My buddy Trint privately messaged me and asked for my take on this particular blog post: I’m Possessed. The author of the post wrestles with how he should apply the content of the post and looks for an out so that he doesn’t have to wrestle with the guilt of not fulfilling Christ’s command. The good news is that I think that there is a very simple and low-guilt out: hermeneutics (AKA Proper Bible Interpretation). There is also another out: Grace (AKA the fact that you’re not under the Law any more, as you have died to this world and its systems with Christ if you are a believer).
While on the surface it looks like this post may be about money and possessions, its really a about the issue of which dispensation Christ was in and how we deal with the life of Christ before His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. How do we as believers address the complexities of what Jesus did and said verses what we’re called to do as His possession? I believe that fundamentally the question that was asked by the author of the aforementioned blog post is flawed because it presupposes that everything that Christ spoke was directed towards the disciples, the New Testament church, and the believer today.
I’m co-teaching a class on Bible Interpretation at church (Link to Series for download) and rather than start in the middle of why this is a poor approach to interpreting this passage I’m going to go through the processes we’re teaching and attempt to see if I come to the same application that the author of the post comes to. Join me as we look at observations, interpretations, applications and appropriations. For the record I don’t for some second think that the author of the other post is attempting to misrepresent the passage, I just want to challenge myself and all believers to be consistent in our interpretation and theological calling to be noble minded like the Bereans (Acts 17:11).
Observation of the passage calls for evaluating language, culture, history, context and as many pertinent facts as we can observe objectively about the passage and its contents. Lets go through those systematically and see what objective elements pop out. We’ll also want to ask who, what, where, when, why, and how to make sure we’ve got the right focus of the passage. I’ll be using the resources publicly availabe at blueletterbible.org for you to follow along with if you want to check my references.
The context of the passage appears to be Christ speaking to his disciples and in verse 13 one disciple asks Christ to speak to his brother so as to instruct the brother toward equality in dividing the inheritance that the man was to receive. Christ then launches on a series of principles that seem to outline first that Christ was not interested in making that call about the inheritance (v. 14). Instead Christ was interested in motive and source of life (coveting v. 15). Christ’s parables subsequent to motive point out God’s provision (vs. 16-31). Seeking the things of God will show God’s provision for the needs of the believer.
The language of the Luke passage is Greek. I’m not going to delve into each Greek word, but I will highlight the bits and pieces that seem to carry the most weight in the selected verses.
Fear Not: The Greek here is two words: phobeō mē. We’re all familiar with the English transliteration and adaptation phobia, and the Greek carries with it just such a context [BLB]. The verb tense is present, middle, imperative, which means that the person listening to Christ is to take the command to heart. The negation of the fear indicates that we should not for any reason let fear rule in the context of this passage.
little flock: The Lord uses a metric indicator to reflect the size of the disciples despite the first verse of the chapter reflecting that a general throng had gathered around the smaller circle of the disciples. Flock was used analogously of the group of disciples and is apparently common figurative language as all five times that it is translated that way in the KJV the figurative subject is a body of saints (vs. Luke 12:32, Acts 20:28, Acts 20:29, 1Peter 5:2-3).
your Father: interestingly we see Christ identifying the disciples as being sons of the Father.
good pleasure: The Father’s pleasure is is aorist, active, indicative which indicates to us that it is a past action with ongoing results, it is being done by the father to the disciples and it is spoken factually.
the Kingdom: if you want to see theologians argue bring up the kingdom. However, the disciples, as best as we can tell, would have recognized the kingdom as the coming kingdom of the Messiah [Grk reference]. A rulership that would entail political power, peace, and a fulfillment of the New Covenant (See Jeremiah 31:31).
Sell: The Greek here is imperative and active. You sell your stuff as soon as is expedient.
alms: Alms would be a gift. A benevolent and generous gift that was not earned by the recipient.
a treasure: A storage place for valuables, or the valuables in the storage place.
in the heavens: The dwelling place of God above all of creation.
where your treasure is: is is present, indicative. It reflects the fact of where your treasure is now.
The Jewish culture generally operated with the mindset that material blessing was a sign of spiritual right relationship. God promised material blessing to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and to the Hebrews if they followed Him and made Him their God. Christ’s apparent countering of this by saying sell this sign of blessing would have had some sort of shock value.
Historically wages were earned with hard labor. There were not normal cases of overnight millionaires (figuratively speaking) and an inheritance was a valuable thing to receive because it may allow you to break free of debt, help establish a stronger business through investment capital, or could be used in various trading businesses to increase overall wealth. Many households had very simple possessions and were not lavish. Tax collectors like Matthew would have come into the house and evaluated the apparent wealth based on the possessions and then demanded a payment for Rome.
5 W’s and an H
Who: Christ is speaking to the disciples about God’s character
What: earthly possessions, heavenly possessions, faith
When: every day life
Where: wherever the disciple is
Why: because the disciple was concerned over the inheritence
How: God’s provisions
The interpretation is a summary or re-statement of the passage or verses that attempts to collect the observations into a coherent statement.
My close disciples and followers, you should have no fear over earthly provisions because the Father in heaven will give you the food and clothing and shelter that you need as He brings about the fulfillment of the kingdom. Take the worldly things that are of value and sell them in faith because those things rust, fade, and lose value. Instead look forward to the treasures that are in heaven by walking in an abiding relationship with the Father because where you treasure is, and that should be in heaven, there your heart is.
Application looks at the passage at hand and looks for a subjective principle, a fact that can be relied upon, a truth that can be enacted, or an appropriation. There are two kinds of applications: direct and indirect. You will need to determine if there is a direct application for you by looking at the intended audience of the interpretation! If you are not the intended audience (and in this passage you are not) then there may be an indirect application of principles or truths to rely on. I’ll list a few applications based on the interpretation and you can meditate on this as well and bring up other suggestions.
- The disciples could rely on the Father for provision
- The disciples could abide in the Father (see John 15) and that intimacy would build up or store treasures in heaven that would be rust free
- The disciple who had asked the question about his inheritance could relax about equal distribution because the earthly blessing would eventually lose value even if it had short term value
Indirect Application or Principles
- The believer can rely on God for provision
- This passage confirms our need to be heavenly minded just like Paul instructs the believers in Colossians 3:1-3
- We need to rely on the Lord for our value and not on our stuff
You can see that while these two lists are not exhaustive, the New Testament saint, because he is not the specific recipient of the instructions from Christ has nothing to fear about not fulfilling this passage’s imperative commands. We can look at other New Testament passages such as Acts 2:44-45, Romans 12:13, Philippians 4:18-19 and evaluate God’s commands regarding provisions in the body of Christ. There are plenty of opportunities to serve the Lord as we abide in Christ and walk by the Spirit, but we don’t need to worry about commands for Old Testament Saints (and even though the gospels are under the New Testament moniker, they are not directed towards New Testament Saints).
By carefully applying hermeneutics and by making sure that you understand the context of the passage you’re studying you can walk in confidence that you are under grace, you can walk confidently in your position in Christ, and you can boldly assert your Christian liberty. This doesn’t liberate you from righteousness empowered by the Holy Spirit (see: Romans 6), but it liberates you to be motivated by grace, which is the only true motivation in the life of the believer.
Oh, and I do lift up before our Lord the provision of the autistic son of the author of that post. We come before you Lord in confidence that you have brought us all together as believers to seek out opportunities to server one another. We pray (even via the Internet) for your provision for the autistic child, Your peace in the life of the parents, and we pray for the doctrine of agency to be manifest in the lives of your flock. Amen.