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Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

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What Did Jesus Mean With “Sell Everything You Have”?

Extreme Commands for an Extreme World

Jesus and the Rich Man

Jesus and the Rich Man

When I was 16 years old, I read in the newspaper about world poverty. For the first time, I learned that one billion people suffers from what the UN calls extreme poverty – less than 1,25 US dollars per day – and that due to the horrible circumstances that such low income brings, 50 000 people die from extreme poverty every day. That’s 18 million in a year. Chocked by these facts, I opened my Bible later that day and found the story about Jesus and the rich man:

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:21-23)

This wasn’t the first time I encountered this passage, but when I had done so previously I had simply interpreted Jesus in a non-literal sense. I thought that when He said “Sell everything you have” to the rich man, He meant “Put me as number one in your heart, give all of yourself to me.” Not that He literally wanted the dude to sell everything he had because, come on, that’s extremely… extreme.

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Why Wealth is Wrong: The Mathematical Argument

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In my God vs Wealth series and God vs Inequality E-book, I’ve mostly based my arguments for why Christians shouldn’t be rich on Bible study, as well as a bit of early church history.

However, I have noticed that many Christians who defend their personal wealth do not just use the Bible, but also theoretical arguments that are based on economics, ethics and experience. Most of them are quite easy to counter with other arguments in the same field for why wealth is wrong. So in a couple of blog posts, I would like to discuss some of these arguments for and against wealth, while also connecting them to the Bible.

The first argument I often hear is “You need to be rich in order to give money to the poor” or, alternatively, “It’s good to give money to the poor, but there’s nothing wrong with being rich.” Now, I could agree with the first statement if we define rich as “having an income that exceeds one’s own/family’s needs” because then, per definition, only rich people will be able to give money to the poor without harming themselves or their families.

However, what’s really confusing is that oftentimes, people who use this argument do not solely define “rich” as “earning a large income”, but also as “possessing abundant capital” (i.e. owning a lot of stuff) or “consuming superfluities” (i.e. buying unnecessary stuff). And these definitions are often mixed up, so that I’ve even met Christian brothers and sisters who argue that it’s perfectly fine to spend money on big houses and cars, because you need to be rich in order to give money to the poor.

Now, this clearly contradicts the basic rules of mathematics. Let us take John the Baptist’s redistribution commadment as an example: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3:11). Simple mathematics that most of us learn even in preschool tells us that if person A has 2 shirts and gives 1 to person B who has 0, they both suddenly have 1 shirt each and voilà, there is economic equality. Person A cannot keep and give away one of his shirts at the same time, 2-1=1. (more…)

God vs Poverty, part 5: Praying

This is the fifth and final part of my God vs Poverty series.

Once we start praying and working for a better world, there is a risk of struggling in our own strength and power. And since everyone are sinners (Romans 3:10-18), the human way lined with failures, accidents, discouragement and fatigue. The Bible says that through the power of God, we are able to more than in our own force (Philippians 4:13). And that can sometimes be a little bit more dramatic than getting some extra energy as by an invisible vitamin kick. Sometimes, it means walking on water or raising the dead.

The ministry of Jesus and the apostles not only included human deeds but also acts of God, things that only God can do. While they gave money to the poor (John 13:29) and they also used the miraculous gifts of the Spirit to help them. As they combined action with prayer, there was suddenly no limit to what their aid work was able to do.

For example: Jesus raised a widow’s son from the dead, which besides being extremely joyful in itself saved her from economic misery (Luke 7:11-17). Jesus also did food miracles out of His compassion for the hungry (Matt. 14:13-21; 15:29-39). His healing miracles had an activist dimension as well; in Mark 10:46-52 He heals a blind beggar, who thus is rescued not only from a life in darkness but also from a life in poverty.

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God vs Poverty, part 4: Liberating

This is as the title suggests the fourth part of my God vs Poverty series.

“Give a man a fish and he has food for a day. Teach him to fish and he has food for a lifetime.” We’ve all heard that, haven’t we? It’s a good proverb about the importance of empowerment and long-term solutions in aid giving. But what about the lake? What if the man cannot fish even after we taught him because the lake is polluted by a multinational corporation, or illegal to fish from because of an unrighteous regime? In other words, are there structures that are blocking development and poverty reduction?

The Bible is well aware of structures that oppress the poor. It is very common that the Old Testament not only talks about giving to the poor but treating them fair in court (see for example Prov. 22:22-23), so that they will not be discriminated. When Isaiah prophesies about true fasting, he doesn’t just talk about giving food and clothing to the ones in need but he also says that it includes “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Is 58:6). In order to fight poverty effectively, we have to identify oppressing structures and crushing them.

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God vs Poverty, part 3: Working

This is as the title suggests the third part of my God vs Poverty series.

In the last part of God vs Poverty, I talked about the importance of giving aid to the poor. I am critical to the “trade instead of aid” idea expressed by people like Dambisa Moyo (who thinks that all aid to Africa should be stopped in five years) simply since it is irresponsible, harmful and not very smart. Trade is not the magical solution to poverty reduction, since many companies only have their own profit in mind. In contrast, aid agencies have a genuine goal to help the poor.

Still, trade is important. In fact, it’s necessary for poverty reduction. Acts 20:33-35 says:

“I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

In other words, if we are able to work but aren’t doing it, we are using resources that could have been given to the poor. As long as we are healthy and there are job oppurtinities, we should work. But we must remember that all jobs aren’t good jobs!

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God vs Poverty, part 2: Giving

This is as the title suggests the second part of my God vs Poverty series.

Rich folks are experts on producing arguments why we shouldn’t give to the poor. Have you also heard Christians using this Bible verse as Bible proof for inaction:

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Cor 9:7

Was Paul’s point really that if you are a grumpy, greedy Scrooge McDuck, God is perfectly fine with that? No, of course Paul wants us to be cheerful givers, and he states in the next verse that we will be poorly rewarded in Heaven if we aren’t generous on earth, but his point is that we cannot force people to be generous. Giving to the poor still is our duty though: to refuse to give to the needy even if you’re able to, is sinful (Deut 15:9).

Another argument against giving to the poor is an unbiblical one: aid doesn’t work. This is both applied to foreign aid and giving to beggars on the streets. In the former case, people blame corruption and other structural problems, or they simply state that aid undermines incentives to work. In the latter case, people blaim drugs and other social problems, or state that rewarding begging undermines incentives to work.
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God vs Poverty, part 1: Loving

As promised, here comes the first part of the new official sequel to God vs Wealth, creatively called God vs Poverty. While the former video series discussed whether a Christian should be rich or not (and found out that the answer was “not”), this series will look at what the Bible says about poverty reduction. It was filmed when I visited Iris South Africa (with a lot of wonderful children “helping” me with the shooting) and consists of five parts:

  1. Loving
  2. Giving
  3. Working
  4. Liberating
  5. Praying

In this first part, I argue that poverty reduction must be based on love and that one of the main economic problems in the world is that the rich don’t know the poor. South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world and the reason is of course that the rich separated themselves and refused to get to know the poor. When people from different socio-economic classes become friends, it will be impossible for the wealthy to ignore their needs and problems of the needy. Our generosity should not be excluded to people we know of course, but if we only know people with our own socio-economic status, something is terribly wrong. (more…)

God vs Wealth, part 10: Now What?

To read other parts of the series, go here.

Christian communism logo

Christian communism? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s finally time to end God vs Wealth. And in this final part, I want to talk about some practical implications of this teaching and adress some questions that I think some of you who have followed the series have.

Question 1: Are you really saying that everyone should have everything in common?

I think economic equality is the goal and community of goods is an effective means to reach the goal. In fact, I don’t really know any more effective way to reach equality than Acts chapter 2. The model most churches use today clearly doesn’t work, and for many of them equality is not even the goal.

Of course, community of goods requires more than one person, so start with connecting with others who has the same thoughts as you. get inspired by New creation Christian Community and The Simple Way, and start building. Remember though that Christians communities should include the really poor and marginalised. Get to know poor folks in your area or neighbourhoods, invite them for dinner, love them, and if they’re up for it, live with them.

Also urge your church to start building international community of goods. Connect with say five churches in other parts of the world, look what common budget you have and split it equally. Then, rich churches will learn simplicity and poor churches will have more resources to meet needs and spread the Gospel. Win-win! (more…)

God vs Wealth, part 9: The Prosperity Gospel

To read other parts of the series, go here.

Image from internetmonk.com

Image from internetmonk.com

The prosperity gospel is a popular teaching in many Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal churches. Even though there are a lot of different views on prosperity, the concept is usually understood as economic blessings that God wants to give all believers. If you have a strong faith in God, you’ll get rich. Godliness is a means to financial gain.

But what does the Bible say? Well, in 1 Tim 6:5, Paul speaks about “people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.” So the prosperity gospel is simply corrupt and untrue. He goes on saying:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (vv. 6-10)

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God vs Wealth, part 8: Were Jesus and Paul Rich?

To read other parts of the series, go here.

I always get confused when some Christians argue that Jesus was rich, since it is like claiming that Donald Trump is poor. How can you think that a homeless, jobless foot-walking preacher was wealthy? Have they found a hidden Bible verse that states that Jesus had a mansion somewhere, despite saying that “the Son of Man has no place to put his head” (Mt 8:20)? Have they found an ancient document that shows that He actually owned a jet plane? My Bible says that he was totally aid-dependent, recieving His support from women and sharing everything with His disciples, practicing community of goods (Lk 8:1-3, Jn 13:29).

But the main argument for the rich Jesus is His seemless garment. John 19:23-24 says:

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.”

I’ve seen countless articles and heard many sermons that use this passage to prove that Jesus was rich, since they claim that a seemless garment must have been the clothing of the wealthy. I’m not sure if I would call a homeless, jobless, foot-walking guy who didn’t have anything but a shirt rich though. And more importantly, I can’t find any evidence that only rich people had seemless garments. The Bible sure never says it. And it isn’t hard to create seemless clothing. All you really need to do is to cut a hole in a blanket and ta daa – you got a seemless poncho.

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God vs Wealth, part 7: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar

Image from theepottershand.com

Image from theepottershand.com

In the previous parts of my God vs Wealth series, I’ve explained why I’m convinced that Christians neither should be rich nor spend money on unnecessary stuff like luxury, beauty products and entertainment. There’s a common counter argument against this though: the woman with the alabaster jar.

In Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12, we read about this woman who poured out really expensive perfume from her alabaster jar on Jesus’ body. The disciples get upset and tell her that that perfume could have been sold for a lot of money, which could have been given to the poor.

However, Jesus’ defends the woman and calls her act “beautiful”. Countless (rich) Christians have told me that this is the proof that there are times when we don’t have to give our money to the poor but spend them on luxury instead. If it was okay for Jesus, and He was sinless, why would it be a problem if we from time to time enjoyed some extravagance and glamour?

My answer to that is that this text cannot be applied to any situation today whatsoever. I’ll show you what I mean. Firstly, we have to realize that the disciples are doing something very logical if we think about the teaching Jesus already has given them. He commanded them in Lk 12:33 to sell everything they have and give the money to the poor – of course they get upset when a woman refuses to do the same with an extremely expensive perfume (it says that it was worth 300 denarii – a year’s wage for the avarage worker).

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God vs Wealth, part 6: The Old Testament

To read other parts of the series, go here.

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“What about king David?” people ask me when we debate whether a Christian should be rich or not. David was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) who clearly loved and feared the Lord, and yet he was very rich. Same thing is true for many believers in the Old Testament – kings like Solomon or Hezekiah as well as landlords as Abraham and Job. They believed in God, and still were rich.

However, we must remember that just because you are a believer, all your actions do not necessarily reflect the will of God. The only person in the Bible that we know lived a totally holy life is Jesus Christ. But when it comes to Abraham for example, he had married his sister. Should we use that as an argument for us to do the same?

Likewise, when it comes to David and Solomon, they lived in polygamy. We know however that Scripture condemns polygamy in other places. And interestingly enough, the same Bible verse that forbids Old Testament kings to take several wives also tells them not to accumulate wealth. This verse is not so famous, but is is a clear debunking of the “what about king David”argument. In Deutoronomy 17, God speaks of the lifestyle of the future king of Israel. Among other things, He says:

He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. (Deut 17:17)

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God vs Wealth, part 5: Three Heresies

To read other parts of the series, go here.

In the first four parts of my God vs Wealth series, I’ve presented why I am convinced that Christians shouldn’t be rich. Now, I will discuss some counter arguments against that thesis.

1. There’s nothing wrong with being rich as long as you value God more than your money

This theory, which I’ve mentioned in some of the previous posts in this blog series, is basically saying that as long as your money doesn’t affect your relationship with God negatively, you can be as rich as you want. The problem is not owning money, the problem is if the money owns you. However, Jesus does not agree with this:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21).

In other words, it’s wrong to argue that you can be rich as long as your money doesn’t hinder your relationship with God, because where your treasure is your heart will be also – you cannot have treasures on earth and your heart in Heaven! The word “treasure” is used in James 5 as well where wealth also is criticised. We have to get rid of it to attain full devotion to the Lord.

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God vs Wealth, part 4: The Church Fathers

To read other parts of the series, go here.

Early Christian Teaching on Wealth and Poverty

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“Share everything with your brother. Do not say, ‘It is private property.’ If you share what is everlasting, you should be that much more willing to share things which do not last.” – The Didache, c. 90 AD, (Did. 4:8)

“Now then hear me and be at peace among yourselves, have regard one to another, and assist one another, and do not partake of what God has created alone in abundance, but share it with those that are in need. For some men through their much eating bring weakness on the flesh, and injure their flesh: whereas the flesh of those who have nothing to eat are injured by not having sufficient nourishment, and their body is ruined. This absence of community therefore is hurtful to you that have and do not share with them that are in want. Think of the judgment that will come! You then, that have more than enough, seek out them that are hungry!” … “Take heed therefore; as dwelling in a strange land prepare nothing more for yourself but a competency which is absolutely sufficient and necessary.” – The Shepherd of Hermas, c. 110 AD, (Herm. Vis. 3:9:2-5 and Herm. Sim. 1:6)

“They [Christians] love one another. They do not overlook the widow, and they save the orphan. He who has, ministers ungrudgingly to him who does not have. When they see strangers, they take him under their own roof and rejoice over him as a true brother, for they do not call themselves brothers according to the flesh but according to the soul.” – Aristides, early 2nd century (Apology 15)

“We who once took most pleasure in the means of increasing our wealth and property now bring what we have into a common fund and share with everyone in need.” – Justin Martyr, 100-165 AD (1st Apology 14)
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God vs Wealth, part 3: Sharing Everything

To read other parts of the series, go here.

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I wear a red cross around my neck. I got it when I visited a church called Jesus Army in the UK a couple of years ago. Many people in this church practice community of goods. They eradicate the gap between rich and poor simply through sharing all they have together in community houses called New Creation Christian Community.

This is of course very biblical. We read about the first church in Jerusalem which was led by the apostles themselves: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44-45). This should not be surprising, they simply obeyed the commands of Jesus. He clearly told all His disciples in Luke 12:33 to sell what they have and give to the poor.

It is thus misleading to think that this command was just given to one certain rich man in Matthew 19:16-22. I have heard countless rich Christians arguing that Jesus told him to sell what he had just because his money was a stumbling block to his relation with God, and thus rich Christians with a good relationship with God can ignore this command and continue to be rich. But the gospels doesn’t say that he had to sell his stuff because they affected his relationship with the Lord, the only reason Jesus gives is that the poor will get money – something they need no matter how our spiritual situation looks like. And again, He did say the same thing to all His disciples, and they all obeyed it.
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