Most of us have heard the saying, “He who dies with the most toys, wins!” Really? Who came up with that little platitude of bovine batter? It must have been some ancient ding-bat because human beings have bought into this lie for thousands of years. Egyptian tombs are filled with fabulous riches of gold, precious gems, household items, chariots and even the bodies of the poor, unfortunate servants and horses the deceased owned.
These favorite things were stuffed into the tombs of wealthy individuals with the hope they would enjoy using them again in the next life. What a major bummer for their consciousness to flip over into eternity, only to realize what was considered precious and irreplaceable on earth, is completely worthless now.
As they look around, fully aware of their surroundings and still possessing a body of sorts, with physical senses, and understanding vastly superior to their best day on earth, when the horrible realization hits them that everything they believed their whole life was wrong; with the awful knowledge that the nightmare they’re experiencing is forever.
There they are, alone in suffocating heat and darkness, with only the distant screams of the tormented for company. There’s no golden chalice to hold water with which to quench their thirst. No servants to ease their suffering or talk with. No way out. No hope. EVER. But hey, at least they have vivid memories of all that awesome stuff they once owned, right?
A wealthy young man came to Jesus and asked Him, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Matthew 19:16 (KJV). Jesus told him to keep the commandments, and listed some examples. Verses 20-24 tells the rest of the story. “The young man saith unto Him, ‘All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?’ Jesus said unto him, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”
“But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto His disciples, ‘Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter in to the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
The Bible tells us this man had “great possessions.” Strong’s Concordance reveals this means that he owned a great deal of land and/or estates. He had MORE than enough to live comfortably, yet cherished these things more than the thought of following Jesus. He walked away “sorrowful.” The Greek for ‘sorrowful’ is “lupeo,” which not only denotes sadness, but also ‘to grieve or offend’ someone. I think this is the most likely meaning of this exchange between Jesus and the rich, young man.
Note that Jesus didn’t tell him to go and sell ALL that he had. Christ never ordered anyone to give up all earthly possessions as the price for following Him. The disciples voluntarily left everything they had to be His disciples, but they were quite poor to begin with. It wasn’t much of a financial sacrifice for them; besides, all their needs were met while they were with Him.
But this rich young man had obviously been born into great wealth, which he would have been expected to manage, increase and leave to his own children. He was most likely offended that Jesus wanted him to sell his excess and give the profit to the poor! After all, that wealth was to be his legacy.
Yet, this is exactly what the early church did. In an often misunderstood account in the Book of Acts, the new Christian converts in Jerusalem sold their excess properties and ‘stuff’ to raise money to distribute to the poor and needy around them.
“And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” Acts 4:32-35 (KJV)
If you read carefully, these people decided on their own initiative, out of gratitude and joy for what the Lord Jesus had done for them, many of whom had seen Him after His resurrection with their own eyes, to sell their excess lands and houses. They freely chose to give this money to the apostles, who then distributed the proceeds to feed, clothe and house the poor believers among them. No one forced or required them to do this, nor did this mean the disciples demanded everyone live in some kind of hippy-style, communist commune.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, stated the Lord’s view on what type of lifestyle truly pleases God. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27 (KJV)
Later on, he points out, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have no works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” James 2:14-17 (KJV)
In other words, don’t go up to someone on the street who is obviously hungry and cold, slap them on the back and say “God bless you! May you be filled with food and sleep warm as toast,” then walk away without meeting their physical needs. How absurd would that be, yet I’m sure that is all too often reality today.
So, the story of the rich, young man who walked away from following Jesus is really remarkable. Jesus didn’t direct him to sell ALL he had, leaving his family destitute, in order to follow Him. He told him to sell his excess and give the proceeds to the poor, thus laying up for himself great treasure in heaven. But the thought of doing so was offensive to this man. He chose to keep a tight-fisted grasp on the things of this world rather than please God.
James must have had some lengthy conversations with Jesus about this. He says “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” James 4:17 (KJV) Now, don’t misunderstand—there is nothing wrong or sinful with being rich. Abraham, Joseph, David, Job and many other Bible characters were very wealthy men. They had FAR more than they needed to live comfortably, but they all made sure they resisted the temptation to hoard their wealth. They were all generous with those who were in need around them.
That’s the key. We are to hold on loosely to the things of this earth. The Word is full of caution regarding money and material things. Timothy warned against those in the church who were materialistic. He said such people were full of “Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself, but godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” 1 Timothy 6:5-8 (KJV)
No kidding people, you can’t take it with you. This message permeates the Word of God, yet look at the scratching and clawing we see here in America every day; more, bigger, better, higher, deeper, faster, shinier, flashier…I can’t imagine the disgust God holds for this nation. We are the richest people on the face of the earth, yet most people are unsatisfied, spending their lives wanting more. Always reaching and striving for more.
“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither…” Job 1:21 (KJV) As a hospice RN I can attest to the fact that we’re all born naked and screaming, only to end up on a cold, stainless-steel table under the gaze of strangers, naked and mute, mouth hanging open, eyes staring at nothing, with empty hands. Doesn’t matter who you are; rich, poor, famous, unknown…we all end up in the same, ridiculous, embarrassing circumstance. Humbling, huh?
If you’re a wealthy Christian, beware. “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the LOVE of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:9-10 (KJV) (emphasis mine). Being rich isn’t the issue. Trusting in, and loving your riches to such an extent that you have a difficult time helping those in need around you, IS an issue.
Think about it. Are you willing to generously give in circumstances where you won’t receive a receipt to claim a tax-deduction? What do you do when you see some grizzled dude on the side of the road, holding up a sign saying he’s homeless, or out of work, or hungry? Do you pull into the other lane and pretend you don’t see him? Do you count the seconds until the light changes to green, then go about your business, forgetting all about him?
Or do you go out of your way to drive to the nearest fast-food place, buy him a sack of food and a drink, battling traffic all the way back, to hand it to him with a smile? Do you ever stop to think how many people in this country are out of work? Are you aware of what a dreadful time most food banks are having, keeping up with demand from hungry families?
Is Christmas the only time you give much thought to giving to the less fortunate in your community? Do you stick a five-dollar-bill into that red bucket while the fake Santa rings his bell, feeling all satisfied and smug as you head into the mall to spend hundreds of dollars on a load of crappola you and your family don’t need?
Have you ever considered anonymously arranging to pay the light bill for that struggling, single mother in your office? What about paying for the little dab of groceries for the senior citizen in line ahead of you, who struggles to live on a fixed income? Have you ever secretly arranged with the waitress to cover the lunch bill for a couple of soldiers or police officers, just to bless their day with kindness and appreciation?
Even if you don’t have much money to spare, everyone can do something giving and kind for someone every day. Believe me, when you look around it doesn’t take long before you spot a genuine need. Does someone need help carrying something or getting a door opened by themselves? Can you bake cookies for the lonely, elderly neighbor down the street whose spouse just passed away?
Is there someone within your church congregation that needs assistance with housework, laundry or childcare while they’re going through chemotherapy? Are you able to offer them a ride to the doctor’s office or grocery store? Can you cook dinner for them once in a while? How about taking your kid’s outgrown clothes, shoes and toys to see if anyone at the battered women’s shelter can use them, before giving them to Goodwill?
If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us could clean out our closets, hold a garage sale and give the proceeds to a homeless shelter that shares the gospel with the destitute people they feed and house. You’ll be blessing others and cleaning out stuff you don’t need at the same time!
This world is FULL of hurting, lonely, desperate, lost men and women who need to be shown the love of Jesus. Handing a homeless person a gospel tract will mean a whole lot more if their stomach isn’t growling, or they aren’t shivering with cold! Stick a crowbar in your wallet for crying out loud, and enthusiastically participate in the holiday giving program your church offers. If they don’t have one, take the initiative to get one organized.
I could go on and on with examples, but you get the drift. Compared to the vast majority of folks on the planet, Americans are incredibly wealthy. We have enough food, decent shelter, health care and clothing. Our kids are able to go to school, and most of us own cars, TV’s and other luxuries. Our needs are more than met every day.
Our children aren’t being sold into slavery or having to spend their days, rummaging through garbage dumps for something edible or items to sell. We have clean hot and cold water pumped into our homes, along with proper sanitation. We’re able to bathe and wash our clothes. These things are but a dream for untold millions.
As the holiday season presses in upon us, I urge you to resist simply giving lip-service to God for His many blessings. Take a few moments to meditate on His incredible provision, and really thank Him for all He’s given you. Thank Him for His forgiveness and salvation. Thank Him for your family. Honor His name and worship Him for the incredible, powerful Father God He is.
Put down the Christmas wish-books and take a realistic look at all the stuff you think you want, but don’t really need. Consider foregoing the gifts you might receive, and use those resources to anonymously bless someone in real need. Remember: “But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth…” Matthew 6:3 (KJV). Be sneaky. It makes it a lot more fun that way!
Don’t be the fool that dies with the most toys. They don’t ‘win’ anything at all. They’re just pathetic losers!