By Dr. Mark Scott
Affluenza complicates simple faith. Affluenza is a sickness caused by too many material possessions. While everything created by God is good (2 Timothy 4:4), and while God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), there probably is such a thing as too much.
The story of the rich young ruler follows Jesus’ teaching on divorce (Mark 10:2-12) and Jesus’ blessing of the children (vv. 13-16). It probably is chronologically next because it happened in that order and because the man who ran up to Jesus was “young.” Did he have the simple faith that the children displayed?
Simple Faith Costs Too Much
Jesus was beginning to make his way toward Jerusalem for the final time. A man ran up to Jesus earnestly (fell on his knees before him). The Synoptic Gospels call him rich, Matthew calls him young (Matthew 19:20), and Luke calls him a ruler (Luke 18:18). The man might have been possessed by his possessions, but he asked a significant question. What must I do to inherit eternal life?
This question of eternal life (or salvation) is asked four times in the New Testament. Since the Old Testament covenant was still in place at that time, no one should have been surprised at Jesus’ answer. Jesus teased out the direct address of the man’s question about who or what is good and then headed straight to Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Jesus answered the man on his own turf by underlining the latter half of the commandments—7 through 10—and then circled back to commandment number 5.
The man had done nobly with those commandments. The problem was with the first three commandments, which deal with God—not possessions—being first in the man’s life. His simple faith had become complicated by the weeds of wealth (Mark 4:19; 1 Timothy 6:10). It is impossible to know the man’s vocal inflection in v. 20—All these I have kept (“to guard”) since I was a boy. How did he say it? Boastful? Sheepish? Testing?
Jesus needed no help in psychoanalyzing the man (John 2:24, 25). Jesus knew where the real problem resided and was certainly not angry at him (loved him). Jesus told him what he lacked. His road to a more simple faith is located in the verbs: Go . . . sell . . . give . . . follow. Jesus called him to de-accumulate his possessions and unclutter his life. But this was not some kind of humanitarian do-goodism. Jesus also called him to the road of discipleship.
But the man would not pay the price (Luke 14:25-33). It was too high. In some of the saddest verses in the Bible we read, At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. He just could not embrace a simple faith.
Simple Faith Pays Big Dividends
With the man out of earshot, Jesus decided to teach about riches. While this text should make us nervous because of our riches, we should remember that not everyone was specifically called to do this for salvation. The lawyer was told to love God and neighbor (Luke 10:25-37). The Pentecost crowd was told to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). The jailer was told to believe in Jesus (Acts 16:30-33). No possessions were mentioned to those people.
That being said, Jesus did teach that it is hard to be rich and enter the kingdom of God. In fact, he said it twice in our text. He even gave an illustration of a camel and needle to show how hard it is.
This teaching amazed the disciples. Mark describes a lot of amazement in his Gospel. The disciples were amazed and were even more amazed. Their worldview had just been shattered. Their formula was: more riches equal more affirmation of following God. They wondered, Who then can be saved?
Jesus taught that God is so powerful that he can even save rich people. (We should be glad.) When Peter reminded Jesus that the disciples had simplified their lives to follow him, Jesus responded by emphasizing their dividends. To follow Jesus might cost, but the reward is worth it. Giving up family (which Jesus redefined) or farm (occupation) will be rewarded—even in this age. Even if there are some persecutions, they will not last. In Jesus’ government the first (rich) will be last, and the last (poor) will be first. A simple faith is an uncluttered one.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.