An interesting topic came up at the Bible study I attended tonight and challenged a long-standing belief of mine. Though I thought this was a fairly common belief, I was apparently the only one at the Bible study who believed it. For that reason I’ve pondered it quite a bit this evening, and though I don’t necessarily plan on changing my views, I’m wondering what perspectives other people might have.
The passage that sparked the discussion was James 4:13-17:
13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Specifically, verse 17 was the verse that sparked the discussion: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”
Personally, I’ve pretty much always believed that Christ calls us to give up everything we have and give it to the poor, which ultimately means to give it to Him. This then, combined with the above verse, leads to the conclusion that not giving up everything we have is a sin in itself, which I do believe. This is what my Bible study friends seemed to struggle with; they did not believe that it was necessarily a sin to keep any material possessions for themselves. They didn’t necessarily see anything wrong with storing up or consuming more than they truly need. And they seemed to believe that it was possible to be “entirely sanctified” (without sin for a period of time) while still owning more than the bare necessities, and not giving up everything to the poor.
Granted, as humans we do have needs, but God wants us to come to Him for our needs, and tells us that He will provide for us. Matthew 4:1-4 reads:
1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
Jesus’ response does not mean that we should refuse to eat; it simply means that food is not the most important thing in our lives. Instead, God is the most important, and bringing our needs to Him will always ensure that they are met, whatever they are. I believe that we are closest to God when we are self-sacrificing, and I believe that giving everything we have to the poor is likely the best way to remove the distractions that we have in our lives that keep us from spending time with Him. It is obvious that we are closer to God in times of need; why is it so difficult to grasp the concept of God asking us to give everything away to remove our obvious distractions?
I realize that this is a pretty unrealistic requirement, but what does Christ call us to do that isn’t unrealistic by the world’s standards? Christ calls us to be perfect, as He is perfect. In the words of Jesus, Matthew 5:43-48 reads:
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The end of this passage reads “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If we have any “luxuries” in our life (meaning anything that we don’t truly need or has the potential to distract us from God), I believe we are called to give these away, so that we may strive to be perfect as Christ was perfect. Christ had nothing more than He needed, and calls us to do the same.
So why don’t I get up myself and give away everything I have? Because I lack the faith. Because I’ll never be perfect, like Jesus. Although, the more I think about this topic, the more I want to give away myself, and the less interest I have in any material possessions. I truly believe Jesus has called me to give away everything I have.
So then, here are my questions for you:
- Do you believe that you would be closer to God if you had less material possessions? Why or why not?
- Do you believe that Jesus has called you to give away all material possessions?
- Do you believe that Jesus calls all Christians to give away all material possessions?
- Do you believe that it is possible to be “entirely sanctified” (without sin) without giving away everything you own?
Feel free to answer any or none of these questions, but I am very interested in your thoughts on the topic. Please let me know in the comments!