Luke 3:11 says, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” This certainly seems to say that we should strive to get by with only one set of clothes and only as much food as we need to survive. But then questions arise: “What about saving money?” “Are we required to live hand-to-mouth?” “Is it sinful to have clothes in the closet?”
In America, most of us are wealthier than the average person in the world. We are far wealthier than a person who only has “two shirts.” But Luke 3:11 does not mean that everyone who has more than one set of clothing or savings beyond what he needs for survival must give those things away. In fact, the Bible teaches in multiple places that it is good to save money (Proverbs 6:6–8; Matthew 25:14–27), and Proverbs speaks well of saving an inheritance for our children (Proverbs 13:22). We must (as we always should when reading the Bible) read this verse in context.
In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist is speaking. He warns the crowds who came to be baptized that they must repent and then bear fruit giving evidence of their changed hearts (Luke 3:8). John tells them that the day of judgment was at hand (verse 7); God’s “ax” will “cut down” those “trees” that do “not produce good fruit,” and that ax was already in position to chop (verse 9). The people respond to this warning by asking what they should do (verse 10). John says to give away their shirts and food (verse 11). He tells the tax collectors not to overcharge people (verse 13) and the soldiers to be fair, honest, and content with their wages (verse 14). John teaches each of these groups how to take the things God has given—possessions, money, and power—and use them wisely and for God’s glory, not for their own gain.
John’s basic message is that, in view of pending judgment, the people of God must be charitable, sacrificial, just, and content. With judgment right around the corner is no time to hoard this world’s goods, cheat people, or abuse positions of authority. The humble, repentant heart will be prone to benevolence, honesty, and mercy.
God never condemned anyone for having riches, but He does give grave warnings to those who seek after riches more than they seek after God. First Timothy 6:17 says that the rich should not “put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but . . . put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Having wealth (whether we have $25 or $25 million) is not a bad thing if we keep our hope in God and use those resources for His glory. God’s desire is for us to set our hearts on things above and not on things on this earth (Matthew 6:19–21).
The principles in John’s message are still in force today. When our hearts are right with God, we will be quick to sacrifice and give to others. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). We should pray daily to seek the Lord’s guidance for how we can best use the money and other resources He has entrusted to us.