Why Did Jesus Tell the Rich Ruler to Sell Everything He Owned?

When a young rich ruler came to Jesus to ask what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus Christ asked if he understood the commandments, and he accepted that he had obeyed all of them since he was a child. Jesus responded to him by saying, “If you want to be perfect, sell everything you own and give to the poor; you will have treasure in heaven. Then come along with me ” (Matthew 19:2, NIV). This essay gives an interpretation of this verse in the context of philosophy and an elaboration of the way the verse can be applied in encouraging organizations to make reasonable donations.

Meaning of the Command that Jesus gave to the Rich Ruler

When interpreted non-literally, one would state that Jesus meant that the rich should help the poor rather than enjoying their richness by themselves. However, this is not the case, as it is arguable that the verse could have only been meant for the rich man and maybe just a few other people. The idea presented by the verse is that wealth is not essentially wrong, but it is the attitude of the wealthy that can either make it immoral or not. The idea was that owning wealth was not bad unless it reached the point that the wealth owns a person (Pennington, 2015).

This was further elaborated in the sermon Jesus gave on the Mount where He said that a person’s heart will be where is treasures are (Mathew 6:19-21). Though this may appear contrary, treasures mean the passions as well as desires within the soul of a person. The goal that best philosophers have extolled to describe the metaphor of “following” is to live through adhering to nature, and this is achieved when the mind enters the path of the virtue and moves through the track of the correct reason, which in this case is following God (Pennington, 2015). While this takes place, the person should always be aware of the injunctions. As Wilson (2012) explains, the reasoning of a person is correct whenever it monitors the desires and passions within the soul, and this includes the desire one has for material possessions. In fact, it is through reasoning that a person has the ability of leaving behind worldly possessions and following God. From the interaction with the young rich man, Jesus proved that the man’s passion and desire were rooted to his wealth more than the inheritance of eternal life. As such, obeying the commandments did not mean that his heart was in following God.

How the verse can be used to encourage organizations in making donations

Though organizations have the goal of ensuring profitability, growth and sustainability, their role to the society cannot be ignored. Organizations should have the surrounding community in their heart and ensure that as they grow, the societies grow too. This can be achieved through corporate social responsibility. Organizations should ensure that the environment is conserved, employment provided to community members, infrastructure in the community is developed, education is promoted and a number of projects for the wellbeing of the community are executed (Mermod & Idowu, 2013). 

From the interpretation, the verse implies that desires and passion within the soul determines the actual aim and needs of a person. This verse can encourage organizations to put their desires and passions to the wellbeing of the community rather than to the improvement of profitability. The organizations will be highly concerned with the development of the community and will often give large donations that are aimed at undertaking projects that will improve the lives of the people in the community.


To test the heart of the young rich man and know if he was really determined to inherit eternal life, Jesus asked him to sell all his property, give donations to the poor, and follow him because his treasures will be in heaven. The young rich man refused, and this showed that his desire and passion were more on his possessions than on the inheritance of eternal life. Convincing organizations to put their heart and desire to the community rather than profitability has the ability of ensuring that they actively participate in corporate social responsibility with the aim of improving the lives of the members of the community.


Mermod, A., & Idowu, S. (2013). Corporate Social Responsibility in the Global Business World (CSR, Sustainability, Ethics & Governance). Dordrecht: Springer.

Pennington, J. T. (2015). “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” A Theological reflection on Jesus’ teaching regarding personal wealth and charity. Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, 1(1), 1-13.

Wilson, W. (2012). The Sentences of Sextus. SBL Press.

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