By Roland W. Keith
Most of us are familiar with the story of the rich young man who sought Jesus’ counsel concerning eternal life: “And as He was setting out on His journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). If this was the only verse you knew from the story what would it tell you? To me it says that the young man was earnest in his desire, and he began by asking the right question. It also seems that his heart was in the right place. Jesus responds first by reminding him to keep the commandments, to which the young man responds, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:19-20). Matthew’s account records, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (19:20). Some commentators have accused the man of being dishonest in his reply, yet Jesus did not challenge his claim. I believe the man was being honest. And again, he was asking the right questions. He had been doing everything he knew to do yet was concerned that he was somehow still lacking.
The Lord’s response to the young man? “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Mark 10:21). Jesus did not question the veracity of the man’s claims; in fact, His own response supports the man’s assertion. He was doing the right things, but there was still something standing in the way. His heart was not entirely in the right place after all. And that was what Jesus addressed. The youth was too attached to his worldly possessions. Mark tells us he went away sorrowful when the Lord told him to let go of his wealth (10:22). I do not know if his response would have been the same if he were twenty years older. Some people have a great desire for the material aspects of life when they are young, but that desire becomes less important as they mature (II Timothy 2:22; Ecclesiastes 12:1). However, many people find it hard to let go once they have it. Wealth gives them a false sense of security, power and superiority. The pharisee in the parable of the pharisee and tax collector is a good example. While the Sadducees made up the upper class, the Pharisees belonged to the small group we would recognize today as the middle to upper middle class. Far better educated and well off than 70% or more of the population they are often portrayed in the Bible as having a misplaced feeling of superiority. On the other hand, the tax collector would have been financially well-to-do as well but despised by Jewish society of the day. In Jesus’ story, despite his wealth, unlike the pharisee, the taxman realized he needed God’s mercy.
Remember what Jesus taught His disciples after the rich young man walked away? It’s hard to enter the kingdom of heaven, and it’s even harder for a rich person (Mark 10:23-25). However, its not impossible (Mark 10:26-27). As we grow in the wisdom of the Bible, we learn that money isn’t the only hindrance to our salvation. There is power, fame, ego (pride), etc. For those struggling with any of these stumbling blocks we can give the same advice Jesus did: let it go and follow the Lord. However, for the young man in the story, though he was disheartened and sad, he was not willing to give up his riches, not even to inherit a far greater treasure: eternal life. Why couldn’t he let go? Why are some people able to do what others cannot, or will not?
Moses had all of Egypt at his feet, in comparison, but as Paul wrote, “Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). In some ways the problem seems to be a lack of vision or inability to assess what constitutes true value in life. For some no matter how great the reward on the horizon they are unwilling to let go of what they have in hand. Comparing the pursuit of earthly gain to godliness Paul wrote, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (I Timothy 6:6-10).
What mankind considers of great value and worthy of pursuit Solomon discovered to be otherwise. Assessing his own accomplishments and vast fortune he wrote, “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). If we spend our life in pursuit of only worldly gain we are truly grasping for the wind. Eventually, everything slips away from us. As Paul noted we can’t take it with us, and as Solomon reasoned we do not even know what the next generation will do with what we have left behind (Ecclesiastes 2:17-21). Will they build upon it, squander it, appreciate it or mock it? It is not his worldly accomplishments and fortune that marks the man, rather it is his spiritual strength, as Paul noted: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (I Corinthians 1:25-29).
At the end of our lives we will not have to give an account of our land holdings or bank account or social status, but we will have to give an account of ourselves, whether we lived and died for the Lord or lived for the world (Romans 14:8-11). The things we have and the things we do are by the grace of God and should be acknowledged as such and should be guided by our desire to do what is right in the sight of God (James 4:13-17). When we live according to God’s will— that is when we put God first in our lives— we will be able to let go if it is called for. The world may not understand why we turn and walk away, they may deride us for it or even persecute us (I Peter 4:3-5, 12-13) but that should not dissuade us. They will have to give an account of themselves the same as we will. And when that day comes it will be better to stand with God in eternity than with the world whose every accomplishment will fade into non-existence leading those who reveled in them at the gates of hell.
Those of us who heed the Lord’s call turn from the world with a longing to honor God with our lives and a hope to share “in the inheritance of the saints” (Colossians 1:11-14). When the young man walked away from the Lord he was walking away from the light toward eternal darkness. Each of us will have to make the same choice. To follow the world or turn to God. To turn from the darkness to the light, from the futility of the world’s understanding to the wisdom of God. What we leave behind in the world has no lasting value, what we gain is beyond estimation. Jesus said we must be willing to leave all for Him (Luke 14:25-26; Mark 10:28-31) and even to suffer in the process; to give up the world for the love of Him and the hope of salvation. If we trust in His word and diligently seek Him, He will provide the way for us to enter His kingdom ((II Peter 1:10-11; I Peter 1:3).
Jesus said that all who would find God must do so through Him (John 14:6). In addition, He told His disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). What would you give in exchange for your eternal soul? Would you give up the world and its finite treasures to ensure your own eternal well-being? The young man in the parable was not willing to do that. His priorities were misguided, and his attachments were in the wrong place.
As we ponder our life decisions in the context of our eternal welfare we should consider Paul’s words: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:6-11).
God wants all men to be saved (John 3:16; Romans 1:16; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 5:9), nonetheless His justice must be served. For those who refuse His invitation there is condemnation due to their sins; for those who come to Him in repentance there is salvation and a place for them in His kingdom: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.