When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)
You probably recognize this verse as being Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler’s question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk. 18:18) (I had the privilege of preaching from this passage yesterday morning at my church. If you’d like to hear an MP3 after Tuesday, you can download it here.)
At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is saying that if anyone wants to have eternal life, they need to give up all their material possessions. People throughout history have understood it that way, and either lived in poverty or carried low-grade guilt that they weren’t poor enough. That can’t be true because God commends many wealthy people throughout Scripture, including Job, Boaz, David, Abraham, and Zacchaeus, who appears in the very next chapter.
Neither is Jesus simply setting an impossible standard for the rich young ruler to show him that he can never save himself. While that is certainly true, it doesn’t appear to be Jesus’ only purpose. Jesus seems to have a more specific intent here that makes this Scripture even more relevant for us.
Jesus is seeking to help this sincere but deceived inquirer recognize the “one thing” he still lacks to inherit eternal life. Of course, there are many things the young ruler doesn’t lack. Morality. Orthodoxy. A good reputation. Sincerity. But all of these are nothing more than a line of zeros needing a single number to the left of them to make them worth something.
Jesus could have pointed out “many” things that the rich young ruler lacked. He could have overwhelmed him with a clear, thorough articulation of every sin that this man had committed. However, He gives a simpler, more penetrating response.
Jesus tells him there is “one thing” he lacks. What is that “one thing?” He loves something else more than God. The young man went away "very sad" because he was "extremely rich." He valued the treasures of earth more than the treasures of heaven.
Loving God more than anything is a constant theme of Scripture and lies at the heart of worshipping God. The first commandment God gives Moses at Mt. Sinai says we are to have no other gods before Him. The greatest command is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” (Mk. 12;30) Jesus tells us that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Mt. 6:33) This is the requirement for entering and living in God’s kingdom.
When we become Christians we realize that there is nothing more important than a relationship with God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. In faith, and by God’s grace, we turn from our idolatries, and put our trust in the only one who can save us. However, idols continues to contend for supremacy in our hearts. We always need to be asking ourselves, “Is there ‘one thing’ that is sapping my love for God, drawing me away from His mercy, competing for my affections?” It might be a relationship we’re unwilling to turn from. It could be a career or position that pulls us away from involvement in the church. It might be a house that saps all our resources, keeping us from tithing and giving generously to others. It could be something as simple as a kind of music or a TV show we’re unwilling to give up.
Take some time to ask God if there is a “one thing” in your life that He wants to graciously enable you to repent of. There is nothing this world has to offer that compares in any way with the lavish kindness and goodness of the God who redeemed us for Himself.
But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:27-30)