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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Sell all your possessions?
Luke 12:33,34 - Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke is describing a scene where our Lord is addressing a large crowd after a man in the crowd who wants his brother to split their inheritance expresses a desire for Jesus to intervene on his behalf in the matter.  The Lord replies with a question, "Who appointed me a judge or arbitrator over you?" - but then begins to address the crowd, not on the point directly, but on the sentiment that provoked the question: greed.

The Lord immediately tells the crowd to be on guard against every form of greed, noting that even a person living in abundance does not have his life dependent upon (consisting of) the things he possesses.  He tells the crowd the parable of the rich man who has so much that he has no place to keep it all - and rather than give away what he doesn't need, he instead plans to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to hold (and thus keep) the abundance that the Lord has blessed him with.  The motive for holding onto such an abundance is given in the parable - it provides the man with security, comfort, and ease for many years to come. 

In the parable God Himself calls the man a fool, because the life that he is living is about to be taken away from him, and all the stuff he was providing for that life, would never be enjoyed by him. The teaching being that this is what happens to people who store up riches for themselves and are not rich toward God - meaning, presumably, people who hoard what they have instead of using what they have for the benefit of others (compare Luke 3:10-11, And the crowds were questioning him, saying, Then what shall we do? And he would answer and say to them, The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.)

The teaching continues with our Lord showing what an error it is to presume upon your own supply (possessions, accumulated wealth, etc.) by telling his disciples not to worry about their lives, as to what they would eat, or what was needed for their bodies, etc.  Life is (i.e. consists of) more than food and the body is more than clothing.  Giving the example of the ravens that neither sow nor reap, nor have storehouses or barns in which to amass their wealth - they are fed daily by the Lord.  Our Lord then brings this imagery into focus by asking, how much more valuable are you than the birds!  He explains that you cannot add a single hour to your life (i.e. by storing up good for yourself to ensure your life lasts longer, etc.) because you have no power to do that.  He likewise continues the analogy, using the flowers of the field to show that you needed worry about possessions (such as clothes for the body, which is used in the example here) since God clothes the flowers of the field that are here today, and gone tomorrow.  How much more will God clothe you?  He admonishes His disciples to have faith, and not to worry about the things that you will need to live, because God knows about those needs, and is already looking after them.

Instead of seeking the wealth of the world, you should be seeking the "kingdom of God" (in other words, you should be seeking to obey God as your king), and when we have it, these things will be added to us.

It is at this point (Luke 11:33), and in the context of this teaching that the Lord says, "Sell all your possessions and give to charity;".

Taken out of context, some might imagine that Jesus is telling Christians to sell -everything- they have, but that is not what the text is saying.  He is talking about greed, and the true source of greed, which is the desire to supply for yourself all that you desire.  The more possessions you have, the more certain you are that your life will be fully provisioned.  The more you provide for yourself, the higher a standard of living you can expect the wealth you amass to provide for you.

We should stop here and make sure we have don't misunderstand the point.  The Lord isn't saying that wealth is evil, (though the desire for it is the root of all kinds of evil, as we read elsewhere) or that Christians should live without possessions.  He is saying that the person who does not trust God to provide for the necessities of life, is going to look to himself to provide.  Since the future is uncertain, and one cannot know today what one will desire tomorrow, it follows that no amount of amassed wealth will suffice - you will always be seeking to increase your abundance, and therefore increase your independence from God's provision.

There is nothing wrong with owning property, or having wealth - so long as you aren't hoarding wealth and possessions for worldly reasons (prestige, fame, bragging, or self reliance).  The message here is not to go and sell all that you have to become a Christian - it is sell what you don't need, and give the proceeds to people who do need.  It is the same teaching as having two coats, and finding another who has none - giving them your spare cloak. 

The heart of this teaching seems to be to assert a right understanding of charity (love).

Remember the manna in the wilderness (c.f. Exodus 16)?  Some gathered much, and some gathered little, but everyone ate their fill.  Those who tried to hoard manna for themselves found it spoiled - even though you could gather twice as much on Friday, and it would keep over the Sabbath (Saturday).

But note the command that given was given in Exodus 16:16, "...you shall take an omer [about 7.5 pints] apiece according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent..." In other words, it didn't matter that some gathered much and some gathered a little, when what was gathered was combined for all in that tent, each had about an omer of manna to eat that day.  Those who gathered abundantly one day were supplying the needs of those who gathered sparingly that day. 

The idea, was not that everyone had to give up all their manna (i.e. sell on their possessions) - it was that those who had gathered much did so to supply the need of those who gathered less - so that the whole community was supplied. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 describes charity (love) in this way:

Charity suffereth long, and is kind;
charity envieth not;
charity vaunteth not itself,
is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly,
seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked,
thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things,
believeth all things,
hopeth all things,
endureth all things.

I know your translation reads, "love" - and yes, I did go with the King James Version here, because it translates agape as "charity" instead of "love" - because the word love has come to describe an emotion in our culture, rather than the sort of selfless commitment to serving others that is being described here above.  Charity is a better fit, but even that word falls short given the modern connotations associated with charity.

If it wasn't so awkward, the phrase, "the heart that truly serves others" would fit instead of the word "love" or charity.  Something like this strikes home:

A heart that truly serves others is patient and kind;
It doesn't envy or make more of itself than it is,
it isn't arrogant or rude
nor does it demand its own way.
A heart that truly serves others isn't easily provoked,
nor does it assume evil of others,
It takes no joy in iniquity, but rejoices over truth;
It bears, all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.

No human born of Adam has such a heart within himself.  Our hearts are, as Jeremiah says, deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  None of us come close to this - yet this is the heart of God, and was and is the heart of His Son Jesus Christ.  He lived a life that put that heart on display in all that He did.

When I use "heart" in this sense - I am not talking about the blood pump, nor am I talking about something as pithy as an emotion or a feeling - I am talking about that attribute of God's character, which we try to describe using other words like charity or love.  I am talking about a state of being, that character trait, that intangible "something" that manifest itself in a selfless commitment to serving others - to putting the needs of others before our own needs.

This is the very opposite of the sort of greed that causes a person to hoard possession.  That greed which has as its root, a self serving desire that can only serve others if there is something to be gained by that service.  The love described here is not merely selfless (making no provision for your self), it is going out of its way to make provisions for others.  This is what this kind of love looks like - and it this love that most contrasts the greed our Lord describes here in Luke 11.

In our day and age, the word love doesn't really describe selflessness or charity - or serving others - it describes rather an emotion or passion that drives our actions. That is radically different than a state of being that naturally desires the best for others. 

The command to love God, therefore is not a command to work up a warm and friendly emotion, or to try and generate in yourself a selflessness that wants to serve others.  It is a command to serve God with all your heart, even as God serves you - selflessly and without remorse.  It is also a command that no one but Christ has ever kept.

That is what we are called to: *real* love, a love that serves others while denying self.  A love that cannot find its origin in our sinful, self serving, flesh - but must find itself in Christ - and so can only be found in genuine Christians - and even then, only amongst those who have learned to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God - so that even though their selfish lives continue - nevertheless Christ lives within them, and provokes them to good works that they themselves desire only because God is at work in them (c.f. Philippians 2) producing that desire that is otherwise foreign to them.

The love we serve with is not an emotion, and cannot be worked up or provoked by various means.  It is a (the ?) fruit of the Spirit (Love joy, peace, etc.).  It is impossible to love God in your own strength because the love that God requires is a fruit of the Spirit - meaning it doesn't come from you, it comes from Him.  Only the Christian can love God the way God commands, and this not of himself, but rather through Christ.

So when our Lord commands us to sell all our possessions, He is talking about those of us who have an abundance of wealth - the kind that exists not to supply for daily needs - but rather as insurance against the possibility of need in the future - the kind that has been gathered in greed to make provision for our flesh.

Now, it isn't really my job to go (and I have no interest in going) around identifying how much of your "treasure" you should, or should not be selling to supply the needs of those whom you know to be in need in your local church, or even in the global church.  But I do believe that times will come when need will arise, and there will be those who have abundance who will use their abundance to supply that need, because they will understand that this is the purpose for their abundance - to supply the needs of those who lack.  I believe also that in such times there will also be those who have the same abundance which exists for the same purpose, but these will stand aloof because they (like the rich young ruler) love themselves so much, that they will not use money they don't even need to help people in need.

So when you hear our Lord commanding you to sell all your possessions, I don't think he is saying, become penniless in order that others may be wealthy.  I think he is describing the sort of thing we see in the first few chapters of the book of Acts: people selling what they had been hoarding for themselves in order to supply the need of those who had less. 

I know when I write stuff like this, my wife likes me to "make it real" by giving "concrete examples" of what I am describing - but in this case, a concrete example is troublesome because so many factors play into this sort of thing, that it is ultimately going to be something the Holy Spirit will reveal to people as they come across it.

The best examples I can think of come from the scriptures, and I have mentioned them already.  If you have two cloaks (you would use a cloak for warmth, especially at night - it was practically a necessity) and a brother has none - give him one of your cloaks.  That is the sort of "sell your possessions" the Lord is talking about.  Don't love the things in this world so much that you amass what you do not need, while denying it to those who have a need.

It isn't rocket science, but there is a difficult caveat: If Christ isn't in you, doing this isn't going to put Him there.  Stuff like this will not draw you closer to Christ, so if you're on the mouse-wheel, trying to do the next big thing to try and make your religion "more real" - this isn't going to get you there.  This you will do when Christ moves you to do it. You'll know when He does because you'll have the will and the desire to do it, and there will be no remorse in what you do, because you will do it in Christ, and not in your flesh.

Like all things, be Bereans about this.  Read the scriptures and see if I am talking out of my armpits, or whether or not the things I say here are so - and if they are, then hold onto what the scriptures say, surrender yourself to the will of Christ insofar as you are able, and trust that the work He is doing in you , will be brought to completion - not by your effort, but by (and on account of) His.
posted by Daniel @ 12:01 PM  
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