Monday, August 28, 2006

Luke on My Mind #6

I admit it; actually, I confess it--I find "Sell your possessions and give to the poor" (Luke 12:33) a hard and difficult saying. Probably more than any other saying of Jesus--even "love your enemies"--I'm inclined to throw up my hands and say "I can't do that."

It puts me in the position of the Rich Young Ruler of Luke 18 and that is an very uncomfortable position in which to be. Now, with the Rich Young Ruler I can recontextualize, spiritualize and delegitimize the demand to "sell your possesssions and give to the poor." That was too specific, too tailored to the heart of that Ruler. Or, was it? Well, I can debate that one with myself.

But I can't "debate" Luke 12:33 which appears in the heart of Luke's rehearsal of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount material. It is "don't worry"--ok, hard but I can handle it. It is "seek his kingdom"--yes, Lord, I will do that. It is "don't be afraid"--yes, Lord, I'll trust you. And, then, like a lightning bolt to my heart, it is "Sell your possessions and give to the poor." And my heart stops and says, "uh, can you repeat that? I'm not sure I heard you right."

This is where my heart is, brothers and sisters. I don't want to sell my possessions. In fact, I want better possessions. I'll give mine away so I can upgrade, but not sell my upgrades so I can give to the poor. That does not make sense--at least not in the culture in which I have been trained, socialized and pampered.

So, what am I to do? Should I obey?

Perhaps I will have to start where this whole discussion started in Luke 12. Someone in the crowd asked Jesus to adjudicate between his brother and himself over inheritance. Jesus refused and pointed to their hearts--only they can act on the nature of their hearts. Life, Jesus said, "does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15).

Ok, I know that, but what does it mean. Well, it means that we don't build bigger barns. This is the parable that Jesus told in response to this inquiry about inheritance. What do I do with the blessings God has given me? Do I build bigger barns so I can contain them, hoard them and consume them? Or, and I think this is Jesus real answer, don't build bigger barns. Instead take your increase and give it to the poor.

Perhaps that is my starting place on my journey to obey "sell your possessions and give to the poor." Perhaps I just need to start with the simple resolve to never build any more bigger barns. Perhaps I take my increases and give them to the poor. I can at least start there.

So, if you are troubled as I am by this saying to "sell your possessions and give to the poor," perhaps we start by not building any more "bigger barns." We start with using our increase to bless the poor, and then perhaps we can begin downsizing (selling our possessions) and increasing our giving to the poor. We start by not obtaining more before we start doing with less. I think God will honor that direction, but he will not honor the other option.

One more post on this to come and then I will be finished for a while....my own heart cannot stomach the challenge. (Do you like my mixed metaphor?)

27 Comments:

At 3:25 AM, Blogger R Debenport said...

Keep going. Do not stop as long as the Spirit is working. I want to hear more. Yet, on another level I don't want to hear this. So, keep going.
-Russ

 
At 9:20 AM, Blogger Josh Woods said...

Thank you for the challenge, Dr. Hicks! Very, very difficult thoughts, but much needed. I think Luke 12 and Matthew 25 are two of the hardest passages for me to read simply because they do involve such severing between the Christian and material possessions.

Often I feel so good about myself for not being obsessed with collecting iPods, golf equipment, SUVs, plasma televisions, etc. But then I'm reminded that Christ actually wants me to take the things I do have and sell them to help the poor. Wow. I think that one humbles all of us.

 
At 2:57 PM, Blogger Matt said...

These are challenging words. To me, the most challenging words in the New Testament (aside maybe from taking up your cross and following me) come from Philippians 2:3ff

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus..."

Putting others first is just not American. Considering others first just doesn't jive with individuality and personal liberties. We have our rights! Isn't it funny how much we humans want to be God. The point has been made many, many times how ironic it is that when the real God came to earth he took on the nature of a servant and was willing to be obedient, even to death. If we could be God, there is no way we would want to obey anyone ever again. We wouldn't put anyone else first because, after all, we would be God! How incredibly upside down we are in our thinking. These words of Paul and the challenge of the life of Christ turn our thinking rightside up.

 
At 8:34 PM, Blogger Keith Brenton said...

There's an important difference between Jesus' instruction to the rich young guy in Luke 18 and the general instruction to everyone in Luke 12: the word "all." He told the rich kid to sell "all." Because "all" of those possessions were standing between him and what he lacked - a walk with Jesus.

I think the advice in Luke 12 is for all of us to understand the deep joy of giving sacrificially ... and understanding the heart of Jesus a little better.

I'm pretty sure it doesn't mean for me to go broke and no longer provide for my family, or my church, or other needs that don't happen to involve the poor.

 
At 7:20 AM, Blogger John Mark Hicks said...

Keith,

I agree. There is no call in Luke 12 for poverty, but rather a sense of sharing with the poor, that is, to move from abundance to meeting the nees of the poor and our own needs (and the needs of our family).

The model is played out in Acts where people sell their abundance to meet the needs the others within the community.

 
At 10:35 AM, Blogger Matt said...

I am sure if that man had gone with Jesus he would have turned out just as well taken care of as the other disciples. None of them took all their belongings and yet they seem to have done things responsibly. Maybe I am presuming too much in saying this but I would think if the man had family ties, Jesus would not have asked him to do something that would have caused him to sin.

The point of this passage is not that everyone needs to sell it all. The point of this passage is for those in the pew he put money before God, the best thing they can do is to get rid of that obstacle. And for the rest who do not have that struggle, they need to take inventory and remove their particular obstacle from God. In a way this is the same principle found in the "spiritual surgery" passage in the sermon on the mount.
We cannot look at this passage and say it is not about money. For those money is an issue (such as they young man) it did have something to do with money. And I think John Mark is absolutely right in saying this passage makes demands on our lives. We cannot contextualize this passage away. We are forced to confront it and live it out.

 
At 9:21 AM, Blogger the Reader said...

As a person gets older and the children are grown - possessions are no longer needed as much. At that point it is much easier to sell things and/or give them away because "we can't take it with us" and certainly don't need to. God in His wisdom always shows us the way.

 
At 1:04 PM, Blogger Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Thanks for sharing. I am there with you.

Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

 
At 10:02 PM, Blogger preacherman said...

John,

Great thoughts.
I totally agree with you!

 
At 12:31 PM, Blogger Missionary's Missionary said...

Perhaps we should put this in the context of the "evil eye." The term is found in the following passages for those who read the original languages (not me): Matt. 6:23, Matt. 20:15, Mark 7:22, Luke 11:34, Deut. 15:9, Deut.28, 54 & 55, and Prov 28:22. Prov. 22:9 talks about the good eye. I know you scholars out there will put these scriptures in context. Could it be we cannot give up our materialism because we have an evil eye? The first time this study was presented to me, it scared me. I think it should scare us.

Love's prayers...Dottie

 
At 8:29 PM, Blogger Milton Stanley said...

"So, what am I to do? Should I obey?"

Yes, you should. So should the rest of us. Everybody here seems to be trying to talk Jesus' words away. Quit talking and start selling.

 
At 9:03 AM, Blogger Gena said...

i was referred to you by a friend. she said i needed to read your blog entry "dare to doubt" but she didn't say when you wrote it...

ok -so i come here and see nothing remotely close to the title in your listings so i randomly go to Feb. and breathe a sigh of "how long will i search for this thing i am not even sure about..."

then there it is. i read. i cried. even though i haven't lost someone to death i have felt the frustrations of loss and was sure then God had me there for a reason.

i have doubted, without admitting it and sometimes even realizing it.
Thanks for your honesty.
God is good.

 
At 7:56 PM, Blogger robert said...

You start where you start, I suppose. Somehow this reminded me of Michael Quoist's "Prayer Before a Twenty Dollar Bill." Awareness is not the same as a cure, of course, but sometimes awareness leads to super-awareness (conviction?), which moves us far indeed.

Can you imagine what Anthony or one of the other desert fathers would have said if they had read your articles - especially this one?

Well, I suppose Anthony is a bit deceased for much dialog, but the questions you pose in your searching articles remind me of the need for discernment.

I'm not Roman Catholic, as you know, but I've found some of the best and most focused "discerners" in monastic communities. Perhaps it is because many of them had the bigger barns, but decided they had to give them up to be whole persons.

I guess that's what I get from your article - a refocusing on becoming a whole person, a real human being.

So, what do I do with all this lumber I've accumulated?

 
At 10:40 AM, Blogger James Wood said...

This makes me think of what Robert Clinton calls an "integrity check". Basically, do you really believe what you say you believe? Am I willing to put my faith into practice.

I think there is stong biblical precident for God blessing his people through wealth and possessions (Abraham, Job, Solomon, etc.). But it seems to be key for these people to have demonstrated great faith and a greater desire for God than for wealth.

Malachi 3 is oft quoted in discussions about giving, as is 2 Corinthians 9. They both give a similar message: "You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God." (2 Cor 9:11) God blesses us so that we can bless others. When we refuse to use our blessing to bless others we pervert the purpose of God's work in our lives.

It hurts me so much to type what I know is correct since it convicts me to the core. I love my stuff. I love looking for more stuff. I keep stuff I don't even need - just to have stuff.

Holy God, free me from this bondage to things and release me into bondage to you. Amen

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger majuzo said...

o brother, where art "luke on my mind #7"?

 
At 10:18 PM, Blogger preacherman said...

Luke is always on my mind....Help!

 
At 4:57 PM, Blogger Chris Field said...

JM-

Where are you? This stuff is great and we need some more of it...

 
At 11:00 PM, Blogger Keith Brenton said...

Okay, I'll answer the final question. I loved the mixed metaphor.

What I don't like is being patient for your next post!

 
At 4:16 AM, Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Maybe John Mark sold his computer.

 
At 11:57 PM, Blogger preacherman said...

Professors really aren't that busy not to blog. Can't he give a walk to post a new post? I loved walks.

 
At 4:38 PM, Blogger preacherman said...

Has he forgotten that he has a blog? hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

 
At 6:45 AM, Blogger John said...

First visit for me, but I will be back. I enjoyed this.

 
At 5:46 PM, Blogger Rick said...

REFLECTING ON...RESTORATION
on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University

Friday: January 19, 2007
6:00 PM Reflecting on Barton W. Stone - Monte Ginnings
7:00 PM Reflecting on Thomas Campbell - David Dugan
8:00 PM Reflecting on Alexander Campbell - Gil Yoder
9:00 PM Q&A Session - Ginning, Dugan & Yoder


Saturday: January 20, 2007
8:30 AM Renewing our Day
9:00 AM Reflecting on Cane Ridge - Richard Melson
10:00 AM Reflecting on Doctrinal Divisions - Michael Light
11:00 AM Reflecting on the Forty Years of Wandering - Tommy Haynes

Lunch off campus

1:30 PM Reflecting on the Division of 1906 - Stephen Wiggins
2:30 PM Reflecting on the Decision of 2006 - Brant Stubblefield
3:30 PM Reflecting on Biblical Examples of Restoration - Richard Massey
4:30 PM Causes of Division & Moments of Great Unity - Rick Popejoy
5:30 PM Giving Honor to Honor is Due
6:30 PM Q&A Session - Popejoy, Massey & Ginnings

For more information, visit divinereflections.blogspot.com

 
At 10:40 PM, Blogger Laymond said...

How big of a barn are we allowed before we start giving the overflow to the poor?

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger Bill said...

May your knowledge and experience of the riches of God’s grace, abundantly lavished on us through the gift of His Son as our Savior and King, warm your souls and brighten your days through this holiday season. Merry Christmas! -bill

 
At 11:33 AM, Blogger combsdac said...

John Mark,
As others have said I find myself challenged by this post.
Today I received the following in my e-mail and found myself agreeing but having read your post yesterday (just found your blog same day) I felt conflicted and was given pause.
FYI I am a quadriplegic who for the audacity of earning over $700/month in 1999 lost my SSDI monthly check of $634 (per the legislation passed by our millionaire congressman and senators) and midnight 12/31/06 lost my Medicare coverage (for the same reason and legislation).
Also FYI I have twice housed homeless people in my spare bedroom for months each and support famine relief worldwide and hunger relief locally.
I'd like to know your thoughts on the following which I almost forwarded to my e-mail list.
"PUBLIC FORUM
Don't help people sit on their rears. I have a question not only for the people of Douglas county but for the entire state of Oregon. Like a lot of people in this state I have a job. I work, they pay me. I pay my taxes and the government distributes my taxes as they see fit. In order for me to get that check I have to pass a random urine test which I have no problem with. What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to those who don't have to pass a random urine test. Shouldn't one have to pass a urine test to receive a urine test to get a welfare check since I have to pass one to earn it for them? Please understand, I have nothing against helping people get back on their feet. I do, on the other hand, have a problem with helping someone sit on their butt. Could you imagine how much money the government could save if people had to pass a urine test to get public assistance? Leonard Wilson"
I tell you John Mark,it hit a chord with me. I want to be like Jesus and I give to the poor and help when I can and reflect on whether I behave responsibly as a disciple in sharing my abundance. And I know the covergence of Christian ethics and secular government raise many thorny (pardon the pun) issues with disciples on all sides of the issues. But re this one, what do you think.
FYI the Lord has blessed me in my work from home to eventually make up the loss of the SSDI check and I'm trusting re the Medicare loss.
Grace and peace,

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger John Mark Hicks said...

David

Your heart certainly reflects the interests of Jesus as I hope mine does. I just wish I could live out what I believe every day. It is a difficult journey.

I can appreciate the concern for drug testing and holding people accountable who receive from the graciousness of others, even the government.

I think the issue is probably too complex to discuss in any detail but my immediate reaction is that we should not make assistance contingent on some formal drug testing. I do believe in the principle that our giving should not enable a lifestyle that is harmful to a person but rather should enable them to supply their needs for healthy living.

Yet, I don't think mandatory drug testing is the answer in this situation as I understand the broad circumstance. It would perhaps hinder efforts toward redemptive action for those using drugs.

But I am not familiar with the issues in the specific situation described.

Helping the poor is enabling them to meet their needs with dignity as persons and providing a means of redemptive lift out of the cycle of poverty.

 

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