Greed is a Barrier to Faith

We are now up to the fourth command in this infant stage, or Win Level. So far we have…

  1. Come and see – John 1:39
  2. Repent and Believe – Mark 1:14-15
  3. Fear / Do not Fear – Luke 12:5-7

Now we come to GREED being a second barrier to faith in this introductory level, Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15).

BEWARE and BE ON YOUR GUARD – present imperatives that could be translated, “be ever on alert and be guarding yourself from every form of greed.”

  • Jesus is pointing out that greed seeks more material possessions which are not to be equated with “really living” (John 10:10, 1 Timothy 6:19).
  • Material possessions can become a substitute for the proper object of worship, which makes greed into idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
  • A person is measured by what he is, not by what he has.

Our passage of study today is Matthew 19:16-27. The point of this lesson is to encourage seekers to NOT place their trust in wealth. While wealth can be good to provide a measure of protection in life (Proverbs 10:15), riches have no value on the day of judgment (Proverbs 10:2, 11:4, 28, Ezekiel 7:19, SEC 177).

  • The wealthy often believe they are in God’s favor since they have been blessed financially, but they are actually spiritually bankrupt without Christ.
  • Wealth is NOT an indicator of God’s favor. This is a tough teaching for affluent America because many wealthy people put their trust in their investments.
  • Trusting in riches is basically covetousness, breaking the tenth commandment.

Jesus is on his way through Perea to Jerusalem and is stopped and asked a question (the story of the rich, young, ruler SEC 178). It is interesting to note the differences in these stories only to discover the rich, young, ruler does not exist!

  • Behold, ONE came to him (Matthew 19:16) – perhaps the rich one (Matthew 19:22) and the YOUNG one (Matthew 19:20).
  • A man RAN up to him and KNELT before him (Mark 10:17 – perhaps the young one, since elders did not run, nor kneel before a 30 year old preacher.
  • And a certain RULER questioned him (Luke 18:18) – certainly it is the ruler we find here.

The point is that this person is in contrast to the children Jesus has just blessed (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17). Even though this guy was young (maybe 20-40) he had already achieved financial success (Luke 18:23).

The command is found in the gospels (Matthew 19:21, GO and SELL, Mark 10:21, GO and SELL, Luke 18:22, SELL). It is also illustrated in the book of Acts (Acts 8:18-24) and emphasized in the epistles (Romans 1:29, 7:7-8, 13:9, 1 Corinthians 5:10-11, 6:10, Ephesians 5:3, 5, 2 Peter 2:3, 14, James 5:1-6).

1. How do you feel about this rich young ruler?

  • Sorry for him – he couldn’t help he was rich.
  • Disappointed in him – he walk away from God.
  • Upset – Jesus shouldn’t have been so hard on him.
  • Frustrated – do I have to give up all my stuff too?

2. What was this man’s position in society (Matthew 19:20-21, Luke 18:18, 23)? We learn about this guy as we connect the stories together, he was young (Matthew 19:22), owned property (Matthew 19:22), and was extremely rich (Luke 18:23). Since Luke tells us he was a ruler, he was likely a ruler in the synagogue, quite an honored position for a young man. We can assume that he was devout, honest, wealthy, prominent, and influential.

3. How does the man approach Jesus (Matthew 19:16, Mark 10:17)? His running indicates that he could not wait to hear the answer from this great teacher. He was not embarrassed by the fact of being a respected and well known person coming to seek Jesus. Rabbi, is a term of respect for a teacher of divine truth.

4. Why does Jesus object to the man addressing him as good (Mark 10:17-18, Luke 18:18-19)?
The man seemed to recognize Jesus had the stature and character that was higher than regular rabbis, but there is no indication that he considered Jesus to be divine or the promised Messiah.

  • Jesus may have been telling the man, “you better start thinking of me in terms of being God, or don’t call me good, because no man is good” (Romans 3:10-12).
  • Notice the difference between Matthew 19:17 (there is only One who is good) and Mark 10:18 or Luke 18:19 (no one is good except God alone).

5. What does this man’s question tell us about his theological beliefs (Matthew 19:16)? He has a works righteousness, “what good thing must I DO?”

  • This reveals his pharisaic tradition and legal system, where doing things for God was the way to securing God’s favor.
  • What is one work that Jesus said we can do? In John 6:28-29, he says, “This is the work of God that you believe him whom he has sent.”

6. What does Jesus say this man needs to do for eternal life (Matthew 19:17)?  Keep the Commandments? What kind of answer is THAT? That certainly doesn’t sound very evangelical, or Baptist. Look at it this way, Jesus wants this guy to recognize that he is a transgressor of the Law and in need of Jesus’ forgiveness. If the standard of the perfect Law was his measurement, he was in trouble as a law-breaker. For more information on this topic, consider Way of the Master evangelism.

  • The Apostle Paul had falsely put his confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3-9) and realized that he was a covetous man based upon the law, (Roman 7:7).
  • Paul needed a righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, (Philippines 3:9).
  • The New Testament teaches that by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for through the law comes the judgment of sin, (Romans 3:23).
  • Whoever keeps the whole and yet stumbles in one point has become guilty of all, (James 2:10).
  • In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he wrote, therefore the law has become a tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith, (Galatians 3:24).
  • The law was intended to expose our sin and need for Christ. Then the young man asks which one of the commandments?

7. Which of the Ten Commandments did Jesus quote, omit, and add (Matthew 19:19-19, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20)?

  • The Ten Commandments is broken up into two parts: the first four commandments are about our relationship with God and the last six are about how we relate to one another.
  • Jesus quotes five of the six commandments in the second part of the Decalogue.
  • Then he added the second greatest commandment about loving your neighbor as yourself. It appears that Jesus conspicuously omits “you shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17).
  • Notice that Mark 19:19 inserts, “do not defraud.” This command is NOT a part of the Ten Commandments but perhaps is inserted to stir the conscience of the rich young ruler. This young man might have defrauded someone in order to satisfy his covetous desires. It appears that this man refused to acknowledge is idolatry of material things.
  • The young man does not mention the absence of the tenth commandments but quickly offers his self assessment based upon the commands that Jesus quoted, “teacher I kept all these things up from my youth” (Matthew 19:20). Only Matthew includes his follow-up question, “what am I still lacking?” (Matthew 19:20).

8. How does Jesus feel about this young man (Mark 10:21)? Mark alone made reference here to the emotional reaction of Jesus, he felt love for him. It is probably better translated, “began to love him.” Jesus felt strongly drawn to this young man for what he already was, and Jesus wanted to lead him to a full discovery of his quest.

  • Love does not mean mere emotional affection but a high spiritual love of which desire is the greatest welfare of others.
  • Jesus was approaching the time when he would shed his own blood for the sins of the rich young ruler and for the whole world, but as much as he loves people and desired to save them, he could not save this man while he refused to admit that he was lost.

9. What did Jesus say this man was lacking (Matthew 19:20-21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22)? Jesus basically says, “if you wish to be completed (or perfect) you have to deal with your greed.” Jesus gave him three commands to deal with his greed. Jesus instructed man to go, sell, and give (Matthew 19:21).

  • Materialists believe if you give your wealth away you will lose it, while Jesus taught if you give everything away your wealth will then be in heaven.
  • If the rich young ruler were willing to obey these commands he would not earn his salvation but it would be evidence that he desired salvation about everything else.

10. What was the rich young ruler’s response to these commands (Matthew 19:22, Mark 10:22, Luke 18:23)?

  • He went away “grieving.” Mark added the words “he was saddened.” Luke adds, “he became very sad.” His conscience prevented him from making any objection to the demand.
  • The young man did not want Jesus either as his Savior or his Lord.
  • He was not willing to give Jesus his sins to be forgiven, or his life to be ruled.
  • Therefore when he heard Jesus statement, he went away grieving. He felt that Jesus had asked too much of him. He worshiped money more than God when put to the test.

11. Does Jesus require everyone to give away all of their monetary possessions in order to be saved (Luke 16:1-13)? Not unless the money has a grip on the person. Different people are under the power of different sins. One sin is enough to keep someone away from Christ.

  • Jesus taught all of his followers that they were to give up all they have (Luke 14:33).
  • In this verse, Jesus requires everyone who would be one of his disciples to GIVE UP the rights to his possessions, but he doesn’t require that he GIVE AWAY all of his possessions.
  • A disciple of Christ must see himself as a steward rather than an owner of his possessions. You must hold these possessions loosely and be prepared to give as God leads.
  • In Luke 16:1-13, Jesus stresses that one facet of discipleship involves the stewardship of one’s positions. This passage and others would be meaningless if Jesus required every potential follower to give away everything he does as a test.
    1. The Philanthropy is not a means of salvation.
    2. If giving our possessions away saved us then those to whom we gave our possessions would become lost, since they would no longer be poor. People are saved when they repent from sins and receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.
    3. For this rich young ruler his sin was greed, or covetousness. The fruit genuine repentance was to give away all of his possessions. Jesus gave this young man a test; he had to make a choice between Christ and his possessions. He failed the test. His money meant more than his eternal destiny.
  • Salvation is for those who are willing to forsake everything.

12. Why is it so hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:24). Notice the way the NKJV translates this: “…how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:24 NKJV). The Bible already has addressed this issue:

  • The rich man’s wealth is his fortress (Proverbs 10:15).
  • A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, like a high wall in his own imagination (Proverbs 18:11).
  • Riches do not profit in the day of wrath (Proverbs 11:4).
  • He who trusts in riches will fall (Proverbs 11:28).
  • Riches are not forever (Proverbs 27:24).

13. How hard is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:24)? Jesus says it is difficult yet it is not impossible. It is interesting that there is a Jewish proverb that is taken from the Babylonian Talmud, that a man not even in his dreams see an elephant pass through the eye of a needle. Camel is substituted for elephant since in Babylon, the elephant was common, but in Palestine it was unknown.

What about the story of the Needle Gate? Vines Expository Dictionary (p.429) says the idea of applying “eye of a needle” to a small gate into the city, appears to be a modern one. The word used in Matthew 19:24 and Mark 10:25 comes from the root verb, “to sew.” Luke 18:25 uses a word meaning “dart” like a pointed object, perhaps like a surgical needle (after all, Luke was the doctor). There is no need to soften the Lord’s words by making it to mean anything more than the ordinary instrument for sewing. There is no justification to change this from the language or traditions of Palestine.

The point is that eternal life is not just difficult for a rich man, but it is impossible without God.

14. How did the disciples respond to Jesus’ words (Matthew 19:25)? The disciples’ use of the word “saved” is the same as entering the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24) or obtaining eternal life (Matthew 19:16). They were astonished at his words.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

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