The young man inquiring of Jesus wanted to know what more he needed to give, what additional responsibility he should fulfill, a single commandment that might make him complete and therefore free from other responsibilities. But Jesus reached into his very soul to address what the man was unwilling to give and what he proved unwilling to fulfill. And this indeed illustrated His deeper point. The Lord requires that we give our all. He quoted neither the four commandments focused on an individual’s relationship with God (Ex. 20:1-11) nor the principle of loving God that underlies these commands—not because they were unimportant or unnecessary under the Old Law but because of the man’s focus on external obedience in daily life.
Therefore, when we then consider the one commandment regarding the treatment of others that Jesus did not quote—”You shall not covet”—His purpose grows clearer. The young man happily obeyed all those commandments with some external manifestation. Jesus, by waiting to address covetousness with a simple test, pointed out that what was missing in the young man’s quest was true, spiritual heart. “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1–2). Few things are more contradictory and more destructive than a disciple without a heart for God, and few things destroy such a heart more than a covetous heart clinging to this world.
Jesus does not call on men to create a shallow facade of external religious rituals but to develop a heart that mirrors His own. One cannot help but remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount as a response to the young man’s question: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Jesus, then, does not teach disciples to build up themselves for themselves, but to give of themselves, to God and to others.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:1–2).
Our Lord did not just call us to receive mercy, but also to extend mercy. “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:36). And for this He gave us the perfect motivation: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
This is an excerpt from Kevin W. Rhodes’ new book, Follow Me: A Call to Authentic Discipleship available through “>Hopkins Publishing.