The Rich Young Ruler Reflects Our Own Struggles with Money

The Rich Young Ruler Reflects Our Own Struggles with Money

Jesus was known for saying some shocking things: love your enemies, pluck out your eye, cut off your hand, hate your parents. These statements left Jesus’ listeners angry, confused and scratching their heads. In many cases, they polarized the crowd into two groups: those who became His loyal friends and followers, and those who walked away and became His enemies.

But one statement which appears to have shocked the disciples most is found in Mark 10. A rich young ruler had come to Jesus and asked sincerely, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded that there was one thing he lacked. He must sell all he had, give to the poor, and follow Him. The young man, who had great wealth, walked away greatly dismayed and saddened (Mark 10:17-27), prompting one of Jesus’ most polarizing statements:

“Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24-25).

It was a matter of consumerism, that common worldview that teaches that the essence of personal happiness comes from material possessions and the security that wealth provides against the storms of life. For us still today, it says our sense of self-worth and personal identity is measured by how high we climb the corporate ladder and how large we can grow our bank accounts.

So Jesus’ statement challenges the idea of working hard and climbing the ladder of success, and confronts the current of independence and materialism that is foundational to our modern society.

What Jesus Is Not Saying about Money

Jesus wasn’t saying he was against Christians having wealth, but that wealth must not be an idol in our lives. In fact, it is God Himself, not our own abilities, that makes it possible. 

“But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant” (Deuteronomy 8:18).

It would be strange if God was against us having wealth, and yet also be the One responsible for giving us the ability to produce wealth. Moreover, it is clear He takes pleasure in prospering us!

“Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favor my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant” (Psalm 35:27).

Scripture also reminds us of those faithful followers that God extravagantly blessed, like Isaac:

“Then Isaac sowed in that land, and reaped in the same year a hundredfold; and the Lord blessed him” (Genesis 26:12).

And Joseph:

“So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field” (Genesis 39:5).

And David:

“Then King David turned to the entire assembly and said, … ‘And now, because of my devotion to the Temple of my God, I am giving all of my own private treasures of gold and silver to help in the construction. This is in addition to the building materials I have already collected for his holy Temple. I am donating more than 112 tons of gold from Ophir and 262 tons of refined silver to be used for overlaying the walls of the buildings and for the other gold and silver work to be done by the craftsmen” (1 Chronicles 29:2-5).

The shepherd boy David was transformed into the King of Israel. And who does David credit for making him so wealthy?

“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand” (1 Chronicles 29:13-14).

And God was not saying that in order to have eternal life, we must sell all our possessions and live like monks. Otherwise, all the people just mentioned (Abraham, Joseph, Isaac and David) would not be in Heaven right now!

So Then, What Is Jesus Saying?

Money is a large and unavoidable part of our earthly lives, and it can blind us, distract us, and get in the way of our trusting relationship with God. 

Jesus compared the probability of a rich man getting into Heaven to the process of trying to stuff a massive animal through the smallest of holes. It was an expression of impossibility, much like we would use the phrase a snowball’s chance in hell.

To Jesus’ listeners it seemed an incomprehensible statement in light of God as our good Father, wanting His children to be blessed, as well as being the One responsible for making so many of His servants rich (Mark 10:26).

When Jesus looked at the rich young ruler, the verse says He loved Him (Mark 10:21). I believe it means that Jesus saw the man attained his wealth the righteous, honorable and biblically approved way – not by fraud, exploitation or oppressing the poor. The Jewish culture believed God would prosper the man who obeyed the Law, lived a good, moral life and worked hard. So it appears that it wasn’t wickedness, but the money and possessions themselves, that were the man’s issue.

At this word of Jesus, the man became sad; the thought of being separated from his wealth caused the rich young ruler to grieve (Mark 10:22). It possibly even caused him to feel fear and anxiety, revealing the true nature of his heart – the thing Jesus saw that he lacked. In reality, money had become an idol in the man’s heart – his god – and Jesus called him out on it. 

If you are going to be one of My disciples, if you are going to enter into My Kingdom, you can have no other gods before Me. You must love Me before your social standing, your accomplishments and your dreams and goals. And the evidence of whether I am first in your life is if you trust Me more than your wealth and possessions and obey my directions, even when it sounds crazy.

What God Says about Money

Many people don’t realize how often Jesus speaks about money and possessions in Scripture. Some think that He talks more about prayer or faith than money. But there are roughly 500 verses on prayer in the Bible, and less than 500 on faith. But there are over 2,000 dealing with money and possessions. Out of 38 parables in the Gospels, 16 of them center around finances.

Money is a huge part of our earthly lives. It impacts our attitude, whether we feel secure, independent and hopeful, or bitter, nervous and disappointed. It creates influence: “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7). It affects our relationships: “…use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves…” (Luke 16:9).

And it can challenge our integrity. Remember, Judas sold out Jesus for just 30 pieces of silver.

But even more than the role money takes in our lives, Jesus concentrated on money and possessions because it is a temporal thing that can stand in the way of our eternal relationship with God. As Jesus warned,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20).

Making and keeping money and possessions can get us so preoccupied with the earthly things, that we forget what’s truly important – the eternal Kingdom of God.

What Do We Do?

First, we must assess our relationship with money; take a look at your attitudes and reactions to it. Do you, like the young man, grieve at the thought of parting with money? Are you envious of people who have more than you? Do you worry constantly about not having enough or loosing what you do have? Do you look down on people who don’t have it? Do you get joyous, or anxious and argumentative at offering time? Does someone asking for donations cause your blood pressure to rise? Are you a miser? Or are you generous?

When it comes to our possessions, the Bible teaches that “putting God first” comes in the form of us giving a tithe (or the first 10%) of any money that comes into our lives to God (Malachi 3:10; Proverbs 3:9-10). Some people argue tithing is just a scam created by clergymen, but in actuality, it is God’s way of ensuring we don’t allow money to become an idol in our hearts. 

There is no other time in Scripture that Jesus told someone to go and sell everything. But in this man who asked an honest question, He saw an issue that needed to be addressed and healed in a radical fashion. For you and me, He simply says, put Me first in your giving, and you will keep your heart free from serving money. 

That’s really the heart of generosity; it’s honoring God by keeping Him first in our finances. And it’s the therapy that God gives us to ensure that money doesn’t get in the way of our trust in Him as our source and provider. 

I know that for some it’s hard, especially if you came to Christ with a mountain of debt. To such people I’d say this (and this is me speaking), just start making an effort. Commit to giving a certain amount each week and increase it until you actually become a full tither. 

For others, you’ve been tithing for years but to you it’s become nothing but a religious obligation. You give exactly 10% and not a penny more. To you I’d say, start to give out of love and honor instead, and you will keep money in the right perspective. Ultimately, when we put God first in our lives and finances, we always wind up blessed, because God is the infinite, inexhaustible source for all of our needs.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Sergey Nazarov

Frank SantoraFrank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit Photo by Michele Roman.