Is the Lord saying that Christians should not own anything?

Answered by Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

QUESTION:In Mark 10:21, is the Lord saying that Christians should not own anything??

ANSWER: The answer is “No” – but let’s look at this a bit.

God’s Word, the Bible, is one cohesive unit. No passage ever contradicts another, and Scripture must always be read in context. Peter pointed this out in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (NKJV). Enemies of God’s Word often try to call attention to what they call contradictions in the Bible, but in so doing they are exposing their ignorance of Scripture and its principles.

Mark 10:21 is part of the account of a man who came to Jesus asking what he should do to inherit eternal life (vv.17-22). From parallel accounts in Matthew 19:16-30 and Luke 18:18-30 we learn that he was a young ruler. He addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher,” and Jesus immediately responded that only God is good. He went on to refer him to the commandments, mentioning some that referred to man’s relationship with his fellow man. The young man replied that he had kept all of these from his youth. From a purely human standpoint he was an admirable person, and we read that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”

Romans 6:23 tells us that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is not obtained by inheritance, nor can it be secured by our works, lest we boast (Eph. 2:8-9). Jesus told this young ruler that there was one thing he was lacking. What was that one thing? The very first commandment was: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). Here was the heart of the man’s problem. He loved his riches more than he loved God. Jesus is God. He went on to tell this man, “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

The young man “was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Things – these possessions – meant more to him than God did, and he chose his possessions rather than Jesus. He was unwilling to get rid of them and give the proceeds to the poor, unwilling to take up the cross – the instrument of the lowest kind of death in those days – and simply follow Jesus, committing himself to Him. The Lord put His finger on the sore spot, or the heart of the matter, as He told His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”

This account is not given to teach that a Christian should not own anything. Rather, it stresses the impossibility of becoming a Christian if we let anything stand between us and God, or us and the Lord Jesus.

We must bear in mind that this rich young ruler was a Jew. God had promised the people of Israel many earthly blessings “if you diligently obey the voice of the LORDyour God to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you” (Dt. 28:1). Note, “all His commandments.” Scripture shows plainly that no mere human being has ever kept all God’s commandments; and nowhere does God promise eternal life as a reward for good works or for keeping His commandments.

The basic question in this account is “How does one obtain eternal life?” It is not whether a Christian should or should not own anything. In fact, throughout Scripture God recognizes what we call “property rights,” the right to have possessions. But when we read God’s Word carefully we find that we who are Christians are stewards or managers of all that God entrusts to us. One day we shall have to give an account of how we have carried out our stewardship to the One who has entrusted it to us.