More than twenty-six thousand children today will breathe their last breath due to starvation or a preventable disease. To put it in perspective for me, that’s twenty-six thousand Joshuas and Calebs (my two sons). To put it in perspective for the church I pastor, if this were happening among the children in my community, then every child eighteen years or younger in our county would be dead within the next two days.

Suddenly I began to realize that if I have been commanded to make disciples of all nations, and if poverty is rampant in the world to which God has called me, then I cannot ignore these realities. Anyone wanting to proclaim the glory of Christ to the ends of the earth must consider not only how to declare the gospel verbally but also how to demonstrate the gospel visibly in a world where so many are urgently hungry. If I am going to address urgent spiritual needs by sharing the gospel of Christ or building up the body of Christ around the world, then I cannot overlook dire physical needs in the process.

Who Is the Rich Man?

Jesus told a story one day to a group of religious leaders who loved money and justified their indulgences because of the culture around them. He told them about a rich man who lived in luxury while he ignored a poor man, Lazarus, who sat outside his gate, covered with sores and surrounded by dogs, eating the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.

As we read in Luke 16, the day came when both men died. The rich man went to hell, and the poor man went to heaven. The rich man could see into heaven, and he cried out for relief from the agony of hell. The reply from heaven came. “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:25-26).

This story illustrates God’s response to the needs of the poor. The poor man’s name, Lazarus, literally means “God is my help.” Sick, crippled, and impoverished, Lazarus received compassion from God. Of course, just because someone is poor does not make him righteous before God and therefore fit for heaven. At the same time, though, a quick perusal through Scripture shows that God hears, feeds, satisfies, rescues, defends, raises up, and secures justice for the poor who trust in him.

But this story also illustrates God’s response to those who neglect the poor. He responds to them with condemnation. Again, the Bible does not teach that wealth alone implies unrighteousness or warrants condemnation. The rich man in this story is not in hell because he had money. Instead, he is in hell because he lacked faith in God, leading him to indulge in luxuries while ignoring the poor outside his gate. As a result, earth was his heaven, and eternity became his hell.

Now I have to ask a question. When you hear this story from Jesus’ mouth, with whom do you identify more—Lazarus or the rich man? For that matter, with whom do I identify more?

In uncovering this blind spot in my life, God has made it clear that I look a lot like the rich man in this story. I don’t always think of myself as rich, and I’m guessing you may not think of yourself as rich either. But the reality is, if you and I have running water, shelter over our heads, clothes to wear, food to eat, and some means of transportation (even if it’s public transportation), then we are in the top 15 percent of the world’s people for wealth.

I am much like the rich man, and the church I lead looks a lot like him too. Every Sunday we gather in a multi-million-dollar building with millions of dollars in vehicles parked outside. We leave worship to spend thousands of dollars on lunch before returning to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of homes. We live in luxury.

Meanwhile, the poor man is outside our gate. And he is hungry. In the time we gather for worship on a Sunday morning, almost a thousand children elsewhere die because they have no food. If it were our kids starving, they would all be gone by the time we said our closing prayer.

We certainly wouldn’t ignore our own kids while we sang songs and entertained ourselves, but we are content with ignoring other parents’ kids. Many of them are our spiritual brothers and sisters in developing nations. They are suffering from malnutrition, deformed bodies and brains, and preventable diseases. At most, we are throwing our scraps to them while we indulge in our pleasures here.

This is not what the people of God do. Regardless of what we say or sing or study on Sunday morning, rich people who neglect the poor are not the people of God.

Sell Everything You Have?

A rich man eagerly approached Jesus and asked him one simple, all-important question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:17, 21).

Jesus was clearly exposing this man’s allegiance to his possessions. Following Jesus would involve total trust in him, an abandonment of everything the man owned. Fundamentally, the rich man needed a new heart, one that was radically transformed by the gospel.

I think there are two common errors people make when they read this passage.

First, some try to universalize Jesus’ words, saying that he always commands his followers to sell everything they have and give it to the poor. But the New Testament doesn’t support this. Even some of the disciples, who admittedly abandoned much to follow Christ, still had a home, likely still had a boat, and probably had some kind of material support. So, obviously, following Jesus doesn’t necessarily imply a loss of all your private property and possessions.

This causes many of us to breathe a sigh of relief. But before we sigh too deeply, we need to see the other error in interpreting Mark 10, which is to assume that Jesus never calls his followers to abandon all their possessions to follow him. If Mark 10 teaches anything, it teaches us that Jesus does sometimes call people to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.This means he might call you or me to do this. I love the way one writer put it: “That Jesus did not command all his followers to sell all their possessions gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command.”

So what about you and me? Are we willing to ask God if he wants us to sell everything we have and give the money to the poor? Are we willing to ask and wait for an answer instead of providing one of our own or justifying our ideas of why he would never tell us to do this?

What if he told us to sell our houses for simpler living arrangements? What if he told us to sell our cars for more modest ones—or for no cars at all? What if he told us to give away all but a couple of sets of clothes? What if he told us to empty the savings account we have been building for years if not decades? What if he told us to change our lifestyles completely?

Now, before you and I think of all the reasons he would not tell us to do these things, we need to think about this question first: Is he Lord?

Are you and I looking to Jesus for advice that seems fiscally responsible according to the standards of the world around us? Or are we looking to Jesus for total leadership in our lives, even if that means going against everything our affluent culture and maybe even our affluent religious neighbors might tell us to do?

The Truth in Love

Possibilities such as the ones we are considering will make many of us uneasy, but this is what I appreciate most about Jesus’ conversation with the rich man. Jesus obviously gave him a tough command to follow, and it seems cold, if not extreme, when it comes out of his mouth. He was going right for the jugular, so to speak, with a guy who had great wealth. Jesus was launching a direct attack on the sense of security and stability this man had in this world.

But the beauty of this conversation is what the Bible tells us in Mark 10:21—”Jesus looked at him and loved him.” What a wonderful phrase! Jesus was not telling this man to give away everything he had because Jesus hated him or desired to make his life miserable. Jesus was telling him to give away everything he had because Jesus loved him.

When God tells us to give extravagantly, we can trust him to care for us. And this is really the core issue of it all. Do we trust him? Do we trust Jesus when he tells us to give radically for the sake of the poor? Do we trust him to provide for us when we begin using the resources he has given us to provide for others? Do we trust him to know what is best for our lives, our families, and our financial futures?


Excerpted from Radical by David Platt, copyright © 2010 by David Platt. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.