What’s in Your Closet?
Some years ago, I joined forces with some other hearty souls to clean out the closets in our local church. When I say “closets,” this really means rooms of decent size and stairwells, too. A “burn pile” was formed in the parking lot, along with a metals pile. A dumpster wagon was secured for everything considered waste. Although there was some legitimate purging, there was also the alternative “rearranging” of stuff. “Stuff” is the stuff you stuff back into the shed or storage room.
I live each day looking for lessons from the Lord. There are object lessons all around us. Each day provides a variety of experiences God places in front of us to illustrate Bible truths. Unbelievers miss this altogether, and most Christians only happen upon the sporadic “miracle” experience. Trying to be more observant is driven by my daily discipline of devotional writing. There are infinite subjects to write about, but I am constrained by my reading and daily life exposures. I am really driven by what God is teaching me. So, what’s in a closet?
The word we can look for in the Bible is “possessions.” The semi-nomadic Abraham, and his nephew Lot, are the first to be identified as having a great number of possessions (Gen 13:6). In fact, there was so much between them, geographical separation was necessary. Christians use the word pilgrim to describe our lives in the world. Abraham was a sojourner, and so is every Christian. This world is not our home, and we will have no genuine rest until we reach the Promised Land of heaven. We come into the world with nothing, and we leave the world with nothing (1 Tim 6:7).
Lot’s possessions in Sodom made him a target for theft and kidnapping (Gen 14:12–16). This is a problem. We lived for eight years in Los Angeles, and our town had a crime watch page on Facebook. I finally had to “unfollow” the page because of the endless reports of criminal activity throughout each day. If you have accumulated much in this world, like Isaac (Gen 26:14), then you are a target for the jealous, the envious, the covetous, thieves and robbers.
Israel came out of Egypt with many possessions (Gen 15:14). If you have ever had to move house, you know the curse of packing it all up, loading the moving truck, transporting it all, unloading it, and unpacking it. Our family has moved so many times that I marvel at the accumulated junk we secure between moves. Material possessions are like the weight of this world for those who have to move. Israel may have felt blessed in departing Egypt with so much plunder, but somewhere down the camel track, I am sure there was some second guessing this notion of blessing.
Sometimes God takes all of one’s possessions. Korah’s possessions went with him and his family when the earth swallowed them (Num 16:32). Job’s possessions were all stolen (Job 1:13–19). God’s judgment can come against possessions (2 Chron 21:14; Job 20:28). During the days of Samuel, Israel wanted a human king other than Yahweh, the King of glory. The prophet warned the people that this added layer of government would cost them a great portion of their possessions. People have still never learned this lesson: governments like other people’s property (Esther 3:13; Heb 10:34).
Who actually owns all the stuff of the earth? The psalmist answers, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps 24:11; 104:24; 1 Chron 29:11).” If Yahweh owns everything why are people so bent on hoarding possessions? Solomon explored the hoarding endeavor and found nothing but futility (Eccl 2). Far too few Americans even think about the burden they bear with so many accumulated possessions. In fact, there is a case for mental illness being the cause for wanting more and more. The Bible has a few choice words to describe this penchant for acquisition. They all fall into the category of sin.
My hometown has a city wide “garage sale” one weekend every May. It is a significant social event in the life of that community. With roughly one thousand single family dwellings, over one hundred will open their garage doors and let it all pour out onto the driveway. People from neighboring communities will come and make the unwanted junk their treasure to possess.
The famous question at the turn of the millennium was, “What would Jesus do?” For our purposes, we may query, “What would Jesus accumulate?” Before we answer this question from Scripture, I will remind you that you are following in His steps (1 Pet 2:21). Right? In fact, material possession is one-way Christians can distinguish themselves from a world of hoarders.
When a rich ruler came to Jesus in search of eternal life, our Lord’s instruction for him was to go and sell his material possessions, and then accept the invitation to follow Jesus (Mt 19:21). I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard the application of this passage rationalized away in a congregation of rich Christians. “This was an individual test for one man,” or, “This is only for those who are idolatrous with their many possessions,” serve as a couple of examples.
Jesus observed the envy in his disciples toward the rich and powerful leaders of Israel (Lk 11–12). Some of the clearest teaching on the subject of material possessions comes from Jesus in Luke 12. He warns his disciples not to worry at all about material possessions (Mt 6:25; Lk 12:23). God cares for the followers of Jesus, and He will provide for them. “With food and clothing be content,” was Paul’s encouragement to Timothy (1 Tim 6:8). Here is remarkable liberation theology, of a different kind than today’s Latin American version, which desires more material possessions for people.
The rich fool filled his barns, and then built bigger ones (Lk 12:13–21). While we were cleaning out the church, one man told the story of his grandfather’s barn being filled to the rafters with stuff. He said it took seven large trucks to haul it all away. I remember standing at the base of Tel Colossae in Western Turkey (A.D. 2011). There was nothing but a large mound, shaped like a pimple on one’s skin. The small sign in front of it simply read, “Colossae.” The mound looked very much like the giant landfill, adjacent to the expressway, just outside of many American towns. Lesson: there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9). Someday in the future, archaeologists will be motivated to dig into all of these hills to find the treasured artifacts disposed of as worthless junk.
Jesus’ material possessions principle is stated succinctly, “not even when one has abundance does his life consist of his possessions (Lk 12:15).” What should a Christian do to gain this life which is not materially oriented? Jesus answers, “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 (Lk 12:33).”
If your pastor helps you rationalize away this passage, too, then try to do the same with Luke 14:33, “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all of his own possessions.” This is where some who demand a literal interpretation for the book of Revelation rely on the allegorical interpretation for Luke!
Apparently, the early church took Jesus literally. In the Jerusalem church at the time of the Holy Spirit’s coming to indwell the church members, they engaged in economic practices that appear to be a bit anti-American, “and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need (Acts 2:45).” Could this be an ancient church garage sale?
Paul encourages us to give away our possessions with a motive of love (1 Cor 13:3), so he seemed to be aware of this consistent pattern of selling property, like Barnabas, who laid the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles (Acts 4:37). This was in contrast to the selfish and self-promoting ends employed by Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Sell your possessions, give to the poor, but only with the heart motive of love for God and for your neighbors.
What wisdom can we glean (and of course, give away) from the Bible’s view of accumulated material possessions? First, Jesus, if He is to be believed, was clear about this issue. Here is a prompt question, “Do you have two coats?” What can you do? The action is simple. Start giving away your stuff. Clear out your closets. Whatever you are not using, give it to someone who does not have what you have too much of.
Whenever I go on mission to Africa or India, I make it a point to leave behind everything I take with me from America. This is a small gesture. When I began doing this, our family quickly ran out of luggage. Still, I have never lacked luggage for travel on global mission projects. The Lord provides everything we need for life and ministry…when we need it.
Fear drives most of our hoarding, “What if I need this at some point in the future?” Have you not heard? Is it not written? “Take no thought for tomorrow… (Mt 6:33–34),” which is in the context of material provision. Does God not promise, in the context of material possessions, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:8)? Christian, you must believe the promises of God.
Consider it an act of faith to give your unused and extra stuff to the poor. It is impossible to please God without faith, and hoarding material possession is a fear or greed-based exercise. Ridding yourself of material possessions is ridding yourself of some of the weight of this world. The truth of material dispossession, and the practice of it, will set you free from the bondage to useless treasures upon the earth.
Finally, I would encourage you to deny the voices from the world, and those of worldly, rationalizing pastors and media personalities, who preach a gospel of justification for stuff. Instead, heed the words of Moses, David, Solomon, the prophets, Jesus, and Paul. Freed from the material, you will be much more inclined to enjoy the possession of heaven, of which the token is already here for the taking. Set your mind on the things of heaven (Col 3:2), and the treasures reserved for you there (1 Pet 1:4). If you do, you will be rich, indeed.
Spokane Valley, Washington
April 24, 2021