The young man ran up to Christ and fell at his feet, the crowd around him pulling back at the sight. His heart was pounding and he was out of breath as he looked up into the face of Jesus. The men gathered around looked at the man with shock, for he was a ruler. To see him humble himself in this act of desperation was unthinkable. But his heart was heavy, and he cared not what anyone else thought. He had one question that must be answered, and he believed with all of his mind that this Rabbi could answer it for him.
“Teacher,” he cried, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
Jesus looked at him and felt compassion for him. “Why do you ask me about what is good?” he replied, kindness falling from his lips. “There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the young man replied, desperate for the truth.
Jesus answered, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
As Christ spoke, the young man listened intently and in that moment evaluated his own life. A sense of relief began to sweep over him as he knelt there before the Lord and for a moment his anxiety ceased. “All these I have kept,” he said to him. “What do I still lack?”
Christ looked at him and spoke gently to him. “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
The words slammed upon his spirit, and he reeled under the weight of them, for he had great wealth. Stunned, he slowly rose to his feet, his gaze falling away from the master. Silence hung thickly in the air. The gathered crowd nervously shuffled their feet, glancing away, for the truth had struck them as well. The young man’s heart beat anxiously in his chest, the ramifications of this request growing with each passing moment.
Finally he turned and walked away, the crowd nervously parting as he passed. As he did, a torrent of sorrow swept over him. He had gotten the answer to his question, but it was more costly than he could possibly imagine.
(Adapted from Matthew 19:16-22, ESV).
This story, repeated in three of the four gospels, is a jarring reminder that God is interested in where our hearts are in relationship with him. God wants me to love him, but he is not content for me to share my love with anything else. The first and greatest command is that I love the Lord with all of my heart, all of my soul, and all of my mind. According to Christ, this command is more important than all the others. In fact, Christ said that loving God with utter abandon and loving others as myself were so important that all the rest of the law depended on those two commands. That is a pretty amazing statement.
What is so interesting about this dialog between Christ and the rich young ruler is the point where Christ lists the commands. He leaves off the one command that he says is the most important command of all, to love the Lord my God with all my heart. Instead, Christ asks the man to do something, knowing that the man’s response would reveal whether or not he was obedient to the unspoken command. God is testing him to reveal the true condition of his heart.
Did you know that God tests our hearts? Even Moses speaks of it as he is explaining the law to the Israelites. This is what he said:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 12:1-3, ESV, emphasis added).
Isn’t that interesting? Moses warns the people to be very careful. According to the law, the way they would know if a prophet were legitimate was whether his prophesies came to pass. In this situation, Moses said that when it comes to following a legitimate prophet, be careful because the Lord may be testing them to see if they actually love him with all their hearts. God was concerned about where their hearts were in relationship with him, and he might test them along the way to reveal the answer. “Do you love me with all your heart?” This is the question God asked the Israelites thousands of years ago. It is the question he asked the rich young ruler, and it is the question he asks us today.
My concern is that we appear to be failing the test.
I want to be very, very clear. I do not believe this passage is teaching that you need to stop reading this article, get up, go sell everything you have, and give it all to the poor. I am not teaching a poverty gospel. What I am asking is this: if God were to ask you to sell everything you have, to cash out your retirement account and to give it all away to the poor, would it matter to you? If God were to ask you to sell your home, your boat, your bike, or your car and to give the money away, would it matter to you? I believe the answer to that question will reveal whether you are loving God with all your heart or not.
Again, may I remind you, the command it not to love God. The command is to love him with all your heart, emphasis on the word “all.” I’m confident if I were to ask the congregation of the average church in North America if they love God I would get a resounding “yes.” But if I were to ask those same people whether they would be willing to put it all on the line for the cause of Christ if asked to do so, I think the numbers would drop dramatically.
I personally believe this is the great sin of the church in North America. We do not love God with all of our hearts. We love him, but we also love our comfort. We love our security. We love our houses. We love our cars. We love our credit cards. We love our retirement plans. We love a lot of stuff.
Over the past two years, I believe God has been testing me again and again with one simple question: Do you love me with all of your heart? Do you love me more than your retirement account? Okay, then give it away. Do you love me more than your house? Do you love me more than your car? Do you love me more than your bank account? Do you love me more than your dreams and plans? Do you love me more than a regular salary? Over and over he has said to me, “Okay, then give it away, give it up, give it to me.” To the best of my knowledge, I’ve followed him in each and every test. It has been difficult; it has not been easy. But looking back, the past two years have been some of the best times of my life because God has freed me from a divided heart. I write this knowing that God may test me more, that he may bring even more difficulties into my life, if he so pleases, to test me again. I’m okay with that. He has carried me through each and every trial. I have climbed up into his lap over and over saying “God, please just hold me,” and he has done that. His faithfulness to me is staggering. He gives me his presence to comfort and encourage me as I walk along the path he has called me to follow. At each test along the way, I have learned to love him a little bit more. If the result of my obedience to God in this way means that I eventually end up living in a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere, I am okay with that, because the presence of God Almighty would be with me in that box and that is all that matters to me.
Again, I want to be very clear, I am not teaching a poverty gospel. I am not teaching that we need to sell everything we have in order to be a follower of Christ. I’m simply asking if it would bother you if God asked you to do that, because I believe the answer to that question reveals where our hearts really are.
I firmly believe that God does not care how much money you have in the bank, whether it be pennies or millions. Even in Christ’s teaching during the sermon on the mount, when he said, “Do not store up treasure on earth,” he didn’t say “Do not store up money.” Instead he uses the word “treasure.” The idea of treasure is my heart attitude toward what I have. If I treasure something here on earth, then my heart is not where God wants it to be. It is always an issue of the heart. God wants me to love him with all my heart, and he knows that where my treasure is, there my heart is also. I don’t believe God cares what kind of house you live in, whether it be a mansion or the smallest of shacks. I do believe God cares where your heart lives. That is the issue that matters to God.
My friend, do you love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength? Is there anything in your life today that, as you are reading this, the Holy Spirit is asking you, “Do you love me more than this?” Please do not take this lightly. Do business with God. Be willing to put it all on the line for the cause of Christ, whether he asks you to or not. It is the most freeing thing you could possibly experience, to be set free from a divided heart.
Allow me to share one final thought regarding the story about the rich young ruler and his dialog with Jesus. In the end, the young man was deeply moved by his conversation. Those words from Jesus convicted him deeply. The Scripture says that he went away sorrowful, but there is no record in Scripture that he ever passed the test. It seems he was moved by the message, but was not willing to do business with God. How sad!
Please, I beg you, let us not be guilty of doing the same.
This article was originally published in the October 2013 Newsletter.