I struggle greatly with striving to follow Jesus and living in our modern society. From all accounts, it appeared that Jesus never owned a home, was not married and did not have children. I have a mortgage, frequently covet my neighbor’s truck and would like to have money to pay for vacations and other enjoyable things in life. However, I definitely don’t feel like I am following the teachings of Jesus when it comes to possessions in life. How can someone follow Jesus and yet fit into society at the same time?
Thank you for your question. I am sure this issue resonates with many of us today who are trying to follow Jesus authentically. As we live in a society where there are many possibilities and also many demands and challenges, I am also sure many of us today face the same dilemma you face. I will try to bring some clarity to your issue of living authentically for Jesus as a contributing member of the society who holds a regular job and has some possessions like a car and a house.
First of all, in looking at the Bible as a whole, one can see the intrinsic value and goodness of created things and institutions. We believe that God created everything that there is, and He created everything good in the beginning. Enjoying earthly possessions that one has acquired honestly is not condemned in the Bible. What the Bible condemns is the love of possessions and money, using dishonest means to gain possessions, using wealth and power to oppress the weak, becoming greedy and operating with selfish desires. The Bible warns us against transforming material things into our gods and against trying to find fulfillment in things rather than in God. As believers, we want to glorify God in all our possessions, and that means giving material things their proper place, managing them in a godly way and using them not just for our benefit, but also for the good of God’s kingdom and the benefit of others.
Secondly, Jesus affirmed the goodness of family and marriage and all the joys that come from them. Jesus enjoyed the benefits of a good and godly home from birth. He enjoyed weddings and family dinners and found time to bless children. Jesus enjoyed nature and liked to travel throughout his homeland. Jesus was also a carpenter, and he must have excelled in his work. On the other hand, Jesus confronted his disciples with an absolute demand of loyalty and love for him, even if that meant loving Jesus more than father or mother (Matthew 10:37). Jesus made it clear that his followers are to put him first before any other relationship. As we give full loyalty to Jesus, we will encounter situations where family relationships will come into conflict with our commitment to Jesus. As we try to honor Jesus first, sometimes Christians are obligated to go against their own family. In less radical situations it would mean working with our family to bring about necessary changes. As followers of Jesus, we work in our families to bring glory to God in our family life.
Thirdly, Jesus demands absolute loyalty and devotion from all believers. No believer is giving the option to put Jesus in second place or give priority to another person or thing above Jesus. Even those Christians who choose to live without any possessions will encounter the temptation to put themselves and their interests above Jesus. As we put Jesus at the center of our lives, Jesus will make demands upon our time, our talents, our possessions, our families, our careers and all areas of our life. Sometimes this will mean giving up the money saved for a vacation and investing it instead in going on a mission trip or giving up the money saved for a new car and using the money to invest it in a kingdom of God project. When we put Jesus first, we realize that everything we have is God’s and we are stewards of everything God has placed upon our lives.
Lastly, we Christians in the wealthy nations need to be aware of the needs that poor people in developing nations face every day. We need to be aware of our obligation to help those in great need. We do not realize how rich we are and how privileged we are to have access to so many possibilities. As we acquire more skills, more means of production and more wealth, we also have an obligation to use all of these benefits in helping to feed the hungry and providing them with the means to a life out of poverty. How to do this would be a topic for another discussion.
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