In contrast to those who argue that Paul’s theology and Jesus’ teaching are at odds, the answer to the question is this: Paul is showing us how to interpret Jesus — especially Jesus’ hard sayings.
Consider one example: Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler to sell all that he has. “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).
Is this something that God commands every Christian to do?
Many are puzzled by that question, because if we say “yes,” it immediately seems impractical. On the other hand, if we say “no,” we seem to be diminishing the force of Jesus’ command.
Fortunately, Paul himself shows us how to interpret this passage for the post-resurrection church: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future” (1 Timothy 6:17 – 19).
Paul’s command to Christians who are rich in this age is not to give away all that they have, but rather two main things: (1) Don’t set your hope in your money and (2) be extremely generous with your money.
This corresponds to what Jesus was getting at with the rich young ruler. It confirms, as a close look at the passage in Luke also shows, that the likely reason Jesus commanded him to sell everything was because he was putting his ultimate hope in his money rather than God.
Paul also makes this same demand. But in Paul, we see that this demand doesn’t always require giving away everything you have. In the case of the rich young ruler, Jesus was literally calling him to follow him — that is, to be with him during his ministry. So Jesus would have provided for any of his needs resulting from his having nothing.
Today, that’s just not going to happen — and it’s not God’s will. God’s will is that we earn our own living (1 Thessalonians 4:10-11).
Now, that said, of course there are still times when a Christian indeed must give up all that they have. This is necessary when one must choose between obedience to Christ and maintaining their money and possessions. In those cases, you let it all go. Paul also demonstrated this through his example, accepting imprisonment and even death due to his testimony for the gospel.
And so the spirit of Christ’s call to the rich young ruler continues in Paul’s teaching as well. At the same time, Paul’s teaching also fleshes out Jesus’ teaching more fully, by showing that Jesus’ command to the rich young ruler was a specific strategy that was aimed at implementing this universally valid truth in the specific life and situation of the rich young ruler.
Since it was a specific strategy, it is not necessarily God’s literal call to every Christian. For most Christians, it is to be translated by means of radical generosity with their possessions — while also acknowledging that all that we have is God’s, holding our possessions loosely, and being willing to sacrifice all when the needs of the gospel require it.