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Matthew 19:16-221NIV New International Version Translations

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” 17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” 20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.


Does the passage about the rich young ruler teach that Christ expect His followers to give up all of their possessions to follow Him? It’s true that Christ told the rich young ruler to give up his wealth and follow Him. On another occasion, Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” On other occasions, Christ didn’t rebuke friends who owned property or command them to sell their homes and businesses. In fact, He often ate with people and stayed at their homes. Friends like Mary and Martha or Zacchaeus the publican were clearly not among the poor. He was even buried in the newly excavated tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin. So why, then, did Christ set up what seems to be such a stringent requirement for this particular young man?

Christ knew that covetousness was the sin which most easily troubled this young man. Although he had got everything he had honestly, the young man could not cheerfully part with any of his possessions. The young man was earnest in his request to join Christ. Christ’s own promise to each of us is to make our life decisions as easy as possible and to make our yoke comfortably fit us. Yet in this example, even Christ’s promise was as much a trial of the young man’s faith, as the idea was of his desire to be charitable and obvious contempt he had for the world around him. To follow Christ would require this young man as well as any of us to of us to follow the regulations and laws of society, to strictly follow in Christ’s footsteps, and to cheerfully submit to Christ’s instructions on leaving behind those things that risked his very soul.

The young man was doing his best but realized that there was something missing in his life, something holding him back. Despite all his best efforts, Christ seems not to have encouraged him but, instead, asked him to face the truth. Interestingly, the commandments which Christ recites to the rich young man do not include the first three, which all relate to our relationship with God. Instead, He lists those which address our relationships with each other. The message to us, then is clear – we do not live in isolation. Love for our neighbor is the door to eternal life.

Christ touched on the one thing that the young man was not ready to give up – his money and all that it brought. But, if we are honest, we all have some things we would be very slow to let go of. It might be a good exercise to ask ourselves what would be the most difficult thing for us to give up if Christ asked us to do so. Whatever it is, it probably would be something that is coming between us and our total following of Christ. Is there something that really owns us? Sometimes when we ask a question of God we do not like the answer! When Christ challenges this good young man to let go of the material things that he treasures, he walks away from Jesus, grieving.

Items for Discussion

  • Is there a certain arrogance in the approach of the rich young man? He has tried to be ‘good’, but still feels something lacking – some ’good deed’ which will give him peace. Is the young man trying to manipulate God?
  • How do we try to manipulate God today?
  • How is today’s society “arrogant” about their wealth?
  • How could you either find or tell whether wealth or some other issue in your life is actually a barrier to you in your relationship with God?
  • Would the rich young man have been assured his salvation had he given up all of this wealth to the poor? Why or Why not?
  • What does society fear losing the most?
  • Which fears can we control? How?

Discussion Challenge

  • What is your answer to the world’s problems associated with the wide disparity in wealth? How would your solution fix the world and make it a better place?