I have always been drawn to the story of the rich young ruler found in three of the four gospels (Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23). I love the black and white of it (or so it would seem). I love the way it lays down the gauntlet and demands everything from us in exchange for Jesus.
So much has been written about this story already. Yet still I keep coming back to it. What does it mean to you and me and the lives we lead on a daily basis? How does it apply to those who profess to follow Christ 2,000 years after He walked on this very earth?
One of the things we can take away from the story is that we should all sell everything we have and give the proceeds to those in need. This seems to square with the way the early church conducted their affairs (Acts 2:44-47). It is consistent with other teachings of Jesus, such as giving the shirt off your back (Matthew 5:40) and not having any place to live (Matthew 8:20). Given that, I believe we have to take the command seriously. We should always be overly generous, sharing with those in need. We should never hoard the resources God has entrusted to us.
I have heard many teachers say that the story does not apply to everyone. They point to people like Lydia who apparently was quite wealthy (Acts 16:14-15), as well as Joseph of Arimathaea (Matthew 27:57). Certainly the Bible never gives any record of them selling everything they had. But it does show that they were both extremely generous. I believe wealthy people play a significant role in the Kingdom of God (from a global perspective, you are extremely wealthy, in the top 5%, if you make more than $18,000 US dollars/year). They help care and provide for the other population of people of great significance in the Kingdom – the “not so wealthy”.
But if we casually say that the story does not apply to everyone, then we are letting ourselves off the hook far too easily. I believe the story applies to the vast majority of us. I believe it applies to anyone who is reluctant to sell everything they have and donate the proceeds to the poor. Do you fit into that category? I know I do. That’s a hard teaching. Following Jesus is difficult. War is grim and demanding. Never forget we are at war with the forces of evil… every second of every minute of every hour of every day.
If we are disinclined to sell everything we have, then we are holding too tightly to our possessions. We have a death grip on that which we cannot keep, which means we are holding far too loosely to the One who has the gift of eternal life. If we aren’t willing to sell it all, then we aren’t worthy to follow Jesus. If your stuff is still more important to you than Jesus, you aren’t ready to follow Him. What’s important here is your attitude towards your “stuff”. We have to value Jesus more than anything else, and consider everything worthless except for Him (Philippians 3:7-9). The story of the Rich Young Ruler applies to all of us as long as anything we have is more valuable to us than Christ.