As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.
"You know the commandments, 'DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'"
And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up."
Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."
But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. Mark 15:17-22 [NASB]
Isn't this a sad story? Jesus felt a love for the young man, and invited him to follow Him, but the young man could not because his own love was not for God, but for money.
What an amazing thing! God came to earth in the form of man, but so many didn't recognize Him. This young man apparently recognized Him only as a very good man and respected teacher; certainly not as the One in authority over the universe. That is why Jesus questioned him, saying, "Why do you call Me good?" In a sense He was saying, "Do you really know who I am? Because if you believe Me to be just another good man, you don't yet really know Me at all."
If the young man had known who He really was, would he have allowed his love for his money to be greater than his love for God? Might he not have recognized the amazing opportunity right there in front of him, to follow God himself, to get to know Him on a personal level, and to be a part of what God was doing on planet Earth at that very special time in history? Sadly, he saw only a man similar to himself "a good man" who went about doing good deeds. He saw a "good man" who knew the scriptures well and could teach them to others. And just in case there was something that might keep that rich young ruler out of heaven, this "good man" would know and would tell him what it was.
The man obviously didn't get the answer he was hoping for. Maybe he hoped Jesus would actually acknowledge the man was good in his own right; that he had earned a place in heaven by his good deeds. Of course, Jesus saw the condition of the man's heart from outset, and didn't simply tell him what he wanted to hear. Often the truth is the last thing we really want to hear.
Do we recognize today the very special opportunity we have right in front of us? Do we acknowledge that Jesus is still asking, "Do you know who I am? Do you love God more than you love money - or possessions? Are you willing to trust Me with your life and with your happiness? Will you follow Me? Will you lay down your life and follow Me?"
For most of us, Jesus may not be saying to literally give away everything we own in order to follow Him, but to all of us He is certainly saying not to let the love of money or possessions keep us from following Him. The principle is as true for us today as it was for that young man.
Practically speaking, then, what if you examine your heart, and truthfully have to say earthly treasure is keeping you from following Jesus? Well, it's just like any other sin, isn't it? You confess it and forsake it, and you thank God for sending Jesus to die for that sin along with all the others - all too many to mention, all of which would keep you out of heaven - if you refused to confess and forsake them. Quite probably you came to Jesus not even thinking about money, yet aware of other sins in your life from which you needed to be saved. Eventually we all become aware of things in our hearts like greed. And like any other sin, we come to Him acknowledging our failure, thankful for His love and forgiveness. We also acknowledge that apart from Him, we can do nothing. By that I mean that we cannot change ourselves. I'm glad He's patient and forgiving and loving - and quite able to deal with all the sin in my life.
The best way I know to take care of any problem sin is not to focus actually on trying to change the problem sin, but to focus on the Lord Himself. I read the bible more and pray more and listen more to praise music. The more I get into His Presence, the more I get to know Him and find Him to be wonderful, and the more I am changed. And then the most amazing thing happens - I find I am delighted to give up my selfishness to follow Him. It doesn't seem too great a price.
How do we know if our heart is right in this area? After all, doesn't God delight in the prosperity of His servant? And isn't He the one who gave us earthly treasure in the first place? There is certainly truth in those statements. God loves His children, and He loves to bless them. Yet we know if our heart is not right about the "stuff" God can't just ignore it, He has to deal with it. Thankfully, He deals with us as His children in every area of our lives.
If we think we might have a problem, here are some questions to ask ourselves:
- Do I worry a lot about money and finances, or do I sincerely trust God to feed me?
- Do I often meet opportunities to do good with excuses?
- Am I legalistic about tithing, or am I generous?
- Do I give grudgingly or am I glad for an opportunity to bless someone?
- Do I ever go without something I really want in order to meet someone else's need?
- Am I ever motivated to earn more money so I'll have more money to give away?
- Do I ever worry that maybe I shouldn't be giving away so much money - because, after all, the future is uncertain and what if something happens to my money and I end up poor?
- Do I ever donate my highly valued time? Because for some people throwing a bit of money at every problem is easier than giving time, though often time is what's really needed.
Perhaps the most telling question of all is simply, "What do I believe the Lord is asking me to do - and am I doing it?"