Whose Is It Anyway?

worldWe live in a culture that defines us by what we have. In the secular world, our self-identity and self-worth—including our perceived status relative to others—are inextricably linked to, and determined by, the extent and value of our possessions. The good life is attainable, and true happiness and peace are found, in the biggest kingdoms made up of the grandest “stuff.” Everything we have is a result of our own ingenuity, hard work, and good fortune. We can never have enough, and we must hold onto as much as possible. In the words of a classic bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

At creation, God gave humankind dominion over all of creation; he did not give us ownership. Even when God led his chosen people to the Promised Land, he gave them the land to “live in,” not to own; God kept the deed for the land. We live in all of creation as God’s stewards. Fundamental to our understanding of what this means is that we cannot be stewards of something that is ours; ownership and stewardship are mutually exclusive. As soon as anything becomes a part of “our” kingdom, it ceases to be a gift that can be stewarded. This is not a matter of rights and privileges; it is a matter of lordship. Where God is not lord, we are not stewards. As long as we see our relationship to God in only spiritual terms, we will be content to have God redeem our souls, but not our wallets, our careers, our ambitions, our relationships, and our greed. We will retain a lordship for ourselves in “our” kingdom and deny our calling to be stewards in the kingdom of God.

Pause for a moment to reflect on your own earthly kingdom, that which you call “yours,” and ask yourself how much pressure you feel to maintain and build this kingdom because of what it means to you and your self-identity. We should not scoff at the rich young ruler in the Gospel of Matthew, who “went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (Matt 19:22), until we have taken our inventory of our own possessions and their link to our understanding of who we are and how we want to be viewed in this world. If we allow our self-identity to shift from our gracious existence as ones bought with the price of the Son of God to an existence measured by the size of our kingdom and the price of its contents, then we will move from being the steward of a gift to the owner of an asset. Our self-worth and our self-understanding will be based on our success in a kingdom in which we see ourselves as lord.

The Apostle Paul asks: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor 4:7b) We could well ask ourselves these same questions every day. One of the most deplorable labels in our modern world is that of the “self-made” man or woman. How unspeakably arrogant!

Whose is it anyway? “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Ps 24:1). It all belongs to God. If we spend our lives building an earthly kingdom in which we are lord, we will find our self-identity and self-worth enmeshed with the standards of that kingdom. Only when God is the owner and Lord of “our” kingdom can we find fulfillment in our sacred calling to be stewards of all that God has graciously entrusted to our care, freed from any burden of ownership.