What do we do with these words of Jesus? If we are going to be faithful followers of Jesus, how do we make sense of Jesus’ teachings when tells us to sell everything we have and give it all away?
It seems to me that we can hear Jesus’ words in a few ways. We can tell ourselves that what Jesus is asking is unrealistic, and we can try to ignore his teaching as being irrelevant. The opposite extreme is that we can take a legalistic approach to the idea of selling everything we have, follow it to the letter and then potentially criticize anyone who doesn’t do the same.
So the question remains: how do we take the words of Jesus seriously without dismissing them completely or becoming a legalistic expectation?
The key is in verse 34 where Jesus says, ‘Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be’ (NLT). In challenging us to sell everything we have, Jesus is asking us to work out where our treasure is. Do we value Jesus enough to listen to what he says and respond in faith? Or do we value our worldly possessions more highly and walk away from Jesus sad, like the rich man in Luke 18:18-27? Jesus’ teaching to sell all we have and give it away challenges us to ask the tough question: what do we value more – Jesus or our possessions?
This becomes a worthwhile exercise because it shows us something about ourselves. Jesus teaches us to love God with all our heart. If our hearts are where our treasure is, and if we are treasuring things other than God, then God does not have our whole hearts and we are failing in what God wants most from us – to love him above everything else.
If Jesus’ teaching shows us we have a problem, then what is the solution?
Earlier in this chapter Jesus tells us not to worry about our lives, because God values us much more than the birds of the air he feeds every day (v24). Jesus is showing us that because God values us, because he ‘treasures’ us, we can be free from worrying about the things of this life. God will always provide for and look after us. Jesus echoes this idea at the start of this passage when he tells his followers not to be afraid because ‘it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom’ (v32 NLT). We can treasure God in our hearts because God values us so much that he is pleased to give us a place in his Kingdom of goodness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17b NLT).
These are critically important words from Jesus for a couple of reasons. Firstly, countless people over the centuries have spent their lives trying to get into the Kingdom of heaven, however they might understand it, by their own efforts. I once knew a person who spent some time as a practicing Buddhist. He gave it up because he found that reaching Nirvana through spiritual discipline was impossible for him and there was no guarantee that he would even make it. Jesus teaches us that God is pleased to give us his Kingdom as a gift. He gave his most treasured Son for us, who gave the most valuable thing he has, his perfect, sinless life, for us on the cross. It is because of the grace of God – the gift of Jesus’ life on the cross – that we can participate in God’s Kingdom of goodness, peace and joy.
Secondly, Jesus also says that God is pleased (NIV) to give it to us. It gives him great happiness (NLT) to give us a place in his Kingdom. This isn’t something the Father does begrudgingly or reluctantly, but because God created us to be in relationship with him, it brings him ‘great happiness’ to welcome us into a new relationship with him through faith in Jesus. It is almost like Jesus is saying that the desire of God’s heart is for us to be a part of his family because he treasures us, and nothing gives him greater joy than welcoming us into his Kingdom so he can protect and provide for us as his people.
When we compare what God has given for us and the great happiness it gives him to give us his Kingdom, the things Jesus is asking us to give up don’t seem that valuable anymore. This love means that we can treasure God first and foremost in our hearts. In the end, then, we can take Jesus seriously when he teaches us to sell all we have and give the money to the poor because it shows us where the treasure of our heart really is. God knows that, and it still gives our Father in heaven great happiness to give us his Kingdom. When our hearts treasure our God, who values us enough to give everything up for us in Jesus, we are free to use everything God has given us to bless the people around us.
More to think about:
- What is your most treasured possession? Would you be able to sell it and give the money away?
- What does that say about your heart’s treasure?
- If we find it hard to give away our most treasured possessions, how difficult do you think it would have been for our Father in heaven to give up his Son for us? For Jesus to give up his life on the cross for us?
- When you think about what the Father and the Son both gave up to give you a place in the Kingdom, what do they say about the way in God values you? Have you ever thought about yourself as ‘God’s treasure’?
- How can you use your money or possessions to bless the people around you this week?