Question: The Bible says you have to sell or give away everything you own to follow Jesus, but I see a lot of Christians who don’t. So what’s the bottom line: Do I have to commit myself to a life of poverty in order to be a Christian?
This question came from a reader clearly seeking a simple “yes or no” answer. Unfortunately, if I were to answer this question with a yes or no only, I would – at the very least – be guilty of blogging malpractice. At worst, I would be guilty of wielding Scripture irresponsibly. (Then all the other seminary students would laugh, call me names, and exclude me from their seminary games.) So what exactly is the answer and why can’t it be just a simple yes or no?
First, let’s identify the piece of Scripture our reader is most likely referring to: the story of Jesus and the rich young man. Three of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) include this story, and they’re all fairly similar. They all share the well-known quote about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. (Hence, today’s question.)
A young man approached Jesus and asked him what he must do to have eternal life, to which Jesus said, “Follow the commandments.” I imagine the young man was quite pleased with himself when he looked Jesus in the eye and assured him that he’d kept all the commandments since he was a child. I imagine he was also quite surprised to hear what Jesus said next.
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Mark 10:21). Hearing this, the very rich young man walked away in sorrow. He had many great possessions now and clearly, he did not want to part with them. So… you can’t get into heaven if you’re rich? Um… not exactly.
Anytime we look at Scripture, it’s important to read the verses in context. In this particular story, Jesus isn’t making sweeping statements regarding all people. Jesus looked at this very rich young man in particular, and in love told him that he could see one thing standing between him and eternal life: his wealth. Jesus was able to see that the man—as later evidenced by his sorrow—had given his wealth a place of importance above everything else in his life, including God. His money had become the object of his worship.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that where our treasure is, there will be our heart also. No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other (Matt. 6:19, 24). So no, God doesn’t expect everyone to part with their wealth. However, God does expect everyone to worship him above all else. We must each ask ourselves, Is there something I worship more than God? And then be ready to answer honestly.
Father, help me discern those things in my life that I’m putting ahead of you. Give me the strength to set those idols aside and to recommit myself to loving you above all else. Thank you for the blessing of your steadfast love. Amen.
Got a question you’d like me to tackle? I definitely don’t have all the answers (no surprise there!), but I love the discussion and Bible study that questioning leads to. Let me know in the comments.