Though I said yesterday that Life is in knowing God not following lists of laws, Jesus actually gives this rich young ruler a list.
To today we look at the list – well – we compare lists and observe.
You shall not commit murder;
You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not steal;
You shall not bear false witness;
Your father and mother; and
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Only Matthew adds this last one, love your neighbor.
Luke’s list matches Matthew’s and Mark adds “Do not defraud.”
Let’s do a bit of gleaning.
Though we think of “love your neighbor as yourself” as a New Testament command, Jesus was quoting Leviticus 19:18 when He offered this advise.
If, in fact, Jesus was leading this young man to the Ten Commandments, there are a few glaring omissions. OK – that’s pretty obvious since there are only five of the ten on His list.
As you may know, the Ten Commandments come in two sections. The first four are about your love for God – which Jesus sums up with His “greatest command:”
And you shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. - Mark 12:30
These four primary commands do not come out directly in this conversation, unless you see that in calling Jesus ‘Good Master’ the young man is acknowledging Him as God. In any case, Jesus does not list the top four.
But the other obvious omission is the sixth, or last, man-ward commandment.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor. - Exodus 20:17
Did Jesus just forget this last of the Ten Commandments, or was He using this omission for emphasis, hoping to draw this young man to the truth our Lord already knew?
The man’s problem was covetousness. He loved his stuff. As we find out in the end it was not so much that he had stuff, but it had him. The hold his stuff had on him was stronger than his desire for life, and his willingness to follow Jesus.
Covetousness and Idolatry
I have always been intrigued by Paul’s linking of covetousness and idolatry.
For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. - Ephesians 5:5 NASB
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, (covetousness, NKJV) which amounts to idolatry. - Colossians 3:5 NASB
As you walk in idolatry – basically you are breaking the first commandment – Have no other gods. Paul takes his first century Sharpie and draws a line from the last commandment to the first. It is a beautiful reminder of the fact that acting against your neighbor is also acting against the Father. The law is as James says ONE – when you break one, you are guilty of all. Like a sheet of glass, broken is broken.
Covetousness is dissatisfaction with what God has provided in your life. A pre-occupation with gathering of stuff, or an eye to “upgrade” the people in your life says to our Father, You are not my provider. Keeping up with the Jones – I want what they have – is idolatry.
Does this mean all ambition is wrong, that we should not want to better ourselves? I guess that depends on what 'better' means to you. Is your ambition to grow in Christ-likeness and your knowledge of Him, or to climb some man-made ladder – some Tower of Babel – to reach new heights in mans eyes - or your own eyes for that matter.
In the end it comes right back to where we were yesterday. Eternal life is summed up in knowing the Father and His Son Jesus (John 17:3) and as life spirals into acquisition of stuff, it moves further and further from the center – Him.
Most ‘stuff’ is not bad in itself, it just makes a lousy god. [Tweet this]
Lord, teach me to be satisfied with the gifts that come from your generous hand.
See you again soon.
If you have not read the "What Am I Lacking?" a first person account of this encounter, check it out - I think it will help.