In the recent sermon from Luke 12 (Luke 12:22-34 to be exact), following the parable of the rich fool, we looked at when Jesus turned to his disciples and said, “Do not be anxious…”, and expounded on this teaching. He walks us through some correct thinking, and then wraps up with, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”
Pretty familiar passage for many who have been around church-life and read the Bible.
However, for the sake of time, we sorta just skimmed over a rather drastic statement. It’s the kinda statement that should make us all say, “Wait, whaaat!? Does he mean that!?”
“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.”
Does He Really Mean We Need To Sell All Our Possessions And Give To The Poor?
Every good teacher and communicator knows there are certain “tricks” of speech used to make points and get attention. A “hyperbole” is one such tool that uses an exaggeration to make a point or state a claim. A common hyperbole you hear in everyday life is, “I’ve waited forever for this!” Of course it isn’t true, but we get the point you’ve waited a long time.
The Bible is full of these sorts of communication goodies such as hyperboles, because, simply put, it’s an excellent set of writing and thinking! Jesus even used them in his spoken teachings. One example of a time he uses a hyperbole is the common teaching of his, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:30)
It would be pretty wild to think Jesus, who made your hands to be used for good things, actually wants you to chop one off rather than seek out some simpler methods to avoid that sin. However, you get the gravity of the situation and the point that sin is not something to mess around with!
So, is this a hyperbole?
So it’s reasonable to ask, and even assume, that this little sentence here is a hyperbole, correct? Honestly, I’ve spent most of my life thinking that this particular teaching right here was a hyperbolical statement. Sure, I know God teaches us in scripture to care for the poor and marginalized as he does; I just thought this was a way of saying the same thing.
But, is it?
After examining this closer, I don’t think this sentence is a hyperbole at all. I think Jesus is literally meaning exactly what he’s saying here. Here is why:
I, myself, have even quoted this passage many times as saying, “sell all our possessions”. However, it’s an important clarification to realize, it doesn’t say “all” here. It just says to “sell your possessions and give to the needy”. That’s all. Plain and simple.
I think the mistake has happened because I’ve mixed it up with the teaching of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21 that comes to Jesus claiming to have kept all the commandments (yeaaaa, riiight), and Jesus calls his bluff and says, “Okay, one thing you lack, sell all your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasures in heaven…”
Very similar sounding passage, right?
Yet, these are very different situations and there’s an important distinction to be seen here in Jesus’s teachings. If we dismiss this as a hyperbole and don’t consider that Jesus might be giving us some very literal, practical — commanding — advice here, we could miss something that would make a huge difference in our joy in life, have a huge affect on our faith, and help many people in our community and, perhaps, world.
The Big Difference In Selling All Versus Selling Some Of Our Stuff
The difference in these two instances is that when Jesus was speaking to the “rich young ruler” he saw that this young buck was considering himself righteous by his deeds instead of having a heart that longed for God’s glory and goodness. So, Jesus issued what we could call a hyperbolical situation for the guy to have his faith tested and revealed for what it really was — in himself, not God.
Still, did Jesus mean for him to do this literally, practically, for reals? Yea, I think so. It’s safe to assume this was a similar situation to God asking of Isaac to sacrifice his son Jacob, his greatest treasure, out of obedience to God. I want to assume that Jesus would have said, “Ah, bro, that’s good enough. Your faith is counted to you as righteousness. Go leverage your wealth and smarts to make more of it and bless more people as you are doing now.”
However, we’ll never know. Instead what happened is we see the guy walk away sad.
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!
So, Jesus walks away from him too. Sadly, we’ll never know what would have come from this extreme command. We instead get the valuable lesson that Jesus is concerned with your heart and what you treasure most!
This lesson is definitely an overlapping commonality in these teachings, but the situation and why Jesus is leading us to this practice is quite different.
Jesus is now speaking to his disciples — guys who have already dropped everything to follow him. He has a crowd listening too, but we don’t see that he’s singling anyone out at this point.
He’s simply giving a general piece of good — commanding — advice on how to live well and guard your heart from treasuring the things it shouldn’t.
I believe he is simply telling us to make it a regular part of our lives to sell our possessions and give to the needy. If you think about it this would have a few really practical affects.
3 Super Practical, Logical Reasons Why We Should Regularly Sell Our Stuff And Give To The Needy
- It keeps us from forming a heart that becomes like the “rich fool” Jesus just spoke of in his parable a few verses earlier (Luke 12:13-21) that ended up trusting in his material goods for his security and comfort.
- It helps us show people who are outsiders to our faith and who might be in a similar situation to the “rich young ruler” that they too could give up their possessions and gain greater treasure by knowing and following Jesus. You and me regularly giving up our goods for the sake of the needy is a huge, confusing, and compelling statement to those apart from Christ that life is not about status, comfort, material goods, and most importantly, not about ourselves. Life is about living for a God who is super good at taking care of those who trust in him, and will do this, eternally.
- It helps those who truly are needy and poor, which, to be clear, is the majority of the planet. There’s no way around the fact that God repeatedly commands us to care for the poor and needy and has made it clear that this is something his spirit is concerned with. So, a great place to start is to begin to evaluate your life and see what you have that is purely “excess” or no longer needed, but has value enough to help someone else, and give it up. Think about it, you won’t miss it, your future isn’t even affected by it, and yet someone else is blessed (and compelled to Jesus, hopefully) by your generosity. #Boom!
Take A Small Step Of Faith To Store Some Treasures In Heaven
I think it’s significant that Jesus gives this bit of wisdom right after saying, “Fear not little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” This is practical advice on how each and every one of us can take a step into fearing less, being good stewards with what God has given us, and building our faith in God’s pleasure of giving us the Kingdom.
Jesus wraps up with the assurance that, though this may be scary and somewhat sacrificial, we are indeed storing up heavenly treasures that will last us forever and keeping our hearts aligned with what they should be.
Jesus knew all the people present, and you and I, need to keep some “moneybags” of the earthly kind that do grow old and can be destroyed, otherwise, we’d be poor and needy too. Elsewhere in scripture, he teaches us to leverage these earthly moneybags to continue to bless others in greater and greater ways.
He just also knows that most of us live lives of luxury far beyond what we need, and that it will be good for our hearts, minds, and souls for all eternity — as well as everyone else’s — if we’d give more to the needy. Plus, it does show whose heart is where in our community.
Leave it to Jesus to come up with advice that’s good and applicable for everyone, huh? Of course.
So, give it a go and see for yourself. Really.
Q: What do you think? Do you think this is an accurate understanding of the teaching here?
Do you have any experience in the matter that you could share?
Anything in mind that you might be able to sell and/or give to someone in need in our community?
Any questions, additions, or feedback?
Let’s talk about it in the comments below!