Pay the Price
American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
How does the world define the "good life?" What does the world see as success? Where do we see these worldly virtues propagated? We live in a world whos values are not Gods values. In fact, the Western culture has come to the point where Godly or honorable values are considered old-fashioned and passe. Rather than have a civilization that voluntarily lives within the bounds of some ethical values, the secular humanist theology that pervades todays western culture teaches a gospel of boundless thought. To teach values is to limit ones creativity. The most popular theological emphasis today is the same one that was popular with the ancient Greek pagan stoics: "Stoic" comes from the Greek "painted porch," the lectern in Athens from which Zeno (a Semitic from Cyprus) taught his philosophy. That which is in the world is material is good, because all things material in the universe are part of God. When Christians remove the diety of material things from stoic theology, we still retain its intrinsic value. We see value in the collection of material things, and materialism enters the church body.
Just last week, a major television network news program spent an hour describing why greed is good. It looked at how the collection of material possessions is good for the economy, enhancing the lives of both the rich and the poor. How is a philosophy of greed and materialism contrary to basic Biblical theology?
We humans find it very difficult to live in an ungodly world and maintain Godly righteousness. It is far too easy for us to turn our focus away from God, and give authority to material possessions. What are some ways that a focus on material things inhibits our obedience to God? (We take time and resources away from our families, the church, and ministry that God could otherwise involve us in and too easily place them under the authority of material and material gain rather than the Holy Spirit.) Some simple examples:
We use materialism as a rationalization to fail to tithe to the church. We say, "we cannot afford it." The book of Malachi describes the failure to tithe as literally robbing God. Yet we are so obedient to our material possessions that most Christians get angry when we even talk about the subject. (Are we under conviction or what?)
This scripture exposes some of the things that we keep that may compromise our commitment to God. Though materialism is not the only example of those things, it is the one that has the greatest effect on most Christians. We see this as the stumbling block to faith many times in scripture.
Mark 10:17. And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
We call the man in this passage, "the rich young ruler" because he was wealthy (Mark 10:22), young (Matt. 19:20), and a prominent ruler (Luke 18:18.) In addition to this, what does this one verse tell us about him? (1) He fell on his knees. This is an expression of profound respect, particularly significant because of the mans apparent position in society. As Christians, we usually demonstrate a similar respect for God. (2) He desired to be obedient to God in a way that would insure his eternal life. Again, as Christians, we often share this same desire. (3) The man misunderstood the nature of the gospel trying to determine what it is that he can do to assure his salvation. Christians often demonstrate a similar misunderstanding when they try to do things to obtain righteousness. So, though we are looking at the experience of a lost person, we can identify quite well with him.
Mark 10:18-20. And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. 19Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. 20And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
What else about this man do we learn from his response to Jesus here? (4) He was a man who sought righteousness. (5) He believed that he had been obedient all his life. (6) He lived out a works-based theology. For him, righteousness was defined as "being a good person," and he probably was. He may not have been as good as he thought he was, but it appears from the context of all of these gospels that he was an honest, hard-working person who had accumulated both respect and wealth.
Mark 10:21 - 22. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
Jesus knew the heart of this man. The man had demonstrated by his question that he knew that there was still something lacking in his life, even though he was outwardly righteous under the law. What was lacking? We see by his sad response that his material possessions had more authority over him than God. It might be easy for us to be critical, but consider the following question: Are you, as one who loves God, willing to go home today, have a garage sale and sell all that you own, use all of the money to buy food for the Baptist Sharing House, and follow a call from God into full-time missions, perhaps finding ministry in very uncomfortable or even dangerous surroundings?
Why are you not willing to do this? (List reasons on the board.) For this man, it was the security of his possessions that he could not sacrifice. Do these verses mean that God wants all of us to sell all that we have and give it to the poor? (No, though materialism probably has a strong hold on many of us, there are other things that have come between us and obedience point out the list just made.)
The other gospels note two other occasions where potential disciples apparently rejected Jesus call to follow him because of the priority they placed in their worldly state:
Matt. 8:19-20. And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. 20And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
What stood in the way of this persons obedience? Though the scripture does not record a testimony from the teacher of the law, we see the testimony in Jesus response. At first the response may seem unrelated, but we know that this cannot be so. Jesus could see that this persons security was in his home, and should he follow Jesus, he would have none. Does this mean we are to leave our homes and wander the streets? No however this was a problem for this particular individual.
Matt 8:21-22. And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 22But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
What stood in the way of this persons obedience? The phrase "bury my father" was an idiom of the time that referred to waiting to receive ones inheritance. His father was, most likely, not dead yet. Regardless of whether he was or not, the focus of this mans attention was on the security of his inheritance. He was not willing to forgo the receipt of his inheritance and follow Jesus. Does this mean that we are to reject an inheritance? No.. that was a particular need of this individual.
Luke 9: 61-62. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. 62And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
What stood in the way of this persons obedience? How does one plow a straight line? (look straight ahead.) What happens if you turn around and look back? (You tend to turn into the direction you turned to look back.) This man could not follow Jesus without looking back, still desiring the life with his family.
Mark 10:23-25. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
In their culture, they would have thought that the righteous under the law, and the wealthy had their ticket to heaven. They misused Deuteronomy 8:18, which states that the blessings we receive come from God. They practiced it backwards stating that blessings were an indication of Gods approval of their righteousness. Yes, God can and will bless us when we are obedient, but this does not mean that a hoard of riches is any indication of righteousness. In what other ways does God bless our obedience? (He gives us peace, confidence, strength, hope, direction, love, etc., all of which cannot be bought for any sum. Wealth is the lowest blessing on the list!) We see the evidence of this misapplication when we note that the people who are the most wealthy are also the most ungodly.
Why is it so hard for someone who has material possessions to see a need for God? (Take time to solicit answers.)
Mark 10:26-27. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? 27And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.
Again, their culture equated riches with Gods favor, and this teaching was contrary to anything they understood. Their astonishment is indicated by this exclamation: If those who are the most blessed by God cannot make it to heaven, it is impossible for all of the rest of us. However, we now understand that our wealth and our obedience to God are not necessarily related. Actually, salvation always requires a miracle of God. With man, salvation is certainly impossible. None of us can work out our own salvation, but only through Gods generous grace can any of us survive the condemnation that is coming to those who do not follow Jesus.
Jesus does call upon us to place our trust in Him first. Any other response to Jesus is a breaking of a fundamental principle illuminated in the commandment, "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me." However, Jesus promises not to leave us hanging, read on.
Mark 10:28. Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
Like peter, we might proudly say, "we have left everything to follow you!" How many of you can say that? We have left more than you might think. When we accepted Christ, we left behind a way of living that would have led us in an entirely different direction. We might have found ourselves seeking only riches, like the rich young ruler. God promises to restore to us anything that we have given to him a hundred times over. For example, if my house burned to the ground this very day, how many people in the church would open their homes to us and take us in tonight? (probably over 100) Ann and I left our families to come to North Carolina, and we earnestly sought Gods will in that decision. I have one sister who lives in California. We are separated, however, how many sisters do I now have? (probably over 100.) God gives us more mothers, more children, and more fields. To them a field was security. What can give us a hundredfold more security than that field? The security that God will take care of us is infinitely firmer than a field that is subject to drought and plague.
What will we also receive, indicated in verse 30? Persecutions. We sometimes avoid persecution by compromising our call to testify to our faith. However, we can expect persecution, as Jesus was telling them they would experience persecution themselves. What blessing can come from persecution? (When I bear a stripe for the cause of the Gospel, I am bearing it for Christ, as if I were standing for Christ, as I am standing for Christ.) We will find that, though we do not meet the approval of men, we find the approval of God.
And in the age to come what will we receive? (Eternal life.)
There are things in our lives that compromise our faithfulness to God. Just as the scripture examples we have seen, for each of us those stumbling-blocks to faithfulness vary from individual to individual, but they are all related. They relate to the real source of our security. Is your security in your checkbook, in your stock portfolio, in your retirement program, in your house, in your family, in God?
Earlier we asked a question as to whether you would give away all you have and follow Jesus. God does not want your money; he wants your heart, and until you are willing to give up all these things, you have still held on to part of your heart. You have still held on to a part of you that belongs to God, and you are robbing him of that which is His. Turn over to God all that you have that might come between you and watch how God can use it to bless you a hundred times over. In God you will find the peace and security you are needing and are searching for.
Mark 10:29-31. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospelís, 30But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 31But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.
God values us above anything in His creation. However, He also expects obedience, and the essence of that obedience involves our faithfulness, a faithfulness that we exhibit by choice. Just as there is a price to pay for obedient discipleship, we are reminded that there is a far worse price to pay for rejecting the Lordship of Christ in our lives. Just as we deny Christ in this life, Christ, as the final judge, will expose that denial and we will find ourselves separated from God for eternity. God's creation of man was no trivial matter, and its impact is the most important aspect of our lives. God created us to have fellowship with Him, not to reject Him. By seeking that fellowship we will find ourselves at conflict with this world that rejects God. We are reminded to be faithful in our witness so that we would not deny Christ when called upon by this wicked world to give a testimony.
Consider starting each day with a simple prayer, "Lord, grant me this day opportunities to serve you faithfully, the sensitivity to Your Spirit to see those opportunities, and the courage and wisdom to be obedient to Your purpose in them."