Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:21-22)
Over the last few days, I have been reflecting on the year we have just concluded, looking back at the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly, too. One thing that jumped out to me was the way we used the money God had entrusted us with. We did ok giving to the church and to charity, and we supported missions. We gave some money to help those in need. Pat on the back.
But then cold dread gripped my heart when I thought of all the times we went ahead and spent money on things we just simply wanted for ourselves, almost without thinking. Sometimes little things that we could easily justify, and sometimes bigger things we set our hearts on. Either way, they were definitely motivated by self-indulgence, not necessity. And they piled up to be quite a chunk of change in the end!
We don’t like to think about money and how we spend it, probably because we feel we earned it, and we deserve to treat ourselves every now and then. In our Western world, we have the conveniences and lures, and social expectations, that drive us to spend more money than intended. We can come up with all sorts of justifications, and we feel that as long as we give some of it back to God, we’re good. Sadly, studies have shown that we in the “wealthy West” give the least amount of our money (somewhere between 1-3 %) back to God, compared to the rest of the world. That’s shocking!
Oh, we say, I give of my time and talents – that counts for something. We live under grace, not under the law, and we are asked to give whatever we feel in our heart. Surely God does not want us to live in misery, He wants us to live life abundantly, right?
Have you ever noticed that Jesus raised the bar for every Old-Testament law He addressed? For example, there are the famous “you have heard it said…but I say to you” statements, where Jesus declares among other things that hate equals murder, and lust equals adultery. Interestingly, money was a very frequent topic in His teachings. And quite often, His teachings were challenging and offensive. He praised the poor widow who gave 2 pennies to the temple – which happened to be her entire livelihood – and challenged the rich to “give up everything”, “lay up treasures in heaven”, “sell everything you have and give it to the poor”, and He showed by His own life’s example what that looks like. As believers in Jesus, we are commanded to go above and beyond the expectations of the Law because we seek to emulate our Lord.
I find it intriguing that the first believers in Acts, the ones who had seen Jesus, heard His teachings, and observed His life, were moved to sell their possessions and distribute the profits to the poor. We consider this action to be quite radical and unrealistic, and yet by default, they were the ones who had the most undiluted and original gospel.
Now, does Jesus want us to deprive ourselves, be miserable, and deny ourselves of all worldly goods? That sounds like the middle ages to me! I believe that Jesus challenges us give up all we have because He wants us to trust in Him, rely on Him for everything, and be free to do what He has commanded us to do – love Him with ALL our heart, care for the needy, and share the gospel with all the world. Let’s be honest – possessions and self-indulgence can be chains that tie us down. Jesus came to make us free, and that means free from those shackles as well! And when we choose to drop those chains, joy will follow!
In Hebrews 13:5, we are commanded: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
When God promises something, He will always keep His word! Let’s commit to trusting in that promise by giving our all back to Him and re-evaluating our spending habits. Let’s drop those chains and be free!