I like to wear nice pants to work. They’re Italian dress pants – comfortable, stylish. After tailoring to my precision instructions they’re quite expensive too. I noticed a thread recently, which I promptly removed. As I was meticulously trimming the thread, I wondered why I valued my pants so much? What am I trying to prove? The short answer is: my worth.
I’m not alone in this. Many of us use externals to build our self worth. It can be cars and houses to perfume, pocketbooks, or nice dress pants. Culture tells us nothing is wrong with this. Heck it promotes it! But God has an issue with it. He’s upset because we’re wasting our time, money, and effort trying to fill ourselves up on worldly things rather than fueling up on God.
Wealth and money has a way of becoming our God like nothing else. Jesus speaks about this ten times more than any other vice, including the sexual ones. This is why it’s hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. It seems a strange statement for Jesus to say it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but it’s really not. Money is such a powerful force over us that we can’t break free from it on our own. It provides opportunity, gives us choices and control – everything “we” want. We don’t want to give this up, right? But Jesus is saying God is better. Put God first.
Jesus is NOT saying money or wealth is bad. He’s saying that it blocks us from experiencing God and God’s true riches, and that it takes divine intervention to overcome that. Wealth is good and can be used for good, but there are few who manage this to Jesus’ standards.
The story in the Bible of the rich young ruler is a great example of the powerful pull of money. This kid had everything: money, youth, power, control, and even perfect religious habits. He knew, however, like many of us do, that he was missing something. Something was lacking in his inner being and he couldn’t figure it out. So he asks Jesus. Here’s what we’re told:
A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
Tim Keller notes that by stopping him at “good,” Jesus was saying don’t judge me by your worldly standards. Jesus was also highlighting that even though the ruler followed the rules it wasn’t everything. Put another way, the young ruler was already missing the point of God’s kingdom. The conversation continues:
“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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.”
All the ruler’s value and worth was wrapped up in his wealth, which was how his society, and ours, values people. He was worried about the threads in his Italian pants. He should have been loving God with all his heart, mind, and soul, and finding his value and rest there.
So many of us are tied up in our belongings and possessions. We think the wealthy are blessed. The ancients thought that way too. This is why Jesus’ disciples immediately ask, “Who then can be saved?,” as this was the way of the world. Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God” – think Zacchaeus – the tax collector who was ripping everyone off. He was a hated, hated man. God turned him around.
Jesus is saying that money has such a hold over you. You have no idea. You don’t even realize how it permeates every aspect of your thoughts, life, and decisions. It’s consuming you. Let God consume you and see what happens.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson