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Friday, February 10, 2017


Of all my blog entries over the years the one titled Hard Sayings - "Sell all your possessions" is by far the most read (over 25,000 hits since they started counting in 2010) of all time. I'm still getting comments on it. Generally negative, you can imagine. It is, after all, a favorite point for skeptics who will tell us, "See? You don't obey Jesus, so why tell us to?" Or something like it.

I argued in that piece that Jesus was not proclaiming that all believers in all times in every way need to always sell all their possessions. The clearest proof of that is found in the fact that Jesus had possessions. Not much, to be sure. But He did have a robe that was too special to destroy when He died (John 19:23-24). Further, the disciples still had homes and boats, for instance. (Fishing boats, not pleasure boats.) So the command, I said, was not an all-encompassing, all-inclusive, overriding instruction for all believers; it was a principle. The principle is this: Own nothing. That is, surrender it all to Christ and let Him do with it what He pleases. The principle is "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34) So, yes, we give up all possessions (Luke 14:33), but that doesn't necessarily require all believers to be homeless wayfarers in rags (because rags are possessions, aren't they?).

Here's the problem. The minute I tell Christians, "It's okay; you don't have to sell all your possessions," it seems as if the response is, "Whew! We don't have to do anything about that command." And that would be a mistake. First, Paul was not sparing when he warned, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." (1 Tim 6:10) (John Piper has an interesting article about whether or not the love of money is actually the root of all evils or just "all kinds of evil".) He warned Timothy to "flee these things" (1 Tim 6:11) because "godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Tim 6:6) And, of course, Jesus was clear. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." "No servant 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. You cannot serve God and money." (Luke 16:13) We must not find ourselves in these categories and assure ourselves that what Christ forbade we allow. At the same time, wealth by itself isn't evil. It can be used to God's glory. Generosity is even a gift of the Spirit (Rom 12:8). No, the problem is not wealth by itself; the problem is worship. Do we worship the wealth or the Provider? Do we seek wealth or seek to serve?

So we're back to the serious question. Sure, sure, we'll set aside that overly-broad "Sell it all!!!" But we will also push back on the "I want it all!!" The question is one of worship. Where is your worship? If we will not surrender our goods, the Bible speaks poorly of us (1 John 3:17). We don't want to be there. And I am convinced that most American Christians live there. (I count myself an American and a Christian.) We ought to examine ourselves. I suspect this is a blindspot for many of us.

1 comment:

bob said...

I would venture to say that; more often these definitive statements are test of the heart.
The rich young ruler asked the question, what must I do to be saved? after Jesus said to obey the law, the young man claimed that he obeyed all the law. despite the fact that he was in error on this point. Jesus said; 'sell everything you have and follow me. at this point the young ruler went away sad. the young ruler was happy to obey laws and rituals but he held greater value to his possessions, thus his heart was not in the right place. The question of possessions and what we should do with them, means of determining the state our hearts. consider Abraham; he was willing to give up his son in obedience. because he believed God and trusted him with all that he had.
that's why i wish that i was rich, so i wouldn't be mean to poor people, like i am now.