypocritical of the author to use the internet to get his message across.)

    Then consider the time spent shopping for clothes and keeping them clean and compare that to being naked and cold without them. Then ask yourself if you ought to be grateful of modern conveniences and possessions instead of putting yourself on a false guilt trip over them just because you went to India.

    The Christians in the First Century did not hold “everything in common”. They had total liberty to do with their possessions as they pleased. Jesus scolded his Apostles who condemned the woman who anointed him with perfume on how she used her possessions. Ananias and Sapphira were condemned for lying to the Spirit, not for keeping possessions. Peter said, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” The Apostles respected personal property. If people are put in position to feel obligated to sell their possessions for the church then won’t they be tempted to lie about what they own and what they give? Perhaps that’s why the practice was abandoned. Some people in the early church were generous and didn’t hold back on their possessions but they still had full control of them. The “everything” that was held in common was confined to what was freely given to the church. Christians were never asked to deed over their property the minute they came out of the waters of baptism. There is nothing wrong with teaching generosity but this article goes far beyond that to claim we own nothing and have no autonomy over our lives.

    To justify socialistic and communistic policy by appealing to the idea that everything we have belongs to the Lord is invalid. Certainly we want to be good stewards and use what we have to further the gospel but the Apostles taught liberty as to how much one need do for others. Paul taught, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Notice the words “not under compulsion” but if everything we own belongs to God then we are under compulsion aren’t we?

    God has given each person total free will to choose how and in what manner they can serve the Lord. Putting people under guilt trips about what they own is counter productive to the gospel and the true spirit of stewardship.

  2. October 15, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you for this thought-provoking essay.

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