“Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied, there is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ he inquired. Jesus replied, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”
I heard a teaching on this passage the other day. I always wonder what led the man to ask Jesus about gaining eternal life. Was he feeling restless or empty? Or maybe fearful about his salvation?
Scripture doesn’t tell us. But his reaction to the answer Jesus gave gives us a glimpse of his character. The recent message I heard focused on the fact that this man was trying to earn his way into heaven. Other times I’ve heard this account used as a caution against holding onto our stuff too tightly.
Both of those approaches ring true for me. Honestly, I can imagine myself having some trouble following Jesus’ instructions if I were him – they sounded very radical in their day. My thoughts might have run something like, “I’ve been wondering about my life and if I’ll end up in heaven. And this Jesus seems to know all about God. But giving up everything? Just giving my stuff away? Then I wouldn’t have anything left for me!”
If I, or that man, looked at the situation that way, of course we’d be sad. We’d also be wrong. So many times in Scripture we are called to give to others from our own supply, but not because God wants us to live in misery. He uses us to show His love to the world. And here’s the amazing thing: as we give away, God refills our stores and blesses us. Those empty, restless feelings ease and fear is replaced with joy.
We don’t know if the rich man had a change of heart at some point and started sharing his wealth. I hope he did, because then he would’ve gotten to experience the wonderful exchange that God promises those that are generous. Thankfully, God is patient to teach me this lesson, too.
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