Part 2 – Sell Everything or The Infinite Pie?
Neither laziness, nor irresponsibility are acceptable reasons for Christians to fall on hard times. Enough hard times will come on their own, let us not help them along. As covered in Part 1, the Bible expects Christians to work, to provide for themselves, and to be responsible with their money. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not implying that God would not forgive you for laziness or irresponsibility – the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cover ALL sins (ref. Revelation 1:4-6; 1st John 1:9) – but this is not a message on forgiveness, nor is forgiveness through Christ an allowance to continue sinning (see Romans 6:1-2). Rather, this is a message on how Christians are expected to deal with money. As such, the first step any Christian should know is that if they can work, then they should. The second step is to deal with one’s money as responsible stewards who have been entrusted with God’s blessing. This is the only way to truly be obedient to the command in 1st Thessalonians 4:10b-12, that tells Christians to “walk honestly toward them that are without, and…lack…nothing.”
If this message was not news to you because you have always worked hard and dealt responsibly with the fruit of your labor, then perhaps you are like other Christians who secretly wonder exactly how much of our money and possessions we should keep, and how much should go to God.
One passage that sparks particular unease amongst Christians is the passage I mentioned in Part 1 – Matthew 19:16-24 – which says,
16And, behold, one came and said unto him [Jesus], Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. 18He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, 19Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 20The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? 21Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. 22But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. 23Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. 24And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
I do not know about you, but my first reaction after reading that passage is, “YIKES!” This is where hard working Christians begin to feel really uncomfortable. Just like in Part 1, many obvious questions come to mind…
Let me immediately squelch the notion that God expects every Christian to give away everything. Believe me, I am not disagreeing with Jesus in Matthew 19. I recognize how foolish that would be. I simply do not believe that Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler was a universal command. I want to demonstrate this two ways: Biblically and commonsensically. I know what you are thinking…is commonsensically a word? Yes it is. I googled it.
Biblical Refutation of the “Sell Everything” Mentality
Biblically speaking, we have a great example of why Jesus was not issuing His “sell everything” command to universal Christianity. Acts 5:1-11 describes one of the most terrifying stories of judgment in all of scripture. The story is particularly terrifying because of how well most Christians can relate to it and how drastic the punishment seems. Acts 5:1-11 says,
1But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?4 While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
Whenever I read that last verse (vs. 11) I think, “yeah, no kidding,” fear probably did spread amongst the church after God strikes two people dead. But you might say, “Wait a minute, I thought this was supposed to make me feel better about not selling everything! How is it supposed to make me feel better that Ananias and Sapphira died for keeping some of their possessions for themselves?”
I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at exactly what Ananias and Sapphira’s actual sin was. Was it that they kept back part of their land? Was it that once the land was sold, they did not give all the money to the church? NO! The real sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not that they kept back something from the poor/church; it was that they lied about it. Over and over Peter states that they “lied” (vs’s 3, 4, and 9). Verse eight is key, because we get to see exactly what the lie was. Peter asked Sapphira if what they gave the church was the whole sum of what they received for the land. Sapphira says it was, and Peter accuses her of lying. Even worse, he says that their lie is a sin against the Holy Spirit (vs’s 3, 4, and 9).
Someone might say, “But wait, he was still mad that they lied about how much they gave, does that not prove that he wanted them to give ALL of their money?” If we did not have verse 4, then I would agree with you. However, in verse 4 Peter says, “While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?”
Did you catch that? Peter is telling Ananias that there was no reason to lie, because no one expected Ananias and Sapphira to give everything they had to the church. If I could paraphrase, Peter basically says, “Ananias, you owned your land, and after you sold it, the money was yours to spend as you wished. You were under no obligation to give it to the church, so why are you lying and pretending you gave it all?” Up until Ananias and Sapphira gave their money to the church, it was theirs to do with as they wished, because no one expected them to give everything they had to the church. We’ll talk about giving later, but for now, let us simply recognize that this passage provides us with the example of two Christians who were NOT expected to give up everything they owned to give to the poor, and were only judged because they lied about how much they gave. If there was nothing wrong with Ananias and Sapphira owning land or keeping money, then clearly Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler was not universal.
Before I leave this passage in Acts, I want to talk about its point. I find the message in this story particularly terrifying. This is because it reminds me of Matthew 6:1-4, when Jesus taught about alms giving. He says, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before me, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven…”
Ananias and Sapphira likely gave a very good gift. Think about it. They sold enough of their land where they thought they could get away with telling others that they sold everything. This is speculation on my part, but I think their gift was substantial. Their problem was not found in the amount they gave, but in the manner in which they gave. Their real sin is that they wanted people to believe they gave more to the church than what they actually did – and God killed them for it.
Does this scare any other Christians? Do we ever do anything like that? Do we ever want people to know how much we give, or how much we work in the church? I echo what Jesus said, we need to “take heed,” for if we give to others or to the church, with the intent of gaining recognition, then at the very least we will have no reward in heaven, but at the most, God might place judgment on us like He did with Ananias and Sapphira. Let our motives be pure when we give unto the Lord.
So, what about the rich young ruler and the “sell everything” mentality? Well, if we look at our central passage in Matthew 19, I think we can clearly see that it was not the possession of riches that prevented the rich young ruler from inheriting eternal life; rather, it was that the riches possessed the young man’s heart. Jesus asked the man to give up the one thing that the man simply would not give. It was the one thing that stood between giving complete Lordship over to Jesus Christ.
Just like Ananias and Sapphira, it was not the presence or absence of money or goods, but in both instances, the real issue was with the individual’s heart. More on this later, but for now, let us recognize that scripture gives us the precedent for believing that Christians (like Ananias and Sapphira) are not expected to give everything to the poor.
Common Sense Refutation of the “Sell Everything” Mentality:
I have read books and heard preachers talk about giving to the poor, and inevitably they always speak about how Christians could do without this luxury item or that luxury item. They might make a well-meaning Christian ask, “Do I need to downgrade my house, my car, or my kids college fund so that I can give more to the poor?”
Before I answer, let me remind you that Part 1 already taught about being responsible, so my answer here is not an endorsement for frivolous living. Let me also say that there is no doubt that God expects Christians to give, both to the poor, and to the work of the Gospel. I will go even further and point out that God not only expects us to give, He also expects us to be happy about giving. Honestly, we SHOULD be happy about giving. Not only is it a great thing to help out a fellow human in need, but it is also amazing to know that the money we give to the work of the Lord can have eternal consequences. Christians should give. That is undisputed. Scripture is replete with passages on giving. For example:
- 2nd Corinthians 9:6-7 says, “But this I say, he which soweth spareingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
- 1st John 3:17 says, “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”
Therefore, just like the expectation to work and be responsible, God expects Christians to give cheerfully, as an act of God’s love in us and through us.
Agreeing, then, that we should give to the poor and to the furtherance of the Gospel, still leaves us with the question of “How much?” I have already discussed biblically why I do not believe Christians must give everything to the poor. Let me now discuss the common sense reason why I believe it is wrong for preachers, Christian authors and/or Christian educators tell Christians to give up luxury items, or to sell everything they have and give it to the poor. I want to talk to the hard working Christian who wonders if it is okay to save, if it is okay to have a nice house, a nice car, and nice things.
Let me also caveat this section by saying I’m not an economy or financial expert of any sort. This opinion is not a financial or economic opinion, it is merely what I see as a common sense opinion, and also one that I believe lines up with scripture – feel free to disagree.
First, what is a luxury item? Surely luxury means something different to everyone. I once read a book – which I will not mention because it was otherwise a very good book with a great message – which recommended the very thing we have been discussing; that Christians needed to give up luxury. It suggested that we should sell our goods and give to the poor. I can admittedly be cynical sometimes, but I could not help but wonder if the computer used to write this individual’s book was considered a luxury item. Or, if the light above the individual’s head should be considered luxury. Perhaps the cushion on their seat was a necessity? You see, if we attack luxury items, then anything beyond food, water, shelter, and clothing is in our crosshairs.
Second, to a person who says that Christians should stay away from things they do not need – things like fast cars or big houses – I want to ask if they have ever considered that luxury items are sometimes made and sold by Christians. Imagine being a Christian who was a luxury car salesman at a time when all Christians boycott luxury cars. How well would I be able to tithe or give to missions if no one ever bought cars from me? Does that not hurt the poor rather than help them? I am advocating neither the purchase nor abstention of luxury items. I am advocating that a Christian leader’s job is to promote charitable giving and responsible money practices and leave the details between God and the individual.
Third, what if this message of selling your goods and giving to the poor caught fire? The logical questions is, to whom should a Christian should sell their luxury items? Think about this with me…if luxury items are bad for Christians to have, then why in the world would we want anyone else to have them? We are Christians, after all. We are supposed to help guide the world away from evil and toward truth and purity. If luxury items are bad, then could we really sell them to others and still have a clear conscience? We couldn’t! That would be akin to a drug addict getting saved and in his first effort to clean up his life, he sold all his drugs to other people. I hope you would see the hypocrisy in this type of action. If everything beyond the necessities are evil, and if Christians should abstain from these type of “luxury” items, then do not sell what you have, throw it all away, instead! For if we should not have them, then no one should; right?
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I hope you see the absurdity in this line of thinking. I hope you realize that if every Christian sold everything they owned, then no Christian would have anything, and we would quickly be the ones who needed to be given charity. Generally speaking, luxury items are not bad. I am quite fond of this computer I am writing on, I also quite enjoy the light above me and the cushioned seat beneath me.
So, what am I saying? I am saying that giving is good, but unless a person is into something morally impure, or unless a preacher receives a direct revelation from God, then a preacher has no business identifying specific items that a person should or should not get rid of. I am saying that giving is good, but the choice of what to give rests with the believer and with God. I am saying a Christian leader should preach and teach generosity, giving, and outward acts of love. They should provide and educate people about opportunities for giving. They should encourage people to meet the needs of the afflicted and the hurting, and help them in carrying out these practical acts of love. These are Christian things to do and a Christian leader has every right to encourage people along these pursuits!
Are there certain times when a Christian can abstain from buying something so that they can give more to the poor? Absolutely; but let the choice of what to “do without” be made by the individual through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and prayer. Let the preaching of generosity and love be the message that convicts a Christian of the needs of others and then motivates them to give. If a Christian leader leads their flock to give out of guilt, instead of love, then they are not leading the flock to be cheerful givers. God does not need our money, God wants our hearts. If God has our hearts, then He’ll have our money, too.
This Week’s Conclusion – The Unlimited Pie
Therefore, unless Jesus tells me to, I have no intention of selling everything. What I intend to do instead is to work hard, earn a living, manage my finances well, and give regularly. Should I help support my local church financially? Absolutely! Every Christian should. The word tithe is from the Old Testament (OT) and means a tenth of our income (cf. Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:21-32; Deut. 14:22-29; 26:2-15). This number is not repeated in the New Testament (NT), but it is a good standard for regular giving. It should also be noted that in the OT, the practice was to give of one’s “first fruits”. This means they gave to God first, before taking their own portion. Both of these are good standards Christians can adopt to make sure they are regularly giving.
Further, there are times when I should give extra generously, above and beyond the normal giving that is expected of me. When a person sees a need that they can fill, and God convicts that person to fill it, then we should all be obedient to that type of calling. We should give regularly, and we should give irregularly at times too. Will I still buy the occasional luxury item? Will I have in my possession more than just food, water, clothing, and shelter? So long as I work, make money, and manage it well, then God willing, yes I will.
Do not get me wrong. If God convicts your heart to sell everything, then DO IT! And, if you know someone who has sold everything for the cause of Christ, then praise God for their faithfulness. This is not an attack on them. This is a message to the rest of us Christians who sometimes feel guilty about having anything of luxury. To people who worry that they should not save for a rainy day because there are poor people in this world. What I am saying is that as a Christian educator, unless God commands me to specifically tell a person to sell all of their possessions, then you will NEVER hear me say it, because I do not believe that is what the Bible teaches – at all. But it does teach Christians to work hard, develop responsible money habits, and yes, to give generously out of love.
What I propose in contrast to the “sell everything” or the “sell the luxury items” approach is what I call The Infinite Pie Approach. If the wealth of the world were a pie, then I believe it could always get bigger. Here is the principle of the matter: The pie does not get bigger by Christians being lazy. It does not get bigger by Christians being freeloaders. It does not get bigger by Christians being in debt or even by selling everything they own to give to the poor. The pie increases as people work hard. It increases because people use their God given brain and talents to innovate and create remarkable things, and guess what, when we create, when we build, when we fix, when we work…the worker is worthy of their wages (1st Timothy 5:18).
Am I saying that Jesus was wrong when He told the rich young ruler to sell all of his earthly goods? What a silly notion. Jesus is my Lord and my God. He has never said or done anything wrong, nor will He ever (Hebrews 4:15). But Jesus did not tell every Christian who ever walked the earth to sell all of their possessions and give to the poor. Jesus issued a specific command to a specific man to illustrate a general principle. Let’s get this right, because otherwise we sound like Christians who lean toward asceticism and that is not what Christianity is intended to be. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell his possessions, because those possessions had the man’s heart. This is exactly what we will discuss next week in the final post to this series on money.
See you in a week or so.
- For the Love of Money – Part 1 (obadiahjdalrymple.com)
- For the Love of Money – Part 3 (obadiahjdalrymple.com)
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Very good study Obie, look forward to the next one.