Friday, January 15, 2010

Counting the Cost

Matthew 19:21-22
(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."
(22)  When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

(21)  ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Εἰ θέλεις τέλειος εἶναι, ὕπαγε πώλησόν σου τὰ ὑπάρχοντα καὶ δὸς τοῖσ πτωχοῖς, καὶ ἕξεις θησαυρὸν ἐν οὐρανοῖς, καὶ δεῦρο ἀκολούθει μοι. 
(22)  ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ νεανίσκος τὸν λόγον ἀπῆλθεν λυπούμενος, ἦν γὰρ ἔχων κτήματα πολλά.

The word τέλειος fascinates me here.  Here is its entry in Thayer:

Thayer Definition:
1) brought to its end, finished
2) wanting nothing necessary to completeness
3) perfect
4) that which is perfect
4a) consummate human integrity and virtue
4b) of men
4b1) full grown, adult, of full age, mature

As you can see, there are many glosses for it, but the overall idea is completeness or maturity.  Basically, Jesus is asking the rich young man if he desires completeness or maturity.  It is clear that the young man lacks something in his following of the Law.  I am not absolutely sure about this, but I suspect that this has the same idea as the Hebrew word transliterated "shalom."  

So what do we do with this passage?  Is Jesus saying that we need to sell all we have and give it to the poor? Maybe.  Here in America most of us are in the top 1% of wealth in the world.  Even those who make only $30,000/year are in the top 7.16% of wealth in the world according to this site.  I've heard it said that we define "rich" as anyone who has more money than we do.  Most of us do not consider us to be rich, but just about everyone in the world would consider anyone able to read this as being rich.

That all notwithstanding, I don't think that Jesus is giving a universal absolute that all of his followers must sell all they have.  I think what He is doing is telling the rich young ruler that he needs to forfeit his god if he is going to worship the God who is.  He cannot worship both God and money.  Similarly, we cannot worship both God and sex.  We cannot worship God and money either.  We cannot worship God and prestige.  And so on.  

There is a cost that comes from following Jesus.  Do you want to be τέλειος?  If so, you need to let go of your functional savior and embrace the true Savior in Christ.


tom sheepandgoats said...

I agree with you; it's a general principle, but not a specific directive to all Christians, as it was to the young man in question. After all, Paul (though he himself could be said to almost literally have followed Jesus' counsel) directed that wealthy Christians should not become full of themselves, but should rest their trust in God. He did not direct them to impoverish themselves. (1 Tim 6:17)

Having said that, our people have for many years emphasized simplification in their lives, and one constantly hears/reads of persons forsaking real or potentially lucrative careers so as to have a "fuller share" in the ministry. This results in a skewing down of our median incomes, to the point where it is among the lowest of anyone. Believe me, we are derided for it, as it it proves we are a group of dumbbells.

Jason said...

I'm certainly making a call to ascetic monasticism either. However, I don't think that God has so richly blessed us in order to simply sit back and enjoy more stuff, more houses, etc. It's all His anyway.

Believe me that if I ever do get into a pulpit ministry that is a drum I plan to beat. John Piper makes the point that Scripture describes our spiritual situation as "war." Therefore, we should have as much of a wartime mentality as the USA did during WWII. Folks were able to tolerate the rationing because they believed that there was a greater good at stake.

What greater good could there be than furthering the Kingdom?