Contend Earnestly: Are We the Rich Young Ruler?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Are We the Rich Young Ruler?

I am currently reading the book, Radical by David Platt and was discussing it with a friend of mine yesterday. As we spoke, we brought up the question, "Is the United States, including ourselves, the Rich Young Ruler?" The story is found in all the synoptic gospels, but I will put the version found in Matthew.

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And 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 mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, 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.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 19:16-26

As I was sitting with my friend yesterday speaking to him we were speaking about this very issue in Scripture. We were wondering if we, as the United States, were the rich young ruler. We would do anything for the gospel, besides sell all of our belongings. We would speak about the gospel to our friends, we would feed the poor, go to the prisons, visit orphans, travel overseas, but as soon as someone were to tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor, we cry out legalism. But, what if we are actually the rich young ruler? Think about this. The rich young ruler seemingly did many good things, as Jesus didn't refute the ruler's claims on keeping the commandments, etc. But, as soon as the Christ called out the true idol of the ruler's heart, the man went away sorrowful because he had much. Notice that Jesus didn't say, "Go and invade the culture you are in and speak to them about the gospel. Stay rich, and reach your rich friends." That is quite scary when you think of it.

I work in the investment portfolio business. I work with only very rich people. I make a very good living. The question is, "Would I sell everything I have if God called me to do so?" Or, would I make excuses on why I should never do that and go away sorrowful because I have many possessions?

I honestly don't know the answers to these questions that I am asking above, but I wonder about us in the West. I wonder if we truly are the rich young ruler. I also wonder if we are also those that Jesus speaks about in Luke 9:5...

"And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”

I know I have harped on this before, but one of my buddies quoted a missiologist that said that there are only two places in the world that aren't progressing in the gospel:

The United States and Europe

Is this because we have become all about ourselves and not about the true calling of the gospel to make our lives a living sacrifice, to take up our crosses, to deny ourselves? Is this happening because we have become about making larger and nicer buildings, about how much our church is "growing" or should I say stealing members from other churches? Is this because we care more about telling others about our church, than Jesus?

I wonder what would happen if Jesus told a church as a whole to sell their buildings, stop paying pastors, sell all their belongings and give it all to the poor? (don't read that I think paying pastors and having buildings for gatherings are wrong or sin)

Call me a legalist if you want, but that's not the point of the post. The point is to just simply ask some questions in regards to our love of Jesus verses our love for ourselves.

I know that the one thing that everyone will harp on is simply, "but if we sold all these things, especially our buildings and houses, how would God reach the people?" I don't know. But, if God does tell us to do so, don't we think that God is so much in control that he might, he just might, have a plan for his glory? Jesus said he didn't have a place to lay his head...seems like he was still pretty productive...just sayin'

I know this squashes the American Dream, but maybe some of this needs to happen for people to see we are counter cultural and not just another health and wealth Christian hiding in the clothes of a true follower of Jesus.


Arthur Sido said...

I am reading it as well, it is very interesting and it certainly hits us in a tender spot. Like Platt writes, we are big on railing against sexual immorality but when it comes to our affluent lifestyle in light of world and local poverty, we get really uncomfortable.

Anonymous said...

You have latched onto the wrong script and you have been stucked in the wilderness of barreness like the Israelites under the leadership of Moses.

Hard to fathom, but you could be practicing idolatry through Christianity.

Seth McBee said...

would you like to elaborate? I'm very interested in where you are going with your first comment...

Steve Cruver said...

When i read this passage I don't think the primary emphasis is wealth. The passage starts and ends with what a person does to enter the kingdom of God. So I think entering the kingdom of God is the main point. The man thinks he has done enough to enter the kingdom of God. Jesus knows he hasn't so he ask the man if he has kept the law, but he lies in his response. Of course he has not kept the law. There is only one man that has kept the law perfectly. I believe Jesus uses his wealth to expose his self-righteousness. It is easier for a camel to go thru the eye of a needle than a rich man can enter the kingdom of God thru his accomplishments (good works, wealth creation, etc...) Thankfully we rich Americans and the poor of this world are saved the exact same way. It is always by grace and not of works. The last sentence gives me great hope. “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
I do agree that wealth is a great hinderance, but it is just as great a hindrance to the rich and poor.

Sometimes I think American christians envy (I can't think of a better word)poor nations. Lets say you were to sell all that you had and decided to move to Ethiopia, and work with the poor. You would be shocked that stealing is one of the biggest sins of the Ehtiopian christians. They will even put together elaborate scams to steal from missionaries , aid relief organisations, or any person wealthier than them.

That's my two cents:)

Anonymous said...

Since Rome inducted Christianity into their politics, Jesus message became even more corrupted, misinterpreted but mostly, it was concealed from the world at large.
That's the reason why we are to watch for the signs of the harvest because the realization of the kingdom is as natural as the growth of a seed.
What is evident now is the continued ravages of idolatrous Christianity and its ideological influences throughout Europe to America and the rests of the global world.
We have been warned from the beginning. If we embark on the wrong tree, we will die.
That allows the rich to rule our world. In God's kingdom, they lose that stronghold - depicted by the eye of the needle.

Seth McBee said... still have my you want to continue to elaborate? Specifically...I would like to hear how you believe the message of Jesus has been corrupted.


Anonymous said...

 I freely commented where anonymity is allowed. Usually, people dont bother to dig deeper because most, religious bloggers, have assumed their fundamental position is right. So I took a moment to read you up - clueless prior to this. 
You are quite discerning and well read.
However, you are entrenched in a bad script and like many, derailed from the biblical vision.
I have learned a new word from you though - hyperbole. If I will to say that about Christianity, I will be thrown off the cliff.
Incidentally, I was mulling over your best sermon a day before I put up my random rambling.
And that's the point, Christianity is too convoluted and contentious to be the agent that will set the captives free because..... You guys had made the mistake of heroizing Jesus or turning him into an Idol.

You see, these captives, in its right context, were political captives. Ask yourself this, will a religious/theological solution able to free them?No.
The irony is, Jesus did not come to offer a religious solution, though it may appear to be the case, but a political one. 
Hence, your hyperbole applies.

Anonymous said...


Jesus didn't come to offer a religious solution but a political one? Cite me some Scripture which points to this.

The Bible is very clear that this kingdom he spoke of was that of the supernatural and one which resides within the Spirit of man. If Jesus wanted to establish an earthly kingdom, he had legions of angels and power at his disposal to do so. Yet he gave himself over as a sacrifice so that the true enemy (sin) could be defeated.

grberry said...

I think about this topic regularly. I recently read Faith and Wealth: A History of Early Christian Ideas on the Origin, Significance, and Use of Money by Justo L. Gonzalez (copyright 1990). First it sets out the actual economic environment in which Jesus, the apostles, and the early church lived, which is very different from our own. An example I'll come back to is that the main form of productive wealth then was land, while today it is probably business ownership. Then the books reviews the writings on the use of money from the apostolic and patristic writers. I recommend it for further reading.

I agree with Steve that the main point of the rich young man passage is entering the kingdom of God. But this story is told in that context for a reason. How we use our financial resources is an indicator of where our heart is and the status of our entry into in the kingdom of heaven.

The story of Ananias and Saphira is also highly relevant to this query. See especially Acts 5:4, where Peter inmplies that the two were not obligated to sell their land, and having sold were not obligated to lay the funds at at the apostles feet - which in the context of the immediately prior verses (Acts 4:34-36) means to make it available for distribution to those in need. The main point of this story appears to be that we shouldn't lie to God and his church, just as the main point of the rich young ruler story is not about the use of wealth. But by implication this passage tells us that those who are members of the church and have wealth are not required to give to the needy.

From this, and Paul's writings I conclude that the challenge to the rich young ruler is not meant as a universal command. Yet from the writings of John, Paul, and from other scriptures, I conclude with the patristic authors that what we do with our wealth does matter, but that there isn't a universal commandment.

1 John 3:17 says it thus: "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?" That one verse encapsulates the challenge to the rich young ruler - and to us. It also prioritizes meeting the needs of the brothers, and it would seem appropriate to prioritize their needs though not absolutely. Julian the Apostate testifies in favor of Christianity, despite his opposition to it, when he reports that it was the practice of the early church to provide charity (in the early meaning of practical outworkings of love) in feeding the poor who were not Christians.

How often do we choose to look for need is a follow on question? Around the world, there is great need. Parachurch organizations like Compassion International and World Vision take steps toward meeting needs. But how often are they promoted in our congregations? Overall, quite rarely I expect. We could do better.

GraceHead said...

You don't have to wonder any more bro:

It is written: """Repent!Give back all which you have stolen from your God, Tear down all these walls.Sell all you have, and give it to the poor...Before calamity comes.""" ~~!

It is also written:
"""Therefore, this bride is not My bride...She is a harlot, reveling in every unclean thing,An estranged woman, chasing after the traditions of men!Churches of men, who is The Lord?! Tell Me, if you know... Who is your Lord? Behold, I came unto you, yet you did not recognize Me. I had poured out My Spirit, even upon all flesh, yet you did not receive of Me. I spoke to you many times, saying, “Repent. Tear down all these walls built by human hands, and return to Me... Sell all your riches, and seek out the poor and the needy, and give them double”, yet you refused to hear Me, nor would you give heed. Beloved, what do I see?... Hardened hearts! Great pride and arrogance! """ ~~

see also:

The moment the Lord spoke these words, the churches had 2 choices.

1) literally hire a tractor or bulldozer and tear their building down, and sell all they have and give 100% of it to the poor.


2) do it not in defiance and rebellion

I cannot think of a third option.

And wouldn't that be nice if we turned on the news and a reporter was asking a church patron why they are demolishing their building ... and that church-goer stared straight at the camera and said this: "Today we do to our building what the Lord will shortly do to all. For this is just something man built with man's hands, but God dwells in the hearts of men and is coming very shortly to bring to ruin every thing man has built up ... laying it to waste in preparation of His 1000 year Kingdom where all things will be built new ... by Him and to His glory. amen." What a testimony! What an opportunity wasted!

Now, because man has not done what is written and still has their buildings, they stand disobedient to the Lord. ...

This is what He says to them:"""I am come to destroy and to tear down...""" ~~

"""Behold, even I shall tear down the churches of men And stomp their four walls to pieces.Then shall The Foundation Stone be exposed... No more shall it be covered over!For I am a jealous God, and I will not share My glory!""" ~~

They did not tear it down as He commanded, and now He will do it for them. And thus is the big picture of God's will manifest in these 8 or so years ahead:

""Your will be done on earth as in Heaven.I shall call to them, and gather.I shall tear down and supplant...I shall restore.I SHALL MAKE THEM ONE.And they shall be one in Me, as I am one in You, with them in Us.""" ~~

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