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What Did Jesus Say About Money And Possessions?
God does give wealth, but not to line our pockets and acquire more things. He gives wealth to establish His plans and purposes on earth.

When I was a child, I attended a Good News Club at my school once a week. The teachers developed a reward system that encouraged the kind of behaviour they wanted the children to exhibit. Anyone who sat very quietly, memorized a verse or brought a friend to the club earned a “Good News Buck.” We wanted to accrue as many bucks as possible, because once a month they could be used to purchase small toys or candy. Children respond well to such a reward system because they understand the basic principle: if you are good, you get stuff.

Adult Christians often have a more pious way of expressing that same expectation for themselves: If I live a good Christian life, God will bless me. When we say, “God will bless me,” we often mean that God will give me more than just the things I need; he will give me the stuff I want. It’s a pretty ancient view to hold. When Job lost every material thing in his life, his friends assumed it was because of disobedience to God. Why? Because obedient people got good stuff, and bad people got it taken away. Or so they thought.

You would be hard-pressed to find biblical evidence that God rewards faithful people with overflowing pockets. But verses that instruct us to care for those with empty pockets are plentiful. Jesus, in step with the Old Testament prophets, made regular reference to the poor and the need for justice. In fact, when He declared His mission on earth, He quoted Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor … ” (Luke 4:18).

Jesus came to deliver justice and fairness. He did not come to grant permission for indulgent living, nor did He come to lavish goodies upon His disciples. Our North American extravagance robs people around the globe of their very lives. Jesus asked us to even the score, not deepen the disparity. Throughout the whole of Scripture, I cannot think of a subject that is returned to more frequently than that of justice for the oppressed—which would especially include the poor. It matters so much that in the parable of the sheep and the goats (see Matthew 25:31-46), those going to Heaven and those going to Hell are not separated by whether or not they said the sinner’s prayer—they are separated by whether or not they took care of the poor and marginalized. Jesus tells us that those who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and care for the sick and imprisoned will be welcomed into eternal life.

Maybe I could be more even-handed. For example, I could point out how possessions can be used for good. But if the question is, What did Jesus say about money and possessions, the answer is that He made it clear that wealth is highly problematic.

A rich ruler asked what it would take to inherit eternal life, and Jesus told him that, along with keeping the commandments, he should sell his possessions and give to the poor. Only then would he have “treasure in Heaven” (see Matthew 19:21). Upon the man’s dejection at that comment, Jesus remarked, “It is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.… It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24).

Jesus told parables that demonstrated how people’s obsession with earthly treasure prevented them from the relationship with God that would save them (see Luke 12:16-21, 16:19-31). He could find only one worthy purpose for wealth: to distribute it to the poor (see Luke 14:12-14). Apart from that, Jesus never mentions any benefit to be gained from materialism or fortune.

In Matthew 6:32-33, we are told that it is pagans who “run after” material things. Jesus instructs us to “seek first [God’s] Kingdom and His righteousness.” The Kingdom of God is where everyone is treated equally. Righteousness often misinterpreted as virtuosity is correctly translated as justice. When we sing the chorus Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God, we are singing about more than reading our Bibles and praying. We are singing about ceasing our pursuit of worldly goods and working toward equity on earth.

According to UNICEF, every $500 contributed to their organization saves a child’s life. Many of us feel that we don’t have $500 to spare. Yet we have closets full of more clothes than we need, we have more than one television, we will buy a new car in the next few years, we will have a meal out this week, we might even go to a movie or a baseball game this month. Those with even greater financial means may contribute much to the poor, yet save enough for themselves to live lavishly. Perhaps our consciences are too easily soothed. We tell ourselves that we work hard, that we are good people, so we deserve good things. We forget that there are hard-working, good people around the world who cannot feed their children tonight.

But for every sacrifice we make so that we might take care of another human being, Jesus says: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). The joy of pleasing the Saviour, I suspect, is greater than the joy any possession or stack of cash could ever bring.

Captain Amy Reardon is Christian education director, Northwest Division, U.S.A. Western Territory.

Originally published in Salvationist, September, 2007.

 

 
 
 
 

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