Rich home

Jesus and the Rich Young Man 

By Josh Dillow  

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.  

(Matthew 19:16-22, ESV)

In the above passage, Jesus speaks to a rich young man, and is asked which commandments must be kept to have eternal life. Instead of citing all of the Ten Commandments, in his response Jesus mentions only five. In addition, of the two commandments that Jesus refers to as the greatest in Matthew 22:34-40, only the second is mentioned here (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”). So then, why does Jesus omit the commandments he does? I think the answer has to do with the nature of the commandments that Jesus did not mention in his response.

All of the commands that Jesus initially tells the rich man to obey had to do with his relationships with other people: “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” All of these commands can be followed without love for the Lord or a desire to honor Him.

However, Jesus did not initially mention any of the commandments that were oriented toward the rich man’s relationship with God – “You shall have no other gods before me, You shall not make for yourself a carved image, You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, Observe the Sabbath day, and, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

We cannot love God with all of who we are, while we are still clinging tightly to our possessions.

Apparently, the rich young man had not committed any gross transgressions of the law when it came to his relationships with other people (at least not those that he was self-aware of). And yet something was still missing. And so, the rich man asked Jesus what he lacked, and it was at this point that Jesus truly exposed the heart of the matter, telling the man to leave everything he had and follow him. The man responded with sorrow. He may have had generally favorable rapport with other people, but he loved his possessions more than he loved God.

According to Jesus, one’s earthly possessions can impede a person’s affection for God. It is very difficult to leave behind belongings that provide comfort and stability – even if such things are temporary. And, without a willingness to leave these things behind, the greatest commandment cannot be obeyed: we cannot love God with all of who we are, while we are still clinging tightly to our possessions. Thankfully, the lack of our own inherent ability to love and follow God as we ought to can be overcome. Indeed, “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). We see this tangibly demonstrated in Matthew’s gospel by the fact that Matthew Levi and Zaccheus, while wealthy tax collectors, nonetheless repented of their sins and followed Jesus.

Josh Dillow lives in Eugene, Oregon, with his wife, Lisa, and their three children. He serves as an elder and the worship minister at Berean Baptist Church and is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity from Western Seminary. Josh also works as a middle school music teacher at a public school in Eugene.