A QUESTION I WAS ASKED:
“Can you please explain Luke 12:33-34? Over the last 25 Years I have asked several ministers about this quote of Jesus, but have never yet received a truly satisfactory reply, in fact several times I have had an embarrassed response. One minister – can you believe - even told me he wished that Jesus had never spoken these words!”
Luke 12:33-34 says this (NIV):
'Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'
Okay, first of all we need to back off a little in order to check the context in which Jesus said these things.
If the reader carefully checks out Luke 12, the subject of the chapter changes from verse 13. The first part of this chapter (1-12) was a warning about hypocrisy, blasphemy and hell, but from verse 13 there is a clear change of subject/topic. Now the overall topic is how Christians should handle wealth and prosperity. The Parable of the Rich Fool commences this section, the man in the parable wanted to build bigger barns to store his wealth rather than share it with others. The parable concludes with these words of Jesus:
'But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.' (Verses 20-21).
So the man in the parable would die that very night and would never enjoy what he had saved for the future. I'm afraid that this is very true and accurate of the attitude of most wealthy people; they build 'big barns' of wealth for their later years but frequently ignore the immediate needs of those around them.
Jesus goes on to tell His disciples that they should not worry too much about physical and material needs since,
'Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.' (Verse 23).
He mentions how even ravens are fed even though they 'do not sow or reap' - Then Solomon is compared to the glory of lillies. Indeed, God is even concerned to clothe 'the grass of the field' – so why should people worry too much about such things?
'For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.' (Verse 31).
So the message is: Christians must be free of a materialistic, 'getting' approach to life! I have to say that modern western Christians – in the main – have become very materialistic, influenced by the societies in which they live. But God assures us that He is only too pleased to give us His kingdom (verse 32) – monetary, financial and material considerations do not even enter into it!
But now - in verse 33 – Jesus spells out a radically different way which His followers should seek to emulate: 'Sell your possessions and give to the poor.' - Is Jesus telling us that we should own absolutely nothing? No, I don't think He is, but He is showing us that if we are Christians we should be committed to sharing what we have. We should give willingly and generously – just as Jesus generously laid down His life for us all!! It is an attitude and an approach. Some charlatan “ministers” have told their congregation that these verses mean that they should pay them their tithes regularly – such outrageous dishonesty!! The subject of tithes is not even under consideration here.
Christians should never give to the rich or wealthy, but should be generous towards the poor.
'He that oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he that gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty' (Proverbs 22:16).
Some despicable 'Word-faith' teachers have turned this on its head and tell their people that they should give to affluent, silk-suited “preachers” in order to make both themselves and those leaders richer. With a complete disregard for spiritual truth - they then assert that this is an important part of the Gospel!
The first Christians took Jesus totally seriously and where there was wealth they did indeed sell in order to support poorer Christians (many of whom were slaves) and in order to finance the preaching of the gospel, but it is clear that these two factors were looked upon as of more or less equal importance. We also know from early non-biblical Christian accounts that the first Christians were keen to support the poor in general (including widows and orphans) in many towns in the Mediterranean world – this often attracted people to the Gospel who might not otherwise have even noticed it. Let us note how we see these principles put into action in the Book of Acts:
'Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need'
This principle is seen again in Acts 4;
'Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles' feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need'
How sad that in the modern world we often find wealthy and rather poor Christians within the same congregation! All too often the wealthy leave a Christian service and get into luxury cars and drive to expensive restaurants where they share an expensive meal with their equally financially-affluent friends, even while other people leave the service and have to wait for the bus or climb into their 15 year old car – just hoping that their old 'jalopy' will keep going a bit longer! Brothers and sisters in Christ: These things should not be so!!
So what did Jesus mean by suggesting that Christians should 'provide purses' for themselves which will never wear out - this leading to a treasure in heaven?
He is saying that there is no point in investing in this world - which today is, but tomorrow will be cast into the oven. Rather, our Master wishes to see those who are truly in the Faith using their money and success wisely, building for the kingdom! This means showing generosity toward the genuine poor in general, but especially towards our poorer Christian brethren not only at home but certainly including Christian overseas missions and orphanages which so often really have to struggle for funds to keep going; also being prepared to invest in the spiritual on a more local level. Local evangelistic initiatives come in here but I am perhaps a little slower to mention this because I know that a lot of hard-earned Christian money has been wasted and mis-spent on ill-conceived but expensive 'evangelistic campaigns'! Christians must use wisdom and financial accountability in their stewardship! By the way, I think the way in which Jesus uses His words would rule out ensuring that the pastor is driving the very latest 'state-of-the-art' automobile or can afford that expensive (but uneeded) extension to his home! Sure, 'the labourer is worthy of his hire' and his salary would come in here, but no more importantly than ensuring that the church financial help fund is in very good health for those within the congregation suddenly hitting financial emergencies – and it should be the task of several within any congregation to be 'keeping their ears close to the ground' since those hitting financial emergencies frequently will not talk about it!! These are all areas in which Christians can fashion purses, or wallets, which will never wear out. And yet despite the examples of Christian commitment which we read about in Acts, I am told that many churches in the U.S. and in the U.K. do not even have a 'church financial help fund' for members/attenders who hit sudden difficult financial patches. One lady wrote me to tell me that she and her husband had to lose their home when he suddenly (and through no fault of his own) lost his job. That family asked the leaders of their large congregation for the church to meet four mortgage payments until their emergency was over. The church refused even though this couple had been dilligent tithers for 15 years. When I hear such things I feel real anger.
My honest opinion is that Christians in the Third World uphold these standards of generosity and giving far better than affluent Christians in the developed world – even though it is the latter group who have so much more which they could offer in help and assistance.
Robin A. Brace, 2005.