[21] Do True Christians have to give up all their Material Possessions?

We owe thanks for this sections to our friends Roland, Sue, Dan, Alf, Paul, Reinhard Joe, Bob, Ulrike and Ash of the "Jesus Christians", a group of sincere Christians who eschew money and live an economically and environmentally sustainable life without it as far as is possible. Vivid conversations with them motivated us to consider what the Scriptures really say about this topic.  

We find the first advice for those who are cleansed by a Christian baptism, for those who repent their sins and turn to God, in the words of John the Baptist in Luke chapter 3:

‘10 And the crowds would ask him: “What, then, shall we do?” 11 In reply he would say to them: “Let the man that has two undergarments share with the man that has none, and let him that has things to eat do the same.” 12 But even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they said to him: “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 He said to them: “Do not demand anything more than directed to you.” 14 Also, those in military service would ask him: “What shall we also do?” And he said to them: “Do not harass anybody or accuse anybody falsely, but be satisfied with your wages.” (Luke3)

From verse 11 we can deduce that all those who entered under the same baptism as Jesus were told to share their belongings with the poor and only to keep for themselves what they personally needed. But were the 2 groups explicitly mentioned told to stop working in their profession? No, John allowed the tax collectors to continue in their job, but commanded them to do so honestly. Even the Roman soldiers were allowed to continue serving in the army, but were commanded to display a fine conduct.

In a nutshell, John commanded to share all the surplus we have while keeping for yourself what we immediately need. And he commanded those in authority be it financial or military not to abuse their authority for their advantage. He did not advise them to give up their authority. For we all learn from the world every day. So we are free to continue in our jobs but we have to apply Christian principles whilst doing them.

17 And whatever it is that you do in word or in work, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, thanking God the Father through him. (Colossians3)

But what about Jesus' advice to the young man who asked him about everlasting life? Matthew writes...  

16 Now, look! a certain one came up to him and said: “Teacher, what good must I do in order that I might have life into the ages/everlasting?” 17 He said to him: “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is that is good. If, though, you want to enter into life, observe the commandments continually.” 18 He said to him: “Which ones?” Jesus said: “Why, You must not murder, You must not commit adultery, You must not steal, You must not bear false witness, 19 Honor [your] father and [your] mother, and, You must love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him: “I have kept all these; what yet am I lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this saying, he went away grieved, for he was holding many possessions.’ (Matthew19)

The question of verse 16 covers 2 aspects:1. What good must I do… and 2.  getting everlasting life?

Good, agaqon is also translated upright, excellent, agreeable, honorable. So here the young man asks Jesus about the good actions that are necessary. Necessary for what? Let us consider the second part of the question

Life into the ages or everlasting. So he was not only asking what he should do to qualify merely as a disciple of Jesus, he wanted to know what honorable behavior will secure him eternal blessings/life

Jesus now gives an answer that will lead the young man to “life”. “…if you want to enter into life”. What does he have to do? “…observe the commandments continually.” Our friend knows the Law of Moses but he wants to make sure he covers all aspects of “the commandments” so he asks: “which ones?” 

What follows now are the requirements for all who want to gain eternal life through being a Christian. 

“Jesus said: “Why, You must not murder, You must not commit adultery, You must not steal, You must not bear false witness, 19 Honor [your] father and [your] mother, and, You must love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Matthew19)

Here we see what Jesus really expected from his disciples. The young man wants to know the details and Jesus names all the essential commandments for him. If we keep those, Jesus reassures us that we will enter “into life”. Now the last commandment he repeated, to love our neighbor as ourselves, includes the baptism requirements of John. If you love the other one as yourself, you share your surplus and just keep what you need to cover your own direct needs.

Now we all know that this conversation continues. Let us see how! The young man kept all these laws but he feels inside that there is still something wrong with him, that he is lacking something. He now asks Jesus to do a spiritual X-ray on him, using his “physician’s gaze”.

20 The young man said to him: “I have kept all these; what yet am I lacking?”’ (Matthew19)

Please discern carefully what happens next. Jesus has already defined the requirements for gaining everlasting life. What comes next is his personal advice to this distinct young man.

21 “If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and  come, follow me.”’ (Matthew19)

Let us analyze that verse a little closer. The word translated “perfect” isteleios“ meaning “brought to end", "finished" or "perfected”. So this is distinctively different from “getting life into the ages”. The word for “sell” is “pwlew”. The last words of this verse are correctly translated “come, follow me”. The call “follow me“ is “akolouqei moi” in Greek. Now “akoloutheō” is a verb meaning “to follow one who proceeds” or “accompany him”. It is stated in the present tense, active voice and in imperative mood. It cannot correctly be translated as “come, be my follower” in the sense of generally being his disciple. This individual young man needed to do this to be “perfect”. Another man who for example lived a promiscuous life the requirement for perfection might have been “marry the one girl you love and stop sleeping with the other”. Jesus was specially analyzing what this man needed, not to gain “life” but to gain “perfection”!

It is nonetheless very interesting to see what happens next. The account continues…

27 Then Peter said to him in reply: “Look! We have left all and followed you; what actually will there be for us?”’ (Matthew19)

Good question, Peter! Again, analyzing the Greek gives us more insight. Peter does not use the word for sell, “pwlew”. He uses “aqhkamen“ meaning to “let go off”, “to disregard” or “to go away from”. Yes, Peter confirms that a true disciple of Christ must detach from all, he must not regard it anymore, he must let go off from all attachment. But it does not say that Peter or any other apostle sold all he had. He just left it behind and wandered around with the Messiah.

And as we will see in the next verse, it does not only refer to material things. The word “things” is not in the text, the word “panta” just means “all”.

28 Jesus said to them: “Truly I say to you, In the re-creation, when the Son of man sits down upon his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone that has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive many times more and will inherit everlasting life.’ (Matthew19)

The word “followed” in verse 28 is the same verb as used in the calling of the young man of verse 21. But verse 29 shows us that this detachment, this letting go, cannot possibly refer to material belongings alone. Again “aqhken” is used. So we as true Christians are guaranteed that we will not only receive “life into the ages” if we become detached from all our relationships, - personal and material -, on account of Jesus, but we will also receive many times more – personal and material!

If we think about it we can see the reason why God can give us all resources and assets if we detach ourselves from the world. Because we have then already proven that we don’t trust in people or possessions, we have shown that we put Jesus first and disregard everything else in comparison. Now we have qualified for being set over many things, having shown our loyalty, not to the world but to God!

15 Do not be loving either the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; 16 because everything in the world—the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the showy display of one’s means of life—does not originate with the Father, but originates with the world. 17 Furthermore, the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever. (1John2)

16 They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world. (John17)

In Luke12:15 Jesus give the real problem a proper name…

13 Then a certain one of the crowd said to him: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 He said to him: “Man, who appointed me judge or apportioner over you persons?” 15 Then he said to them: “Keep your eyes open and guard against every sort of covetousness, because even when a person has an abundance his life does not result from his possessions.’ (Luke12)

“Covetousness” is “a greedy desire to posses more”. This is the real problem a Christian has to overcome for this desire of the flesh will keep him attached to the material things and will dim his or her spiritual vision.

The word translated “abundance” too, is very interesting. It means “to exceed a fixed number of measure”, “something that overflows”. We remember sharing our 2 garments with the one who does not have any.

We all have to understand that our life does not result from the things or relationships we have here on earth but from our relationship with God. Jesus concludes the parable that follows with the words:

“So it goes with the man that lays up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke12)

Again, we see the two aspects. This man forgets to become rich toward God because he has so much surplus in material, fleshly things. He forgets about God. It all would be different if he also had heaped up treasures in heaven!

22 Then he said to his disciples: “On this account I say to you, do not be anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or about your bodies as to what you will wear.’ (Luke12)

Here and in the subsequent verses, the Lord tells us to stop being “anxious” or “troubled with care”, gr. “merimnate”, about material things like food, clothing and our bodies. 

So Jesus concludes in verse 29 and 30…

29 So quit seeking what you might eat and what you might drink, and quit being in anxious suspense; 30 for all these are the things the nations of the world are eagerly pursuing, but your Father knows you need these things. 31 Nevertheless, seek continually his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.’ (Luke12)

The Greek word “zhteite” translated “seeking” means a “to enquire into”, “to aim at” or “strive after”, “to crave”. “Anxious suspense” or “doubtful” as the KJV puts it, is “metewrizesqe”, literally “to rise up on high” and is sometimes metaphorically used to mean “tossed about” or “agitated”. So he is saying, don’t strive for those things, don’t be tossed about like a ship in a storm but be calm and trust in your heavenly father to provide for your needs. He then contrasts it with the people of the nations who “seek for” or “crave” for material treasures instead of heavenly. Again, their focus is wrong.

We as Christians should rather “seek the Kingdom” as verse 31 puts it. We should desire or long for it instead. It is all about focus!

Next he gives some special advise to those who volunteered to be fulltime evangelists…

33 Sell your wealth, and give gifts of mercy. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, a never-failing treasure in the heavens, where a thief does not get near nor moth consumes.’ (Luke12)

The word translated “wealth” or sometimes “goods” is “uparcwnta”. It’s root word means “to begin below” or “to come forth, hence to be there, be ready, be at hand”. If we do so, we will put our focus in heaven. The Geneva study Bible comments on the first sentence…

“This is the figure of speech metonymy, for by this word alms is meant that compassion and friendliness of a heart that cares tenderly for the misery and poor condition of a man, and shows this feeling by some gift, and has the name given to it in the Greek language of mercy and compassion: and therefore he is said to give alms who gives something to another, and gives to the poor, showing by this that he pities their poor condition.”

We can shed some more light on Jesus’ instructions for those who preach the gospel by comparing  Luke9 with Luke22…

‘Then he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to cure sicknesses. 2 And so he sent them forth to preach the kingdom of God and to heal, 3 and he said to them: “Carry nothing for the trip, neither staff nor food pouch, nor bread nor silver; neither have two undergarments. 4 But wherever you enter into a home, stay there and leave from there.’ (Luke9)

35 He also said to them: “When I sent you forth without purse and food pouch and sandals, you did not want for anything, did you?” They said: “No!” 36 Then he said to them: “But now let the one that has a purse take it up, likewise also a food pouch; and let the one having no sword sell his outer garment and buy one’ (Luke22)

First Jesus commissioned his newly empowered friends neither to take any provisions nor any silver/money while they are on an evangelical journey. He promises them that they will be cared for by those who will listen to the good news.

At his last day on earth however, he warns them that the climate for them will change, that things will get rougher after his departure and he warns them not to rely on the charity they experienced on their earlier campaigns. He tells them to take their purses/wallets, a food pouch with provisions and even a sword for their defence. So this was the last advice he gave for those who preach the gospel.

Next we want to consider the lifestyle of the believers just after Jesus died. We read in Acts 4…

32 Moreover, the multitude of those who had believed had one heart and soul, and not even one would say that any of the things he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common. 33 Also, with great power the apostles continued giving forth the witness concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and undeserved kindness in large measure was upon them all. 34 In fact, there was not one in need among them; for those who were possessors of fields or houses would sell them and bring the values of the things sold 35 and they would deposit them at the feet of the apostles. In turn distribution would be made to each one, just as he would have the need. ‘(Acts4)

Here is a commentary on verse 32 from “People’s New Testament”:

Note the language that is used. It does not describe a community of goods, but a miraculous benevolence: (1) the goods were not a common fund, but each one had goods that he possessed; (2) he did not say that his goods were his own; (3) they used all as if it belonged to all; (4) there were none that lacked, for (5) those that had houses and lands sold them and brought the proceeds to the apostles. It was a time when a great liberality was called for. Thousands of Jews from abroad had become Christians and must remain at Jerusalem until instructed in the gospel.

Verse 34 and 35 tells us how it worked and how those who stayed in Jerusalem were cared for.  We can gain deep insight in the truth by scrutinizing once again the exact form of the nouns used in verse 34. The noun translated “possessors” is in the 3rd person plural. Both nouns naming the possessed things, “houses”, gr. “oikiwn” and “fields” gr. “cwriwn” are in the plural! No disciple owning these things in the singular was said to sell them rendering himself homeless or jobless. So all that is said here is that those Jews who came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and who were staying in Jerusalem sold their “surplus”, their “abundance”, their “overflow” of fields or houses which they would not need to cover their direct needs after they would have returned to preach the gospel their home territories.

Verse 35 also shows that all received from the apostles what they needed, both those who contributed and those who had nothing to contribute.

Let us now consider the cases of Ananias and Sapphira…

‘However, a certain man, Ananias by name, together with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession 2 and secretly held back some of the price, his wife also knowing about it, and he brought just a part and deposited it at the feet of the apostles. 3 But Peter said: “An·a·ni´as, why has Satan emboldened you to play false to the holy spirit and to hold back some of the price of the field? 4 As long as it remained with you did it not remain yours, and after it was sold did it not continue in your control? Why was it that you purposed such a deed as this in your heart? You have played false, not to men, but to God.” ‘(Acts5)

Let us give attention to verse 4: It is interesting to see that Ananias is called “a certain man”, not  a “believer” (Acts4:32). We do know for a fact though, that the possession was in Ananias hand before he decided to sell it and after he sold it, he continued to have control over the price he achieved for it. He was not forced or asked to contribute it. By holding back some of the price however, he acted deceitfully. That was his sin. He lied to the judge, he committed perjury with God for the sake of half a field.

For God does not need or wish for fields or houses or money etc. but he wishes for honest people with upright hearts.

Please also consider similar conclusions other Bible researchers reached…

The Geneva Study Bible on verse 3:

For when they had appointed that farm or possession for the Church, they were foolish to keep away a part of the price, as though they were dealing with men, and not with God, and therefore he says afterwards that they tempted God.

People’s New Testament on verse 3,4

5:3,4 To lie to the Holy Spirit. The sin is here pointed out. The lie was not to men, but to God. The apostles were moved by the Holy Spirit. These verses show clearly that (1) the sin was hypocrisy and deception in the name of religion, and (2) that the gifts of goods were purely voluntary.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on verse 4

While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?-from which we see how purely voluntary were all these sacrifices for the support of the infant community.

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the account:

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was, that they were ambitious of being thought eminent disciples, when they were not true disciples. Hypocrites may deny themselves, may forego their worldly advantage in one instance, with a prospect of finding their account in something else. They were covetous of the wealth of the world, and distrustful of God and his providence. They thought they might serve both God and mammon. They thought to deceive the apostles. The Spirit of God in Peter discerned the principle of unbelief reigning in the heart of Ananias. But whatever Satan might suggest, he could not have filled the heart of Ananias with this wickedness had he not been consenting. The falsehood was an attempt to deceive the Spirit of truth, who so manifestly spoke and acted by the apostles. The crime of Ananias was not his retaining part of the price of the land; he might have kept it all, had he pleased; but his endeavouring to impose upon the apostles with an awful lie, from a desire to make a vain show, joined with covetousness. But if we think to put a cheat upon God, we shall put a fatal cheat upon our own souls.

Work and possession in the early Christian community

Let us now also see how money and secular work were handled during the first century among Christians. First, let us consider what the “apostle of the nations” (Romans11:13), Paul, did to serve the Lord. We find some fascinating information in Acts18…

‘After these things he departed from Athens and came to Corinth. 2 And he found a certain Jew named Aq´ui·la, a native of Pon´tus who had recently come from Italy, and Pris·cil´la his wife, because of the fact that Claudius had ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome. So he went to them 3 and on account of being of the same trade he stayed at their home, and they worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 However, he would give a talk in the synagogue every sabbath and would persuade Jews and Greeks.’ (Acts18)

We can learn 3 aspects from those verses. Paul had learned a trade, he was a tentmaker. Brother Aquila and sister Priscilla were tentmakers and they worked together with Paul in their trade. So Paul had a secular job to sustain himself while preaching in Corinth. In fact, the 3rd element we can see here is, that Paul only preached on the Sabbath in the synagogue.

Another inspired letter we have to consider is the letter to Philemon. The apostle’s purpose in writing this letter was to encourage Philemon to accept his runaway slave Onesimus back kindly. Instead of using his apostolic authority to command him to do so, Paul appealed on the basis of love and personal friendship. (Phm 8, 9, 17) Knowing Philemon as a man of faith and love, Paul was confident that he would receive his formerly useless, but now Christian, slave back. (Vss 10, 11, 21) For the purpose of this discussion, it is especially noteworthy, that Paul did not ask Philemon to set Onesimus free so that he could work more for Jesus. Neither did he ask Philemon to give up his possession (his slave) for the sake of the Kingdom. In fact, he applies the principle which he stated to the Ephesians...

5 You slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters in a fleshly sense, with fear and trembling in the sincerity of your hearts, as to the Christ, 6 not by way of eye-service as men pleasers, but as Christ’s slaves, doing the will of God whole-souled. 7 Be slaves with good inclinations, as to Jehovah, and not to men, 8 for you know that each one, whatever good he may do, will receive this back from Jehovah, whether he be slave or freeman. 9 Also, you masters, keep doing the same things to them, letting up on the threatening, for you know that the Master of both them and you is in the heavens, and there is no partiality with him. (Ephesians6) 

Besides that the letter to Philemon tells us something about the early Christians. They assembled in private homes, called one another “brother” and “sister” (Phm 1, 2, 20), prayed for one another (vss 4, 22), and were encouraged by the faith and love manifested by fellow believers (vss 4-7).

1 Paul, a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, [our] brother, to Phi·le´mon, our beloved one and fellow worker, 2 and to Ap´phi·a, our sister, and to Ar·chip´pus, our fellow soldier, and to the congregation that is in your house.’ (Philemon)

So surely, believers kept their houses but they gladly made them available for the congregation of believers.

Now let us return to the words of Jesus to the rich man...

21 Jesus said to him: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this saying, he went away grieved, for he was holding many possessions.’ (Matthew19)  

Comparing Jesus' advice with Paul's advice we see that Jesus was applying the principle of 'if thy right eye offendeth you, pluck it out' to the dominant malaise that he saw in the rich man's heart. His wealth was stumbling him, it was inhibiting him spiritually. This is why he chose to stick to his possessions rather than accept the invitation to follow Jesus literally. So it is possible for another man to become perfect whilst retaining excess possessions. For Paul did not say to Philemon: If you want to be perfect sell Onesimus!!

Paul's straight forward advice on the matter

7 For you yourselves know the way you ought to imitate us, because we did not behave disorderly among you
8 nor did we eat food from anyone free. To the contrary, by labor and toil night and day we were working so as not to impose an expensive burden upon any one of you.
9 Not that we do not have authority, but in order that we might offer ourselves as an example to you to imitate us.
10 In fact, also, when we were with you, we used to give you this order: If anyone does not want to work, neither let him eat.
11 For we hear certain ones are walking disorderly among you, not working at all but meddling with what does not concern them.
12 To such persons we give the order and exhortation in [the] Lord Jesus Christ that by working with quietness they should eat food they themselves earn (2 Thessalonians3).

What more can we say?

Conclusion

What we have been doing herein is “listening to Jesus”. We acted like Mary who set at the feet of the Lord and listened instead of attending to many duties like her sister Martha.

38 Now as they were going their way he entered into a certain village. Here a certain woman named Martha received him as guest into the house. 39 This woman also had a sister called Mary, who, however, sat down at the feet of the Lord and kept listening to his word. 40 Martha, on the other hand, was distracted with attending to many duties’ (Luke10)

Today we listen to Jesus by scrutinizing the Bible. This is something a noble believer is asked to do. Actually, it is a requirement for keeping alive…

1 Then Jesus was led by the spirit up into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. 2 After he had fasted forty days and forty nights, then he felt hungry. 3 Also, the Tempter came and said to him: “If you are a son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But in reply he said: “It is written, ‘Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through God’s mouth.’” (Matthew3)

We ‘live’ as Christians on those utterances of God’s mouth. His ‘mouth’ is the Bible, his divine revelation to us believers. While on earth Jesus, the incarnated Word of God equaled the Bible, the written word of God, with truth...

17 Sanctify them by means of the truth; your word is truth. (John17)

So let us take into account the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, his reply to the devil by honestly studying and harmonizing “every utterance” of the Holy Bible as we are commanded to do. Only by doing so ‘in the sweat of our face’ (Gen3:19), will we find out what the truth is. 

It is like Solomon, the king blessed with divine wisdom concluded…

2 The glory of God is the keeping of a matter secret, and the glory of kings is the searching through a matter.’ (Proverbs25)

Yes, God our father urges us…

2 My son, if you will receive my sayings and treasure up my own commandments with yourself, 2 so as to pay attention to wisdom with your ear, that you may incline your heart to discernment; 3 if, moreover, you call out for understanding itself and you give forth your voice for discernment itself, 4 if you keep seeking for it as for silver, and as for hid treasures you keep searching for it, 5 in that case you will understand the fear of YHWH, and you will find the very knowledge of God.’ (Proverbs2)

…and Jesus our Savior assures us of success saying:

7 “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened.’ (Matthew7)

So let us all continue to share freely with each other all the abundance we have, be it our time or our resources. Let us love God and our neighbours as ourselves, not more than ourselves and not less than ourselves. Let us listen to our Lord and learn to live “not by bread alone” but by studying all the Scriptures so as to be able to progress on the path of love, truth and righteousness.  

The Mark of the Beast

The more one can live without money the less of a test one will face when the UN brings in the ban of Revelation13, which will prohibit people without a UNID card from buying or selling anything we understand. The less you have to buy and sell in order to live, the easier it will be for you to avoid making what will be an idolatrous agreement with the beast.