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In Mark 10:25, Jesus states...

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." (Mark 10:25 NIV)

After hearing his Disciples ask in light of this who could possibly be saved

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:27 NIV)

My question is, how can any Christian in good conscience purchase any luxurious good or service that doesn't benefit anyone else besides themselves?

Flat screens, cars, riding lawn mowers, all these things are luxuries for daily living, but let's face it, wouldn't God rather have us take that money and buy a pallet of food for the local food pantry?

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The example of luxury items you bring up is unfortunate, as Jesus himself is asked by Judas why wash his feet at the last supper with oils, when the money could feed the poor. Jesus answers that the poor will still be there, but the son of man is only here for a little while. So this means that there are circumstances where luxury is ok. But the question of how a Christian can justify wealth is important--- it is a conflict between capitalism and Christianity that has been there for a while, so +1. –  Ron Maimon Apr 2 '12 at 7:43
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Radical from David Platt tackle this issue. The subtitle : Rescuing our faith from the american dream. Might be an interesting read in light of your question. –  David Laberge Apr 2 '12 at 11:15
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@Ron Maimon There is no conflict in having wealth and being a Christian. There is a conflict in willingly oppressing people to gain wealth and considering yourself a Christian. However, neither of these is the point of the passage in question. –  San Jacinto Apr 2 '12 at 14:35
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Not all luxuries are extravagances. For example, I wear very expensive shoes, and I like them because they're very comfortable. But they're also of very high quality, and they last for years even in heavy wear conditions, whereas cheaper shoes would wear out quickly and need to be replaced several times in the same amount of time. So I actually save money in the long run, which I see as being a wise steward of the material blessings that the Lord has entrusted to me. (Plus, they're really comfortable!) –  Mason Wheeler Apr 2 '12 at 17:08
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I love how none of the "luxury items" listed are all things that we Westerns take for granted. I notice that air conditioning, refrigerators, running water, and a machine whose sole purpose is to entertain us by receiving and displaying moving images from distant lands (Tv, internet, dvd, you name it) do not make the list. First thing I learned about "rich" is that rich always means "more money than I have" –  Affable Geek Apr 2 '12 at 23:17

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Let's go back and re-read the incident that prompted Jesus' teaching:

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.—Mark 10:17-22 (ESV)

Notice that:

  1. Jesus says "No one is good except God alone." While He was apparently taking advantage of the honoring address of the man, the point was important to the overall story. Nobody is perfect in goodness except God. The whole purpose of Jesus dying on the Cross is to fix that problem.

  2. Jesus mentions all but one of the commandments related to our horizontal relationships. Jesus knew beforehand the problem the rich man faced: "You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor."

  3. The man lacked one thing: freedom from the bondage of possessions. Jesus answered his question, but the man would not make himself free. We know from verse 22, that the reason the man did not follow Jesus was because he could not give up his stuff. The slavery to the material world was too great an obstacle for him.

Jesus teaching based on the incident was less about anti-materialism and more about the worldly bondage that blocks people from following Him. It is the wealth of the rich that tends to stand in their way, but not everyone is bound by the same rope. In fact, we have an indication that Jesus' disciples did not have the same bondage to wealth as the rich man:

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”—Mark 10:28-31 (ESV)

Jesus warned them about pride, which seems prescient:

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”—Mark 10:35-37 (ESV)

Not only were James and John trying to get a leg up on the other disciples, Jesus also had to deal with the other ten's misplaced jealousy. Each of us have our own unique set of spiritual struggles and it doesn't pay to feel superior to those whose struggles we don't share.


One of the traps we fall into is overgeneralizing. Yes, Jesus' diagnosis for this man was to sell everything in order to take up his cross and follow Him. (See Mark 8:34-38.) But Jesus had another diagnosis for the one whose hand causes them to sin: cut it off! Get rid of the foot or eye that erects a barrier between you and the Kingdom of God. (See Mark 9:42-50.) But not all people in the Kingdom have one hand, one foot, and one eye. Not all of the people in the Kingdom have sold and given everything. That's not how God made us.

All of us must deny ourselves something. This text suggests that the something we must give up is the something that we wish most desperately to retain. For you, it might be a love of luxury. For me, it is almost certainly comfort and intellectual pride. I have placed those things from time to time as gods to be worshiped. They appear more trustworthy than Jesus more often than I care to admit. So I can't follow Jesus if I am too busy following comfort and knowledge that puffs up. Jesus says a man can not follow two masters (see Matthew 6:19-24) and therefore I'm only following Him when I give up those idols.

Summary

Few of us take seriously Jesus' command that the author of Hebrews summarized: "Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely". (Hebrews 12:1 ESV) But we need to be honest with ourselves about what causes us to sin. If it is wealth, by all means, give it away.

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Great answer. I was a little discouraged when I read the first few highly-voted answers. They all seemed to just ignore the entire point of the passage, but yours does not. –  San Jacinto Apr 2 '12 at 11:13
    
Thanks for your answer Jon, I admit I haven't view those passages in the light they aught to be cast in, that one should cast away their wealth if it presents a barrier between themselves and our Savior, moreso that self-serving wealth and possessions naturally would do so. very good answer :) –  KodeKreachor Apr 2 '12 at 15:48

We are commanded to be generous--not impoverished.

The Question

Your assumption seems tenuous. "Since it's hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, but it's not impossible since nothing is impossible with God, how can any Christian ever buy anything that benefits only themselves? Jesus never said "Don't buy anything unless it benefits someone else by meeting their physical needs."

An Example from Jesus' Life

Your question assumes that the highest good that a Christian can do is to meet the physical needs of other people. While this is very honorable and all of us ought to do that, we were not created for that purpose, but for another.

In Mark 14, a woman anoints Jesus with a very expensive perfume:

And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. Mark 14:3 ESV

Judas the traitor is the one who is indignant about the "waste", since the perfume could have been sold and given to the poor (or used to buy a pallet of food for the local food bank). Jesus rebukes Judas, honoring her for her act of worship and sacrifice.

Generosity--not Poverty

For us too, there are greater things for us to do than to give to the poor. Worshiping God and actively seeking to meet the spiritual needs of a world who does not God is much more significant than merely meeting the temporal needs of people.

We are, indeed, commanded to be generous:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 ESV

Paul does not say, "Command those who are rich to stop being rich." He actually says that they ought to be generous, but also that God provides us with everything to enjoy. He also says not to be their hope in riches. Those who are wealthy should keep a right perspective on worldly goods and be mindful that joy and peace come from God and not wealth.

Conclusion

So, yes, let us all give to those who are actually in need, despite their hard work and responsible living. Let us be very generous towards them. Yet, let us not merely meet the physical needs of the world and ignore their spiritual needs. What nobility can be found in extending a person's life here without also providing them with the knowledge of how to have eternal life? Life on earth is quite short and uncertain, while the next life is forever.

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I understand your confusion on my question and apologize for not being clear enough. My question was asking whether purchasing any 'luxurious' items can be justified, not necessities (such as the groceries you and I purchased and consumed this weekend). –  KodeKreachor Apr 2 '12 at 13:18

I am satisfied with the answer that Jon Ericson has provided, but I would like to add a couple points. The problem lies with the passage's interpretation by the questioner. This passage is not really addressing wealth at all but rather man's attempt at self-justification before God. Let's view another account of the same story in the context of Luke 18. First, we read three parables.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Here, we find that Jesus says that God will give His elect "justice." We can assume from the passage that in this case, "justice" means mercy rather than God's wrath. Why can we say this? Because the "Son of Man" title Jesus speaks of in the next sentence is one describing the office He came to fulfill: a willing sacrifice having been perfect in the flesh, not judge of the earth at that time (John 3:17). However, Jesus poses a pretty strong challenge: "when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith?" It should make us ask: "faith in what or whom?" ...let us continue.

The next parable..

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The point of this passage demonstrates to us that the tax collector, symbolizing the worst of the most hated amongst society for the way they took advantage of others, is justified because he isn't look to his own merit to satisfy God's wrath. The pharisee is doing the opposite and is condemned.

In the next little bit, we read of the children coming to Jesus...

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

I've heard countless times that this passage is an admonition not to question the Christian faith or ask any tough questions. It disappoints me to hear these things and makes me want to scream. Such teaching is not of Christ, it's of brain-washing cults!

So what does this passage mean? Remember that it's in the context of people claiming righteousness in themselves rather than God's imputed righteousness. It also says that the parents were brining even their infants to Christ and Christ said "to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." Let me ask this... for what in life does an infant rely on himself, that he might have it? Nothing.

Finally we get to the rich young ruler. For brevity, I won't quote the scripture. Essentially, this rich, powerful man asks Christ how to have eternal life. Christ tells him, in a nutshell, "keep the Jewish law you've been given." The RYR says "I have."

And here is where the RYR's self-righteousness comes through. The Law is a bona fide means of salvation only to those who can keep all of it (see the book of James). In Romans, we read that even though The Law offers a bona fide offer of salvation, its purpose was not to save people by their own righteousness. Its purpose is to stop every mouth, that we would recognize our hopeless estate before God, that nothing Good dwells in us apart from God.

So the RYR was telling Jesus "I've kept The Law. I am righteous," but Jesus knew that this was not the case because the entire purpose of The Law is to prove that you cannot please God in your flesh. So, Christ calls the RYR's bluff and says: "prove it. Sell everything and follow me." ...but the man cannot, because he would lose his power and everything that he believes justifies himself before God would crumble before him.

Materialism is a bad thing, but to claim that this passage is about materialism violates the beauty of the Gospel message in these sections.

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Jesus knew the general effects wealth has on people. Many will do evil to retain or avoid material loss as it cuts down their status. Many business owners will find invisible ways of deliberately causing problems to tarnish the image of their competitors, they say that is how the game is played. They will create world wars just to profit from sale of weapons. They will own and support big pharmaceutical institutions that produce drugs worldwide with deadly side effects and claim to be curing diseases. Take a look at politics and politicians worldwide, how many will you consider poor? Yet they still chase them. They think their security and power lies in their wealth. Because of this Jesus said

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Luke 12:34).

David, a king with power and wealth, as loyal as he was to God was 'blinded' in conscience when he took his subordinate's wife althoug he had many already. He had to be 'slapped to awaken from sleep' by prophet Nathan and on his awakening...

"And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:" (2 Samuel 12:5). ...not knowing he was judging himself. That is what power and wealth makes you. You unable to feel the pain others go through and how evil you can suprisingly be.

However, you should mind the difficulty Jesus stresses on:

"...how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! " (Mark 10:24).

That means it is possible to be rich and still enter the Kingdom. Men like Job, Solomon and some others you can cite yourself were wealthy, but one would have to be alert all times like they were to put God first and not allow distraction of loyalty and faithfulness to Him.

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Hmm, how do you get from "it is hard for the rich to enter Heaven" to "a Christian shouldn't buy any luxuries"? I think you need to present some logical argument why that follows.

In practical terms, what do you define as "luxury"? You could survive with some basic food and shelter from the elements. Everything beyond that could be considered "luxuries". You certainly don't need a TV, a cell phone, and a computer to live. You don't need a house or apartment: plenty of people have survived in a cave or a cardboard box under a bridge. Etc.

But I don't know any place in the Bible that says that we should not enjoy the blessings that God has given us. Phillipians 4:11-12, "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." Paul enjoyed abundance when it came, and lived with poverty when that came.

Plenty of places in the Bible describe material blessings as gifts from God. Deuteronomy 28:9-12 "The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. And the Lord will grant you plenty of goods, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your ground, in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow."

I'm certainly not saying that being a Christian will make you rich. What I am saying is that God blesses some people with with wealth, others he blesses in other ways.

The greedy person's problem is not that he enjoys material things too much. It is that he doesn't enjoy them enough. The problem with greed is that it is never satisfied. Whatever blessings God gives him, the greedy person is never happy. He always imagines that if he had more, THEN he would be happy. But he never is. The ideal is to be content, to enjoy what God has given you, to be satisfied and take the pleasures he lets you have.

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wouldn't God rather have us take that money and buy a pallet of food for the local food pantry?

Not neccessarily.

I think it helps to be mindful of the Chinese proverb:

Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.

And in this respect, many Christians are employed as social workers and at food panties and shelters, trying to help the destitute help themselves.


To your questions about:

Flat screens, cars, riding lawn mowers...

In a capitalist economy, the purchase of such goods keeps the economy running and keeps people employed.

However... If a good Christian has the means, he/she should donate to the Church and feed the poor.

While I'm mindful of tithing guidelines, I think it's difficult to prescribe amounts or wealth thresholds. It's a very subjective decision, and I think that only God is in a position to judge.

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Doesn't keeping the economy running use up more of the planet's resources making, say, ride-on lawn mowers instead of something that could help the needy (e.g. solar panels and mosquito nets for various countries in Africa)? I don't think your reasoning works as is. –  Rex Kerr Apr 2 '12 at 5:28
    
@Rex Kerr: You're taking the discussion in a different direction. You think that Christians should feel obligated to buy "green" products. That's cool. Say 'Hi' to Al Gore for me. ;) –  Jim G. Apr 2 '12 at 8:27
    
I am aware that the planet has finite extractable resources, and using those on luxury items means that they're not available for the needy, just as always. Wealthy people have always employed others to craft their luxury items. Why is it fundamentally different now as opposed to ca. 2000 years ago? –  Rex Kerr Apr 2 '12 at 19:33
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As Jim says, you're off on a different subject. Maybe you should post a question if you want to discuss that. I don't want to go into a long discussion, but a quick 2 cents: No one doubts that the Earth's resources are finite, but "finite" is not the same as "about to be exhausted". If I had a billion dollars in the bank, that's a finite amount of money. But I'd have to try very hard to spend it all in my life. –  Jay Apr 3 '12 at 5:25

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