Weekly Impact is written for leaders by our former Executive Director, Garth Jestley, who has decades of experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. Each week he will share insights on life, leadership and faith.
This Series explores “business as calling” – what it means, barriers to seeing business as a calling and its implications for followers of Jesus who desire to live out their faith in God not only on the weekend but also in the marketplace.
“It’s nice to have an elephant in the room. There’s nothing more helpful than something everybody’s thinking about.” ~Seth Meyers, Comedian
“I am going to argue that many aspects of business activity are morally good in themselves, and that in themselves they bring glory to God – though they also have great potential for misuse and wrongdoing.” ~Dr. Wayne Grudem, “Business for the Glory of God”
IS OWNERSHIP MORALLY GOOD?
“A consistent anarchist must oppose private ownership of the means of production, and the wage-slavery which is a component of this system, as incompatible with the principle that labor must be freely undertaken and under the control of the producer.” ~Noam Chomsky
Having lived in advanced western economies my entire life, I have never questioned the moral goodness of ownership. I have taken it for granted and happily exercised my right to own assets. In fact, by encouraging risk taking, ownership is the backbone of any market economy. For example, I wouldn’t have bought an ownership interest in my business without the potential rewards of dividends and capital appreciation. My risk taking paid off – though not without a few headaches along the way!
That said, over the years many in the west have advocated for socialism or collective ownership of the means of production. However, given the utter failure of socialism historically to create vibrant economies that benefit the populace including the poor (think Venezuela), I find it alarming that many young people and academics (see Chomsky) continue to flirt with socialism.
To this day, some Christians, particularly proponents of so-called “liberation theology” in Latin America, are ambivalent toward the concept of private ownership. However, as followers of Jesus, our views should be shaped by what the Bible has to say and it clearly supports private ownership. One need look no further than God’s command not to steal. Implicit in this command is God’s intention that we own stuff! Otherwise, the command makes no sense.
Now, according to the Bible, we are made in the image of God and called to imitate Him. Regarding imitation, in his book Business for the Glory of God, Dr. Wayne Grudem says, “…ownership of possessions is a fundamental way that we imitate God’s sovereignty over the universe by our exercising ‘sovereignty’ over a tiny portion of the universe, the things we own. When we take care of our possessions, we imitate God in his taking care of the whole universe, and he delights to see us imitate him in this way. In addition, when we care for our possessions, it gives us opportunity to imitate many other attributes of God, such as wisdom, knowledge, beauty, creativity, love for others, kindness, fairness, independence, freedom, exercise of will, blessedness (or joy), and so forth.”
As Creator, God actually owns everything (including us). Thus, followers of Jesus are actually stewards of the assets He has entrusted to us. Besides meeting our material needs, ownership empowers us to give to others. Of course, no one has ever come remotely close to God’s generosity! Imitating Him calls for us to give not only of our time and talents but also of our material resources. And it is only through ownership that we are empowered to obey God in giving. By contrast, socialism disempowers generosity.
While abuses of ownership are sadly all too common, that reality does not negate the intrinsic moral goodness of ownership intended by God. As followers of Jesus in the marketplace, however, we look to Him for guidance regarding the use of the resources he has entrusted to us.
Next week, I will address the (surprising to many) moral goodness of profit.
Garth Jestley is a husband, father, grandfather, leader and business executive. Most importantly, he is a follower of Jesus Christ.