Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
The story of the rich young ruler in the Gospel of Mark is a tragedy. It records Christ’s encounter with one who—like so many today—chose to concentrate on gathering material wealth, rather than on seeking the riches of God’s love.
The description of this inquirer as he ran to Jesus suggests he was searching for special help. Contrary to the critical scepticism of others, he addressed Jesus with unparalleled respect. Nowhere else in the New Testament do we find Christ called ‘Good Teacher’. As this young man knelt before Jesus he expressed his heart’s desire: “What must I do to inherit eternal life” (v 17). His eagerness to put such a question would seem to indicate he was confident Christ would have the answer.
As often happened with our Lord, he began by asking a question himself: “Why do you call me good?” The Lord Jesus reminded his courteous visitor that, “No one is good—except God alone.” Perhaps the young man little realised the depth of Christ’s reply. There was no-one else more suited to give him the answer he desired.
What the Rich Young Ruler Lacked
As Jesus listed some of the commandments it might have seemed to an observer there was no reason for the young man to be disturbed. Apparently he had reached manhood without a single blemish against his character, as far as these laws were concerned. There was no account of murder, immorality, dishonesty or shady dealing. Add to this his splendid loyalty to his parents, and one can only be filled with admiration for one who seemed so full of promise. What a record for one who was young, for one who was a ruler and for one who was wealthy!
And yet this vital question remained. Like a perceptive physician the Lord touched his weak spot. There was a prior claim on this young man’s life. That claim made it impossible for him to fulfil the first two commandments. He did not love God with his whole being and he did not love God enough to share his wealth. His desire to retain his earthly possessions was more important than anything else in his life. Doubtless he could see the poor and needy. Perhaps they even lived close by his house. But they were not his neighbours, as far as he was concerned. His possessions had him tight in their cold grasp.
This promising, admirable, attractive young ruler is described as one whom the Lord loved (v 21). Yet he left the Lord in sadness; his question answered, yet not heeded. Temporal security was placed before security with God. Without that there can be no eternal home. As Jesus watched him leave, his comment reminds us that it is hard indeed to sacrifice social position, possessions and the love of power for the sake of Christ. In fact it is almost impossible—as impossible as trying to squeeze a camel through the thin eye of a needle (vs 23-25).
Loving Our Neighbour in Practice
So here was this rich young ruler and there’s a great challenge here that we need to understand.
The Apostle John wrote, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11 – NIV). And that’s another important statement that the rich young man probably didn’t really understand or want to understand.
“We only love Jesus as much as the one we love the least.”
It has been said, “We only love Jesus as much as the one we love the least.” The fact is that the transforming of our lives through the knowledge of God’s love for us must be seen through our ministry to others. We must see the ones we serve as being as important to God as we are. James said, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right” (James 2:8 – NIV). The ‘royal’ law reflects the nature of the King of Kings. It can only be produced in us through the transformation of our nature into his likeness and it is this quality, above all else, that speaks to others of him.
The Scriptures give clear guidelines about how our love of God must be translated into love for our neighbours. Says Paul, “Love must be sincere” (Romans 12:9 – NIV)—something that is real and without pretence. “Love does no harm to its neighbor” (Romans 13:10 – NIV) but works for positive good. So this love cares for our neighbour.