Bobby Braswell, Associational Missions Strategist
Middle Baptist Association, Sylvania
“We have a tendency to see wealth and prosperity as a sign of God’s favor. This notion was expressed by some as early as the Book of Job, and we see it still today in preachers and televangelists who say God wants us to be financially rich. We hear a different message from Jesus Himself. Life is not about financial abundance and prosperity. Blessing from God is tied to a heart of obedience, not a financial portfolio” (Leader Guide).
Toward the end of his life, comedian W.C. Fields was happened upon by his friend newspaperman Gene Fowler as Fields was in possession of a Bible (and a martini). “’Uncle Claude,’ he demanded, ‘what are you doing?’ And the answer came, ‘Looking for loopholes’” (Don Freeman in “The Daily Journal,” 1976).
When we read difficult passages in Scripture, sometimes our internal default setting may be a little like Fields’: rather than wrestling with the challenging personal application, we may find ourselves “looking for loopholes.”
Study the Bible
Matt. 19:16-20, Outward obedience is not enough. The wrong assumption made by the rich young ruler here is that eternal life is acquired by good works that a person can perform. I love the music of Andrew Peterson. On his “Resurrection Letters” album there is a song called “Remember Me” that has such a smart take on Psalm 24:3-4: “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord?//The one who utters no untrue word//Whose hands are clean, whose heart is pure//Who can ascend that hill?”
He ties the second verse to Ps. 14:1-3 and Rom. 3:10-18, “There is none righteous, no not one//We are prodigal daughters and wayward sons//We don’t know the half of the hurt we’ve done//The countless we have killed.”
The rich young ruler was a moralist. He mistakenly thought that his moral performance could give him salvation. But there is only one good Person who can ascend the Hill.
Matt. 19:21-22, External obedience grows out of our internal obedience to Christ. Dean Inserra has written a book called, “The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel.” This may be the most relevant Christian book of the year. Inserra correctly asserts that there is a huge and difficult mission field among professing, yet unregenerate Christians. When Christ causes regeneration in a person’s life, they will begin to give consistent, tangible behavioral evidence of having been transformed (Titus 3:5, 2 Cor. 5:17). But it is the internal work of God’s Spirit which produces Christ-like character.
“Jesus’ command in this passage is not prescriptive for all people. Jesus did not tell others literally to sell everything. He was addressing a heart issue in this particular man’s life” (Leader guide). Nevertheless, elsewhere in Scripture Jesus did warn someone to take heed and beware of covetousness because a person’s life does not consist in the abundance of things one possesses” (Luke 12:15). See also Luke 12:20-26 and 1 Tim. 6:6-10 for severe warnings against the snare of wealth a focus for a person’s life.
Matthew 19:23-26, A relationship with God matters, not possessions. Only a relationship with Christ can put wealth in its proper perspective. One of the ways that we know that God’s Spirit is making a transforming difference is that He will alter our hearts in causing us to more generous. He will make us more like Himself — a giver (John 3:16, 1 John 3:17-19).
Live It Out
The following are some discussion questions for Matthew 19:16-26:
- What is the fundamental misunderstanding expressed by the rich young ruler in verse 16? Is it a common misperception?
- Do you think Jesus “swerved” this man with His line of questioning? Why is this a good teaching technique?
- What can a person do to mitigate the pull of materialism?
- How has a Western view of prosperity affected our view of happiness and spirituality?
- Explain why the disciples were “astonished” by what Jesus said about rich people going to heaven. Why would this be a difficult question for them, and why is that still a relevant problem?
Lessons derived from “Bible Studies for Life,” of LifeWay Christian Resources.