When reading Scripture, it’s so important to understand context. We need to not only answer the question “What does the text say?” but also the questions “How does the text say it?” and “Why does the text say it that way?” Too often there are massive overreaches in the application of Scripture, so applying Biblical teaching — even New Testament text — should be approached carefully.
With that said, there are so many valuable teachings and principles that help us understand the character of God and his will for us. The following is a narrative text — so one must be careful with application — but these words of Jesus seem to speak incredible truth into our Western culture:
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.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Here we have a wealthy man who desires to follow Jesus. This man knows the Law and seeks to adhere to it. In his response, it appears he goes above and beyond where many of us will go today, to truly “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Yet Jesus doesn’t challenge the young man’s assessment of himself, which, by other teachings of Jesus, may itself be questionable. Jesus chooses to challenge the man’s affections. Who — or what — does he love the most?
This man is brave enough to ask the question, “What do I still lack?” However, true courage lies within how we respond to the answer. The rich man walks away sad, for he loves his riches — and himself — more than he loves Jesus.
I believe that many in the church today have some level of desire for Jesus. I’m not sure if many are open to honestly asking “What do I still lack?” As you think and reflect, is there a dangerous question that you need to ask Jesus? Are you willing to be open to responding with courage, even if it means:
— Giving up your wealth, time, or freedoms — especially what you believe you have a “right” to?
— Admitting you’re wrong and giving up your pride, especially in our culture where pride is praised and humility is seen as weakness?
— Acknowledging your own selfishness, that you have a greater affection for your own comfort and reputation than you do for Jesus?
As in the story of the rich man and Jesus, there is something really important in the question being asked. However, that response is exceedingly important. The words of Jesus — “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” — should be sobering to those of us with riches, opportunities, or privilege.
Will you ask the hard questions? More importantly, how will you respond?