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Sell Your Possessions and Give to the Needy

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

March 18, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Psalm 59, Proverbs 18, and Luke 12—13.

I was reading Luke 12 during my devotions this morning, and was struck again by the force of verses 32–34, where Jesus tells his gathered disciples:

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Those words are compelling and troubling. “Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” These are not difficult to understand. Nor, in truth, are they particularly difficult to put into practice. The early church clearly saw that they should behave this way, and did so: just look at Acts 2:44–45, 4:32–35. This is not the pattern I see in the church around me today, for the most part. Nor, more worrisome, is it exactly the pattern of my own life.

To be sure, Jaimie and I have long since established habits of sacrificial giving.1 We aim to be generous with our things, not holding them tightly, as well as with our time and our home. We have aimed to be hospitable, to open our home to those who need space, and so on. But I am not sure that I would say we are always characterized by this. I do not think we have ever sold one of our things in order to be willing to give it to someone in need. As I ponder, I have no doubt that if one of our brothers or sisters in Christ were in great need—and especially one of those in our church—we would be willing to do so. But we have not done so, and so this passage forced me to think about a Christ-following ethic regarding our possessions.

I am sitting here typing this on a very nice computer, in a very nice home, with many niceties around me. I have no doubt that we could sell some of these things in order to have money to give to others. I am left wondering: should we? It does not seem to me to be possible always to be selling the things we have to give them to others. Eventually one would simply run out of things to sell.

I note, too, that the context here shows us that Jesus is addressing a very specific fault: worry about and pursuit of wealth. In this section he takes aim at dependence on material possessions for security, pointing us to trust in God instead of our things. He hammers away at the idea that we could somehow provide for ourselves better than God does. We reminds us that all we have will be destroyed in the end. He undercuts all our idolatry in this area. It would be easy, then, to say that his words here are illustrative to that end, and not really meaning quite what they seem to say. I think any such move would do the text an injustice. Jesus said what he said, and we had better pay attention. More: we had better obey.

It is not the having of things that is the problem, it seems to me. It is clinging to them. It is seeing them as more important than people. The question I pondered earlier is the important one: Would Jaimie and I gladly part with possessions to serve others who are in need? The answer to that is certainly yes—and indeed, we have parted generously with our money and our things in the past. We have not sold possessions to give the proceeds to others, but have at times foregone purchases to give the money to others, and we have given items themselves to others in need. We are moving in the right direction here. Nonetheless, the heart check is an important one, and one to which we prosperous Americans should return regularly. It is too easy for us to justify sitting in our comfort without regard to the needs around us, and to fail thereby to obey Jesus’ clear commands.

  1. I thought about listing the ways we give, then thought better of it in light of another of Jesus’ commands about how we should think about and act about money.