Should Christians Sell Everything They Have?

by Kevin on December 31, 2012

Do you ever get the sense, as a Christian, that you should sell everything you have, give it to the poor, then live a life of swearing off money and materialism?

There’s plenty of support for that kind of life in the Bible, and especially in the New Testament. And it does seem as if money and possessions hold great potential to derail our faith journeys. But is that really what we should do?

The rich young man

Perhaps the best example we have of this concept in Scripture is the story of the rich young man:

”Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”… Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”—Matthew 19:16, 21-22

This man was rich and here was Jesus telling him that he needed to sell his possessions and give to the poor. This was a man who claimed to be keeping the commandments, and Jesus didn’t argue that point. But he told him he needed to let go of what he had.

We’re not all called in the same way

While it’s easy to see the purity in this directive, it’s also important that we understand that this was a teaching that Jesus was giving to this young man specifically. He didn’t command everyone to do the same. There was something very specific in the young man’s heart that Jesus was looking to change.

Ultimately, the young man refused to sell what he had—it’s obvious that his “great wealth” was more important to him than the prospect of Eternal Life. Jesus knew this and that’s what he zeroing in on.

We’re not all called to follow the same path. And in fact there were people of wealth whom Scripture holds to be true followers of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea was one, and Mary Magdeline was also believed to be well-to-do, and both played important roles in the New Testament.

Still, it does have its merits

Even if Jesus was directing this teaching at the rich young man, it’s well worth considering to any of us who don’t see ourselves in the same position as the young man.
Because enough money is never enough, we can very easily fail to see that we are in fact “rich”.

In Matthew 19:23, Jesus goes on to say, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The pastor at our church put this into perspective by throwing out some statistics on wealth. Don’t quote me on the specific numbers, but he said that if you have running water, you’re richer than 40% of the people in the world. If you have a car then you’re richer than 80% of the world. Having a problem with your air conditioning is a “rich people’s problem” (90% of the world doesn’t have air conditioning). Again, don’t hold me to the specific numbers, but we’re rich by comparison to most of the world. In fact if you’re reading this article on a personal computer you’re one of the world’s elite.

You and I may not be the rich young man, but we could very well have the same heart condition of putting too much emphasis on money and material possessions. There may very well be a strong lesson in the passage for us as well—2,000 years later.

A step closer to some really good things

Every one of us can benefit from this teaching even if it isn’t specifically about us. Let’s be honest, money and materialism have great appeal in the world. Some degree of rejection of them is probably healthy on a number of fronts.

Our faith walk. Money and materialism do and always have warred with the Spirit for control of our souls. The more rooted we are in them, the harder it is for us to have true faith. We come to rely on them for our earthly security, and when that happens we’re being pulled away from complete trust in God.

Contentment. It’s been said that “happiness isn’t getting what you want, but wanting what you have” and we all know there’s more than a grain of truth to that. One of the built in problems with money and materialism is that no matter how much we have we always want more. Less reliance on them will open the door to a greater level of contentment if only because we’ll no longer strive.

Financial independence. Financial independence can never be achieved if the goal is always to have more money and more possessions. If we let go of possessions, we’ll have more money in general, and we have less concern over money, life will stop seeming as if it’s a numbers game, as in chasing ever higher numbers. True financial independence isn’t found in a level of wealth, but rather in a lifestyle that doesn’t require such a great emphasis on money.

A greater emphasis on people. Just as money and possessions can challenge our faith, they can also compete with our attention to people. Possessions can be cruel masters, and it takes time to make the money necessary to support them.

We don’t have to sell everything we have, and we don’t need to swear off having money. But it will help our faith journey and nearly everything else in our lives if we start becoming less dependent on either.

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