Like bookends, this passage (Luke 12:22-34) is bracketed by money-matters. It comes on the heels of the parable of the rich fool, and closes with a command to sell your possessions and give to the poor. Such treatment of worldly wealth only makes sense to someone who recognizes how little value it really has.
On April 9th, 1865. General Robert E. Lee surrendered. The Civil War is over. If someone down in South Carolina had known about these events, before word reached the masses … what would he have done with his confederate currency? Would he try to accumulate more, or would he try to use whatever he had to get something of lasting value? In a matter of days, all that pretty paper is going to be … well, just paper.
That’s what our worldly wealth is like. The war is won. Christ gained the victory. This age is passing away. All that is valuable here will soon be worthless. No matter how much you accumulate, none of your money will pass beyond the grave or beyond Christ’s return. It has one, and only one, meaningful purpose. It is to be used to acquire something of lasting value. Jesus tells us how in v. 33:
Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33 ESV)
Giving to the Point of Anxiety
Perhaps now you can appreciate why he begins our passage the way he does: “Don’t be anxious.” And pay attention to the particular worries that Jesus anticipates: Don’t worry about what to eat or what to wear; God knows what you need and will provide. Food an clothing … Imagine being so generous that you actually grow concerned about going hungry or going naked. How much would you have to give away before you were truly in danger of not being able to put a meal together for your family? That’s what Jesus calls you to give … and more.
Jesus Gave it All
These words were directed specifically to Jesus’ disciples (vv. 22, 32). They are instructions for those who know Jesus as savior and Lord. They are for those who have taken up their cross to follow Jesus. And they will only make sense to someone who knows what Jesus has done for him.
Christ emptied himself that you may be full. He who always existed as the second person of the Godhead, lacking nothing, set it all aside. The king humbled himself to be born in the flesh as a servant. Born in a stable, mocked and persecuted throughout his life, confined to time and space as he’d never been before … and submitting to scoundrel like Pilate, permitting himself to be beaten and crucified … and … unfathomably, receiving the wrath of God on our behalf.
[Jesus,] “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6–11 ESV)
That is what the Savior did for those he loves. And anyone who would follow Him will become like him. He will forsake his allegiance to this world. He will forsake his desire for human approval, for worldly riches, for personal glory. His ambition, rather, will be for the glory of his Lord and Savior. And his desire will be to be like Him.
To Sell or Not to Sell
So what does this mean?
Must you sell all your possessions if you are going to be a faithful Christian?
Not necessarily. When Ananias and Sapphira held back some of the proceeds of their field, they were struck dead. But their sin was not in holding something back, per se. Consider Peter’s words,
“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” (Acts 5:4 ESV)
You see, the problem was in the fact that they claimed to be giving it all up. They were more interested in how people viewed them than they were in actually being righteous before God. They didn’t have to sell their field. And neither do you.
If you are reluctant to part with earthly wealth or possessions, be very careful. Money isn’t bad. It’s a gift from God, after all. But it is dangerous. It can become a hindrance to your walk with God. It’s all too easy to begin to think that the thing God gave you gives you security, instead of finding your security in the God who gave it to you. And that’s why the desire for money … for the gift, instead of the giver is called idolatry.
For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Ephesians 5:5–5 ESV)
So, if the prospect of selling your house or your car, or anything else makes you anxious, perhaps you should sell them, lest they become a snare for your soul.
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9–10 ESV)
Consider how many times the instruction is given:
Matt. 19:21 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.”
Luke 12:33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.
Luke 16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous (i.e., worldly) wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
And there’s the example of Zacchaeus in Luke 19
Luke 19:8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.
And the example of the early church:
Acts 2:45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
Acts 4:34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
And there’s the command of Paul
1Tim. 6:18 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.
Faithful giving Hurts
What Jesus calls us to is an uncomfortable generosity. And that’s why he assures us that we will be taken care of. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Unlike the rich fool, they don’t build bigger barns. They don’t build barns at all. And you are worth much more than birds. In fact, the Father is eager to give you the kingdom, will he not feed and clothe you until it is yours?
Consider what God gave for you. The Father gave his One and only Beloved Son for you. He poured out his wrath on his beloved son. He crushed him for you … his beloved son. The Son laid it all aside to purchase you. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV) That’s why you are commanded to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s why you are to turn the other cheek. That’s why you are to follow your king to your death … because you are to be like your father and like your Lord.
Consider what God gave you and ask yourself, “What can I hold back with a clear conscience?” The only answer that has integrity is, “nothing.” Must you sell your possessions? Not necessarily. But you must be generous. Your generosity ought to push you toward anxiety. And your faith in the loving provision of your father — and that alone — ought to relieve the anxiety.