There have been sensitive souls in the history of the Christian Church who have recognized the evils that accompany possessions but who have sought to eliminate the evils by doing away with the possessions collectively. Using the example of the early church in Jerusalem, which tended to pool its possessions and distribute to those who had need, these Christians have argued against the right of private property among believers and have sometimes even advocated a form of Christian communism. This is not right. If some Christians are led of the Lord to sell their possessions and give to others and they do so, particularly in a time of need, this is a great blessing. But it does not therefore follow that all Christians should follow their example.
Actually, if you examine the Bible carefully, you will see that far from condemning the possession of private property, the Bible actually assumes the rightness of it. For instance, the eighth commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). This verse teaches that not only am I not to take those things that belong to another person, but neither is he to take mine. In the story of Ananias and Sapphira mentioned earlier, Peter said when speaking to the husband, “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not thine own? And after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:3-4). Peter was stating that God recognizes the right of private property and does not require any man to dispose of his money.
Now someone will ask, “But didn’t the Lord Jesus instruct the rich young ruler that he was to sell all that he had and give to the poor?” Yes he did. But we must also remember that He did not say it to Mary or Martha or Lazarus or to John the Evangelist or to Zebedee. He said it to “the rich young ruler,” whose chief obstruction to a life of following Christ lay in his possessions, which the young man proved by turning away from Jesus. For such a person—and there are many today—the loss of their possessions would be the most significant blessing of their lives, and giving them away would be far better. This does not mean, however, that possessions in themselves are wrong or, for that matter, that poverty is a particularly blessed form of Christianity.
In this, as in all other areas of the Christian life, the true solution does not lie in abstinence or withdrawal. It lies in the proper use and the proper estimate of the things that God has provided. In other words, we are not called upon to relinquish things but rather to use them under God’s direction for the health and well-being of ourselves and our family, for material aid to others, and for the great task of proclaiming the Gospel and promoting Christian verities.