Ask Ivor

Vivian asks about Jesus' command to

"sell everything you have and give to the poor."

That command of Jesus was a specific command to a specific individual, and giving his wealth to the needy was only part of the command the man received from Jesus. The rest was: "Then come, follow me." It was the man's wealth that was preventing him from following Jesus, and that's why it was necessary for him to get rid of it.v

Other individuals had other matters preventing them. One man responded to Jesus' command to follow him, by saying, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus replied: "Let the dead bury their own dead."

Another individual said: "First let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus' reply that time was: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

There are a variety of barriers to following Jesus. How significant a barrier is money?

Contemporary "health and wealth" preachers insist that it is God's will that we possess wealth. They teach that God has promised us abundant blessings, and all we have to do is have faith in God's power and ask him, and he will reward us with riches. God's desire is for us to "name it and claim it."

Such teaching, however, is certainly not in line with the traditional Christian attitude toward wealth.

Jesus warned his disciples that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

The apostle Paul wrote to his coworker Timothy that "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."

Note that it is not money which is the root of evils, but the love of money. A poor man can be just as great a lover of money as a rich one. The author of the book of Hebrews thus exhorts his readers to: "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.'"

Jesus likewise attempted to dispel the fear which causes people to love money: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? ...See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?"

Regardless of how much or how little money we have, what's important is what we do with that money. A nineteenth-century preacher (Andrew Murray) said it well: "The world asks, 'What does a man own?'; Christ asks, 'How does he use it?'"

Jesus was adamant that "you cannot serve both God and Money." He advises his listeners: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

How might we go about "storing up treasures in heaven"?

Martin Luther taught that "there are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind, and purse."

Augustine addressed that third conversion with these choice words: "That bread which you keep, belongs to the hungry; that coat which you preserve in your wardrobe, to the naked; those shoes which are rotting in your possession, to the shoeless; that gold which you have hidden in the ground, to the needy."

The apostle John said it even better: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"

But, of course, Jesus says it best of all: "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.... When? ...I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."