Apart from basic necessities, are Christians supposed to give away all they own?
Creating theology from one or a few verses or bits of Scripture, such as Matthew 19:21, always leads to skewed thinking about God. However, God does have much to say about riches and possessions.
When taken in context with the rest of Scripture, God instructs us to put our allegiance, hope, and trust in Him, not anything else, including money, possessions, or earning power. This implies that we will be generous, but not that Christians must give away everything except for the basic necessities. The possession of wealth and the amount of that wealth are not the issue; one's heart posture toward God and godly use of whatever wealth He has provided is what is important.
Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money" (Matthew 6:24). In 1 Timothy 6:17, Paul says Christians are to put their hope in God, not riches.
So, what are riches? In developed countries, almost everyone is better off than the average person in the world. We own more and earn more, on average, than most everyone in history. Are we required to give away everything we own? No. Jesus isn't instructing us to give everything away, to empty our closets, nor to forgo savings. What Jesus requires is a pure heart devoted to God. To have that, we must know Him (John 14:6). When we know God, we can then allow Him to instruct and guide us on how to live. That includes how to deal with our money and possessions.
The Bible says it is wise to save money (Proverbs 6:6–8; Matthew 25:14–17) and leave an inheritance for our children (Proverbs 13:22). The Bible also talks about providing for the needs of our own families (1 Timothy 5:8) as well as giving to others in need (Acts 2:42–47; 1 John 3:17–18). We are also instructed to give to the work of ministry (1 Corinthians 9:13–14). All of our wealth ultimately belongs to God. He has entrusted it to us as His stewards. We do well to heed the financial wisdom of the Bible and to seek to use our wealth—giving it away, and saving it—the way God directs.
In Luke 3:7–18, John the Baptist tells the crowd to repent and show evidence of their changed hearts. He warns them that those who do not bear good fruit will be removed. He then tells them to give away their shirts and food to those in need, for tax collectors not to charge more than they are required, and for soldiers to be honest. He addresses those with possessions, money, and power and tells them to honor God, not themselves. We should do the same with whatever we have.
When we earn money to satisfy our consumerism, or spend to fill a void, it is wrong. God wants us to honor Him with our money, our needs, our power, our desires, our possessions—with everything we have. Our giving should be cheerful (2 Corinthians 9:7). God will help us to decide what to do with what we have when we ask Him.
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