Jesus did not call His followers to lead selfish lives. He taught about selfless living. He told us to forgive an unlimited number of times. He told us to give generously to the needy from our own abundance. He told us to love our enemies. He told us to repay evil with good. In every case of justified judging, keeping what we deserve and earned, hating, and revenge, Jesus taught us to choose love instead.
Why does this matter for our personal finances? Jesus spoke often about wealth and the dangers of loving money. In every case, he told us we must not submit ourselves to the service of money or the lusts of riches. If we do, we cannot serve God. He did not leave us a middle ground. Jesus told us to sell what we have and give it to the poor. He didn’t say keep some extra wealth back for yourself to enjoy because you worked so hard for it. He called us to lovingly give to the needy out of our abundance.
What’s an abundance? It’s having much more than we need. Not the kind of “I need a million dollar home” need. These are the basics we need for a comfortable (not luxurious) life. Jesus calls His followers to live simply so they can meet the needs of the poor and so they will not become slaves to money.
Jesus didn’t tell us we should not work to meet our needs. But He did call us to avoid seeking wealth as our main pursuit in life. He told us that we should instead seek the Kingdom of God. Those who choose to follow Jesus must give up the selfish life and seek the selfless life.
But how well are we doing this? American Christians as a whole (including me) have done a terrible job of following Jesus’ teachings about wealth and giving. We choose to satisfy our selfish desires (early retirement, vacation homes, frivolous luxuries, and other unnecessary wants) instead of meeting the basic needs of the millions of starving, homeless, hurting, and sick around the world. And it’s not that we just do these things once or twice in our lives. We have made an entire lifestyle – developed an entire culture – around it.
As Christians we often try to justify it by saying we tithe or give to this charity or that mission. Or we claim that God has blessed us, so He must want us to enjoy at least some of it. But I’ve never found any justification for our selfish behavior anywhere in Jesus’ teaching at all. If I’m wrong, please show me.
Jesus called us to live generously and sacrificially. He told us to put our desires and rights aside and put the needs of others first. I cannot see how Jesus could want me to buy a big screen TV when people are starving. I cannot see how it is loving of me to want a fancier house when people will sleep out in the rain tonight. I am blessed by God with everything I need to enjoy each day and do His work. I have not completely mastered these ideas – I still struggle with similar choices all the time. But God is opening my heart to the needs of others and showing me just how greatly blessed I really am.
We have found too many reasons to push Jesus’ words aside to justify our own selfishness. We claim to follow Him, but we don’t do what He taught. Instead, we work so hard to get all the things we want (and don’t need). We are blind to how Satan has gained control of our hearts through our culture and money. We are not serving God when we spend on our extravagant wants. We are serving money (and Satan).
There’s no secret to living a selfless life. There’s no formula. And I can’t set guidelines for what you should and shouldn’t do. You must choose to look at Jesus’ life for your example. You must choose to listen to His teaching for guidance. You must love Him, and He will teach you what it means to love others.
Are we really willing to follow Jesus’ teaching? Are we ready to forsake the world, set aside our desires, and give generously to the needy in the name of Jesus? Are we going to take up His cross? Or are we going to close our eyes and shut our ears to the needs of the poor while we justify our selfish actions?