Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 19:23 (Holman) Then Jesus said to His disciples “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven!”
Down here, on Earth, riches can get people in almost anywhere, including the church, but the Kingdom of Heaven is a different matter. Heaven’s door does not have a credit card reader on it. It is impossible for the rich to leverage an entry into Heaven. They cannot buy their way in. Tickets aren’t for sale.
Pondering our text, we may wonder, “Who are the rich; are we wealthy?” Jesus did not define affluence. He knew “rich” in some circles is “poor” in others. Jesus was speaking of anyone who has enough material things to hinder the spiritual, who are tempted to trust in stuff for their salvation and fulfillment.
Matt. 19:24 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
This proverbial statement described something impossible to achieve by human efforts. A camel was the largest animal Israelites commonly saw. The eye of a needle was the smallest opening they saw often in a familiar object.
As long as people feel they can do some good deed to gain merit, or pay God enough to earn salvation, they can no more enter Heaven than a camel can pass through the eye of a needle. Salvation is not a human accomplishment, but the rich are often tempted to think they can give enough money away to earn it, or are so secure in their given status that they sense no need for spiritual help.
This dangerous mindset makes it precarious to be rich. It’s hard to convince anyone wealth is dangerous, but maybe this lesson will help us at least beware. Why was Jesus wary of money? What are its potential dangers?
Danger one, a hard heart. Beware. Surprise! Having more money usually does not make us less selfish. Generally, the rich are as notoriously selfish as everyone else. Depravity operates independently of dollar amounts.
A sad illustration of this was a recent very wealthy USA Congressman who rightly used his whole political career to promote laws for the poor. But when his personal income tax records were revealed, he was giving only a half of one percent of his income to all charities, including his church, combined.
Many of the rich, instead of doing more for the poor, do less. They often disregard the common people. Folks who feel they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps easily slip into thinking everyone else should be able to do so too. The rich can actually begin to think giving to the poor is a bad thing.
We fool ourselves if we say we would give more if we had more. If we want to know how much we would give if richer, check what percent you give now. Studies indicate people’s giving habits change little as their income grows.
Danger two, skewed priorities. We can become obsessed with collecting things. “He who dies with the most toys wins”, is meant as tongue-in-cheek, but people’s actions show it may accurately describe what people really think. Stuff can quickly so fill a heart that there is no room for anything or anyone else.
Making money can enamor, and cause us to neglect other more important pursuits, including God Himself. I read of a Pastor who was sitting with a man in his final hours; the dying man asked, “Why! At this awful moment, can I think of nothing but my bank stock?” Acquisition of wealth had obsessed him.
The more we have of this world, the easier it is to think less often of the next life. As we busy ourselves about physical things, it becomes harder and harder to hear, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). Stuff can bewitch us, and tether us to bank accounts, investments, and portfolios.
This change is often slow, like the silting of a river, and just as insidious. On the surface, things can long look the same. But underneath, the hidden channels are clogging up, with more of self being deposited every day.
The more we have, the more self-indulgent we are tempted to become. As we accumulate more stuff, we feel obligated to use it. We go AWOL on Sundays. Bible time is forgotten. Taking up a daily cross disappears from sight. Our stuff causes us to neglect the One who gave us the stuff to start with.
The more we have, the harder it is to see our possessions as God’s, and to see our role as merely being managers over stuff to be used for Him. All is a gift from God, and belongs to Him. If we forget this, our possessions become our own private loot, a safety net we can obsess over to protect and increase.
Danger three, pride. The disgraceful kowtowing of the world to the rich can make them think they are superior. This can bring a double plague on the wealthy. It fosters pride because people are reluctant to tell the rich their faults. This fawning may also explain why the rich are often marked by eccentricities. They’re not keen on receiving opportunities for correction and improvement.
Money puts people in classes, making some feel they are better than others, and deserve special treatment. Flight attendants often dread being assigned the First Class section because the flyers there can be obnoxious. In the hotel business, a dreaded assignment is managing a resort with a golf course attached. The problem is not the golfing, but money that demands satisfaction.
We miss the point if we think the cash is a rich person’s only struggle. Stuff fascinates. It represents the world’s power. “It is hard not to be charmed with a smiling world” (Henry). High places are dizzying, easy to fall from.
Wealth brings social standing to be proud of. To lose money is to lose face. Wealthy people’s demeanor can exude an air of self-confidence. They relish the way people look at them when they enter a room in their best attire. They want to see heads turning, and notice people whispering about them.
The pride that stuff can engender is a huge stumbling block to salvation. Only the lowly and humble can enter Heaven. Money used right adorns one’s life, but money used to amass influence for pride’s sake slams shut the door of salvation. It is hard for the wealthy to come humbly to Heaven God’s way.
Pride often results in misplaced trust, giving us a false sense of security. We can begin to feel we are able to deal with any situation on our own. Bad things won’t happen to us. We can declare independence from Providence.
The Bible gives a good illustration. Laodicea, Asia Minor’s richest town, was destroyed by an earthquake in 60 A.D. Rome offered a huge sum of money to rebuild the city, but the Laodiceans refused it. They said they were plenty rich to handle it on their own. Tacitus, the Roman historian, said, “Laodicea rose from the ruins entirely by heroic resources and with no help from us.”
At first glance, this attitude looks commendable, but it later led to spiritual self-trust among the Christ-followers at Laodicea. An independence that looked like a good thing went bad. The Lord Jesus later said He wanted to spew the church at Laodicea out of His mouth, because they arrogantly said, ““I’m rich; I have become wealthy, and need nothing,” and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” (RV 3:17).
In the everyday course of life, stuff can make it difficult for God to be the first thing we rely on when we face trouble. Often we try everything else and pray to God as an afterthought. This attitude can spill over into being saved.