This is the second of a ten-part series on the most important set of guidelines in human existence: the Ten Commandments. I’m not covering them in numerical order or even in order of importance. This isn’t a count-down; it’s a refresher.
(If you’ve already read this part, you can skip down to the horizontal line.)
The Ten Commandments are as equally relevant today as they were when they were given to Moses. In fact, they’re even more relevant. The main attack against the Commandments is that they’re “old-fashioned” and out of step with current realities. Nothing could be further from the truth.
God’s truth doesn’t change. Hemlines change; beauty ideals change; scientific theories come and go, but God’s truth remains as fresh and clear and refreshing as ever. And the worse it gets down here on Earth, the more we need God’s help and guidance.
Thank God for the Ten Commandments! They’re both your first and your last line of defence. They’re meant to be memorized as a “To Do” list and a “To Don’t” list; you should know them as automatically as you know your name.
The commandments aren’t meant as a way to interfere with your pleasure, but to keep you from making choices that will lead to pain.
If you find yourself wondering what you should do, look to Jesus, because the solution to every problem we’ll ever face during our time here on Earth was modeled by something Jesus either said or did. And, as we know, Jesus based his teachings on the Ten Commandments.
HEAR, O ISRAEL!
When Jesus told the rich guy to sell all of his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him, what exactly did he mean? Was he saying that driving a Maserati is a bad thing?
Jesus explains further on in the verse that being rich can make it impossible to get to heaven.
Keep in mind that this was the exact opposite of Jewish wisdom at the time – it was assumed that if you’re rich and have high social standing, God is blessing you, and if God is blessing you, then you must be on your way to heaven.
When Jesus suggested that the rich guy should give up his wealth in order to go to heaven and then said that it was next to impossible for rich people to get into heaven, he blew people’s minds.
So what did Jesus mean by all this? Didn’t having wealth and social standing mean that God was blessing you?
Maybe under the Old Testament it meant that, but not under the New one.
Let’s look at the passage. The rich guy approached Jesus, asking what he should do to be saved. Jesus took a long hard look at him (even without an advanced degree in sociology, Jesus was excellent at sizing people up by appearance, attitude and situation) and perceived that he was well-dressed, well-spoken, and clearly wealthy. The rich guy was a ruler, too, so along with enjoying the privileged social standing of wealth, he also enjoyed a position of authority.
But Jesus also saw and heard in the rich guy a sincere desire to please God. He had come to Jesus asking for help, so obviously, despite his wealth and power, he felt that something wasn’t quite right. Had he been certain that he was being blessed by God through his wealth, high social standing and adherence to the commandments, he wouldn’t have asked Jesus what he needed to do to be saved. Yes, the rich guy knew something was wrong and he figured Jesus could tell him what it was, but probably the last thing he wanted to hear was that he would have to give up all his wealth and power.
The lust for money is framed in the Bible as being the root of all evil, so from that we can assume that the less money we have, the better it is for us. Yet money on its own is just inert matter; it can be neither good nor bad. The problem is our relationship to money – or, better said, our desire to gain money for the power, privilege and pleasure it can afford us. Lust here means that we make an idol out of money for the things it can buy us. Rich people tend to focus on money and use it to solve their problems rather than focus on God and ask for his help.
When Jesus told the rich guy to get rid of his wealth, he was not telling him that his wealth was the problem but that his relationship to his wealth was the problem. His wealth had become his idol, and this idol needed to be smashed (by selling all his possessions and then giving the money from the sale away) so that God could assume his rightful place in the guy’s life. Instead of relying on money and the things it could buy, the guy needed to rely on God.
When asked which of the Ten Commandments was the most important, Jesus unhesitatingly responded that it was the one that affirmed that the God of Israel was one God, and that we are to love God with everything we’ve got (heart, mind, soul, strength). When we put the love of something else before love of God, we’re breaking this commandment. Probably not meaning to (he had, after all, followed the other commandments to the best of his ability), the rich guy had put his wealth and power ahead of doing God’s will.
Most of us are like the rich guy, in that we consciously or unconsciously put other things or people ahead of God. But if you know God’s will and choose not to do it, you’re going to have problems. When the rich guy left, depressed and dismayed over what he’d heard from Jesus, the disciples then asked Jesus how they fared, since they’d already given everything up to follow him. Jesus replied that everyone who puts God first, ahead of wealth and family ties, is likely to receive rewards both on Earth and in heaven.
So, what or who is YOUR idol? What or who means more to you than God? Or, better said – what or who would you have a hard time walking away from, if Jesus told you that that thing or that person was keeping you from getting to heaven?
Could you give up your family and friends? Jesus did. He was alienated from his family (they thought he was crazy) and former friends throughout most of his ministry.
Could you give up your job? Jesus did, and turned into an itinerant preacher with no fixed address and no fixed income.
Could you give up your hometown and your past? Jesus did. As reviled as he was for being a Nazarene, the Nazarenes threw him out of town when he ‘came out’ as the Messiah. He just walked away from it all without a backward glance.
Could you give up your possessions? Jesus did. His only belongings appear to be the clothes on his back.
Could you give up having children or spouse? Jesus did. Despite the nonsense written about Jesus and Mary Magdalene getting married and having kids, Jesus never married nor had any children. In fact, he counseled people not to marry, knowing that spouses have the tendency to want to please each other and leave God out of the equation. By the same token, parents tend to want to do whatever it takes to make their children happy, so this can also lead to turning away from God. Their children can become their idol.
So I ask you again: WHAT OR WHO IS YOUR IDOL? What or who would you have a hard time giving up if Jesus told you that you had to, if you want to get to heaven?
There should be nothing or no-one that you wouldn’t walk away from, right here, right now, if Jesus told you that these things or these people were coming between you and heaven. Think of Matthew and how he walked away from his tax-collector job. He just got up and left.
Nothing and no-one should come between you and God. Nothing and no-one should be more important to you than doing whatever it takes to get to heaven.
When it comes to keeping the commandments, let Jesus be your model, not the rich guy.