To Forsake All...
"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple ... So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26-27, 33)
This is known as one of the more difficult teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It is difficult, but it is also essential. In other words, unless a person is willing to do this, Jesus plainly says, "he cannot be my disciple". So what does Jesus mean when he says a person must "forsake all that he has" if he or she is to be a follower of Jesus? Many people have different ideas about this, but sadly most don't make much of an effort to understand this, let alone to actually do it. In fact, most christians dismiss this as simply too hard to understand. If christians can agree with anything regarding this command, it is that it could not mean what it seems to plainly say!
This disciple does think this teachings is difficult to follow, but I don't think it is that difficult to understand, because Jesus tells us what it means IF we are willing to receive it.
The context is always the best way to understand what Jesus is saying - this way of understanding Jesus' teachings cannot be emphasized enough. In this case especially, too many people ignore the context preceding verse 33, and thus miss what Jesus is saying.
The passage starts in verse 25 where we are told that large crowds were going along with Jesus. It was in this circumstance that Jesus said these things. Elsewhere, Jesus teaches how difficult it will be to enter the kingdom of heaven, and that we must strive to enter because the Way is narrow and difficult. The crowds in this instance were probably like the crowds described in John 6, in as much as they were following after Jesus in order to GET SOMETHING FROM HIM other than spiritual Life. This is the wrong motivation for wanting to listen to, know and follow Jesus, and Jesus was diligent in trying to weed out those whose motivations were wrong in seeking him out. Jesus explains what is happening in this weeding process in his parable of the sower in Matthew, Mark and Luke.
In this passage in Luke, the context is set very clearly in verses 26 and 27. What Jesus is seeking to do is to tell people plainly that they cannot both follow him as well as listen to other voices which might tell them not to follow Jesus. Verse 26 is very clearly a command for those people who hear Jesus' Words, to count the cost of following him, namely the forsaking of all the most important natural relationships. If someone wants to follow Jesus, they have to be willing to leave - forsake - the people in their life who they have previously loved the most...parents, spouses, children and siblings. When should someone do this? If these people are not willing to follow Jesus as Jesus defines that (not christian religion, tradition or the bible), then they must be forsaken. Jesus is simply teaching one of the implications of the greatest command, which is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. If we do this, by listening to the Son of God and following him as the Father commands, other people formerly close in our lives will accuse us of hating them because we no longer listen to their desires first in how to live our lives. We also may no longer 'bless' their christian religion if they are active christians.
Jesus adds that we must even hate our own life in this world if we are to successfully follow him. He says we must be rejected and ridiculed by the world as he was, and be willing to die for him if necessary. This is what he means by taking up our cross and following him. This is the forsaking he is talking about in this passage, and he includes all the closest natural relationships to make sure we get the point. He says elsewhere that we must lose our lives in this world in order to gain life eternal...that those who seek to keep their lives in this world will lose life eternal. This is the true, deepest and purest meaning of Jesus' commands that we "forsake all".
In verses 28 through 32, Jesus teaches an important related principle to what he just taught in verses 26 and 27. The principle he is teaching in these illustrations is a person counting the cost to succeed in what they are setting out to do. He speaks of a man setting out to build a tower, and a king setting out to defend his kingdom against an aggressor. Jesus' point in these illustrations is simple...first see if you have the will and resources to succeed in what you want to do before you set out to do it. If you don't first count what it will cost to succeed, and then underestimate what it would take, you will fail and people will ridicule you to boot. Thus, your efforts to succeed will not only fail, but those people watching you will mock you and your stated cause. Jesus certainly does not want this of those claiming to be following him...that they are failing and thus bringing the mocking of the world about himself - the stated cause. He doesn't want this because it will hinder others in finding the Real Jesus, as it will make his teachings a mockery and thus more difficult to believe. This will have the horrible result of less people finding Life in Jesus, because of the perceived hypocrisy of others.
The point is simple. You must count the cost of following Jesus to include losing the people who are closest to you and whom have meant the most to you. If you are not willing to do this, then don't try to follow Jesus for you will fail. And if you say you are a follower of Jesus, yet don't obey this command, you hinder others from following him as well.
Sadly, most christians say, 'oh yes, I am willing to forsake those closest to me to follow Jesus', but their actions and lives speak louder than their words. Since "following Jesus" has virtually no practical outworking to the average christian, it is easy for them to have their cake and eat it too. But for the disciple, if we consistently speak Jesus' Words to all we know, including our blood relatives, then they will be offended if they too are not willing to repent of empty lives and follow Jesus.
Then Jesus arrives at the words in view in this article. He says, "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple". (Luke 14:33) Now, what is the context for that statement? Is it material things? No, it is not. It is relationships with natural relatives who are unwilling to follow him too. In his illustrations to emphasize the principle of counting the cost BEFORE starting out, he talks about material resources like materials for a tower and men and resources for a battle. But those illustrations are simply teaching the principle of "counting the cost BEFORE starting out" on what you want to do. In other words, before you follow Jesus, know that it will cost you the things the world (and yourself!) counts most important. The "forsaking all" principle in this passage, is explicitly given in verses 26 and 27 as the most important natural relationships. Jesus is telling those who follow him that if we don't forsake their natural relatives, we will fail in following him. We will fail by trying to please those people with whom we have had important natural relationships, before trying to please God.
This author has communicated with quite a few people who are seeking to follow Jesus, even as this author is, who say that this passage has money and material possessions as its primary meaning attached with "forsake all". This is unfortunate. Not because Jesus doesn't teach his followers to live non-materialistically oriented lives, for he does teach that, as we will see a bit further on in the article. It is unfortunate because Jesus doesn't teach that his followers must forsake "all material possessions" in order to follow him. It is unfortunate because it is wrong, and thus will mislead people in an important issue regarding following Jesus. It is unfortunate because those who believe that Jesus says we must forsake all material possessions in order to follow him will almost always end up judging others wrongly.
Jesus does address money and material possessions in many passages. For example, he says:
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (Matthew 6:19-21, 24)
And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24)
"But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Luke 12:31-34)
From these teachings of Jesus, it is quite plain that those who follow him must renounce the seeking and gaining of money and material possessions as an important pursuit in life. Jesus could not have drawn a clearer picture of the place of material possessions in the life of those following the Life. Jesus himself did not store up any material things and as far as we know, the only thing he owned at the end of his time on earth were some garments/clothes. If one wants to say that Jesus' words to the rich man in Matthew 19 are universal teachings that apply to all disciples, one could argue that part of pertaining to spiritual perfection would involve the forsaking of all material wealth. This author does not think that his Words to the rich man were universal commands, for they were specifically given to a man who "owned much property" (Matt. 19:22). It seems to this author that Jesus was addressing the one thing the man would not forsake in order to follow Jesus...that is a life focused on building, keeping and not sharing his material possessions, which possessions were great.
It is true in general that the greater one's material possessions, the more likely one is to worship those possessions and hold onto them for security instead of turning to God for security. This is why Jesus said what he said in regard to these things..."blessed are the poor" and "it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven". However, would Jesus have told a materially poor man who owned merely a basic shelter and cloths, that he needed to 'sell all his possessions'? I suspect not. If the man's basic needs of shelter and cloths were not something that was preventing him from loving God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, then why would he need to forsake them? He would not.
Here are some other passages which have a bearing on this issue:
"For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. "To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. "Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. "In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. "But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. "Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. "The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.' "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' "Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, 'Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.' "His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' "And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.' "But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 'Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 'Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.' "For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. "Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:14-30)
"Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means." (Luke 8:1-3)
Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. (John 12:1-2)
After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No." And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish." (John 21:1-8)
"And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:44-47)
These passages tell us that those who were following Jesus during his first visit to earth did have material possessions. The Lord's teaching on using the material things the Lord gives us in Matt. 25 is clearly a financial illustration with Jesus commending wise material investment. It would be very inconsistent for Jesus to use this type of illustration if he at the same time teaches that his followers must sell or give away all their material possessions.
The passage in Luke 8 tells us of some faithful women followers of Jesus who provided for Jesus and his group of twelve "out of their private means". Surely this meant their material possessions. It also surely meant that they did not give up all their private means, for if they did, they would have had nothing to give or share. Here, we have these faithful women using their material possessions to server the Master, as we all should.
Next, we see Jesus visiting Lazarus in Bethany, and he and Martha hosting Jesus at their house. It is noted earlier in the gospels that Lazarus was one that Jesus had a special love for. Why did not Martha, Mary and Lazarus sell their house? Maybe because Jesus didn't require that they do that, and they could use it to bless Jesus as he traveled by? Maybe they understood that it was their Father's house and that they were to share it with all his children?
At the end of the gospel of John, we see Peter and the other disciples going fishing using their boats and nets. These were fairly expensive material things needed to provide food, clothing and shelter for the disciples. In the words that follow in John 21, we don't see Jesus rebuking Peter or the others for having the boats or nets. We do see them later on leaving those things once again in order to do God's will, but leaving them does not necessarily mean they gave them away or sold them. It does at least mean they were not attached or dependant on them, and could walk away from them at any time for any duration.
Finally in the latter part of Acts chapter two, we see a picture of how the disciples were living. Two things are of note. First, that they were obeying Jesus and selling their possessions to provide for other disciples who had basic needs not being met. They were sharing the material things they did have freely. This attitude and these actions best express the meaning of what Jesus teaches regarding a disciple's treatment of material things.
Second, that some retained houses where the disciples could meet to eat together, and perhaps live and sleep. This aspect of what we see in Acts two seems to harmonize well with all of Jesus' teachings on the matter of material possessions. A key here is the sharing of material things among the brethren. For example, if I own a house, and yet share that house freely with other disciples, am I not keeping Jesus' command to "forsake all"? If all the disciples were to give their houses away, where would they sleep? And if they gave their house to another poor disciple, would they not be forcing that disciple to break the "forsake all" command? If I sell something I don't really need, and give that money to another disciple...and that disciple uses part of the money to meet a need, and yet holds a portion of it for something he might need in a month or so, is he not keeping the "forsake all" command of Jesus?
I hope these questions help to illustrate the unreasonable belief of saying that Jesus' forsake all command means a literal giving away of all material possessions, and never owning any material things. This is not what Jesus teaches, and it is not what his first followers did. Yes, Jesus' first followers did leave the important relationships in the natural life, as well as their material possessions (Matt. 19:29-30) in order to follow Jesus. But did that leaving mean selling all their material possessions? No. Did it mean giving away all their material possessions to others? No, it did not.
Let's take one more look at Luke 12:33, where Jesus says:
"Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also".
I think it is very worthy to note that Jesus says, "sell your possessions" instead of "give your possessions away". It is also worthy of note that he did not say, "sell all your possessions". Jesus' Words were perfect, and we would do well to listen carefully to the Master when he speaks. Why would he say "sell your possessions" and not 'donate them all to charity'? This author believes because he meant what he said. Jesus does not teach that those who are to faithfully follow him must give away all their material possessions. He does tell us to sell our possessions. And then what of the proceeds that we receive from selling our possessions? We should use those proceeds to serve the Lord and to bless others, especially the poor and other disciples. We should not store up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy.
This author believes that Jesus' main point in telling us to sell our possessions is so that we will be willing to go where he can use us. The earth is a big place, and there are not many places right now (and probably always) where people are open to the Father's Truth and following Jesus. If we are planted in a place by virtue of our holding onto material property - and that place doesn't have people seeking the Lord - then we are wasting our time being there. If we would sell our possessions, and use the proceeds to further the Kingdom of God, then we have less to hold us in any particular spot on the earth.
Jesus does plainly teach that material things should not occupy a high place in our heart. He does teach that if material things do not occupy a high place in our heart, we will be sharing what we have and giving those things away in service to him and his Kingdom. He does teach that those who follow him need to use the material things that God gives us to bless others and not to hoard to ourselves. That our lives ought to be marked by freely giving and sharing according to Jesus' teachings on such, and that our lives should be both simpler as well as less bound to material things as we grow in our faith. If we are not using our material things to try and serve the Master, then we are falling short of his commands in this respect.
What Jesus does NOT teach is that one must give away all ones material possessions in order to be his disciple. As we look at all of Jesus' teachings, we see many things that he does tell his followers to forsake in order to follow him. Here is a list of some of the things included in Jesus' teachings that we need to turn away from, and no longer trust in, depend on and thus participate in:
Jesus' commands to give up and "forsake all that you have" has this truth as its foundation - that we are to hate our lives in this world in order to find Life eternal (John 12:25). In this author's opinion, the two things that most people are unwilling to forsake that Jesus asks us to, are religion and natural or legal relatives, in that order. That might come as a surprise to those people who are focusing too much on the material aspects of following Jesus, which material aspects this author would put in third place behind christian religion (especially following Paul) and natural relatives.
The most difficult thing for people to forsake who are sincerely seeking God, is religion, especially christian religion. Until one makes Jesus the only spiritual authority in their life, then they are not forsaking the most important thing which Jesus tells us to forsake - human spiritual leadership.
Many people who are sincerely trying to follow Jesus (and this is not many people) remain stumbled as they listen to Paul and his ways instead of Jesus and his Way [see Are Paul's Writings Flawless?]. They refuse to receive Jesus' teachings on leadership, which teachings are quite clear IF one is willing to truly make Jesus their Lord (one Lord) and Master (one master). Unfortunately, most people are unwilling to forsake human leadership, and thus we have what we have on the earth...christian religion and all it thousands of sects, fiefdoms and myriads of leaders. While many claim to be "living by faith", most don't have enough faith to believe that the Shepherd can guide them in their walk on the earth, and thus they place themselves under human leaders. And of course they justify themselves with the words of Paul who spent much of his time trying to bring people under submission to his authority instead of turning them to Jesus' authority [see Are Paul's Writings Flawless?].
The second thing that this author has found people unwilling to forsake is their natural or legal relatives. Jesus teaches this forsaking in many places, but very few are willing to listen. This author has found that the forsaking of natural relatives is the second greatest stumbling block to a person following Jesus. Any clinging to a relationship with them, if they are unwilling to also follow Jesus, will be bad for us as we are not fully obeying Jesus' commands in this respect. It is so easy to deceive ourselves in this regard. I just recently met a woman who said she was following Jesus, but who would regularly talk with her blood relatives without once mentioning anything about Jesus, or even God. 'Oh, they are christians already', she would say, while these same people excommunicated her husband from their religious organization! The simple truth remains...if we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we will desire - and in fact will - talk about Him. In this we come full circle, as this article has in view the passage where Jesus teaches that those who follow him must forsake those people who are closest to them, yet who are unwilling to also follow Jesus as Jesus defines it.
This author has encountered quite a few groups and individuals who believe that the followers of Jesus must forsake all material possessions in order to be faithful in following Jesus. As we have seen, this is a false belief. While those who try to live by this standard are a good witness to the world in terms of living without many of the material things the world thinks are necessary, they are not being faithful to a command of Jesus, and thus their witness has limited value.
This author has also found that those who believe that Jesus says that those who follow him must forsake all material possessions, cannot actually live that out. They have shelters and clothes that they own or rent, and they store up food as well. This author has also found that those who believe this are very often prideful and self-righteous about their efforts to forsake all material things. Because of this spirit of pride, they cannot help but judge others according to how many material possessions the other person owns. As long as they judge themselves to have fewer material possessions, then they believe themselves to be more faithful to God and Jesus. In addition to their error of trying to obey a command that is not from Jesus, they are quick to forget the teachings of Jesus about humility.
So while they themselves are not willing to truly forsake all material things, they are quick to judge others who have more material things than they do as being less mature in the faith, or not living by faith. This prideful, self-righteous attitude will almost always be present in us if we are looking for the speck in other's eyes instead of looking at the plank in our own eye.
As soon as someone starts judging others according to material possessions, they err and will almost always end up in a place of spiritual pride since Jesus does not teach that one must forsake "all" their material possessions. They will also be hypocritical since they themselves have not forsaken "all" their material possessions. They are judging according to men's standards, not Gods. In fact, many who are caught up in measuring followers of Jesus by the amount of stuff they own or don't own, are themselves unwilling to forsake the more important things like pride or human spiritual leadership. They will talk down to those who have more material things than they, all the while listening to their supposed anointed leaders who are encouraging this false teaching instead of listening carefully to Jesus! So, if they would forsake their spiritual leaders (gurus, apostles, pastors, shepherds, bishops, anointed ones, ministers, etc.) and make Jesus their only Shepherd as Jesus teaches [see Are Paul's Writings Flawless?], they would be in a much better spiritual state than they are with fewer material possessions and yet disobeying a critical truth of Jesus that his followers have NO spiritual authority except Jesus!
Jesus says that the most important thing his followers need are love and humility. If these things are present, then God will be able to create manifestations of His Family all around the earth, even in these days of vast unbelief, apathy and deception. If we would but make Jesus our only Leader - the only voice we listen to for guidance in how to relate to other people and how to live our lives to please the Father - THEN we are doing well and have forsaken the most important thing that Jesus asks us to forsake...and only then are we doing well following Jesus.
Jesus' disciples should be marked by our generosity and our simple lives that reflect a belief of having less material things than the people around us. But more important than that, we ought to be marked by our love for one another, for it is in this Way that the world will know that we are disciples of Jesus - NOT because we have less material things than the people around us. There are many people of many religions that forsake a materialistic life-style or who have less material things than a disciple of Jesus. Does that make them more faithful to God? No, of course not. How about those people who say they are doing with less material things as part of their trying to follow Jesus? If they do not have a spirit of pride about it, then they are doing well. However, and unfortunately, there are few people who are willing to follow ONLY Jesus, and love non-relatives as if they were beloved relatives - thus obeying Jesus' Words in Luke 14 and John 13.
True humility will point others to Jesus ALONE as our sole spiritual Leader and Authority, and not to ourselves or other men. If we love one another, God's love will be able to flourish. And that situation of love among Jesus' followers alone will lead to the fulfilling of this very important command of Jesus:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
Please note that Jesus does not say, 'By having fewer material possessions all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have fewer material things than the people around you'.
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