Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Mark 10:17-31; 2 Corinthians 8:16-24; Psalm 106:1-15; 1 Samuel 24-25
Today’s passage in Mark 10 contains some of Jesus’ well- known expressions. Many will be familiar with phrases like ‘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’; ‘Many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ Jesus called for a view of riches and possessions that confronted beliefs commonly held in his day. Many believed that wealth and riches were a sign of God’s blessing, of participation in God’s kingdom. Jesus’ statements confronted that view head on. His actions also made it clear that the poor and disadvantaged were close to God’s heart, not rejected by him.
The idea of wealth being a sign of God’s blessing still exists today, though probably not throughout society. Today we are less inclined to think our riches come from God, but rather are due to our own hard work. Because of that, we think our money is ours to spend as we wish. The idea that we should sell everything and give it to the poor seems unrealistic; obviously an exaggeration.
Jesus is not laying down a new law that Christians must sell everything. He was confronting this man with how important money was for him. He might obey all the rules, but he did not trust God to take care of him. He trusted instead in his money and possessions. Many of us do the same thing, even if, like Peter, we think we have given up a lot for God (v. 28). Money and things easily become too important for us. Rather than being a way to provide for our needs, possessions become part of our identity. We can’t be seen living in such a small house, driving such an old car, going without the newest gadgets and upgrades.
The problem with wealth is that it blocks our ability to see our need for God and his daily provisions. We forget that we would not have what we have if God had not given us our abilities. We did not place ourselves in this time and place where wealth is attainable. These are gifts, and should lead to gratitude, not grasping. Wealth also blocks our ability to see the needs of others. Gratitude should lead us to be willing to share our wealth with the needy. But we the wealthy, as most people in developed countries are relative to many around the world, think these things are ours to spend on ourselves. We don’t realise they are stumbling blocks to attaining true treasure in heaven.
We think that since we earned our treasure in this world, we can earn treasure in God’s kingdom also. But that is not how God operates. The rich man wanted to know what he had to do to gain eternal life. Jesus says it is impossible to earn salvation. That is as easy as threading a camel through the eye of a needle. The rich are used to doing to get what they want. That makes it hard for them (us) to enter thekingdom ofGod (v.23), but Jesus adds that it is hard in general (v.24). But with God, all things are possible because he offers salvation to us as a gift.
Then Jesus adds that if we leave everything and everyone behind to follow him, we will receive a hundred-fold as much in this present age and eternal life. Some preach a health-and-wealth gospel from this, claiming that God will bless us with wealth in this life. But that contradicts the rest of this passage, and goes against our experience. Many generous people have not received a hundred-fold return from God.
Jesus is reminding the disciples, and us, that when we replace dependence on anything in this world with dependence on God, we will receive treasure that is vastly better. Houses and cars and gold cannot truly meet our needs, but God can. When we realise that, we will understand that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). We will seek out ways to give generously to others, not begrudgingly give some minimal percentage. Developing such an attitude may seem impossible, but with God all things are possible.