Considering this idea that God may actually have material blessings for us, a warning must be issued and a question asked. The warning: our lives belong to God and not to our things. The question: what does Christ mean when He tells the rich young man that he must sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor in order to reap an eternal reward? Why should Christians not simply go and sell all of their possessions so that the poor can have more?
This question can be quite disconcerting for the Christian who understands material blessing to be a gift from God and who has read scripture. It is God who gave material wealth to Job on this earth and who sent the rich man to Hades. It is God who took Esau’s earthly inheritance and gave it to Jacob. It is God who allowed Israel to first gain riches in Egypt and then to be enslaved in the very next generation. Now that we have discovered together that God will bless us with material things in order to accomplish His purposes, we will consider the idea that God might take those material blessings away for the same purpose and what it actually means that we should be willing to part with all of our material wealth for the sake of the Gospel.
“Just then someone came up and asked Him, ‘Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask Me about what is good?’ He said to him. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ he asked Him.’ Jesus answered: ‘Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘I have kept all these,’ the young man told Him. ‘What do I still lack?’ ‘If you want to be perfect,’ Jesus said to him, ‘go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, ‘Then who can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ Then Peter responded to Him, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’”
The rich young ruler
The man who came was self centered in the respect that he assumed his own action could earn him eternal life. This is not surprising considering the fact that he was enveloped in a Jewish culture that screamed ritual over worship. Western religious culture is not so different. Often times we ask what we must do to be saved when salvation is not ours to accomplish, only to worship the creator. It is God alone who saves and he does so through Jesus Christ. The first step toward true worship is a declaration of Christ as Lord.
This man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. After making a statement that there is only one who is good, Christ told the man that he must keep the commandments that were handed down to Moses. The man claimed to have kept all of the commandments, which is an impossible task for any man. The simple fact that all men commit adultery in the form of having gods other than God himself means that all men have broken at least two of the Ten Commandments! In this man’s case, his material wealth was more important than pursuing a relationship with God. Jesus pointed out this fact by telling him that he must go and sell all of his possessions in order to have treasure in heaven. Then, he said that the man could come and follow Him.
In our discussion, then, of material possessions, we are now faced with this idea that these material possessions could become a god of ours. Though God may give material blessings for the advancement of His kingdom on this earth, we must be on guard against using these material blessings in a form idolatry. We must not base our identity in our possessions or work solely for the gaining of more material possessions. In fact, we might even consider that all material in the universe belongs to God. What God has done is allow us to be stewards of what ultimately belongs to Him. If this is the case, and I believe it must be, then all men are actually on equal ground when it comes to material wealth. Some who are stewards of more, though, mistake that stewardship for ownership.
Considering this, at God’s command to sell all material wealth and give to the poor, we should not hesitate! God may have material blessings for us, but He may also have a loss of material blessings for us so that His work may be accomplished on this earth. We must always seek God’s will in regards to what we perceive as material possessions.
The reward and eternal life
After, the young man went away grieving because he did not want to sell what he had. The issue here is not that the man owned much. The issue is that he placed his identity in those things and in his own ability to accomplish eternal life. In Christ’s answer to him, he mentioned both a heavenly reward and an opportunity for the young man to follow Him. Here we see a differentiation between following Christ and earning a heavenly reward. Eternal life, then, is our following Christ and trusting in Christ to deliver us from the power of sin and death. John 17:3 states that eternal life is that we would know God and the one who God sent, Jesus Christ. John 6:40 states that those who have eternal life will be raised up on the last day. Thus, eternal life is that each of us gets to know God and live forever with Him in the resurrection!
Christ also mentioned heavenly rewards. For our purposes in this section, it suffices to point out that those who give something up for the sake of the Gospel will be given that manifold in the resurrection or in the age of the Lord. The twelve will sit on thrones as judges over Israel and all of God’s people will receive some reward as a supplement to eternal life based on a denial of self for the sake of the work of the Gospel. It also seems that this denial of self depends wholly on what God has called each person to and the motives behind that person’s action. Thus, those who put themselves last will be first in the Kingdom of God! Those self-righteous who put themselves first will be last. Heavenly rewards will be explored more greatly in the next section, Deer Collector Pt. 3.
All to the glory of God
We have now established that God may have material blessings for us. We must not find our identity in those possessions and we must use those possessions for the glory of God and in the interest of advancing His kingdom. It may be the case, however, that God chooses to either take those possessions from us or not give them in the first place. We must know that number of possessions, or lack thereof, is not a measurement of holiness or a sign of God’s love. God gives and takes from His people according to His own glory and for the sake of His kingdom on this earth. We deny ourselves as we accept gifts on this basis and as we are willing lose those material, temporary gifts for the sake of the kingdom. All of this is for God’s glory, a glory that is the natural centerpiece of all creation.
This being said, many in an American context have been blessed with many material riches. I consider myself to be a part of this group. I have a computer with which I am producing this elucidation. I have a nice place to live, a vehicle and a place to lay my head. I have an income (though many would consider it minute). If it were just these, I would be considered more rich than most of the world’s inhabitants. I have been given much and am commanded to use everything I have been given for the sake of the Gospel. Such is the meaning of stewardship.
Perhaps there are some readers who either do not have much on this earth or who feel called to give up what they have. Fear not. Our treasure is not on this earth, but in Heaven. We must be willing to steward well what God has given us, not one of us being more important in God’s work than the other. God places each of us in or calls us to a particular area of ministry. If we are called to live among the wealthy or super-wealthy, then that is where we are called to live and minister and do the work of God’s kingdom. If we are called to sell all of our possessions and give to the poor or to live among the homeless or to travel and live abroad, then that is where we are called to minister and to do the work of God’s Kingdom and rewards will be given as we deny ourselves for the sake of God’s kingdom
A note for the Muslim
If there are any Muslims reading this who want to follow Christ and so have eternal life, know that whatever you give up for the sake of Christ will be met with manifold rewards and we can trust in God’s goodness when it comes to being forsaken by family in how much one has denied himself for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
 Matthew 19:16-30 (HCSB)