Earley: Does ‘sell everything’ mean everything?

Published 8:01 am Friday, February 17, 2017

By Al Earley

A couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning, while they are eating breakfast, the wife sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside.

“That laundry is not very clean,” she said. “She doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.”

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Her husband looks on, but remains silent. Every time her neighbor hangs her wash to dry, the wife makes the same comments.

A month later, the wife was surprised to see nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband, “Look, she has learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?”

The husband said, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”

And so it is with life. What we see when watching others, making decisions and drawing conclusions depends on the purity of the window through which we look.

This can be the case when looking at the hard teachings of Jesus. There are many scriptures that are very difficult for us to understand, and one of those is Matthew 19:16-26, where Jesus tells the rich man to sell everything he has, give it to the poor and follow Him (v. 21). This seems an impossible command by Jesus. Christians tend to ignore it, and non-Christians notice Christians are ignoring Jesus’ command. Let’s take a thorough look at the whole text, and see if we can look at it through a clean window and see more clearly.

The stage is set in verse 16 as a rich man asks what good thing he can do to have eternal life. He has not been listening to Jesus who has been teaching that there is no good thing we can do to inherit eternal life. It is not what we do, but what we believe that opens the doors to heaven.

In verses 17-19, Jesus reminds the man only God is good and God says to keep His commandments, and then Jesus lifts up Commandments 5-9 (Exodus 20:1-17). The man is surely encouraged because he declares that he has done these things (verse 20). Jesus knows the man is deceived because we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

Jesus calls him to do what he can’t do because money is an idol, and the first four commandments deal with worshipping God only and having no idols. Jesus says,“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.”

What are your idols? Jesus tells the rich man to give up his money, not because all who follow Jesus must give up their money. He calls him to do so because money is an idol, and the first two commandments clearly say to have no other gods before the one true God and to not have any idols. Throughout time, the most seductive idol for people is money and the things it can buy.

What are your idols? You probably idolize money if you live in America. Even the poorest among us are rich compared to most of the rest of the world. We don’t idolize golden calves and little statues of fertility gods, but we do idolize sex, alcohol, our families, our jobs and many other things above God. Anything we idolize above God Jesus would tell us, give it away and then follow Him.

We jump ahead to verse 24 which is the intriguing, but confusing, “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Even the disciples didn’t understand this teaching. Jesus spells it out in verse 26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

This is the message Jesus has been teaching. There is no good thing we can do to inherit eternal life. It is a free gift from God that we neither deserve or earn. The one thing that can steal eternal life from us is our idols. If they become more important than our faith in Jesus Christ, then we will choose not to give them up and choose not to follow Him.

Can you be honest with yourself and name your idols? Can you be courageous and pray to God what to do about them? Can you be obedient and do whatever God tells you to do? Is the window you look at life through dirty with the fallenness of the world or clean with the blood of the lamb, who is Jesus Christ?

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous columns, see www.lagrangepres.com.