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These are some verses where Jesus says that giving all your earthly riches, you will earn eternal life:
Matthew 19:16-30: When the rich man asks about the eternal life and Jesus replies with Moses' commandments and the rich man says that he obeyed the commandments very carefully and Jesus told that to achive eternal life the man must sell everything and give to poor people and then follow Jesus.

Luke 12:13-21: The parable of the rich fool: But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"

Luke 19:7: Zacchaeus promises Jesus that he will give half of the riches to poor people and Jesus says that the Salvation entered Zacchaeus's house.



A few questions related to those verses:

Why Jesus told the rich man he needs to give all he has, and Zacchaeus can earn the eternal life by giving only half?

What if someone wants to give all the riches to the poor people, but he has kids. Does Jesus want us to leave our sons and daughters without anything? The parable of the fool rich man says that God asked the man whom are your riches to after you die. Maybe he wanted to ensure a wealthy life for his descendents?

Does God really wants us to give all our earnings to poor people? For instance, someone with salary should give all the money he receives after a month of work to poor people?

I don't ask these questions to blame Jesus, I'm trying to understand what Jesus meant, because I'm 100% sure that He doesn't want us to starve to death and give everything to poor people.

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  • A significant misconception in this question is that one can "earn eternal life". That isn't what Jesus was saying. Salvation cannot be earned or deserved. Jesus was pointing out some things people do that can disqualify them or indicate that they are not on the right track (e.g. if one hoards wealth rather than using it). But no amount of work or good behaviour can earn salvation. Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 17:31
  • The question lacks focus, being based on hyperbole : 'starve to death and give everything'. Nobody is told to do that anywhere in scripture, though it is true that Jesus Christ yielded up himself, to suffer and to die (giving everything) that others might have eternal life.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 17:34
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    I disagree with the decision to close this question. Every answer cited biblical data. Christianity is not a scientific subject and it is only natural that answers will differ from one another. There are literally hundreds of denominations within Christianity, every one of which has a different opinion on some aspect of Jesus' teaching or Christian tradition. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 15:12
  • . . . . . which also necessitates the closure of the question, since it does not address a particular group within the 'literally hundreds of denominations,' (as stated in the site rules).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 18:46
  • Shouldn't new users be given a little leeway here? And shouldn't these rules be clearly posted for new users? A sure way to scare people off is to close their questions without even welcoming them to the group first. Which reminds me: @Bogdan Floares, welcome to the group. Please take the tour. (not that you'll find the above mentioned rule there , but the tour IS helpful). Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 15:45

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It's all about not taking any commandment to the extreme. The fact that different requirements were presented to different people tells us that it might be a personal advice, that works for a specific person or it's something worth striving for, but it's optional.

In "Matthew 19:16-30" Jesus said that If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor. Perfection is something more than just fulfilling some requirements, so this further tells us that it's not required from everyone.

Also there is Proverbs 4:27 Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil which means that we should use moderation. For example, if you have kids and will give away your money which would make them starve, that would be just cruel.

Another example, if someone thinks that after giving away everything, God will then take care of him and his family, there is Luke 4:12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Also, king Salomon received 666 talents of gold yearly as a tribute and God did not blame Salomon for that (this information was just given as a fact; only later that number gained notoriety) - again, different person, different situation. So apparently if you are King Salomon it's ok for you to have 20 tonnes of gold yearly income, because you need that to help your entire nation and if you are that specific boy from Jerusalem it would be better for you to sell everything and follow Christ directly.

If you want to get rid of your possessions and live in poverty, there are monasteries where you can do so in an appropriate environment.

So all of this I think just tells us to not gather more than we actually need. Some people will thrive in monasteries with no possessions, some will thrive while giving away half of their gains, some will be ok when just reasonably managing what they have and not being greedy. The degree of that depends on a specific person and their overall situation. The only thing that relates to everyone is not being greedy (trying to have more than one needs).

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  • The problem is that many people could move to a 3rd world country and not really need 80% of what they have accumulated in America. So a "need" approach to wealth building is hard to live out in a consistent manner. On the other hand, a "greed" approach seems inconsistent with a Christian stewardship ethic.
    – Jess
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 1:35
  • I think the "need" depends on what you do. For example if I wanted to start a business I would likely have to accumulate some money first in order to build it up. I think that would be a justifiable need. If I would spend my time on earning money I don't need and I am sure I won't ever need just for the sake of it (and neglect my spiritual life because of that), I think that would be greed. If I keep earning money because I am spending them to help others, that's a charity. Also apparently some people thrive with no possessions at all (ie monks). This is how I see it - everything in moderation
    – Matcha
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 4:34
  • 🤔 Matcha, Or, maybe "need" could be that of glorifying God privately in how one "subdues" creation as a cultural mandate (Genesis 1:2-28). This could be done through artistic gifts. Hence, large (expensive) mansions with beautiful gardens, art work, etc. that are not open to the public could still be in the will of God in that it glorifies the Lord of creation. In that sense, it would meet a spiritual need to glorify the Lord through artistic expression.
    – Jess
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 18:27
  • @Jess maybe, I don't really know. Holy Fathers mention that human consists of animal body, human soul and spirit. I think that art just feeds soul, but what feeds spirit is decisions we make and lifestyle choices we take. So if art helps you to focus on God and it's easier to live a spiritual life thanks to art I guess that can be good - I see art as means to and end, something that can help.
    – Matcha
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 19:58
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The problem with the rich man in Matthew 19 is he thought salvation can be earned by doing good works as many suppose.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast - Ephesians 2:8-9

Jesus didn't say to give everything and become nothing but to sell your possessions. People of the world acquire many material things and love and cherish those more than God. So according to that verse, I infer he had a lot of those material things which he had his heart upon and was proud of which Jesus told to sell and give it to the poor. God desires one to be rich in good deeds (cf.1 Timothy 6:17-19). So the question is :

Can the rich man love the poor people (who are also in the image of God) more than those material things he has acquired over the years ? Apparently he didn't.

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property - Matthew 19:21-22

In Luke 19:7 as well as other verses it is not about how much portion of your property/riches to be given to the people in need but whether you have heart to do those and thereby proving that money doesn't own you, rather you own the money.

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” - Luke 16:13.

At the sight of Jesus Christ and His Grace, Zacchaeus who was lost in the love of money gave more importance to Jesus Christ by his display of works as if he is revived.

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Context is important here, as is the internal attitude of the characters that Jesus describes. Repentance is a key theme in the case of Zacchaeus, and it is missing from the other two stories. Also Zacchaeus differs from the Rich Man in Matthew because of his age and social responsibilities. God does not expect everyone to sell all they own, but we should make devotion to God our top priority.

The Rich Young Man and the Rich Fool

The rich man in Mt. 19 was a Rich Young Man. This implies he did not yet have major social responsibilities. When Jesus told him at first what was needed to inherit eternal life, the young man reported "all these I have observed, what more do I lack?" I interpret this to suggest that the young man was a searcher, even a candidate for discipleship. But he did not demonstrate humility or repentance. When Jesus informed him that he would first need to sell all he had and give it to poor, the young man could not rise to the challenge.

Discipleship is also the context of the parable of the Rich Fool. It does not deal with an actual person, so Jesus is able to use hyperbole to make his point, that when all is said and done, riches avail us nothing. The parable serves as a foundation for a lesson which is directed toward his disciples, not the general public:

And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!"

This does not mean that everyone must live without planning for tomorrow. But it does show how Jesus expected his immediate disciples to live at this particular moment in providential history. For general purposes, it teaches that we must trust God absolutely, not that we should live without homes or possessions as the first disciples did.

Zacchaeus

Zacchaeus was a different case. He was neither young, nor a searcher, nor a candidate for full time discipleship. He was a householder and well established in his community as a tax collector. No doubt he also had to support a family. He apparently had not obeyed the Golden Rule as the Rich Young Man had, but changed his ways and resolved to do more. Repentance is a key factor here. Because Zacchaeus repented, giving half of his possessions to the poor was sufficient. He was not qualified to be a core disciple but he could help Jesus in other significant ways.

In addition, the two incidents that involved real people teach different lessons. In the case of the Rich Young Man, the lesson is that even a person loves God and obeys the Golden Rule still needs to be humble and do more. In the case of Zacchaeus the lesson is that God accepts sinners who repent. The story also teaches that those who judged Zacchaeus are wrong: "He too is a son of Abraham... The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost."

Conclusion: Some may indeed be called to do give up everything to follow God, but such cases are rare. However, everyone does need to repent and make devotion to God their top priority. If we do so, we avoid the fate of the Rich Fool. We also need to avoid the attitude of Zacchaeus' neighbors, who judged him because of his profession and even criticized Jesus for dining with him. God does not want everyone to give up all their wealth.

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  • But Matthew the Evangelist and Apostle? He was a tax-collector too and he didn't just repent and stopped "loving gold more than God", he actually became a disciple of Jesus, one of the 12 Apostles? He wrote a Gospel that remained for over 2000 years and without his Writing, we couldn't discover Christ, Matthew saved thousands of lives and yet he was a thief and "gold lover" before his own Salvation by Christ.
    – MikeyJY
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 0:30
  • Good point. An important difference between Matthew and Zacchaeus is that Z. appears near the end of Jesus' ministry on his final journey to Jerusalem, while Matthew joined Jesus very early in the narrative. So M. was in a position to become one of the 12; Z was in a position to help in other ways, probably including giving financial aid to the full time disciples (similar to the women mentioned in Luke 8. Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 18:13
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The Bible does not seem to advocate asceticism as an ideal system to live by. For example, in Bible times portions of offerings were set aside to buy expensive food and drinks to indulge in as an aspect of giving thanks to God. Nehemiah 8:10 states:

And Nehemiah continued, “Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”

The Bible says in Luke 16:9, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by how you use worldly wealth, so that when it runs out you will be welcomed into the eternal homes” (NET).

Jesus modeled the above exhortation when he made ultra luxury (i.e. expensive) wine for guests at the wedding of Cana. The wine could have been immediately sold, with all the money given to the poor. Instead it was used for celebrating a marriage and enhancing relationships at the event, with the added value of leading others to glorify God when they found out about the miracle.

C.S. Lewis, in "The Weight of Glory" warns about a type of poverty theology that can come in the form of Kantian ethics:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

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No, you can't buy eternal life with your wealth. Under any circumstances.

But, it matters what you do with what you have, and how did you get it, obviously. However, in cases of the people, whom Jesus told to get rid of their possessions, it was showing them the best and simplest way to follow him - break free from material and go out and find spiritual treasures. Most importantly - Faith, of the best, strongest and unwavering kind, just like the Apostles later.

Jesus himself never scoffed anyone for being rich - indeed, he himself in Parable of the Three Servants (Matthew 25:14) makes no allegations that Master got richer through enrichment of the Servants... Instead, it makes another point, which was wonderfully summed up in Luke 12:48 ("And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they will demand the more" - I love Douay-Rheims version).

Or, following Harry Dresden's interpretation: "With great power comes great responsibility"...

What I mean by all the above: Jesus points out to us that we can't have the clarity of our mission on this Earth until we get rid ourselves of all the distractions, and he gives us best possible advice on how to do that ridding of.

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  • What about the well known verse about the camel and the needle?
    – MikeyJY
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 0:33
  • @BogdanFloareș - this verse has a very specific context of a rich man loving money more than God, and in this context it is hard for a camel of a rich man obeying laws without love to go through an eye of a needle of Heaven's gate. And it's worth noting that in same passage Jesus says that nothing is impossible for God...
    – AcePL
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 9:02

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