Question: What does the Bible mean when it says the disciples "forsook all and followed him"? |

TBC Staff

Question: What does the Bible mean when it says the disciples "forsook all and followed him"? Is everyone called to full-time ministry? Does God allow us to have any possessions at all? How can a person support and raise a family while at the same time "forsaking all"? With all my heart I want to follow the Lord wherever He leads me, and I don't want to shrink from whatever the cost, but I'm getting confused about what that means.

Response: We commend you for a sincere concern that most Christians don't want to face. We must not blunt the sharpness of the Sword of the Spirit; but neither do we want to misapply God's Word. Bill MacDonald quotes George Verwer: "Either the Bible means what it says or we should throw it away." But what does the Bible mean by what it says? That remains a sincere question not only on this but on other scriptures.

To "forsake" is obviously not the same as to "abandon" or to "give away." If it were, then we would abandon all clothes and walk around naked; abandon all food and have nothing to eat; give away all furniture and have no bed, chairs, or tables; give away all money and have to depend upon the gifts of others who hadn't "forsaken all," etc. Well, that would be ridiculous extremism, most would say. But how is "extremism" defined? The Bible means what it says-but what does it mean?

"Forsake all!" can be a condemning challenge when coupled with the phrase, "All means all!" But the person saying this probably has something that hasn't been given away or abandoned: perhaps a car, the pallet he sleeps on, at least some clothing, etc. Must a carpenter give away all of his tools, a painter all of his brushes, a farmer his plow-and have no means of income? If not, how can they say that they have forsaken all to follow Christ? If one gives away beds and bedding and uses only a sleeping bag on the floor, one still has not abandoned all. Common sense is required to understand the Bible.

Bill MacDonald writes, "The command to forsake all has tremendous shock value. It awakens us from the lukewarm, cream puff, cotton-candy, Christianity ‘lite' we have today. [But] forsaking all is not the same for a couple with a large family as it is for a single person. It is not the same for the owner of a company that requires assets as for the employee. Single person or married couple should get down on their knees and ask, ‘Lord, what is this going to mean in my (our) life?' Then as the Lord begins to finger material possessions, they should be willing to forsake them and put the proceeds to work for the Lord and for the blessing of never-dying souls."

Comparing scripture with scripture and taking all of the Bible in context, one can see that we are to hold nothing as our own, but all belongs to the Lord to be used as He leads-and not misused or abused: "use this world, as not abusing it" (1 Cor:7:31). It isn't the possession of things, or the quantity or quality of them, but the heart attitude. However, Bill MacDonald reminds us, "The heart attitude is important, has to be translated into action."As Paul said, "I know both be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need" (Phil:4:12).

Jesus and James both cursed the rich. But what does "rich" mean? "Poor" in the West would be "rich" in many places. Yes, James cursed the rich, but not for the amount of their money or possessions. It was rather for living for self and pleasure and holding back wages by fraud (Jas 5:1-6). Jesus says, "Woe unto you that are rich...(Lk 6:24); and He declares, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Mk 10:25). We are still left with the question, "How much money or possessions makes one rich? How good a house or car is too good?" Jesus gave no such measurements but condemned "them that trust in riches"
(v. 24). Not money, but "the love of money," is "the root of all evil" (1 Tm 6:10). Caution here: we must ask God to search our hearts.

Joseph of Arimathaea is mentioned favorably in every gospel. He is called a "disciple" (Mt 27:57), an "honourable counsellor" (Mk 15:43), a "good man, and a just" (Lk 23:50,51), and again, "a disciple [secretly, until he claimed the body of Jesus]" (Jn:19:38-42). Yet he was a "rich man" (Mt 27:57) and is not criticized for being rich. Had he not been rich, he wouldn't have had an extra empty tomb to give to Christ, nor would the prophecy have been fulfilled that Christ would be "with the rich in his death" (Is 53:9).

We are commanded to work (2 Thes:3:11-14), and that implies income. We are supposed to give to the poor, which would be impossible if we had nothing to give. A man who provides not for his own family "hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1 Tm 5:8). Paul spoke of the "collection for the saints," which was to be taken on the first day of each week (1 Cor 16: 1, 2); and he never suggests that they retain nothing for themselves, but praises them for their "liberality" (v. 3).

Yes, but didn't the early church "sell their possessions and many as were possessors of lands and houses, sold them, and...laid [the proceeds] at the apostles' feet" (Acts:2:45; 4:34,35)? It cannot mean that they sold their dwellings and lived in the street; or sold their farms and had no means of income. They must have sold extra lands and houses they didn't need. A prayer meeting for Peter's release from prison was held in "the house of Mary the mother of John," and it was large enough to accommodate "many" (Acts:12:12). Paul as a prisoner in Rome lived "two whole years in his own hired house" (Acts:28:30). John writes as though each Christian family lives in its own house (2 Jn 10). The fact that Christians live in their own houses (not necessarily rentals), and that the church often met in the homes of Christians is mentioned many times: Acts:2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 10:6,17,32; 20:20; 21:8; Rom:16:5; 1 Cor:1:11, etc.

Jesus said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth" (Mt 6:19). But Paul said that parents ought to "lay up...for the children" (2 Cor:12:14). Does Paul contradict Jesus? No. Christ defines a "treasure" as something that one's heart is set upon (Mt 6:21). And Paul says, "Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col:3:2); so it is not the value or amount of possessions that is wrong but setting one's affections upon them, unwilling to give them up. As MacDonald says, "Attitude has to be translated into action." And he adds, "People who forsake all should not be judgmental of others. Others who do not agree should not judge those who in their simple faith forsake all."

You ask whether all are called to "full-time ministry." Of course we all are, but not to the same ministry. Being a Christian is a full-time calling. We must represent Christ as His ambassadors everywhere, at every moment. That is, we must live for Him always. Christ lives in every Christian; He has become our life-and that cannot be true only part-time. Defining and living what that means is up to each individual as they study the Word and are led by the Lord, humbly and in full submission to His will.

Obviously, we are not all called to be preachers, writers, traveling evangelists, overseas missionaries, etc. Whatever job we have, we are to be His witnesses while giving our employer our best on the job, for which he is paying us. Paul used the analogy of a body. There are many members with different functions. He asks, "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (1 Cor:12:29, 30). The implied answer is clearly, "No." Failure to recognize this simple fact has been the cause of much error and abuse among Pentecostals and Charismatics.

We each have a ministry, but not the same. We are all witnesses for Christ and the gospel, to let Him live His life in and through us, and to testify to His grace and love and salvation with our lives and with our lips. This can be no less than a "full-time" ministry!