In seminary a teacher told us about looking out the window of a Bible class across campus to the law and medical faculties where students looked forward to large incomes. He knew that as a pastor that would not be his lot in life, but chose to continue valuing the things of God more highly than the things of this world.
How do we value things in life? What is of greatest value to us?
Let us get Jesus’ opinion on what the most valuable things in life are.
We will look at Mark 10:17-311 and the discussion with the disciples after a rich recruit turned away from Jesus.
Mark 10:17 As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” 21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” 26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. 27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”
28 Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. 29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.”
The Advantages of Wealth
The wealthy have many advantages. They are usually mentally tough people who have endured discomfort in order to get what they want. The rich have enough money to buy freedom from all sorts of worries that the rest of us face. They can afford the best medical care. When they need money for education, business or pleasure they can find it. They can afford to avoid dangerous and unhealthy jobs. They don’t need to kowtow to abusive bosses. The wealthy are usually optimists about the future because they can afford to take risks that the rest of us cannot. While research proves that modern wealthy people are most always selfish and self-absorbed, many are also scrupulously honest and upright in their moral character. It was Jesus’ meeting with just such a wealthy and upright individual that our story is about.
A Question for Himself (vs. 17-19)
The first few words in this discussion with Jesus indicate its direction and begin to help us see the central problem. The rich man asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” There is no question about a wife or children or other family members or even the rich man’s friends inheriting eternal life, only himself. It appears to be all about self. Jesus began to help the man readjust his attention. Jesus did not want to set a wrong example for the man by focusing on even his own sinlessness, but attempted to turn the conversation towards God the Father. Though some variations of the original Greek text exist, the essential thrust is the same. Jesus enumerated some of the Ten Commandments including an application of the eighth and ninth, defrauding or cheating others in wages or property.
An Impulsive Self-Defense (vs. 20-21)
The man confidently replies that since his youth he had obeyed God’s law. Yet, he was not so confident of his eternity. Jesus recognized an earnestness in the rich man and loved him for it. Even though he had been scrupulous in obeying God’s law, he lacked one thing. Jesus was not trying to criticize the man, but lift him up to a higher level of spirituality than the Ten Commandments, the self-sacrificial devotion of a true follower of Jesus. Should all rich people sell their goods and become poor? Some Christians have thought so, but if that was the case, so also should God sell everything in heaven and become poor. The call for the man to follow Jesus was a call to become one of his disciples, and to do exactly what the other disciples had already done.
An Abrupt Refusal (vs. 22-25)
The man’s appalling decision to go away revealed more love for his enormous real estate holdings than eternal life. His refusal is contrasted with the 12 disciples who had given up everything to follow Jesus. Even such a scrupulously honest and upright man can be deceived by wealth. We all find it easier to trust in our righteousness and wealth than to give up our wealth in sacrifice for others and trust in God. The more money and possessions we have, the harder it becomes. It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Is it impossible? Jesus answers that question by the example of an absurdly impossible task, threading a camel through the eye of a needle. We are all too attached to material wealth and forget what is permanent. The story does not end there.
Is the Impossible Possible? (vs. 26-27)
So that’s it? Can a rich person be saved? Can any of us be saved? 1 Corinthians 13:3 says that even if we give everything to the poor and even sacrificed our bodies, without loving others, we will still have accomplished nothing. This is not a contradiction of Jesus, but an application of what Jesus is teaching the disciples. The lure of money does choke the word of God, but so does relying on our own righteousness. Salvation for any of us is impossible, humanly speaking. Having great estate holdings and loads of money causes great deception and can be a huge spiritual handicap to bear. Living an upright life can also deceive us into thinking that our righteousness qualifies us for eternal life. Any attempt to enter the kingdom of heaven on our merit is doomed to failure. It is God’s gift.
Are there Rewards for Us? (vs. 28-31)
Sacrifice is not giving up spare time or spare money, but what we value. For example, when people donate unwanted furniture to the church, that is not a sacrifice. That is using the church as a garbage dump. A sacrifice that really would have shown God respect would have been donating our best valued items of furniture. So, Peter addressed an obvious question that we might also ask. What about those of us who chose differently to the rich man, who HAVE given up so much for God? As we look at others who have chosen riches rather than God, it is natural to ask, will God will take care of us? Jesus is asking, who comes first, God or family? He answers that even if we must leave our biological family behind we gain a larger family and eternity.
May we all learn not to be impressed with our own righteousness or the trinkets of this world that we may have accumulated, but align our values in life with the permanent values of eternity with God.
1Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.