Saturday, August 19, 2006

through the eye of the needle

Have you ever read the Biblical account or listened to the story of the Rich Young Ruler found in Matthew 19:16-26? A young and wealthy man asked Jesus what he would have to do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked if the man had kept the commandments, to which he replied, “Yes.” Jesus then made a shocking statement which is followed by the young man’s heartbreaking (but not shocking) reaction, “’go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.” (Matthew 19:21b-22)

I fear that sometimes when we read this account we may have the same reaction that is all too common (at least it was for me) when reading the account of God giving the Israelites Manna. Basically, in Exodus 16 and Numbers 11 we see that the Israelites were grumbling about the food that they were missing in Egypt, so God graciously provided bread (wafers) from heaven that actually tasted like honey (Exodus 16:31) and could be eaten in various ways. The people took God for granted and after a while complained and said, “but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.” (Numbers 11:6) You can almost hear the “yuck” sound (the sound that you make when you spit something out of your mouth that is detestable to you) at the end of that statement. We look at the Israelites here as ungrateful and disobedient fools, and we are flabbergasted that they would scoff at food that is literally set in front of them by God. In the same way, we are prone to look at the Rich young ruler with disgust and shock that someone would look at God, in the flesh, ask a question about how to inherit eternal life, and then walk away and reject the answer because of money.

My point so far is simply this: Don’t miss the direct application to you and me in the story of the rich young ruler.

What was the stated reason why this young man was unwilling to follow Christ? He had much wealth, and it was a lot to give up. Pastors thunder to their congregations saying that those who have great wealth will have a difficult time with being born again quoting Christ when they say, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, 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 problem that we have is that when preachers warn against the dangers of wealth, we look around us to see those who have more money than we do to form our understanding of who the wealthy are.1 When I hear the word “rich” or “wealthy” I think of people like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, and other people who are worth billions of dollars. It is true, these people are exceedingly wealthy, there is no question about it. If I am able to think outside of the box and not be so egocentric in my thinking, I may ask the question, “How wealthy am I compared to other people in the U.S.?” That is a good question to ask because then, my definition of “wealthy” then becomes how much money constitutes being wealthy is determined upon those who are above and below me on the economic ladder. Now, I am no economist, but I know that if you make $100,000 per year in the U.S., you are in the top income level, or the upper class, for the whole country. With this in mind while, if you work an average job (where many Americans make between $25,000 - $50,000 per year) as I do, we would see ourselves as in the middle class and let most of the warning of Matthew 19 bounce off of us because, after all, I may not be poor (in the U.S. poverty level), but I am definitely not in the top income bracket either to be considered wealthy.

Let’s take one more step back, for one moment. Why should I only consider those people who live in my community, my state, my country, or western society when gauging how wealthy I am? The last I heard, there are over 6 billion people on the planet, and the US only has about 298 million people living here currently.2 Just think about the $25,000 or $50,000 in light of the 6 billion people. We all know that Africa is impoverished. We know that many people in various 3rd world countries live in complete and abject poverty. I went to a web site called the Global Rich List and I was shocked at how rich I am in comparison to the rest of the world.3 For instance, the same $25,000 that would put me at the low end of the middle class in the U.S. would put me in the top 10.8% of all people. If I worked at minimum wage ($5 per hour) for 40 hours per week and made around $10,000 in one year, I would still be in the top 13.31% richest people in the entire world. This means that about 5.2 billion people make less money than a 14 year old working at McDonalds.

Who’s the rich man now?

Make no mistake. If you live in the United States, even if you don’t really “make” or “have” any money, you are still far better off and have more wealth than most people in the world. The poor in our country, for the most part, are provided with good shelter, water, sewer, ventilation, food, along with other essentials. What will you hold onto that, like the rich young ruler, will cause you to discard Christ and His offer of salvation because you love your “stuff” more than Him? If you live in the United States, as I do, you are more than likely among the wealthy, and this warning is applicable to you and me. “If you’ve got clothes on and a full belly, you are wealthy.”4

Truly, it may be said that it is hard for an American to enter the kingdom of heaven. It may well be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an American to enter the kingdom of God. Let us not be casual about the way that we spend our money nor on the things that occupy our time and attention lest we (who claim allegiance to Christ) play the harlot by giving our affections to objects of less worth than God Himself.

1 There is nothing wrong with being wealthy. Many of the Old Testament saints (including most, if not all, of the patriarchs), but it is undeniable that the Bible gives strong warning against the dangers of having, and trusting, in wealth.


3 I am not sure how accurate or up to date The Global Rich List web site ( may be. However, even if the figures are 10 years out of date or off by thousands of dollars, even the adjusted figures are shocking to say the least. I don’t endorse or support any of the causes that this web site solicits for; I merely chose this site for its usability of the income tool.

4 “Magnifying God with Money” by John Piper (Desiring God Radio broadcast 8/9/2006)

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