Mel Rees, former Stewardship Director of the General Conference.

No matter how much of this world's goods a person might think he owns, no matter how many deeds of title he might have, he can never be an owner. His claim to ownership is always subject to forces beyond his control. Fire, flood, tornado, conquest, and even termites can make his claims worthless, because mankind has never been able to completely control the environment.

A claim to ownership may even be refuted by the refusal of his fellows to recognize his claim. Legal maneuvering may nullify it. Our great system of superhighways has forced people to move from homes for which they held valid deeds of ownership. And, even if a person could successfully defend his ownership claims during his lifetime, he would have to relinquish them at death, for they will inevitably fall into other hands.

Solomon recognized the difficulty in trying to perpetuate ownership. He said, "Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me" (Eccl. 2:18).

Man's relationship to God established

From the beginning, a person's relationship to God has always been that of a manager, not an owner. This fact was clearly established when God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth" (Gen. 1:26).

This fact must have been impressed on Adam's mind by the tree that God planted in the Garden and forbade him to touch. The penalty was severe enough to show how God regarded ownership. From the record it appears that Adam had no difficulty in naming every animal and flower, but he didn't seem able to manage the orchard! After his transgression, he hid from God. Owners don't have to hide. Then he was evicted from his home he didn't even own that.

The example of Israel

Just before God brought Israel into the land of Canaan, He instructed Moses to warn the people regarding their attitude concerning ownership. Moses told the people: "Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God ... it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth" (Deut. 8:11, 18). He said that just as soon as their flocks and herds multiplied and their silver and gold was multiplied and their stomachs were full, there would be a tendency to forget God.

He even told them what would happen to them if they forgot. But they could avoid these dire consequences if they followed the safeguards that God had provided to help them remember.

He even told them what would happen to them if they forgot. But they could avoid these dire consequences if they followed the safeguards that God had provided to help them remember.

Each year the men were required to go first to Shiloh, later to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. At these feasts they were to present their tithes and offerings. There were other requirements that would keep this Owner-manager relation crystal clear.

On the day after the yearly Passover Sabbath, a sheaf of freshly ripened grain (barley) was waved before the altar of the Lord as an acknowledgment that all was His. No grain was to be harvested until this recognition was made.

On the day of Pentecost two loaves of bread, baked with leaven and wheat flour from the new crops, were presented to Cod as still another expression of their recognition of His supreme ownership.

In the seventh month came the Feast of Tabernacles. This was a time of rejoicing, for the harvest had been gathered into the granaries. On this occasion the choicest of the orchard, the olive grove, and the vineyard were presented to the Lord.

To further impress on their minds His love and watchcare, God protected their lands during their journeys to these feasts. Every man who could make the journey was required to attend. They left their wives with small children and the old people back on the farm. There wasn't one able-bodied man in all Israel to protect these defenseless people from the marauding bands of the enemies that surrounded them. Their protection required a miracle. God simply took the desire for their lands out of the hearts of the heathen during this period when His instructions were being followed: "For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in the year" (Ex. 34:24).

But somehow as time passed, these people lost sight of God as the owner of the lands that they farmed, and found to their sorrow they couldn't hold them against their enemies. They just couldn't control their environment.

The owner-manager relationship

To really understand the owner-manager relationship, one must recognize the difference between an owner and a manager. In ownership there are unlimited privileges; that is, an owner may use or dispose of his goods as he desires. The manager has certain restrictions, and a violation of these constitutes the crime of embezzlement. Manmade laws have always imposed severe penalties on perpetrators of this crime, for it is a felony.

One of the best illustrations of this limitation in management is found in the story of the young Hebrew, Joseph. Through no fault of his own (except perhaps for a bit of talebearing on his brothers, and naivete in telling the family of some unusual dreams) he found himself a slave to the wealthy and influential Potiphar, the captain of the Egyptian Pharaoh's guard. Because of his faithfulness to duty, Joseph was finally elevated to a position of almost absolute authority in the Egyptian's household. That Joseph recognized that this authority did not include everything his master possessed is clearly shown by his refusal to enter into a liaison with his mistress, Potiphar's beautiful but adulterous wife: "But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; there is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Gen. 39:8, 9).

Joseph recognized that a violation of the restriction in the management of the property of another constitutes a crime. His faithful adherence to this principle was a great bulwark that protected his moral integrity. On the other hand, when Adam took of the forbidden fruit he became an embezzler and was subject to the penalties for the violation.

The first sin a violation of this principle

The first sin in heaven was also a violation of this Owner-manager relationship. Lucifer, a created being, refused to recognize his relationship to God. Cast out from the courts of glory, he enticed Eve by a delusive argument to forget that she wasn't an owner. Adam, because of his fatal fascination for his lovely wife, willingly violated the only restriction in his manager-relationship to God, and has bequeathed to his descendants the inordinate desire for ownership.

Christianity is based on the same principle

This eternal principle can be seen in the words of Jesus when He said, "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me" (John 6:38). Paul, self-assured, zealous, wasn't a very good manager (for God) until that fateful day on the road to Damascus when, amazed and bewildered, he cried out, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). This is the question of one who is looking for orders from a superior, not the words of an owner. From that time on to the end of his life he strove to accomplish only one thing the will of his Master.

The problem of the ages has been that people have embraced the pagan theory of ownership rather than the Christian tenet that every person is a manager of God's goods. A Christian looks for a spiritual relationship with his Maker, not to the possession of material temporal things. It is heard over and over again in his prayers and in the songs that he sings. Without this belief, he would be wasting a great deal of time and effort that he now spends in religious activities. This hope provides meaning and direction to his life that is not enjoyed by the unbeliever.

Right attitude brings security

As a manager under God, a person can enjoy the freedom of dependence. He can be sure that all his plans are under divine control and direction. He also has the assurance that the daily needs of both him and his family will be supplied.

This is what Jesus was trying so urgently to get folks to see in His Sermon on the Mount. He told them that happiness didn't consist in owning things, this produces only headaches. The more things, the bigger the headache. True happiness includes the knowledge that God will provide all the necessities of life no matter what conditions might exist. He explained it by calling attention to God's watchcare over the birds, the grass, and the flowers.

Perhaps a certain farmer understood it best.

Reading his well-worn Bible one day, he saw this great truth of God's ownership. Falling to his knees he prayed, "I'm sorry, God. I thought I owned this farm. Now I see You really own it I'm just the manager. So I'm going to give it back to You. But I hope You'll forgive me, because we do things a bit strange down here. You see, I'll have to keep my name on the deed; but You and I will both know who really owns it!"

Down in the little village his neighbors thought he had been out in the sun too long when he told them that he had given his farm back to the one who owned it especially when they found out it was God. But, not allowing their jests to disturb him, he explained that this took all the worry from his shoulders. "I just get down on my knees each morning and ask God to show me how He wants His farm run, and that's the way I run it, just as good as I can."

One day a plague of grasshoppers came. They ate their way across his neighbor's farm. When they got to his fence they didn't stop, roll over on their backs, and die; they swept across his farm, too, and consumed every blade of grass. The neighbor could hardly wait to see him.

"I'll bet this changes your mind about God owning your farm," he greeted him.

"Why, not at all," calmly replied the farmer.

"I don't get it," said the neighbor.

"It's simple. God owns the farm and He owns the grasshoppers. If He wants to pasture His grasshoppers on His farm, it's alright by me!"

Job recognized God's ownership when he told his wife; "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" Gob 1:21). He could suffer the loss of all the possessions he controlled with calmness because he didn't regard them as his. In reality, what Job lost was his job as manager temporarily.

Rx for happiness

And so it is with a person who considers himself God's steward His manager. He can rest in the assurance that regardless of circumstances he is under the direction and protection of the Owner of the world. He can walk in confidence knowing that his Master has a thousand ways to care for him of which he knows nothing.

Jesus explained it this way: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:28-30).

Placing trust and confidence in God at all times and under all circumstances will free a person from worry over the uncertainties of life. This can only be experienced when he recognizes that God is the Owner he is only the manager of the things with which he has been entrusted. This is the position for which he was created.

Mel Rees, former Stewardship Director of the General Conference.