My Least Favorite Bible Story

“Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” —Jesus

Those words seem radical. They don’t make sense. I’d even bet that there’s a temptation for you not to read any further because of how uncomfortable it is to consider their proposition.

Would you be willing to sell everything to follow Jesus?

The Rich Young Man

Of all of the words Jesus spoke, the story of the rich young man, also called the story of the rich young ruler, are probably my least favorite. They make me squirm. They speak to the heart of a struggle in my life (in mainstream American Christianity) and have caused me to wrestle with some deep questions of faith, and the true cost of following Jesus.

As the story goes…

A man falls on his knees before Jesus and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

After telling him to obey the law, Jesus looks upon him, loves him, and responds, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The man, unable to part with his wealth, goes away saddened. Jesus immediately turns to His followers, uses the analogy of a camel and a needle, and says how difficult it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God.

When I read this passage, it makes me feel like a selfish, pretentious, faithless failure for not selling everything. It makes me feel guilty for making money. It makes me question how any professing Christian could be wealthy.

I look at myself, at our culture, and I see the rich young ruler—missing out on eternity because we can’t let go of the temporary.

To counterbalance that feeling, I give to someone in need. But Jesus didn’t say give some, He said, “Give everything.”

In the end, I prefer to stick to pleasant passages about forgiveness, or God loving me in spite of my imperfections.

I don’t like the ones about sacrifice.

Let the Children Come to Me

But this morning, I read the whole passage and seemed to gain a different perspective.

Just a few lines before we are introduced to the rich young man, Jesus is teaching a crowd and is interrupted by a group of playful children. The disciples rebuke these children and Jesus quickly rebukes His disciples. He welcomes the children and says, “Anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Then, He blesses them.

If you look at this passage in sequence, in context, in order, it paints an amazing picture.

In both stories, we have children, coming before Jesus. The little children are careless and carefree. The young man asks what else He must do. In one story, Jesus blesses the children and in the other, the child leaves saddened.

For the longest time, I failed to see the precursor of the little children and simply focused on the rich young man which tempted me to take on a “give it all away” mentality.

But today, I look to the children. Children rely on their Father’s provision.

As young people and adults, we start relying on our own strength to provide. Our wealth, our status, our ambition, our obedience, and even the self-glorification in giving it all away have the potential to become a faux savior.

Instead of clinging to my wealth or giving it all away, I’m reminded to return to that childlike place. To loosen my grip and hold open my hand for the blessing of the Father.

Too often in my life, I’ve believed that spiritual development, had more to do with my obedience and my abilities. Like the young man, I was looking for a list of things to do. And when I couldn’t do those things, or failed to do them, I ran away feeling like a failure.

Now, I’m learning to cultivate the heart of a little child.

In that place, my Father is everything.


A New Connection

In the last few months, I have had the incredible privilege to connect with Kevin Adams. Kevin is the author of The Extravagant Fool: A Faith Journey That Begins Where Common Sense Ends. It’s an amazing story of God’s faithfulness to provide when all else is surrendered. Much of what I’ve learned from Kevin has emerged in my recent writing and I would be remiss not to encourage you to connect with him on Twitter and to pick up a copy of his book.

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4 Responses to My Least Favorite Bible Story

  1. Jon Stallings November 10, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

    Hey Matt, great thoughts on a tough scripture. (Forgive me for the long comment)

    I think there might be more to it than just it is “all done.” Yes our redemption is complete in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are saved by grace. We can’t earn or work for our salvation. Our salvation is our new birth and beginning. Hopefully what comes next is a journey where we give all of our selves to live for Christ. A child puts their full trust in their parents. They see them as the source for
    everything. The disciples left everything they had to follow Jesus. Paul did the same thing and suffered many trials along the way. Then Christ calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. Paul calls us to live as living sacrifices. No money is not the issue; the issue is what are those things we desire to hold onto?
    What do we value more than Christ?

    I am not sure if you read from Matthew or from Mark. In Mark after the meeting with the rich young ruler, Jesus tells his disciples for the third time that he will die. He also talks about many will come later who will even leave their families to live for
    Christ (A whole other topic for discussion). Later on Jesus tells James and John that they will drink from the same cup.

    I also admit I am probably not very different from that young man but I am thankful the grace and mercy of Christ are new every single day. And thankfully we are not on this journey to become Christ like alone. We have the Holy Spirit to guide and give us the strength along the way.

    • Matt Ham November 10, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

      Jon, I really appreciate you adding value here. I’ve wrestled with this verse for the longest time, but never really saw the correlation between the children just before and the heart of the Prodigal in returning to his father. That is the heart I think Jesus was trying to cultivate in the young man, but that man couldn’t forsake the identity he found in his wealth.

      I appreciate you, brother.

      • Jon Stallings November 10, 2015 at 3:55 pm #

        I appreciate you also Matt. Please note that my comments are a description of God’s current working in my own life.

        • Matt Ham November 10, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

          Jon, I spent some time this afternoon going back through my thoughts and clarifying a few points. Thanks for the conversation!