Christians and Material Wealth: The Question of Giving Everything Away

What did Jesus mean when He said, "Go, sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven"? I became a Christian about a year and a half ago, and for the most part I've been very happy in my new-found faith. Sure, I've had my ups and downs, but the Lord has changed my life dramatically and blessed me in many ways. But when I met a man who showed me that Bible verse, it filled me with confusion and doubt. Do I have to give up my home and live on the streets in order to follow Jesus?

These words were spoken to a particular individual within the context of a particular situation. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that they were addressed to the church as a whole. Apparently your acquaintance is under the impression that the validity of every Christian’s faith stands or falls on his or her ability to comply with the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler: “Go, sell whatever you possess, and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21). We don’t think this is fair.

That’s not to mention that believers have been struggling to understand this saying and apply it to their lives in a practical way for a long, long time – ever since the days of the apostles. Some, like St. Anthony, the Desert Fathers, and Francis of Assisi, have made heroic attempts – with varying degrees of success – to follow it to the letter. Others, recognizing the practical difficulties associated with such a plan, have concluded that Christ was not demanding the literal rejection of all material wealth, but was simply trying to get the young man to see where the loyalties and affections of his heart really lay. The point is that there have been lots of good Christians on both sides of the issue. Your friend doesn’t seem to be aware of this.

Meanwhile, we know for a fact that there were many solid, faithful believers in the first-century who did not sell all their possessions when they became followers of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea, for instance, was apparently a man of great substance (Matthew 27:57), and Paul and James seem to take it for granted that there is room for both rich and poor in the church of Jesus Christ (see I Timothy 6:17-19; James 1:11).

Bottom line: if your friend can find a way to give up everything and follow Jesus without the least regard for money and possessions, then all we can say is “more power to him.” As for the rest of us, we have no choice except to keep plugging along, trying to balance the message of Mark 10:21, which sounds like it’s calling all believers to a life of voluntary poverty, with that of I Timothy 6:17-19, which plainly suggests that wealthy Christians can serve God and His people by means of their money. From our perspective, it’s challenges like this that make the Christian life so interesting. We should also remember that, whatever our economic status or station in life, material wealth should never become our god, nor should we allow love of money to prevent us from reaching out to the needy (Matthew 6:24).

For additional help and information on this topic, we’d encourage you to consult the resources and referrals highlighted below. Or if you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, don’t hesitate to give our Counseling department a call.


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Managing God’s Money: A Biblical Guide


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