Should All Christians Be Poor?

11 Dec

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.


money (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

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?


Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Group Discussion


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5 responses to “Should All Christians Be Poor?

  1. somepcguy

    December 11, 2012 at 9:04 am

    You wrote a good blog on this subject. I would just like to add that this is still a difficult passage because I believe that there are still people whom God is calling to do as Jesus commanded this man. There are people whom God IS calling to sell all they have, give it to the poor and follow Him.

    • billhogan77

      December 11, 2012 at 11:45 am

      You raise an excellent point: just because this may not be a universal principle (i.e., doesn’t apply to everyone) doesn’t mean that it can’t apply to someone! (Or someones).

      Anytime we get something between God and us we are called to give it up. It’s not because God is mean, it’s because God wants us to give up the good, the bad, and the ugly… all for the best! Where our heart is… there also is our treasure! (Matt 6:21).

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!
      Be blessed!

  2. mtsweat

    December 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    This is a great piece you’ve offered. Well said. It is always difficult to get beyond the fact that Jesus was always demonstrating heart conditions when using this world’s goods as illustrations. It’s why He could say, “If you want to know where your treasure is, don’t look any farther than your heart.” I fear though, that if we’re honest, we in the western world are much more like the rich young ruler than we care to admit. I also believe we are being called to give much more than we’re willing (I speak primarily to me). When Paul was calling on his hearers to meet needs, he didn’t call upon them to “give themselves into poverty,” but he was awfully impressed when those who were already struggling found a way to give anyway. His answer as to how they were able to do this is enlightening… “They first gave themselves (2 Corinthians 8).”

    And once again, we’re led back to a heart issue. Thanks for the encouraging words, good friend. Blessings.

    • billhogan77

      December 11, 2012 at 6:17 pm

      And thanks for enhancing the conversation! I’m with you… I see much more rich young ruler in my attitudes than I care to see. But with a good dose of grace and a healthy leading of The Spirit I’m getting better!

      It always strikes me odd that those who have the least to give are often the most giving. As someone famous said, “Jesus is more interested in percentages than totals when it comes to giving.”

      Thanks for adding to the mix brother! Be blessed!

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