As a young Christian, I was conflicted. If I become a Christian, does that mean I have to give away everything and become poor?
Where would I get such an idea? From the Bible, or so I thought.
Jesus had an interaction with a man who upheld the rules of the law… and he also happened to be rich. He wanted to know what he needed to do to have eternal life. I wanted to know too!
Here was what I read… in Jesus’ own words:
“There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22 NLT)
This can make it tough for folks to become Christians. Especially if they have a family to feed or other responsibilities. Is Jesus asking us to all become poor and homeless? What would the world look like if everyone literally did what Jesus asks?
Here’s where some folks get frustrated and quit reading the Bible because it doesn’t make sense. But what we should do is read the Bible more… especially when we don’t understand it!
If we read this (or any) passage in isolation, we can come away with a partial understanding of what Jesus teaches, but not the whole truth. Half-read is half-truth. The key is to put a Bible passage in context.
So what is the context here?
Take a look at the discussion prior to this passage. The rich man asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer reflected following the 10 commandments. But look more closely:
“But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.” (Luke 18:20 NLT)
Notice Jesus is talking about the second half of the 10 commandments. These are the commandments that teach us how to live with our neighbors. (For a complete list of the 10 commandments, see Exodus 20:1-17). What do the first part of the 10 commandments teach us?
They teach us how to honor God. Specifically, they say things like:
– “You must not have any other god but me.” (Ex 20:3 NLT)
– “You must not make for yourself an idol…” (Ex 20:4 NLT)
– “You must not bow down to them or worship them…” (Ex 20:5 NLT)
If Jesus had asked this rich man questions about these commandments outright, what do you think would have happened? As a prominent member of his community, I imagine he would have staunchly defended his belief in God… perhaps even pointed to some of his good works in the community, or his wisdom.
But I bet he never would have admitted that his money was more important to him than God.
As Jesus looked at his heart and saw how money had become the center of this man’s attention (another way to describe an idol), Jesus knew that this man would have to learn to put God first, even above his beloved money. So rather than ask a question about this man’s love for God, Jesus challenged him to put his money where his mouth was… or better said, where his heart was.
That’s when Jesus’ words came: “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
In this instance, Jesus needed this man to see how much of an idol his money had become. The rich man’s sorrow thereafter is the sorrow of one who tries to hold on to something he will eventually have to let go.
Perhaps it’s a relief to know that belief in Christ does not require you to become poor and homeless. This is not a universal principle, it’s an insight into a rich man’s life.
But it’s a great reminder that we should know where our home, and our true riches, are found. When we claim no other idol above God, we will never be without a place… and we will be rich beyond the world’s understanding.
What’s at the center of your attention this Christmas? How do you ensure that nothing else squeezes God out of the #1 spot in your life?