July 19, 2012
The Unyielding Pride of the Rich Young Ruler
By Anthony Wade
Focusing on the pride of the rich young ruler and how it relates to us today...
"Teacher," the man replied, "I've obeyed all these commandments since I was young." -- Mark 10: 20 (NLT)
God gave us His Word so we can be prepared for the work He has for us to do. So that we can be aware of the pitfalls in life and the schemes of the enemy. So that we can live the abundant life Jesus came to gives us. There are lessons for us in every story. Behind every seemingly innocuous verse. The story of the rich young ruler appears in all three synoptic Gospels. Thus we can assume that it impacted the hearers greatly since they all remembered it so clearly. Within this story are lessons about idolatry, money worshipping, and following Jesus. Today though I want to focus in on the pride. I think it gets overlooked sometimes because of the obvious teaching on the evils of money. It is not that money in and of itself is evil. The Bible teaches it is the love of money that is evil. Why? Because it becomes more important to us than God. It becomes our idol. If we look around the world today we see that the most common idols are money, fame, and power. Well the rich young ruler had them all. He placed all of them before the God he claimed to serve. We see the same thing today as many follow after the idols of mammon or fame while claiming the mantle of Christianity. God says that you must choose because serving both will only make you hate one of them. You can use money but when money starts using you; that is where the trouble begins.
The lessons on money however are the "low lying fruit" in this story. Easy to see and pick apart. But fueling the idolatry for the rich young ruler was pride. It wasn't just your run of the mill pride; it was unyielding even in the face of God. Sometimes we can confront our pride and "check ourselves" but this man could not. That was how strong his pride was. How much the pride ruled his life. Here is how the story begins:
As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked. "Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: "You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.'" -- Mark 10: 17-19 (NLT)
Pride tries to be coy. The rich young ruler did not want to know how to inherit eternal life -- he already thought he knew and that he fit the bill! Note the start of the story -- first, he came running up to Jesus. Pride rushes in. Headlong and with little forethought because pride has already assumed it is correct and infallible. We all know people like this inside and outside of the church. Unteachable spirits. Wrapping themselves up in the name of Jesus without any of the humility that is supposed to mark our walk. He essentially ran to God to tell Him how good he was! Jesus told another parable about a tax collector who was humble in prayer because he recognized he was a sinner and a Pharisee who had a similar spirit to this rich young ruler. Here was the prayer of that Pharisee:
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: "I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don't cheat, I don't sin, and I don't commit adultery. I'm certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.' -- Luke 18: 11-12 (NLT)
That is not a prayer it is someone reading their resume! Can you imagine telling God how good you are? That is what pride does beloved. It blinds us to our own glaring lack of humility before God. This rich young ruler is not unlike many in the church today who rush in to tell God and everyone else who wants to listen just how holy they are. Once you feel compelled to discuss how humble you are, you have proven yourself wrong.
Next in the opening line we see another aspect of unyielding pride -- it has a false sense of piety. Right after running up to Jesus the rich young ruler makes it a point to kneel down before Him. A lot of time in this life we see people who have no problem kneeling down in front of people but who lead lives that refuse to kneel down before God. One is for show and the other is for real. When Jesus tells him what he must do, he refuses to kneel his life down to Jesus. To kneel is to bow low before God. To show reverence to Him. God wants our lives knelt before Him in private before He wants our genuflection in public.
If we were honest with ourselves we would admit that it is hard fighting the flesh urges to want to be "seen" as holy or spiritual within the church setting. This of course was not the design of God for His church it is what we have transformed it into by being judgmental towards the failings of others and unforgiving in our general nature. Instead of church being the one place where we should feel the most welcomed to be ourselves and honest it has become the one place where we hide the most. It is pride on both sides. It is pride that makes us judgmental towards the very people we should have outstretched arms for. It is pride that makes us hide what is really going on in our lives. It is pride that makes the rich young ruler run to God and make a show of kneeling before him publicly whilst his entire life refused to bow down.
Next in the opening line we see that pride is wrapped up in flattery to try and win people to its side. This man had never met Jesus before yet he addresses Him as "good teacher." Jesus sees right through the charade however and rebukes him by saying "only God is good." You can take that flattery somewhere else. The Bible teaches about flattery:
Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly. Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling. A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin. -- Proverbs 26: 24-28 (ESV)
A flattering mouth works ruin! Sins of the tongue run deep and have sharp consequences. Pride seeks to butter people up so that they will more easily agree with them. It is manipulative and controlling, like the Jezebel spirit that has so infected the church in these last days. A spirit that seeks to control people and information. A spirit that co-opts people by using false platitudes and flattery to lure them to their side. Ultimately, a spirit that is not of God however.
At this point in our story, Jesus tells the rich young ruler what he already knows. Since the New Covenant had not been poured out yet for the sins of man, the answer for inheriting eternal life was to keep the law. Jesus highlights some of the Ten Commandments but we should realize the law Jesus is referring to here is the entire Mosaic Law; comprised of over 600 directives. This brings us to the key verse and what might be one of the most prideful statements made in the entire Bible. Lost sometimes in the teachings on the evils of money is this gem in verse 20 -- "I have kept all of these since I was young." Really? You kept all 613 laws of Moses? Realize beloved that no one was able to keep the Mosaic Law, which was why God sent Jesus to earth to begin with! The rich young ruler was probably at least 30 years old. So in his mind and heart, he had kept the Mosaic Law perfectly when no one else in history had been able to. THAT is pride out of control.
That is the pride that still infects some in the church today; from the pew to leadership. It is the super-spiritual pride that looks down on someone because they do not exhibit the same gifting. It is the "I have been saved since I was five" pride that seeks to justify its own holiness as this rich young ruler was doing in this story. We all know it. We have all seen it in operation. Those who make a show of praying the loudest or the longest. Those who wish to be seen for their spiritual activities. Those who want the most public of ministries so that their deeds are seen or use the new social networking tools as a means to broadcast their deeds. Jesus taught against this:
"Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don't do as the hypocrites do--blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. -- Matthew 6: 1-4 (NLT)
There is still too much trumpet blowing in the church. But it is not to draw attention to God but rather to man. Worship that is man-focused. Sermons filled with human wisdom. The Gospel watered down to "reach the next generation" as if somehow Christ is no longer sufficient! Too much braggadocios behavior on Facebook about how great our actions are. How spiritual we are. We, me, you -- just enough "God" to make us feel as if we are talking about Him. God is not fooled. He knows the difference between, "I am great -- praise God" and "God is great -- I am nothing." Yet despite our foolish pride, God is still a loving God:
Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. "There is still one thing you haven't done," he told him. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." -- Mark 10: 21 (NLT)
This rich young ruler runs up to Jesus, filled with pride, claiming he has kept all the commandments, with a flattering a deceitful tongue and yet still Jesus looks upon him with genuine love. I love the usage of the word genuine here. The love God has for us is not predicated upon what we do or do not do. It is not based upon our actions but His character. No matter how far from God we have fallen or drifted, when He looks upon us He does so with genuine love. If there is a promise we need to hold onto today it is that. The devil will try and convince us that we have somehow forfeited His love but I am here today to tell you the devil is a liar! God looks upon you with a genuine love and like the rich young ruler here, God will examine your heart and tell you what you need to sell in order to really follow him.
For the rich young ruler his wealth was the source of his pride. He probably fancied himself a self-made man. He probably wrongly attributed his success as a sign that God approved of him yet gave Him no direct credit for the success itself. As his wealth and power grew it became an idol to him in that he placed it before God. So he went to Jesus that day -- ran to him -- to justify himself. His pride had already blinded him to sin in his own life as he obviously is convinced that he was able to do what no other man ever has except Jesus Himself! Jesus, the master surgeon, cuts right past the blatant exhibition of pride and tells him to remove the root cause -- his wealth.
We are no better than this rich young ruler. We can fall for the same fleshly traps. We can start to put things ahead of God. It might be money or the pursuit of money. Maybe our career. I have seen many parents turn their children into virtual idols in their lives. I have seen ministry be morphed into an idol repeatedly. Church services and programs. Listen beloved -- anything we place higher than God is by definition an idol in our lives. You may not see how something like church can become and idol but if you make sure you never miss church and your various ministry responsibilities but always have excuses for why you cannot have any prayer time with God alone -- ask yourself why that is? I speak from experience. My Martha was always complaining about my Mary but what did Jesus teach us regarding that?
But the Lord said to her, "My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her." -- Luke 10: 41-42 (NLT)
There is only one thing being concerned about. Sitting at the feet of Jesus. Your fantastic ministry? Nope. Your growing church? Nope. Your work in the soup kitchen? Nope. Sitting at the feet of Jesus. Why? Certainly our ministry, growing the body and helping the poor are things to be "concerned with." But God has given us the proper order of things:
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. -- Matthew 6: 33 (NLT)
Now follow this closely beloved. When we place God first as Mary did we are seeking the kingdom first. Then God provides the increase in our ministry, provides the growth in our churches, and provides the means for a soup kitchen. Most importantly, we correctly recognize where the blessings come from protecting ourselves from pride. We do not seek to work in the soup kitchen so we can be noticed. We do not see the success of our ministries as having anything to do with us. We do not fall for heretical theories of church growth because we know God will provide the increase that God wants to provide. Our unyielding pride is checked.
Not so for the rich young ruler. The interesting thing for me was that the Bible says he walked away sad. I would have expected angry. I could have seen self-righteous. Perhaps the most frightening part of this story might just be that he walked away sad because to me that means that in the end he knew. In the end, the surgery of Christ upon his heart worked enough that he finally saw the truth. He saw that he was indeed a sinner who had not kept all the commandments. He saw that he was an idol worshipper bowing down to the graven image of success, power and greed. Yet despite the knowledge gained, he still chose the temporal rewards of this life over the eternal rewards of heaven. How truly sad but it is a decision made every day by people who refuse to drop their foolish pride. Let us always guard our hearts against it lest we end up sadly walking away from the Lord too.
Reverend Anthony Wade -- July 19, 2012
Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.