Good Is the Enemy of Great: The Man Who Liked His Stuff

A Hard Choice

“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.” (Mark 10:17-21, NIV)

good vs great

Common Observations

There are several subtle things about Mark’s portrayal of this man’s encounter with Jesus that make it my favorite. Each of the three synoptic gospels offers the same story but include slightly different details. (Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels, which means they were “seen with the same eyes”). Scholars agree that they used common source material, or were perhaps aware of whichever gospel was written first (most think it was probably Mark) and borrowed from it to reach their own intended audience.

In this story, all agree that the man had great wealth, that he approached Jesus sincerely asking about what he needed to inherit eternal life, and that he went away disappointed. Matthew 19:20 notes that the man was young; Luke 18:18 identifies him as a ruler. Only by combining these details are we informed that this is the story of “the rich young ruler,” perhaps one of the best known stories about Jesus during his ministry.

The Details That Tell the Story

A few observations taken from Mark’s account: 1) The man ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees. There was a sense of urgency about his quest, and he exhibited humility in front of Jesus. Is there anything in your life that should prompt the same type of approach? Should you have a sense of urgency about taking a question to the Master, or hearing his response? Should you humble yourself before him?

2) He called Jesus good, and Jesus challenged him to evaluate where goodness came from, reminding him that God alone is good and that accepting his compliment was tantamount to accepting equal status with the Almighty. All goodness springs from the character of God, and while Jesus did not deny the truth of the man’s declaration, he did point out exactly WHY he could be considered good.

Horizontal Versus Vertical

3) Jesus lists the “horizontal” commandments—the ones dealing with other men—and omits ONE. It’s interesting, because the one he omits is “Thou shalt not covet”, which happens to be precisely where this man’s heart issue lies. When the man answers, he is portrayed as honest and sincere, but perhaps he noticed what Christ omitted and could see what was coming next… Before you feel too smug about this ruler’s weakness, what commandment do you think Jesus might have omitted if he was talking to YOU?

Would it have been coveting, or murder, or adultery, or lying, or committing fraud, or disrespecting your parents? No matter how moral we act, and no matter how good we have been, there is always a place or two where we are vulnerable, or that we put ahead of God on our priority list. What is your weakness? What do you love more than God?

That Look

4) “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Jesus didn’t look at him in judgment, and he didn’t look down his nose at him in self-righteous condemnation, but he offered him a heartfelt invitation in sincere love. That’s a telling part of the story because it applied to Jesus then, and it applies to him today. In the midst of our sin, Jesus looks at us exactly the same way.

Wealth Versus Wealth

5) When Jesus invited the man to follow him, Mark says, “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” If you are an American Christian, you are at least somewhat in the same position. Compared to the rest of the world, you have great wealth. According to the New York Times, “the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.” Each of us who is fortunate enough to have the kind of stuff we take for granted in this country should ask ourselves, truly, do I love God more than I love my stuff?

In the rich young ruler’s case, “he went away sad because he had great wealth.” Don’t be that guy. Think carefully about what you have and what you COULD have; and go away happy instead of sad.

That First Step, Though…

All possessions, all your stuff
Will never ever be enough
To fill the place inside of you
That asks “Oh Lord, what must I do?”
Jesus looks into your eyes,
And pauses before he replies:
“There’s only one thing that you lack,
One thing that you are holding back;
If you will give that thing to me,
My child, then I will set you free.”
You hear the love in Jesus’ voice.
You realize you have a choice
To measure treasure differently–
On earth, or in eternity.
For just a moment, time stands still;
It’s time to exercise your will:
What choices will you make today?
How will you feel when you walk away?
It’s time to speak. What will you say?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Doing Good: The Best Way to Silence all of Your Critics

A Surprisingly Simple Definition of God’s Will

“For this is the will of God, that by doing good * you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (I Peter 2:15, NKJV) I think sometimes that Christianity is losing the debate out there… Our world seems to be changing around us, and when Christians try to stand for conservative values and sensible morality, they are dismissed as oppressive or old-fashioned, held up to ridicule, and even arrested.

Opposites Don’t Attract

Our culture believes that killing a fetus is ok, that it is reasonable to change genders, and that authority should be challenged. Truth is subjective, innuendo is reported as fact, and the resulting confusion creates a nation filled with polar opposites. Social media is filled with debates where it is obvious that one side will not convince the other, and harsh words fly back and forth without affecting anyone who holds the opposing point of view (Except perhaps to make them more angry and more entrenched in their unreasonable position.)

Dialog has ceased in favor of diatribe; interaction has deteriorated into insults and invective. These types of personal attacks seem to be common whether the subject is abortion, gay marriage, politics, or race. Maybe you’ve been drawn into a Facebook or Twitter argument, and were surprised at the passion and hatred that was thrown your way. Did it change your mind about anything? Probably not.

Debates Aren’t Working Anymore

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that no one has ever been forcibly argued into the Kingdom of God. It is a volunteer organization. Anyone can join, and everyone has a choice. If you think about it, wouldn’t everybody want to join a group whose main values are grace, love, and peace? So, why are churches shrinking? Why are so many people turned off by organized religion? Why is the vocal minority expanding, claiming huge chunks of Kingdom territory for its own, and why are millennial’s leaving the church? Could it be that “ignorant men” are winning the debate because the people the Church is trying to reach are not being overwhelmed by goodness?

doing good

So, What Then?

It is not a Christian’s mission to be moral or righteous; God gives us righteousness by faith. Peter says that God’s will is for us to do good things. Could it be that too many Christians are concerned with BEING good instead of DOING good? It could open up an existential debate. Descartes and Kant said, “To do is to be”. Socrates and Nietzsche said, “To be is to do.” Does what we believe show who we are, or does who we are show what we believe?

Jesus knew that what we do is a reflection of who we are, and so he said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” (Matthew 12:35) He agreed with the great modern philosopher Frank Sinatra, who said “Do-Be-do-Be-do.”

do good

A quote I remember from college is what Peter Lord said: “What you REALLY believe shows in your life every day. All the rest is just Christian talk.” Another platitude was, “Folks don’t care how much you KNOW, until they know how much you CARE.” Making an astute observation about human behavior, Mark Twain said, “Always do the right thing. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest”. As a vocal critic of hypocrisy in the church, he knew that even religion didn’t necessarily guarantee right actions.

The point is, we Christians will not silence ignorance by our crafty arguments or by being “holier-than-thou”. Peter says we will share our faith with those who disagree most effectively by doing good to others. And if you think, “Well, I do lots of good things, so I’m covered”, then consider the twist James puts on it: “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) Voltaire echoed that verse when he said, “Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.” Have you done good things? Good! Is there more we can do? Absolutely. Let’s get out there and argue with our good works. Change the debate and change the world.

Doing Your Argument Well

When other people see your life, assume that this is true:
They do not listen to your words, but to the things you DO.
The world is full of ignorant men who argue night and day;
The church will never reach them merely by the things we SAY.
St Frances preached perhaps the greatest sermon ever heard:
“I preach Christ always; but, when necessary I use words.”
Less debate, less judgment and less hate should be unfurled:
Change debate to love, and then go out and change the world.

*(And to all your grammarians out there, yes I know that technically it should be “do well” or “do good [things]”, and not “do good”, so just assume that where I have said, “do good” I am actually inferring the correct form. I was conforming with the King James version in writing this.)

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread