The Crucial Difference Between Jesus’ Financial Teachings and the Rest of the New Testament

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One thing most Christians have down pat is the knowledge that the Old Testament and the New Testament are to be read and interpreted differently because they fall under different dispensations.

Specifically in regards to finances, I think we may need to learn to read and interpret passages during the ministry of Jesus differently than passages during the establishment of the New Testament church.

Finances and Jesus’ Ministry

Jesus had a very temporary view of his ministry.  By the middle of the gospel of Mark, Jesus is clearly communicating that he has his eyes set on Jerusalem where he must go to suffer and die.  His call to would-be disciples is influenced by the temporariness of his earthy ministry.

Those who wish to follow him (Luke 9:57-62) must be willing to uproot their lives.  A change of geography.  A separation from family.  A departure from your current business.  To follow this itinerant preacher and stay in your context of living is impossible.  Still, in Luke 10:5-12 these itinerant teachers of the gospel are to stay in the homes of established, localized people.  Not all were called to give up homes and work, but certainly those who followed him on the way to Jerusalem must.

The key question is – how much of his teaching about money did Jesus intend to be applied to the generations of Christian who would follow Jesus?

Finances and the Early Church

Initially, the early church adopted a very temporary view of ministry and possessions.  Clearly, the early church did some very radical things with their finances.

All the believers were together and had everything in common (Acts 2:44).

Remember for a moment the context of this statement.  In Acts 2:8-11 we are reminded that a large part of the audience are displaced or temporary residents in Jerusalem.  These are men and women from all over the empire who came for Passover and Pentecost.  Sharing everything they have in common is a very natural response to this displaced audience.  Also, it’s a very natural response to a short term second coming expectation of Jesus.

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.  Acts 4:32–37 (NIV84)

Again, we see early Christians making some very radical financial decisions like selling houses and bringing money to the apostles.  This practice is very much consistent with a mindset of an imminent return of Christ.  Why keep houses and property when he’ll be coming around the mountain at any moment?  Furthermore, the need is great because all these dispora Jews who have come to town are sticking around for this great return.  The longer they wait, the more financially desperate their situation becomes.  As people of the land, they are dependent on fields and crops for survival, but hunkering down in a city away from home makes it nearly impossible for them to support themselves.  In response, some Christians divest themselves of property to help provide the necessary resources to the displaced residents of Jerusalem.

In 2 Thess. 3:6-15 some scholars assume that the issue Paul is addressing is a subset of Christians in Thessalonica who are refusing to work because of their belief that Christ is coming quickly, and thus, work is not a noble thing to do in light of the imminent return of Christ.

Finances and the Maturing Church

By the way, I don’t really like the term ‘maturing church’, but couldn’t come up with anything better.

As the church ‘matured’, we see a different approach to finances compared to both Jesus’ ministry and even the early years of the church.  Is this movement because of a lack of faithfulness or a maturing understanding of what it means to manage money, homes, and business in light of the delayed return of Christ?

As we’ve already seen in 2 Thessalonians, Paul tells this restless group of idle Christians to “settle down and earn the bread they eat” (2 Thess. 3:12b).  In fact, in the Pauline letters there is never (that I can think of) a call to give up everything, sell everything, or adopt an itinerant lifestyle.  Those early practices of the first chapters of Acts seem to have faded away.  And no one is calling for the return to those days.  In fact, the opposite seems to be true; work hard in your current job (Col. 3:23, 1 Thes. 5:21) and grow where you’re planted (1 Cor. 7:17, Rom. 12:13).  The church is becoming a permanent fixture by this time, and people realize the timing of the coming of Christ may be longer than first anticipated.  And seemingly, it impacts how they handle their finances.  2 Cor. 8-9 speaks of rich generosity, but there is no call to sell everything.

In fact, it is possible (this idea comes from Larry Osborne in the book Accidental Pharisees) that the church is realizing that the deep famine in Jerusalem could be because of the way the early church divested themselves of their property?  Did the maturing church realize that sell property and share everything mindset was not sustainable and would cause a lot of financial need?  Was the move away from radical generosity a God honoring move or another sign that the further we get from Jesus the less we live what he taught?

Did this maturing church walk away from the teaching of Christ?  Did they see his teachings as specific teachings for a unique time or dispensation in history?

Is the call for the church today to practice rich generosity, but to avoid radical generosity?  Are some called to radical generosity and divesting of property, while others are called to more reserved giving for the sustenance of the church?

Don’t expect me to have full answers here.  What I love about the blog is the ability to present ideas for the formation of healthy thinking.  This is not a article that I’ve perfected without faulty logic.  Instead, these are some things I’ve been thinking around.  I could be wrong here.

Here are the questions of which the answers allude me:

  1. Are Jesus’ teachings about money normative for Christians today or specific instructions for a unique time in history?
  2. Was a false understanding about the ‘quick’ return of Jesus an unhealthy foundation for their Acts of generosity?  Did they get it right or get it wrong?
  3. Is there a distinct shift as the church grows to an established lifestyle (homes and jobs) with a more focus on rich generosity, but not on radical generosity?

The implications of some of these questions are huge, so hopefully some of your comments will be able to shed light on the discussion.


  1. Gabe says

    After having a great conversation with Eric the other day, it was interesting that we were discussing wealth, and the Christian perspective of having riches.
    I agree that you can be a Christian and have a great deal of wealth, but the crux of the matter is about the mindset you have about that wealth.
    One passage that always sticks in my mind is Luke 14:25-33, where Jesus is teaching about making Him the #1 priority in our lives before we even begin to follow after Him. Possessions (and in turn, I believe, money) is mentioned in verse 33. I think the point of this passage IS still for Christians today…if there is ANYTHING; family, commitments, or possessions that are more important than Christ, then we will not be disciples of His.
    In that discussion I had with Eric, he brought up a good point that Christians who are very wealthy will have more opportunities for temptation with that money. Though the ministry opportunities will also increase, it will become easier to spend great amounts of money on ones’ self when you have so much of it…or at least we agreed that would be an issue if/when we are blessed with great wealth.
    As a final summary, I would just reference Matthew 6:33 as the “Thesis” for being a Christian today, to include how we use our finances: “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

    • says

      You’re definitely right. Usually, the teachings about money in the Bible are actually teachings about priorities, values, and commitments. The problem is that money is often an item that challenges our allegiance to God. As such, seeking first the kingdom of God is indeed a worthy financial foundation. That may involve giving up more of what we have and it may involve keeping more.

    • Robert says

      “I agree that you can be a Christian and have a great deal of wealth, but the crux of the matter is about the mindset you have about that wealth.”

      I can’t quite agree with how this is phrased. In Luke 12:34, I understand Jesus to be saying that a person’s possession a great deal of wealth shows us something about that person’s mindset. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This verse comes in a large section of Jesus’s teachings (Luke 12-16) that includes various parables and instructions about money/wealth (the man who built bigger barns, the rich man and Lazarus, etc.). I don’t think “treasure” in Luke 12:34 is an obscure philosophical concept for Jesus. I think he means “real, tangible wealth.”

      Now, if we change the statement to, “I agree that you can be a Christian and EARN a great deal of wealth, but the crux of the matter is about HOW YOU USE that wealth,” then I think I could agree.

      • says

        Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.
        What are we to do with the many people in the New Testament who had a great deal of wealth? We’re their hearts not right with God until they gave away what they had or is their giving a sign that their hearts were in the right place all along?
        Consider Barnabas who sold a field and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. Was his treasure in the field the day before and then the day he sold it, did his heart undergo a transformation? I think Barnabas had wealth and realized that if there came an occasion where God asked that of him he was ready to give.
        I think the biblical call is more about being detached from what we own.
        I truly believe that a person with a huge bank account can be more detached from his money than a person with $100 in the bank account. I also believe that the person with $100 can love money more than the person with millions (and the opposite can als be true).
        Consider 1 Tim. 6:17-19
        “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God,d who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds,f and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselvesh as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold ofi the life that is truly life.”
        As Paul address the rich he never tells them to give it, but not to put their hope in it. It seems like there is a way to have wealth and not put your hope in it.
        Now, it’s possible we can and do use this line of thinking as a way to really wrestle with the gospel call, but at the end of the day I think having wealth isn’t an indication that your heart is in the wrong place.

        • Robert says

          Hey Craig,

          I don’t think we’re far apart in our thoughts in these questions. I am more or less registering a complaint against the language that I often hear regarding Christians and wealth. I am speaking from my experiences of teaching on “Christians and Wealth” in a variety of church congregations (at a variety of socio-economic levels) both in the USA and Africa.

          I don’t mean to indict all wealthy people as being ungodly. But I do think that the biblical teaching calls for more than “a detached mindset,” which to some seems like a kind of “holy apathy” towards money. To the contrary, the biblical concept of stewardship suggests that we must care a great deal about how money is used – both at a personal and a public level. I wholeheartedly agree that we should never place our hope in money. But that doesn’t mean detachment.

          In citing Luke 12:34 I mean to say that “mindset” and “action” cannot be separated. We cannot have a spiritually healthy mindset without practicing true generosity. It seems to me that many Christians (wealthy and not) adopt an attitude of “I give 10% and achieving wealth isn’t the driving factor in my personal decisions, therefore I’m right with God.” I think that sounds dangerously like legalism and misses the heart of the matter – Christian generosity.

          Thus, I suggest that “how you use your wealth” is much more important than “your mindset about wealth.” Actions reveal your true thoughts.


          I think you made some great points. In line with my reasoning above, I’ll quote you and respond (mostly because I get few opportunities for this kind of quality theological discourse).

          “Were their hearts not right with God until they gave away what they had or is their giving a sign that their hearts were in the right place all along?” And “Was his treasure in the field the day before and then the day he sold it, did his heart undergo a transformation?”

          I believe faith is a journey. Could they have been continually growing in their relationship with God until they reached a juncture at which giving away what the owned was the logical/proper next step? Their giving shows their heart was moving in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean they suddenly shifted from “wrong to righteous.”

          “The person with $100 can love money more than the person with millions.”

          My experiences ministering to people in poverty both in inner-city USA and sub-saharan Africa suggest that is absolutely true. The more precious a commodity is, the more men seek after it. I am starting to believe that this principle often applies to the disadvantaged people in the world and the ends to which many will go to gain a tiny bit of (relative) wealth. You might call that my philosophical explanation for crime, corruption, etc.

          “Consider 1 Tim. 6:17-19 … ‘Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.’”

          I think my thoughts above are consistent with the verse, especially in light of this bit that I quoted above. Action is essential.”

  2. Sun says

    I don’t feel there is a conflict between my prioritization of God and my family. Taking care of my family spiritually, financial, and physically are all ways to honor God first. We do not live a lavish lifestyle, give our tithe, and do our best to not be a burden on the Church. Our family were in debt for many years, but as we paid our creditors, we created the opportunity to give more to the church. I think creating the environment where you can continue to give is better than to jeopardize that possibility. I also don’t think that just because you are filthy rich that you buy extravagant versions of homes and cars. I feel that surplus belongs to God and should be used to glorify God’s via mission trips or other spiritual endeavors. When we buy better versions of “things”, one has to question whether we are seeking the materialistic world first or God first.

    • says

      I do think the best biblical question we can ask about money is if we are seeking God or something else first. If we can honestly address that question in our lives we can be sure that our lives bring honor to God.

  3. Praveen Aaron says

    Thank you Craig for your honest views. Yes there are assumptions expressed that can be very misleading.
    Jesus teaching on money is part of His discourse on a disciple’s life style. If he does not follow His master then his life is not built on the rock but on sand and is in danger of falling apart completely.A disciple cannot serve two masters( remember ” if the light in you is darkness, how great is that darkness”)
    The assumption that disciples selling their properties to help those who are in need were doing because they were waiting for Jesus’ immediate return cannot be true. In that case their giving is not motivated by genuine love. They were trying to help the needy. Their expectation of Jesus immediate return is not connected to their giving.They were obeying Jesus.
    Yes The Church of Jesus Christ is learning to wait for the Lord but they also learnt to give.They gave every thing they had to the point of becoming empty so that others may become rich following the example of Jesus and Paul.
    They also experienced God’s abundant blessing in their work, business etc so that by God’s grace they were able to help and gave on every given opportunity.
    Those who were poor believers, they gave in spite of their limitations generously. Yes, they became mature and rich in being generous.
    I do not see any difference between Jesus teaching and the teaching of the rest of the New Testament.
    Stewardship of money and wealth was taught by Jesus and the rest of the New Testament. Jesus teaching on talents is good example. Putting the money to work to multiply. Paul working to take care of himself and his co workers is good example. Thank you.
    Praveen Aaron..

    • says

      Thanks for taking the time to provide some feedback in an effort to help us all think through these issues.
      I agree that his teaching on money is part of his teachings on a disciples lifestyle. As an example, those he called to follow him had to give up jobs because he called them in an itinerant lifestyle. Was the call the same for disciples during the later New Testament? My study indicates the call was different for later Christians compared to earlier Christians.
      I also agree that their giving was motivated from genuine love, but still within the expectation of the immediate return of Christ. Do you think their expectations of Christ’s return did not influence ‘how’ they gave?
      Are there examples of people in the Pauling epistles who sold everything to follow Jesus? Was generosity, but not the divestiture of property the giving theme in the later NT?

    • Robert says

      “The assumption that disciples selling their properties to help those who are in need were doing because they were waiting for Jesus’ immediate return cannot be true. In that case their giving is not motivated by genuine love.”

      I disagree. I think we human beings often (always?) have a set of complex motivations at work. I think Jesus disciples may have sold their property to help those in need both because of their genuine love for others AND because of the imminent return of Christ. Another example: I saw a man digging through the dumpster outside of our home today in order to find his next meal. I went back inside, grabbed a banana, and returned and offered it to the man. I did this because I felt genuine compassion for him, but ALSO because my children were watching the whole episode and I want them to have a tangible example of godly compassion. Two motivations with the same end do not diminish the force or value of either motivation.

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