Over the course of several posts we’ve been looking at the story of the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus. We looked at the original context, the two errors that we make about Christianity and money and the idea of starting with judging our own generosity before judging others. Today I want to look at what it means to walk the line with wealth and the Kingdom and avoiding the fate of the rich young man.
The first thing I want to note is that the this man had it all. He had prosperity by any standard. He was not only in the top 1%. In his day he was more likely in the top .01%. Not only that but by all accounts he was a morally upstanding guy. He kept the ten commandments at least generally. Heck he probably tithed his 10% to the temple.
And yet, something was missing and he knew it. Otherwise why would he have come to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I’ve seen a lot of conversions (or arguments might be a better word) about the inclusivity of Christianity. Some say that Jesus was all inclusive. Others say that it is a narrow road and that the Kingdom is actually very exclusive. I want to offers some thoughts on this.
First I think that our current culture inclusivity it a sort of virtue. It seems that many want everyone to be included in everything. There is a lot good about this idea. Far too often people have been left out, or even kept out, of opportunities and experiences that they should not have been. That’s a fair critique of parts of our society. So everyone wants everyone to be included. I think that’s a good desire.
The flip side of this is that not everyone is the same. People don’t all have the same skills, talents and even desires. And, no matter how we might try to rig society we will never have equal outcomes for all. It’s literally impossible and extremely unreasonable. And frankly a dangerous plan.
But the real question as a Christian is what does Jesus teach and what does He say about the Kingdom in this regard? Here are my thoughts.
In two previous posts we’ve been considering the story of the Rich Young Man’s encounter with Jesus. We discussed the story itself and then in the last post we looked at two major errors Christians make in thinking about money. Today I want to start with the idea that we need to start with ourselves before we judge others.
One of the problems in our society is that we like to create groups of people and then judge the groups that we don’t see ourselves in. This is true in many aspects of our lives but I think money is a great example and it’s the theme of this thought we are in right now.
You hear all the time about wealth or income inequality, the 1%, the 10% and so on. We talk about people that have an income over a certain amount. Mostly we like to judge whatever group has more than us.
Today I want to continue to think about how we view history as a Christian. Last time I wrote about the idea that we are called to love the dead. In other words when we study people of the past we are called to study them with love in our hearts towards them. Each and every person who has ever lived was created in the image of God. When Jesus says to love our neighbor that includes everyone. It includes our enemy. It includes every person in history. Basically the idea is that the dead are our neighbors and we should treat them as such.
That alone is a major game changer. It means that I don’t get to sit in some sort of superior, self righteous place as I judge the people of the past. It means we should not act as if we are better, smarter or somehow more morally superior to those in the past. Because quite clearly we are not. Any fair reading of history along with any fair assessment of our own culture will tell you this. And that goes for all cultures.
This leads me to my second thought on how we should view history from a Christian worldview. This is also going to be uncomfortable by the way. Here it is. We should read history as if we are the perpetrators.
Today I want to continue some thoughts about the story of the rich young man who encounters Jesus. Last time we laid out the story and saw that perhaps the most important point is that without God, no one can enter the Kingdom. Today I want to share some thoughts about money/materialism and how it relates to the Kingdom.
It seems to me that we are really, really confused on this topic in the Western Church.
Today I want to begin to talk about one of the most used passages in scripture. It tells of the encounter between a wealthy, moral young man and Jesus.
The story is told in Matthew 19, Mark 10 and Luke 18. They all tell the same story. A man comes up to Jesus and says to Jesus, “Good teacher. What things must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking why he calls him good? He says God is good, and if you want to be good, follow the commandments.
The man answers that he has kept all of the commandments since his youth. He does not lie, murder, commit adultery etc. It then says that Jesus looked at him and loved him. He said this, “One thing you lack. Go and sell all your possessions, give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come and follow me.” The man then went away sad because he had great wealth.
A few weeks ago I wrote a 5 part study on the parable of the Samaritan. Following that in a related post we looked at the idea of what it might mean to love our enemies. In a way this all points toward the idea of loving our neighbor.
Jesus uses the parable of the Samaritan in response to a Jewish lawyer who had asked what the greatest commandment was. Jesus answered that the greatest commandment was to love God with all of our heart, strength and mind. The second follows; that is to love our neighbor. The lawyer then asks who is our neighbor. Jesus uses the parable to make the point that every person, yes even our enemy, is our neighbor.
I’ve had Romans 12:2 on my mind and heart a lot the last few weeks. In the first eleven chapters Paul is basically laying out theological truth after truth for the Roman Christians. He begins chapter with a transition of sorts. He is about to share how to live this out and what it might look like. But he starts with this in 12:1-2:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
It’s the second part that has had my attention lately. The idea of not being conformed to this world. Not being conformed to this age. In other words not being transformed away from Jesus but towards him. Not following the fads, directions, lifestyles, or flow of the culture. Really, we shouldn’t be following anyone but Jesus. And we should be leading. We can test what is happening around us and lead with what is good. We should be leading others towards Jesus, at least whoever might follow.
In Matthew 20 Jesus tells another parable. It is the story of the landowner and the workers that he hires at different times during the day. In the parable the landowner goes and hires men first thing in the morning and tells them he will pay them the daily wage. They agree and get to work. Then at 9 AM, 3 PM and 5 PM he goes out and finds others promising them a just wage for their work if they start right away. They all go. At the end of the day he pays them all. He starts with those hired at 5 and pays them a full day’s wage. Then he does the same with those he hired at 3 and at 9. Finally when it comes to those he hired first, they think that he will pay them more. But he doesn’t. They complain about the “injustice” because they got paid the same as those who started only a short while ago. The landowner says that it is not unfair. He paid them what they agreed to. He says who are they to challenge what he does with his own money and asks if they are envious of his generosity.
Now people can read this a lot of ways. It’s actually a really tough parable. I think first when we read scripture it’s important to think about what it meant to that group of people at that time. Jesus was in the middle of many confrontations with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The heat is getting turned up as we are approaching the time when they would look to kill Jesus. One of the things that they are most mad about is that all sorts of “sinners” seem to be allowed into this kingdom that Jesus keeps talking about and they seem to be on the outside and they don’t like it. After all, they’ve followed all the rules. They’ve been in this since the beginning. They should be first, not last.
Today I want to look at what we might call Christian leadership. Really at the end of the day that should be our goal as believers if we want to lead. This is not as simple as “lead like Jesus” although obviously we want to look at Jesus who was without a doubt the greatest, most effective leader of all time. And He still is.
So what does it mean to be a Christian leader? How do we do it?