Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.“ – Vs 21 (NLT)
What’s keeping you from following Jesus? It’s amazing what can stand in the way of our sold-out commitment to the Lord. In this young man’s case, it was his wealth. He came to Jesus asking what he needed to do to obtain eternal life. When Jesus told him to “keep the commandments,” the young man asked “which ones?” Now isn’t that interesting? It reveals that this guy is looking for some specific law or rule he can keep in order to get his hands on eternal life. This is someone who was used to getting what he wanted. He had money. He could buy pleasure, comfort, companionship, entertainment, security. Now he wanted eternal life. So he’s asking Jesus about the “cost.” He is really asking, “What is it going to take for me to have this one thing I don’t yet own?
Jesus gives him a list of a few of the commandments. He includes the ones prohibiting murder, adultery, stealing, and false witness. He also includes the ones about honoring your parents and loving your neighbor. In all, Jesus lists six different commandments. And the young man claims to have kept them all. But what’s interesting is that Jesus left out four of commandments:
• You shall have no other gods before Me
• You shall not take the name of your Lord your God in vain
• You shall remember the sabbath and keep it holy
The first three have to do with our worship of God. The first three are what make it possible to keep the last seven. If we do not have a right relationship with God, we will not be able to keep the rest of the commandments. The last seven all have to do with our relationships with others. If we don’t worship God properly, we will not treat others properly. I think Jesus knew that this man did not have a right relationship with God. His wealth had become his god, instead of God Almighty. He worshipped the creation rather than the Creator. Money had become his functional Messiah. It provided all he needed for life, but it couldn’t provide eternal life. This young man had probably used God’s name “in vain,” which means he used it frivolously, lightly, or for insincere purposes. He had probably called on God to protect his wealth and to continue to prosper his situation. He may have called on God to punish or remove his business competition. He may have tried to use God as a tool to gain even more wealth. All of this would have been using God’s holy name for unholy purposes. And when it came to keeping the sabbath, I am going to guess that this guy had probably failed to honor it and keep it holy as the law commanded. He had probably worked a few hours on the Lord’s day in order to make a few extra bucks. He had probably not treated this one day with the respect and honor that God had commanded. For him it could have become like any other day. I can see him sitting in his office, counting his coins and evaluating his financial worth. No, this young, wealthy man had probably violated all three of the first commandments on a regular basis and Jesus knew it. Jesus knew that this was the man’s real roadblock to salvation.
But there was one more commandment that Jesus left out of His list. This one is particularly interesting considering the man’s financial state.
• You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor
In the NET Bible, there’s this interesting note regarding the word “covet.” “The verb חָמַד (khamad) focuses not on an external act but on an internal mental activity behind the act, the motivation for it. The word can be used in a very good sense (Ps 19:10; 68:16), but it has a bad connotation in contexts where the object desired is off limits. This command is aimed at curtailing the greedy desire for something belonging to a neighbor, a desire that leads to the taking of it or the attempt to take it. It was used in the story of the Garden of Eden for the tree that was desired.”
This young man had a lot, but he wanted more. He was not satisfied. He may have wanted more wealth, but it is more likely that he wanted what someone else had that he couldn’t buy. It could have been as the commandment prohibits, his neighbor’s wife. We don’t know. But Jesus leaves out this commandment for a reason, just as He does the first three. I think He is making a point. Jesus simply tells the young, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Vs 21 – NLT). With this one statement, Jesus cuts to the core of the man’s problem. He is in love with his wealth. His money has become his god. He is not willing to part with it, even to gain eternal life. He is not willing to share it with others – even those in need. His treasure is here on earth. Maybe he thought a small donation to Jesus’ ministry would have bought him his ticket to eternal life. Maybe he thought Jesus was going to tell him he had already done enough and eternal life was already his. But at Jesus response, the young man walks away grieved.
Jesus told the disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again––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!” (Vs 24 – NLT). Obviously, Jesus is not saying rich people can’t be saved. But He is saying that their acceptance of the free gift of salvation is made more difficult by their potential love affair with wealth. Anyone can be saved, because “with God all things are possible” (Vs 26). But this man’s spiritual condition was burdened by his worship of material possessions.
But what about us? What do we have in our lives that is keeping us from selling out completely to Christ and following Him? Even as believers there are things in our lives that keep us from following Him wholeheartedly. Things we hang on to and refuse to let go of. It could be our reputations, our comfort, our careers, our need for control. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows when we have created substitutes for Him. We have things in our lives that we worship and value more than Him. And as long as we clutch on to those things we will never be able to follow Him unhampered and uninhibitedly. So what is He asking you to “sell” and give away? What are you clinging to instead of Him? Let it go and follow Him.
Father, forgive me for creating my own gods. For worshipping other things than you. I know I have things in my life that prevent me from following You like I should. I allow them to distract me and divert me from my commitment to You. They are good things that I have turned into god things and that is a bad thing. Please forgive me. And show me how to let them go, so that I might follow. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men