Many of you have heard the story of the rich, young ruler before (Mark 10:17-26). But how many of us have peeled back the layers of the story to discover principles by which we can manage money and still be in love with God?
Judging by the similarity in how Jesus followers spend their money vs. non-Jesus followers, I’m guessing this story has not truly impacted how we deal with money and with Jesus.
So, let’s take a minute to peel back some layers and explore some principles. Let’s get started!
On the surface, life looks good for the rich, young ruler. He’s been successful and materially blessed (a sure sign of God’s favor to 1st century Jews… and to 21st century believers, whether true or not!). He is young, and he has lived a life that reflects a strict obedience to the law. Not only would he be invited to the Pharisee’s club… he’d probably be the local chapter’s president!
Can you hear his hope in his initial exchange with Jesus? He asks what he must do, but he knows what he’s already done:
- Don’t murder… check!
- Don’t commit adultery… check!
- Don’t steal or lie… check!
- Honor your father and mother… check, check!!!
He must be thinking he’ll be in the express lane to eternity. He’s on a spiritual high… until Jesus’ next words:
“There is still one thing you haven’t done,” [Jesus] told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21 NLT)
In two short sentences he goes from high-five to nose dive. He departs and we never hear of him again.
But why so sad? And what does this mean for us?
Layer 1 – Right Relationships
Jesus’ questions are insightful (duh!). He’s not randomly making up questions; they come from a list that would be known to every good Jewish person in his time. He’s asking about the 10 commandments (specifically the last 6 found in Exodus 20:12-17).
What’s more informative is what’s missing. What happened to the first four commandments? (See Exodus 20:1-11). How would the rich young ruler respond if he were asked:
- Does anything… other than God… determine how you live?
- Do you love anything more than God?
- Do you preserve a day to build a relationship with God? (Or do you head on into the office to make sure the money keeps flowing?)
Jesus isn’t telling him that he must be poor to inherit eternal life. He rolls all the issues above into one statement because he knows that for all this rich young ruler has… he lacks the one important thing: a right relationship with God.
In short, God comes first… always.
And Jesus knows that if the money is completely out of the way, then this rich, young ruler will finally be free to come and follow… and receive eternal life.
But of course, the rich young ruler also knows that he can’t let God replace his love of all things wealth. He recognizes that he can’t just live the last six commandments and be a good guy that gets into heaven. He has to live the first four to live forever.
But being unwilling to let God usurp the #1 spot in his heart… he goes away sad. He thought he had it all figured out.
Layer 2 – The “Got” Factor
Bottom line: Have you got money… or has money got you?
Jesus warned his followers previously… they would have to choose just one God:
““No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matt 6:24 NLT)
Isn’t that the essence of the first commandment? Will you serve God… or money? That’s the heart of his exchange with the rich, young (and by now, very sad) ruler. They both recognized in that moment, that money had him.
So how do we ensure money doesn’t “get” us? I think the answer begins with the first four commandments. Once we get that right, we’ll have money, but money won’t have us.
But how do we live… day-to-day in this right relationship?
John Wesley, an 18 century preacher, put it best with these 3 principles (Note: the bold print is Wesley, the other words are my paraphrase of the applications):
- Earn all you can: Be industrious… use the gifts, talents, and smarts that God gave you to earn a living and not be a drain on society.
- Save all you can: Don’t be frivolous or extravagant. Use sense in purchases, keeping in mind the differences between wants and needs. Provide for your family… but don’t spoil them!
- Give all you can: In the earning and the saving, keep in mind that royal command to love neighbor as we love ourselves (See Matthew 22:36-40). Be mindful of the needs of the community around us, and be generous to those who are in need.
There is a lot more to these principles, but you can probably already see how they might impact your life, and more importantly, your relationship with money and with God.
The only question that remains is, will you go away sad… or filled with the joy of eternal life? And one last hint: the answer to that question is not about what we say…
It’s about what we do.
- What would you add to the “layers” in this story? What else is going on?
- Is it all about earning? What more should one consider as they go about “earning” a living?
- Is it wrong to save? See if you can agree on some savings criteria that God would approve of!
- How much is enough? Where do you draw the line between wants and needs?
- What’s the best way to “Give all you can?”
- How do you pick who to give to?
- How do you deal with the fear that you might be taken advantage of?
- What one thing can you do in the next 30 days to ensure your money doesn’t “get” you?