There is much confusion, especially among those of affluence in the church of western culture, with regard to Luke 18:24–30. Check this out:
24 Seeing his reaction, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God’s kingdom? 25 I’d say it’s easier to thread a camel through a needle’s eye than get a rich person into God’s kingdom.” 26 “Then who has any chance at all?” the others asked. 27 “No chance at all,” Jesus said, “if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” 28 Peter tried to regain some initiative: “We left everything we owned and followed you, didn’t we?” 29 “Yes,” said Jesus, “and you won’t regret it. No one who has sacrificed home, spouse, brothers and sisters, parents, children—whatever—30 will lose out. It will all come back multiplied many times over in your lifetime. And then the bonus of eternal life!”
The number one question I have been asked, even before we taught on this Luke 18 interchange between the rich community leader and Jesus, is – DOES THIS MEAN I HAVE TO BE POOR? It is interesting to me. I have asked the same question. I admit that, just for full disclosure. And then I wonder. Doesn’t it mean something that my mind and heart are going there after reading such a teaching from Jesus?
Here’s what I mean. If when I read that teaching from Luke 18, I then wonder about riches, isn’t that a hint to me that maybe I value my stuff and my comfort a bit more than I am willing to give it all up to follow Jesus? I am not suggesting we have to be poor. Let me come back to that in a moment.
Remember why the rich community leader came to Jesus in the 1st place? Jesus told a story before his interaction with this rich guy. It was about the self-righteous, arrogant religious leader’s prayer in contrast with the much-despised, but on-his-face-in-prayer tax collector. Jesus turned over their status quo by declaring that the tax man left the Temple “justified” after begging God for mercy and grace, as opposed to the religious leader who came in thinking he was justified already.
Then a strong statement from Jesus that again challenged the status quo. Kids were viewed as somewhat of a distraction to all the grown-up stuff that needed mature attention. Jesus declared, though:
16 Jesus called them back. “Let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are the kingdom’s pride and joy. 17 Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.”
Then the question from the rich official.
Maybe he had been listening when Jesus declared the tax man justified. Maybe he had been cringing when the babies were being coddled by the Rabbi, or when the toddlers were piling on top of Jesus, wrestling him to the ground. And his heart was pricked. Prompted. Convicted that maybe all of his “goodness” was not humble or simple enough.
So he asked his question, calling Jesus good, wanting to be counted among the good, too. See devo 1 from this week to read more on this thought. But here’s the deal – the rich community leader was counting himself as “good enough” because of what he had done. He was defining his worth by what he owned. The problem was, though, what he owned began to own him. He got too comfortable in his comforts and too secure in his riches. And Jesus knew it. Saw right through his insecure effort to feel justified and worth getting into the Kingdom of God, and called him on it.
Thus, verses 24–30.
Back to that earlier question. So, do I have to be poor? Similar, at least in interest and motive to the rich community leader’s question, isn’t it? Indicative of what may consume and concern us the most? I am afraid we have, afraid that I have, forgotten something.
So I ask, “Does this mean I have to be poor?” Aren’t I forgetting something? I AM POOR. I HAVE BEEN POOR. Poor in spirit. Desperate for God. In great, impoverished need of His grace and mercy. Intended to be in rich relationship with Him, not just have riches.
This is the real issue of this passage, at least based on the context. If we think we are justified by, made worth by, seen as righteous because of, declared good enough because of anything on our own, then we are forgetting our poverty. Ignoring our desperation.
The Scriptures describe our “best efforts” and self-righteousness as filthy rags compared to God. We are poor already. Eating of the trash piles of our man-made efforts at godliness and our self-centered achievements, when we MUST remember that God came near because of our impoverished state to offer a “rich relationship with God” (Luke 12:21, NLT).
I am not trying to water this down. If your stuff owns you, then that is a problem. If you are defining your worth by what you have in your bank account or the accolades on your resume, then that is a problem. If you are comfortable in your comforts and careless about a world that still has 4.5 billion people lost along with 26,000 kids dying daily due to hunger, sickness, and brutality, then that is a problem. Most of all, if you are holding onto anything more dearly than the love of Christ and walking in love with Him (which spills over into deep love and compassion and concern for others), then that is a problem.
The problem is that we want the stuff and the reward, but not the commitment and the sacrifice. The rich community leader wanted to share in eternal life, but did he really want to follow the maker of eternity and the giver of life? Do you want to share in the reward of eternal life or share life with the maker of eternity? Like David Crowder sings, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
The point isn’t to be poor. The point is to realize how poor we really are. Which causes us to take a real honest look at our own lives. Which causes us to confess our deep, deep, deep need for a loving God who came near to save us from our self-inflicted poverty. Which causes us to praise the giver of life and walk in whole-hearted love relationship with Him. Which causes us to see others not as beggars and interruptions, but as people just like me – poor, broken, in need. Which compels us to give of the love that we have been given.
The point also is that the stuff we own, if it owns us, and the way we define our worth, if it is anything other than the declaration of Christ (that we are worth dying for), then we will be distracted to forget our impoverished state and live self-absorbed lives forgetting to give love as it has been given to us.
I got this email from a friend last week. Read it over and over again if you need to. It wrecked me.
If I got rid of all my stuff or sold it and gave it away, would I say that my quality of life decreased? If I didn’t have cable, a Wii, Netflix, a new car, a pool, additional leisures, a larger house, fine dining out, etc., would my quality of life be any lower? If I lived in such a way so as to be able to befriend and walk alongside the poor and the broken, would my quality of life go down? If the answer is yes, and it was for me, then I am not defining “quality of life” like Jesus does. My quality of life is not coming from the right source – my Savior and King. We seem to value it when a missionary moves to Africa, Peru, Dominican, etc. Why don’t we value God’s Kingdom and His mission here in America, even West Orange, enough to give up everything to follow?
Another friend said this week:
I am wrestling with this. I am wondering, should I be getting into a $40K car when I can get from A to B just fine in a $15K car and give away the difference?
There is much to consider. This may require radical change in my life. Change that only comes from the inside out as I walk in love with Christ.
Jesus said, “As I have been sent, now I am sending you” (John 20:21). His “good news” that arrived amidst our poverty, called by many “the Gospel,” must be shared as we live sent lives. We are “missionaries” into the everyday to give love into the lives of everyone we encounter or become aware of. And anything that distracts us from this mission must be given up. And any idea that this Kingdom of God stuff is just to appease my insecurities or religious desires must be laid down.
The Gospel comes alive in my daily and in my relationships and in my neighborhood and in my world when I give up my interests – my stuff, my preferences, my styles, my greed, my consumerism, my self – and embrace the selfless love and all-out sacrifice of the cross for the sake of others’ interests.
And if anything is distracting us from that mission, we MUST give it up. Sell it. Surrender it. Live like our life is not our own.
- PRAY_Lord, please help me to remember that You do not define my value and worth by what I own or what I can do on my own. I cannot stand secure there. I am begging you, admitting my poverty, please Jesus redefine my understanding of value and worth. Help me to live secure and confident in the value that You are (and Jesus is enough) and in the value that You have declared over me (that I am worth dying for to You). I want to give up my interests for the sake of Your kingdom and for the sake of the interests of others. Help me to live on mission everyday, as You intended.
- ASSESS_take a look at your life. Assess and evaluate honestly whether there are possessions or comforts that you hold more dearly than Jesus or that you might struggle to give up if asked. Think through the ways you are giving your money, your mental energy, your time. Are they all surrendered to be used in this vital “mission” Jesus calls us to daily? Do you need to give up some wants for the sake of sharing with all who have need (like the church in Acts 2)?
- LIVE_with Jesus, not just on your own, loving like He loves everyone you meet. Live like His riches are accessible, not just limited to what you own, so that you can be generous with your life in whatever way He asks you to be. And live like your relationships with Him is the richest thing you got.
Love y’all. Wrestling with this right alongside you.