Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good?[f] No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
He said to Him, “Which ones?”
Jesus said, “ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. ~Matt. 19:16-22
Three of the four Gospels carry the story of the “Rich Young Ruler.” He was a man who seemed to have great desire for an assurance of salvation from Jesus. Mark’s account says that this young man ran after Jesus when He was walking down the road, and knelt before Him. Luke 18 tells us that he was a ruler, using the word “archon” in the Greek which literally translates, “commander, chief leader.” Can you imagine the stir it would cause if we saw one of our Congressmen running down the street and then falling at the feet of another man? We would immediately assume that the Congressman was either desperate or a lunatic. In the same way, this ruler had authority over others, and yet he humbled himself to run after Jesus.
Jesus’ response was typically humble–ascribing all honor to His Father, though He Himself was deserving of worship. He then admonished the young man to follow the commandments of the law, to which the ruler replied he had done all from his childhood. Jesus then commanded him to sell all of his possessions, and the ruler went away with a sad heart because he was very rich.
It is easy to assume that Jesus is anti-wealth and requires everyone to be paupers if they want to be Christ-followers. After all, He turned from this exchange to lament to His disciples about how hard it is for rich people to enter Heaven. After all, didn’t He say in Matthew 6:24 that you can’t have money and serve God?
Or did He? The clarifying word here is “serve”–the Greek word, “douleuo” which means, “to be a slave to, to submit to.” Jesus did not condemn wealth; He condemned the rat-race lifestyle of greed that exalts the “almighty dollar” above serving the Almighty God. When we prioritize working long hours to make more than we need over spending time with our family or meeting with other believers, we are dangerously close to serving the tool that God gave us to use for Him.
Jesus regularly interacted with merchants. He had a “ministry accountant” in the person of Judas. He had to buy His food and sometimes pay for lodgings just as any travelling evangelist would today. His disciples were business owners with ships (thus, wealthy families). Paul said (in 1 Timothy 6:17) “Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.”
Therefore, if Jesus was not condemning all wealth when He spoke with the rich young ruler, what was the point of Him saying, “sell everything you have?”–He was seeking a voluntary worshipper apart from the law.
In Philippians 3, Paul gives his credentials as an apostle of Christ, stating in verses 4-6, “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
Paul was as justified through the law as was the young ruler, but he had learned that the law cannot justify and that works-based righteousness would not please the heart of God. He goes on to say, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (v. 7-9).
The real hindrance for the rich young ruler was not his financial status, but a self-justifying attitude and a works-based theology. If he had approached his life with the heart of Paul, counting his possessions and his good deeds as nothing that he might achieve an organic, living relationship with the Father, perhaps his story might have been different.
How often do we seek the big ministry name, the public approval, the financial blessing, etc., without seeking to be a true Christ-follower. Jesus will not allow us to minister to His bride until we can first mourn for her; for He is a most-excellent, most-tender Bridegroom, protective of her heart and nurturing of her growth above all. If we are not able to be moved with compassion for others–to be willing to give the most when and where it most empties us–we cannot say we are seeking to advance His kingdom. We may be pushing our own kingdom, but a Christ-follower will have no regard for his own talents or her own abilities.
What about you? Are you pushing His agenda today? Are you seeking the kingdom or the things that will be added to you?
May you find your heart alive as you give of yourself today.