The Perils of Wealth

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “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: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. The disciples were amazed at his words.
But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 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.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

– Mark 10:17-27

Earlier in Mark 10, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” What did He mean? Well, children are simple-minded, helpless, trusting and totally dependent. Wealthy people tend not to possess these qualities. Thus, while it is easy to come to Jesus if you have child-like faith, it is very difficult to come to Him if you possess great wealth. Wealth refers to any possession that causes you to be rich in the eyes of the world: Money! Fame! Education! Religion! All of these possessions, while not intrinsically evil, carry with them great peril when it comes to entering the kingdom of God! Why? Because wealth deceives us in so many ways.

In Matthew 13:22, Jesus says, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” Wealth has many dangerous qualities:

  • Wealth blinds us from spiritual reality. It deprives us from seeing our spiritual poverty before a holy God. How does it do this? Wealth deceives a man into believing that he has all he needs. Thus, he becomes self-sufficient and independent of God. Financial wealth makes a person feel powerful and autonomous, which leads to self-sufficiency. Education makes a man feel like he knows everything. Thus, he becomes unteachable. Religion makes a man feel like he is good. Thus, he fails to see the depravity of his sin nature and his real need for a Savior. A deadly combination is to be rich in all three, money, education and religion.
  • Wealth is like a magnet constantly pulling us away from God. And even wealthy believers have to guard against the pull of riches.
  • Wealth works like a bandaid in that it simply covers the wound of emptiness. This is why rich people travel so much. They hop from one island of relief to the next — from one cruise ship to another. But they never really find what they are looking for, which is real joy, true contentment and lasting peace.
  • Finally, wealth is a trap. Satan has used the riches of the world as bait to lure us onto a treadmill that goes nowhere. His victims expend great, covetous effort but never realize the happiness that was promised. Men and women in pursuit of the American dream have only accomplished one thing: record debt along with never-ending anxiety.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Where I have found one man fail through poverty, I have known fifty men fail through riches.”

The rich, young ruler knew that something was missing in his life. That is why he came running to Jesus. He came to the right person and then he asked the right question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the greatest question a person can ask. Moreover, this is really all that matters in this life. Do you have eternal life? If not, what must you do to receive it?

The response of Jesus to this man says a lot. This man had lived a good moral life. He obeyed all the laws. But just like most religious people, he believed that entrance into heaven was about what you do. “If you live a good life, go to the right church, and recite the Apostle’s Creed, then you must be good enough.” Right? Well, not according to Jesus, because He said, “No one is good — except God alone!” All man-made religions are work-based. Believe in God, live by the golden rule and you will be saved. Is this what you believe? I hope not! But you will be surprised at how many people when confronted with the gospel say something like this: “Well, I go to church regularly. I try to live a good life. And I believe that God would never send a good man to hell!”

Jesus looked at this rich, young ruler and loved him. And He loved him by telling him the truth. He said, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man went away grieving, because he had great wealth. Then, Jesus looked around him and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

Here’s the truth: A person cannot save himself. And there’s nothing you can do to earn your way to heaven. Salvation is totally the work of God. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” So, how can we avoid the trap of riches? First, examine your attitude towards money. Did you know that for every time Jesus warns about sex, he warns ten times about money?

Tim Keller writes: Money has always been one of the most common saviors. Your ability to go out to cool restaurants, to have nice things, to negotiate a professional peer group—all these things are probably more important to you than you know. How do you know that money isn’t just money to you? Here are some signs: You can’t give large amounts of it away. You get scared if you might have less than you’re accustomed to having. You see people doing better than you, even though you might have worked harder or might be a better person, and it gets under your skin. And when that happens, you have one foot in the trap. Because then it’s no longer just a tool; it’s the scorecard. It’s your essence, your identity. No matter how much money you have, though it’s not intrinsically evil, it has incredible power to keep you from God.

So, if you know you have one foot, or maybe both feet, in the money trap, how do you get out? How can a person be set free from the pull of the riches of the world? First, confess it. Next, ask Jesus to help you see Him as the greatest treasure in the universe. Consider that Jesus is THE the Rich, Young Ruler. He is the richest man who has ever walked this earth. Before coming into our world, He walked the golden streets of heaven where He was surrounded by more glory and power than we can imagine. And yet, He gave it all up for us. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Chris, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor…” Jesus is asking us to do the same thing He did: die to self. Turn away from the pull of the world and follow Him.

The cross is the antidote to materialism — to the pull of the world — to things we cling to instead of to Jesus.