It’s one of the earliest words that very young children learn to say: Mine! A three-year-old will say it defiantly when he snatches his toy from his younger sister. The sad thing is that some fifty-three-year-olds can still say it just as defiantly. It’s one thing to endorse the right to ownership and private property, it’s quite another thing to cling so tenaciously to what is ours that we lose sight of the fact that under God we are merely caretakers.
I thought of that again this past week when we were discussing in our Bible Study group the essence of what worldliness really is. Previous generations of Christians often defined worldliness in terms of dancing, card playing, going to the movies and drinking alcohol. The apostle John had a different idea. He defined it in terms of “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does” (1John 2:16). While that might include some of those other things it is much more common for John’s brand of worldliness to manifest itself in the kind of greedy materialism that is at the heart of our consumer-driven society.
In the Bible the classical example is the story of the rich fool who built bigger and better barns to hold all his stuff. But he wasn’t prepared when God came to him and said, “Tonight your soul will be required of you.”
Many years ago a friend of mine, who hailed from Western Victoria, told me the story of Fletcher Jones. Jones was born into a struggling Christian household descended from Welsh stock. After he left school he worked for some years in auction rooms and on his father’s tomato farm. He enlisted in the army and saw action in World-War I. On his return he became a door-to-door salesman and then a hawker of manchester in western Victoria. He had always been fascinated by the local tailor’s workroom and eventually in 1924 set up a menswear and tailoring business in Warrnambool. His success can be seen in the fact that the Fletcher Jones company became one of the largest clothing manufacturers in the world with some three-thousand people employed in four factories and in thirty-three stores scattered around the nation.
But my friend related to me a turning point in the life of Fletcher Jones. The story went that on one occasion a missionary friend was home on furlough and Fletcher took him up to high vantage point overlooking the area. From that vantage point he gave his missionary friend something of a guided tour of his enterprises – something along the lines of: “Over there you can see my factory. And over there is my farm. And if you look carefully you can just see there my house.” The story continues that his missionary friend just said three words: “Mine, Fletcher, mine…?”
That reportedly led to some rethinking on the part of Fletcher Jones. In the years that followed Fletcher Jones did a dramatic rethink about what he could call “mine”. By the late 1940’s Jones was turning his business into a cooperative and in 1947 his company became Fletcher Jones and Staff Pty Ltd. By the early 1950s the staff owned more than half the shares in the company. In comparison to the ostentatiousness of many of today’s corporate high-flyers Jones lived simply, in a two-bedroom bungalow.
The Christian principles by which Fletcher Jones lived came out in various other ways too. He was committed to providing quality clothing. Indeed I still have a pair of early Fletcher Jones trousers that have outlasted many others that I have bought since. While he was a supporter of the Labor Party he renounced his membership in the Whitlam era when Gough Whitlam publicly made clear his agnosticism. His involvement in local community affairs later earned him an O.B.E. in 1959 and a knighthood in 1974.
The point though is that Fletcher Jones demonstrated an attitude that modelled a generosity of spirit that didn’t cling selfishly to what was his. Today, in our greed-driven affluent society, we need more than ever to remember that the earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord (Ps.24:1). That means that what I have is not mine but His. In those moments when we forget that we should remember that a hearse has no trailer and a shroud no pockets and that it’s only the treasures laid up in heaven that ultimately count.