It seems like people take some Biblical passages word for word and live it, others not so much. I do not see many people giving their life away for Jesus or i.e. - Jesus said if you want to be perfect you must give away all your money...how come nobody does these things?

Matthew 19:21

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

or - do you think you can really walk on water if you wholeheartedly believe and do not doubt that you can. Matthew 14:29-30

or- "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE. This is a really, really broad question as titled, but very specific as you scoped it. Asking "Does Jesus really expect all of his followers to sell everything they own?" would make a much better focused question than "How literal" – Affable Geek Mar 9 '12 at 1:24
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    I don't think you mean "how literally". Most Christians take it very literally, in the sense that it absolutely happened as described (or something pretty close to it). I suspect you mean "do people apply the command to themselves". – DJClayworth Mar 9 '12 at 15:48
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    Maybe instead of "how literal is the story" you should rephrase it along the lines of "how universal is the application". – jimreed Mar 9 '12 at 16:06
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    As rolled back this question is simply too broad, and will likely solicit opinion and debate. Voting to close. – Affable Geek Mar 9 '12 at 23:10
  • The additional points raised would each make fine questions in their own right, if asked separately. – Affable Geek Mar 9 '12 at 23:14

I do not see many people giving their life away for Jesus...

That's not true. Many martyrs gave their life for Christ.

Jesus said if you want to be perfect you must give away all your money...how come nobody does these things?

In the Roman Catholic Church, members of religious orders take vows of poverty.

Also, while many may not take fulfill the words of these passages literally, many fulfill them in a figurative sense. That is, many forgo worldly pleasures, worldy experiences, and worldly fortunes while either serving others or spreading God's Word to others.


First off, Jesus was speaking to a single archon - the "rich young ruler." Jesus told Peter to come out and walk on the water, but that doesn't mean I need to do the same :) There is nothing in the text to indicate that this is a generalized principle.

Jesus was speaking to one person, and it is interesting how the exchange goes:

If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Notice that Jesus seems to know what is going on with this guy. Of the last six commandments (typically called the "Second Table" because they talk about how man is to relate to man instead of how man is to relate to God in the "First Table"), Jesus only mentions 5. The missing commandment is significant -

Thou shalt not covet

It is not unreasonable to assume that Jesus knew this was the archon's problem - he was obsessed with wealth. Knowing this young man's problem, he can focus on that.

Also, positionally, this pericope occurs as Jesus is going to Jerusalem to give everything up. Taken from this point of view, it also be taken to show that Jesus himself is totally Good, because Jesus alone is going to be the only one who can truly fulfill this.

  • Back in seminary, I did a 77 page exegesis on this pericope. Oh, what memories... – Affable Geek Mar 9 '12 at 14:11
  • Wow I never realized that "Thou shalt not covet" was left out. – Andrew Mar 9 '12 at 14:37
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    My training is to read the Bible as a lesson in who God is, not what we are. By understanding the nature of God, sure there are implications - but understand that part of the nature of God is that he treats us as people, not mindless automatons that follow a cookie cutter existence. He didn't create us identically, and he doesn't always perscribe the same thing for each individual. – Affable Geek Mar 9 '12 at 18:02
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    What he does is show that he loves us and wants us to love him. Anything that stands in the way of that love will stand in the way of our fufillment of what he in store for us. – Affable Geek Mar 9 '12 at 18:02
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    For Peter, that meant learning to trust - not walking on water. For this young man, it meant giving of himself. I would feel totally safe in applying those lessons in different ways, knowing that God loves me and has called me to be his child. He may have apply these lessons to me in one way, or not. But in any case, I'm not a machine that God expects to mindlessly appropriate specific instructions in different circumstances. I'm his child, and he's called me to love him instead. – Affable Geek Mar 9 '12 at 18:04

Jesus was trying to push the rich young ruler to the breaking point. The point at which he knew his sin had a firm grasp on him that wouldn't let go. He wanted to drive the ruler to despair, so, like the leper, he would cry out, Kyrie Elieson, have mercy on me, Lord!

I don't believe Jesus was making a blanket statement about riches, as so many people have taken this verse to mean.

This post clarifies my thoughts, and is easily the best interpretation I've ever seen on the topic.

  • good article, lots to think about there, thanks. – Greg McNulty Mar 9 '12 at 18:12
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    As is common for old resources, this link has gone stale and is no longer working. Can we ask that you see if you can find an updated copy and this time quote and/or summarize parts of it so we actually have the answer in-line here with the external article only for added reference? – Caleb Oct 29 '14 at 8:20

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