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Jesus, said this:

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” ESV, Matthew 19:21

But did Jesus follow this teaching? It seems from elsewhere that he had a purse and therefore didn't immediately give away any money that came into his possession.

In which case, what does this verse mean? Is Jesus telling people to give away all there money or not?


This question is based on a closed question on another site

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Perhaps also Luke 22:36, in which Jesus apparently has nothing against his followers' purses. –  Steve Jessop Jul 3 at 9:27
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6 Answers 6

Jesus continuously said things that got to the heart of the matter. This example is no different.

In your quote from Matthew we see a young man that wants to know what good thing he must do to get eternal life. Eventually, Jesus says what you have quoted.

What the man then does and what Jesus says immediately after revels what Jesus meant.

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

You see he loved his wealth more than life! He was willing to forego eternal life in the Kingdom of God for money here on Earth! Jesus got to the heart of the matter for that young man; the thing that was keeping him from truly following God. He goes on to say:

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

This verse is highly debated, but most agree on at least this: Jesus is saying that for a man like this one, gaining eternal life will never happen as long as money is in his way; as long as love for money is in his heart.

But the most important part follows:

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

You cannot save yourself! Whatever you do, you cannot satisfy God's wrath. You will still deserve death. But by God's super-abundant grace, you can be saved.

So you see the issue was not money, specifically. The issue is anything that is in your way from truly loving God and following Him wholeheartedly. It is then that His grace will save you and you will gain eternal life.1

The short answer to your exact question in light of the above:

Though Jesus likely gave to the poor regularly, he almost certainly earned and used money in the same way we do. He needed to make a living just like everyone else. Also, he was not making a description of "perfect" as much as he was showing that a perfect man has nothing between himself and God.


1) ADDENDUM

There are other teachings from Jesus that say the same thing but use other things as the example that comes between you and God. Jesus did say you must "hate" your entire family and yourself before you can be His follower Luke 14:26. If we follow the plain logic that your question and comments adhere to then we are stuck asking what the disciples did: If all with a family are doomed "Who then can be saved?" And Jesus then would correct us and saying "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." So you see, again, the issue is anything that comes between you and God. Whatever that thing is is actually much less important.

The scripture is filled with encouragements to remove all things that cause you to stumble and not follow God. The language in them is rough and ridiculous if you think it is literal prescriptive advice. Here are a few:

  1. Mark 9:43 and Matthew 18:8 - "If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out." Surely, you are not to cut off parts of your body. It is equally ridiculous to blame your eyes for engaging in fornication. However, it is not ridiculous to blame your lusts on the filthy television you watched last night, for example.

  2. 1 Corinthians 8:9 Says to even remove things from your life that can cause others to sin - "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak." There is no ridiculous language in these verses; it is straight forward and gives a real example: eating animals that have been sacrificed to idols (though I admit that is less of a problem today).

  3. Luke 14:26 -- “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." If we take "hate" literally then it is in contrast with the second greatest commandment. Clearly, the message is that there must be nothing between you and God; to be a disciple of Christ you must be all in or not in at all; you must remove or change anything from your life that prevents you from following Him wholeheartedly.

This answer is adapted from another answer on a different SE site.

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Perhaps consider also Luke 22:35-38. It's not about obstacles, but Jesus apparently has nothing against the disciples using purses as a means to an end (fulfilling prophecy in this case), but has previously instructed them to be poor as a means to an end. Like you say, the cash itself is not the issue :-) –  Steve Jessop Jul 3 at 9:29
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With this definition and comment, you have inspired me to read the bible and trying to understand it more than any other person or text –  user2422960 Jul 3 at 19:45
    
@user2422960 Study will illuminate many things about the Bible. Glad to have stimulated your intellect. Thanks. –  fredsbend Jul 3 at 19:57
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Short Answer: Jesus was not asking the man to do something He had never done; rather, He was asking the man to follow in His footsteps. He was asking the man to lay down his life in love for others ...just like Jesus.


While I appreciate the typical Christian answer of "Jesus was addressing his personal idol" I lean toward another explanation based on the text.

Why not just say it was "the man's personal idol"?

One of the issues I have with the typical answer is that it doesn't seem to me to mesh with Jesus' flow of thought (evidenced by the context). Jesus' initial response to the man is not "you are in idolatry"; His initial response is to remind him in general of the requirements of the Law. Also, Jesus' explanation of the encounter to the disciples (after the fact) is a generic commentary on how hard it is for rich people in general to enter the kingdom. If the typical answer is correct, why doesn't Jesus go on to explain the dangers of idolatry, rather than the dangers of being rich? It is difficult to explain Jesus' statement in verses 23-24 if "being rich" is not really an issue at all. What we need to do is trace Jesus' flow of thought.

"What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?" (v.16)

Let's start with the heart of the matter. The rich man is asking how he can earn salvation by his good works. Anyone with any familiarity with New Testament theology should immediately see red flags going off in their mind upon reading this. The rich man was very confused; he would never be able to obtain eternal life by doing good things. The Law was given to shut up everyone under condemnation -- the only way to avoid that would be to keep the entire Law, which no one could do.

Meet the Law (v.17-19)

Jesus knew the purpose of the Law, and he knew the rich man's error. Thus, He replies that if the rich man desires to "obtain eternal life" by his good works, he must keep the Law -- all of it. After He lists a few sample commandments, He then summarizes the entire Law by saying "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (cf. Gal. 5:14, Rom. 13:8-10, etc.)

"All these things I have kept." (v.20)

The rich man replies by essentially saying "check." He thinks he has kept the Law! He couldn't be more wrong, for the essence of the Law is to love one's neighbor, and everyone fails at that. No one keeps the whole Law -- no one is even able to. The rich man has misunderstood the Law, thinking it to be a few simple external codes to conform to... he is missing the heart of the Law, and failing to recognize his own failure to keep the Law; his own failure to love his neighbor the way God desires.

As noted, all of these commandments in the Law are summed up in saying "love your neighbor". Love, as Jesus defines it, involves laying down your life for your friends (John 15:13). The man's "neighbors", as Jesus defines it, includes everybody (Luke 10:29ff). Jesus even taught that "you are to be perfect" (or "complete") in your love for others!

If you truly wish to be perfect . . . (v.21-22)

To recap, Jesus' use of the term "perfect" here refers to a "perfect love for others", which would be the fulfillment of the Law, which is what is required in order to be found blameless in your good works before God. Thus to "be perfect" is to love perfectly. Love, remember, is laying down your life for others, and those "others" includes everybody. Thus, "be perfect" = "lay down your own life for everyone else".

Did Jesus do this? Ya.

Did Jesus want His disciples to follow His example in this? Yes. (cf. Luke 9:23)

Now, a point of clarification is in order here. When Jesus tells this rich man who "owned much property" to go sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Him, He did not mean "sell the clothes you're wearing -- including your undergarments, ...and your belt, ...and your walking stick, ...and give away every last cent you have in your pocket. The man had an abundance, which he was storing up for himself, while his neighbors next to him were impoverished. Jesus was instructing him to repent, serve those in need rather than serving himself, and then come follow Him. He is not asking the rich man to do anything different than He had already done (and would continue to do).

It is hard for a rich man (v.22-24)

At this point Jesus comments on the difficulty rich people have in entering the Kingdom. Why? It's pretty simple really: because those who spend their lives accruing wealth for themselves are generally very reluctant to give it all away to others and follow Jesus instead. There is a sharp contrast between the generic "rich man's" selfishness and Jesus' demand to lay down your self to serve others in love. Jesus had already said: You can either serve God or wealth, but not both; these two paths in life are in stark contrast (Matt. 6:24). A rich man said one time: "You don't get rich by giving your money away!" Indeed you do not. No, you get rich by keeping your money; by serving yourself, hording resources that could be used to help those in need, and closing your heart to the impoverished and desperate.

Summary

The rich man wanted to keep his possessions, not use them to help those in need. He wanted to earn his way into heaven by good deeds, but he did not want to lay down his life for his neighbor in love. Jesus confronted this fundamental issue, and presented the man with a choice. The man chose to reject Jesus' offer. Jesus was not asking the man to do something He had never done; rather, He was asking the man to follow in His footsteps.

But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? -1 John 3:17

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Is this an answer to "Why doesn't Jesus give away all his money"? or is this an answer to "What does ESV, Matthew 19:21 mean"? –  ezaspi Jul 5 at 12:40
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@ezaspi This is an answer to " what does this verse mean? Is Jesus telling people to give away all there money or not?" Remember this is not a theology site. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 at 16:06
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fredsbend's answer is a great answer, but let me ask you ,Jack Douglas, why would you think Jesus would be answering a specific person's particular question for the purpose of conveying a general lesson everyone should follow?

A man approached Jesus with a deep need. That need was founded on his realization that Jesus was someone close to God, a Teacher, someone who can answer the question,which he asked: "“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” vs 16.

Isn't that just like most of us? Thinking we have to do something to gain eternal life? But Jesus cut to the heart of the matter, for this man - not for all of us (Although all of us can take a lesson from this). Jesus speaks to us one-on-one, personally. He's not preaching to the man here. Anyway, fredsbend included all the relevant scripture that leads to an answer.

But unfortunately, some people aren't looking for an answer but rather a way to attack or mock. Not to say that this is the case. But the question seems to miss one fine point. God owns everything, He needs nothing. If He gave away all His "money", it would kill us because we cannot contain the infinite!

Psalms 50:10-12 For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, For the world is Mine, and all it contains.

So one answer could be that Jesus doesn't give away all His money because He loves us too much!

And, what does it mean for Him to "give away" when He STILL OWNS IT AFTER HE GIVES IT AWAY?!

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I think you will find according to scripture that Judas Iscariot carried a money bag for alms to the poor and needy, Judas Iscariot used to steal from it. I can't recall of our Lord ever carrying about money on His person and denying the needy of it!!!!

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Jesus said just to a young man: give all you have unto the poor. Luk 18.22 But the young man was so sad... He don't ask all the money to follow him, he asks for compromise from hearth, because where is our treasure there is our hearth. In Acts, some people also gave all money and goods to others but this was not a commandment. It was a decision.

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I'm not sure that makes sense. Jesus said if you want to be perfect then give away everything. If Jesus was perfect why didn't he do that? –  curiousdannii Jul 11 at 21:48
    
Paul said "Even if I give away everything that I have and sacrifice myself, but have no love, I gain nothing."1Co13.3. Jesus wasn't a rich man, he came not for give money but his life... What is more important? However if he is the Creator of everything (according to Hebrews 1) so he gave everything to us. –  henpat Jul 11 at 22:08
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Who said He didn't? He gave us everything! (Incarnation.)

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isn't that the same point made by @ezaspi (last paragraph)? –  Jack Douglas Jul 11 at 20:04
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This question is specifically asking about money during his earthly life. Your answer is kinda humorous but misses the point. –  curiousdannii Jul 11 at 21:48
    
This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. –  Frank Luke Jul 12 at 20:08
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