It is quite astonishing just how many Christians seem to have formulated the opinion that God somehow wants his followers to be poor. The idea is derived from passages such as the one in which a young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life (Mat 19). The first answer that man received was to keep the commandments. But not satisfied with that, he pressed further and then received a second answer: sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor and then come and follow me.
Before we look at the story in more detail, I would like to suggest that this is one of those places that I believe we can see Jesus joking with his disciples. After the young man goes away, he says to his disciples that it would be “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” Even as the disciples question, “who then can be saved?” Jesus continues in what I believe to be a humorous tone when he replies, “with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”
The mistake that many Christians make is to formulate generalisations from this story: if Jesus told the rich young man to sell all his possessions and give everything to the poor, surely, that’s what he wants us all to do. This is just not true. For one thing, the young man in the story would never have heard the suggestion (and neither would we) if he had simply been satisfied with the first answer he received. What Jesus did in giving him the second answer was to illustrate the wrong emphasis that material possessions had in the young man’s mind.
If you look more closely at the story, you will find that Jesus deliberately omitted the first commandment from his reply when the young man raised the initial question. Only after the fellow replied that he had kept all of those commandments did Jesus provide the object lesson contained in the second reply. Notice that he did not tell the man that he should ‘love the Lord God with all his heart and all his strength’ the essence of the first commandment i.e. to put God first in his life. Instead, he illustrated that was not the case and that is the true meaning and context of this story.
As is often the case, when things are taken out of context, we can easily lose the overall meaning of the messages in The Bible. When you read the whole canon, you get to understand the central themes: God is love, God is a provider, God cares about you and your life. It is only when you take things out of context that you encounter the popular misconceptions: God is jealous, God is vengeful and – the subject of this post – God wants you to be poor.
It is, of course, quite understandable how people manage to get the wrong impression, but money is neither good nor evil; it is entirely neutral. Money is simply a type of information that travels around in an economic system. That is all it is. The intention of God is that those people who come to trust him should have an abundant life; one that is not focussed upon money (that is the lesson of the young man in our story) and one that is not focussed upon self denial.
Of course, we all need to come to this understanding in our own time. But I believe that God does not care too much about the subject of money. Putting money first in your life is the wrong focus – yes, that’s true. But denying yourself the abundance you will experience by pursuing your life purpose is an equally wrong focus. I believe that you are here for a reason. You are not here by accident and your life has both meaning and purpose.
The most important thing you can do in life is to find your life purpose and then have the courage to live it and God’s promise is that your life will be an abundant one; money and material possessions will never be a problem or a worry for you. So to return to our question, does God want Christians to be poor? If you still think the answer is ‘yes’, then you are entitled to your opinion, of course, but you may be missing out on living the kind of life you were born to live; a life that is full of fun, excitement and happiness.
As Jesus himself said, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10)”