Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man asked.
And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21)
In response to the young man’s question about how to have eternal life, Jesus told him to keep God’s Ten Commandments. Jesus then listed six of them, all referring to relationships with others. When the young man replied that he had kept the commandments, Jesus told him that he must do something more—sell everything and give the money to the poor. Jesus’ statement exposed the man’s weakness. In reality, his wealth was his idol, and he would not give it up. Thus he violated the first and greatest commandment (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 22:36-40).
When Jesus told this young man that he would “be perfect” if he gave everything he had to the poor, Jesus wasn’t speaking in the temporal, human sense. He was explaining how to be justified and made whole or complete in God’s sight.
Should all believers sell everything they own? No. We are responsible to care for our own needs and the needs of our families so as not to be a burden on others. Yet we can be willing to give up whatever God nudges us to give up. This kind of attitude allows nothing to come between us and God and keeps us from using our God-given wealth selfishly.
If you are comforted by the fact that Jesus did not tell all of his followers to sell all their possessions, you may be too attached to what you have. What if Jesus asked you to sell everything you have? How would you respond? What, if anything, do you sense God nudging you to give up for his sake?