A Deeper Dive Into Riches and Relationships
A Deeper Dive Into Riches and Relationships
In the June 6 sermon we considered Jesus’ interaction with the rich man who refused to give up his possessions in order to follow Jesus (Mark 10:17-22). This prompted Jesus to reflect on the problem of wealth: wealth has such a hold on those who worship it, that it is difficult – in fact, it is impossible – for wealthy people to enter into God’s kingdom (Mark 10:23-25). That is, it is impossible for wealthy people to enter into God’s kingdom on their own. They simply do not have the ability to self-produce heartfelt repentance and saving faith. No sinful person has this ability. But God specializes in doing the impossible (Mark 10:27): He is able to cause the light of Christ’s glory to shine (2 Cor. 4:6) and repentance to take root (2 Tim. 2:25-26) and faith to rise (Acts 13:48) in a sinner’s heart, so that he or she gladly forsakes everything else in order to follow Jesus (Matthew 13:44-46).
We all understand the part of ‘forsaking everything else’ that means ‘forsaking the obvious sins’. But what is clear in Mark 10:17-31 is that ‘forsaking everything else’ means forsaking everything else, which includes a lot of good things. Sell your possessions. Bid farewell to your house and land. Or, going back to the call of the first disciples, walk away from your boat, your nets, your livelihood. Further, it is equally clear that ‘forsaking everything else’ means forsaking everyone else, which includes a whole lot of dear and valuable people: parents, siblings, children. You must abandon all other claims upon your life, and follow Jesus only.
But suppose someone asks you, ‘Jesus told the rich man to walk away from everything. How can you call yourself a follower of Jesus when you still have so many possessions?’ This is a good question. And in answering it, we don’t want to fall into a shallow insincerity that is okay with playing nice little religious games. So, we really need to clarify the meaning of the demand that Jesus makes upon us. It is true that Jesus called upon the rich man in Mark 10 to liquidate all of his assets “and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21 ESV) But does Jesus call every potential disciple to do likewise? A few considerations will help us to answer this question.
Consideration #1: The Unique Situation in the Four Gospels
When Jesus called people to follow Him (in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), He was calling them to follow Him on the road physically and geographically. Jesus was physically present during these few precious years, and He meant to have disciples who journeyed with Him and learned from Him. Hitting the road physically/geographically has obvious implications in terms of bidding farewell (at least for lengthy periods of time) to one’s family, one’s property, and one’s employment. Therefore, physical/geographic/relational/financial separation was an indispensable part of the equation. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is as radical now as it was then, but the call to immediate physical/geographic relocation is often not in play. I say ‘often’ and not always, because there are situations (e.g., in an environment of sharp persecution) where becoming a Christian may require one to make a complete break from one’s family and financial support system. Further, some disciples are called to re-locate in order to serve the Lord in a different part of the world (we call them missionaries). Even so, we must keep the physical/geographic separation dynamic in mind when we read about the earliest disciples in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Their situation and our situations are not identical.
Consideration #2: The Core of Discipleship
The core of discipleship is not physical relocation, but the radical restructuring of one’s heart. Deny yourself (Mark 8:34). Take up your cross (Mark 8:34). Identify completely with Jesus and His mission, devoting yourself wholeheartedly to Him and His gospel (Mark 8:34-35). Treasure and live by His words in a world that is opposed to them (Mark 8:38). Quit self-reliance, and prayerfully depend on the Father (Mark 9:14-29). Be done with self-exaltation, and serve others for Jesus’ sake (Mark 9:30-37). Die to anything that comes between you and the Lord (Mark 9:43-48). Like a needy little child with nothing to offer, bank on Jesus to be your portion and joy (Mark 10:13-16). Like the rich man ought of have done (Mark 10:17-21), de-throne the idol of wealth (if that’s one of your idols) – and de-throne any other idol that aims for your allegiance. Love King Jesus more than you love anyone or anything else (Luke 14:25-33).
This radical restructuring of the heart has hundreds of implications for your stewarding of relationships and your handling of possessions. Now you are a part of Jesus' family (the church) and a participant in His mission! In most instances, however, what is required is not physically/geographically leaving your pre-conversion family relationships and material possessions, but profoundly changing the way that you relate to them. Once you become a Christian, all that you are and all that you have are under the authority of Jesus, and everything else is a very distant ‘second’ or ‘third’ or ‘fourth’ place in comparison to Jesus’ preeminence over your life. Every good thing is incomparable to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8 ESV). Jesus alone is your King, and you must keep everything else in its proper and subservient place.
Consideration #3: The New Testament's Overall Teaching is Clear
The teaching of Jesus’ commissioned representatives in the rest of the New Testament clarifies these issues for us. Regarding relationships: as followers of Jesus, we are to care deeply for our spouses, children, and extended family. In the case where you have an unconverted husband and an unconverted wife, but then one of the two gets converted, the converted spouse who is now following Christ is not supposed to forsake the marriage. If the unconverted spouse is willing to remain in the marriage, the converted spouse should welcome it (1 Cor. 7:12-16). In the same vein, a believing wife should so conduct herself, with a gracious spirit and inward beauty, that “without a word” (1 Peter 3:1 ESV) she might win her disobedient husband (1 Peter 3:1-6). Believing parents should labor with great diligence to disciple their children in the ways of the Lord (Eph. 6:4, 1 Tim. 5:9-10). In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has taught us the permanence of marriage (Mark 10:1-12), the value of children (Mark 10:13-16), and the biblical command to show honor and practical care for one’s aging parents (Mark 7:9-13). And the apostle Paul is clear that believers must make every reasonable effort to care for their immediate and extended family members (1 Timothy 5:3-16). Get the picture? All of these relational responsibilities are not a distraction from discipleship, but part of the path of discipleship.
And likewise with material possessions: as followers of Jesus, we are to be good stewards of our wealth. So much New Testament instruction assumes that we have not liquidated and unloaded all of our assets. Instead, this instruction assumes that we have material resources to use and manage. The above instructions about providing practical/material care for one’s immediate and extended family (1 Timothy 5:3-16) assume that we have resources on which to draw. Those who have an abundance of material wealth are not commanded to unload it all in one fell swoop, but rather “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18 ESV). When Lydia came to know the Lord, she opened up her home to Paul and his missionary team (Acts 16:11-15). She wasn’t told to get rid of her home, but the obvious implication of following the Lord is that one’s home should be used for the Lord’s sake – and that’s what Lydia did. Her home became a base of operations for gospel ministry (while still functioning as a home for Lydia and her household). Similarly, the instruction to “[contribute] to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (Romans 12:13 ESV), and the pattern of so much church fellowship taking place in believers’ homes (e.g., Acts 2:46-47, Rom. 16:3-5, Col. 4:15), indicate that the Lord expects us to have a measure of material resources (including homes) at our disposal. The fact that this is so must never become an excuse to chase after wealth in order to maximize worldly comforts and pleasures (while giving away a paltry low percentage to placate our uneasy conscience). But we shouldn’t be afraid of wealth, either. The generous use of your wealth to do genuine good to your household, your relatives, your fellow Christians and other neighbors in need, your church family and the ministries and missionaries that it supports – is a wonderful testimony to how the Lord has freed you from the idol of wealth and turned you into a glad, large-hearted, Christ-like giver.
Does the Lord expect every disciple to liquidate and unload all of his or her material assets? Based on the above considerations, we can confidently answer: No, He doesn’t expect every disciple to do this. But this doesn’t mean you have it easy! To think that you get off easy is to completely miss the point. We must de-throne every other person and thing, and joyfully surrender all that we are and have to Jesus. We must be humble and sober-minded about the New Testament’s warning that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Tim. 6:10 ESV) We cling to Jesus, and hold loosely to everything and everyone else. And we aim to be a faithful, generous, Bible-saturated, gospel-motivated, church-loving steward of all of our resources and all of our relationships for the glory and honor of Christ!
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 ESV)
NOTE: Header Image/Featured Image Photo by Dan Gribbin on Unsplash