18

Working solely from the word of Christ, it seems that almost all but poor Christians would fail the test Jesus put to the rich young man.

"Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"

"If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."

Christ challenges the rich young man to follow the two greatest commandments (love his neighbor as himself) and love God maximally (devote himself to following Christ).

The young man proves unable to do so. (Matthew 19:16-22)

I don't know any Christian with accumulated wealth (myself included!) who could meet Christ's test.

I've heard every excuse. I'll address some here.

  1. Jesus was addressing that man in particular. It doesn't apply to everyone. By itself, this suggests we can ignore all the epistles (addressed to particular groups) and, arguably anything that wasn't addressed to a general audience.
  2. It only applies to the young rich man because wealth was a problem for him. One: that scope-restriction is not clear from the text. Two: distributing resources to your neighbor without special bias to yourself is upholding the second great commandment, which applies to everyone. Three: If it's not a problem, those appealing to this claim should be able to meet Christ's challenge, but almost none do. (Now, perhaps they could, but because it's not a problem for them, they don't feel the need to do so. But it seems too convenient that this would be true for almost every Christian who has anything.)
  3. But then there would be no room for blessings I haven't read anything that Christ said about leaving room for material blessings beyond what's required for our day to day needs.
  4. Christ finishes his eye-of-the-needle analogy by remarking that it's possible for rich people to be saved That it's possible for a person to be saved, does not mean that it's likely. Fitting a camel through an eye of a needle is impossible (the claim that the 'eye of the needle' is a short gate has been conclusively refuted). The 'but he says it's possible' reply has always reminded me of the line from the movie Dumb and Dumber: "so you're saying there's a chance." It ignores the powerful analogy that's meant to convey that it's all but impossible.

Given that just about everyone who has more than a little to give up would not pass the test of the young rich man, it seems that very few people are saved.

That said, to distribute resources among you and your neighbors with no special bias for yourself as the one with sole say on distribution is often seen as supererogatory. I assume there's a reason why that has become the dominant view.

  1. Are there many with excess resources who are saved (by excess, I mean more than sufficient to meet basic needs)
  2. Why is distributing resources without a self-serving bias considered supererogatory despite the second great commandment?

Any answer well-reasoned from the words of Christ would suffice (regardless of denomination).

23
  • 1
    accumulated wealth (non-poor) seems very vague. Which denomination's viewpoint are you asking? the statement distribute resources among you and your neighbors...seen as superogatory needs context/source
    – depperm
    Aug 1 at 15:11
  • 1
    @Hal says "The question means to ask whether someone can have more than they need while their neighbor has less than they need and still call herself a Christian.", but the question is actually "Is anyone with accumulated wealth saved?". I'd say that King David and Joseph of Arimathea are two examples of "anyone", so the answer is obviously "yes". Aug 1 at 18:37
  • 3
    Isn't Abraham's wealth attributed to God's benevolence, yet possessing this wealth would be his damnation? It doesn't add up.
    – fгedsbend
    Aug 1 at 23:36
  • 1
    The start of the question seems to contradict a later part of the question: "it seems that almost all but poor Christians would pass the test" vs. "I don't know any Christian with accumulated wealth (myself included!) who could meet Christ's test." The first says that only poor Christians fail; the second says that non-poor Christians fail. Aug 3 at 13:11
  • 1
    @ribs2spare That's my view. However, most Christians find it unacceptable. So it was useful here.
    – Hal
    Aug 14 at 17:15

8 Answers 8

11

To answer the OP, yes.

Keep reading! In the next paragraph Jesus explains. The point of the parable is to show it is impossible for people to be right with God, regardless of their status, wealth, works, etc.

Let's take a closer look.

Jesus says, follow all the commandments.

The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Mt 19:20

Uh, huh, sure. So, Jesus presses him to sell everything. Follow Christ.

The rich young ruler won't do that either.

The disciples are astonished. Why? They are probably wealthy also, having boats, servants, etc. Verse 25:

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”

And verse 26:

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Salvation is a gift from God. You are saved by grace through faith in Christ (Eph 2:8).

EDIT TO ADD:

OP: "I don't know any Christian with accumulated wealth (myself included!) who could meet Christ's test."

As mentioned, that's the point.

10
  • 1
    Yes, this is exactly the answer Jesus gives the disciples.
    – Nacht
    Aug 1 at 22:58
  • 5
    And then in verse 27, as a response to being told that it's not up to them, but it's up to God, Peter actually does the thing that was asked of the Rich Young Man. This is the order of things: we are saved, therefore we do good works, not the other way around.
    – Nacht
    Aug 1 at 23:05
  • Granted, this answer is from a Reformed perspective.
    – Nacht
    Aug 1 at 23:05
  • 3
    Everything seems good except the disciples are probably wealthy also. I don't see that at all.
    – Joshua
    Aug 2 at 16:10
  • 2
    Why were they exceedingly astonished? Perhaps it was because they had assets also (for example John 21:3). Or it could be they were astonished because "everyone" knew the wealthy would be saved; the thought being the wealthy are nearer to God.
    – SLM
    Aug 2 at 16:52
9

"The young man proves unable to do so." skips over an important detail.
His personal sticking point was Jesus's suggestion to "go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor".

Jesus wasn't suggesting that selling everything that one owns and giving the proceeds to the poor is a good idea (society would collapse and everyone would end up even poorer than those that are currently poor).

Jesus was using what he knew to be the rich man's weak point. By exaggerating what is expected, Jesus made the rich man know that he was worshipping his personal wealth more than he worshipped God.

A good counterexample to your question is Joseph of Arimathea, who was a rich man himself, but was hardly condemned for it. When God needed something from him, he was willing to give.


The principle here isn't about wealth itself.
When God asks you for something, regardless of what it is, are you going to say "yes", without hesitation or regret?
Abraham was asked to make the greatest sacrifice, and he never even asked why.

Jesus made his comment about so few rich men inheriting his Kingdom, not because there is anything wrong with being rich, but because the attribute that enables most rich men to become rich is the same attribute that puts money above god.

Earlier, Jesus had also used money as an example of having to decide between God and something else:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
— Matthew 6:24

But he didn't say wealth was wrong, only that it should never be put ahead of God ("Thou shalt have no other gods before me.").

Paul also talks about the rich:

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, — 1 Timothy 6:17–18

Notice that "those who are rich" refers to rich Christians. He doesn't say wealth is bad, or that Christians shouldn't accumulate wealth; only that one should put more trust in God than one puts in money.

And notice that he says that they should be prepared to give and share, not that anyone should give up all their wealth.

The overall message is that when God asks for something, whatever it is, one should immediately and willingly agree. Any other response indicates one is following a form of idolatry.

6
  • 2
    That was reply #2: it only applies to the man because wealth was a problem for him. One: that scope-restriction is not clear from the text. Two: distributing resources to your neighbor without special bias to yourself is upholding the second great commandment, which applies to everyone. Three: If it's not a problem, those appealing to this claim should be able to meet Christ's challenge, but almost none do. (Now, perhaps they could, but because it's not a problem for them, they don't feel the need to do so. But it seems too convenient that this would be true for almost every Christian)
    – Hal
    Aug 1 at 16:56
  • In other words, I've seen this assertion. I haven't seen anything in the word's of Christ that support it. (Happy to be shown to be wrong).
    – Hal
    Aug 1 at 16:57
  • @Hal says "those appealing to this claim should be able to meet Christ's challenge, but almost none do. Christ's challenge was specific to this person. We each have something that we do or might put above God, but it doesn't have to be money. Jesus wasn't suggesting, much less commanding, that everyone give up everything they own. ¶ See the addition to the answer. Aug 1 at 17:35
  • 1
    This is just a reiteration of the assertion. I'm looking for something that substantiates your claim. Where in the text does Christ imply that this is directed to this one person? What about the other issues brought up with this reply?
    – Hal
    Aug 1 at 18:25
  • Another thing you could add 1 Timothy 6:18
    – bob
    Aug 2 at 19:28
7

Both Ray and SLM make good points. Let's look at this a bit more closely, however. Starting with (all emphases added):

Matthew 19:16, 21a
a man came up to [Jesus], saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" [...] Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect [...]"

Already it's clear that the man's head isn't in the right place. He's asking what he can do, and Jesus is giving him a literal answer. This is further seen in the man's claim that "all these [commandments] I have kept".

The truth is that there is absolutely nothing that we can do to have eternal life. We are all sinners; we have all fallen short (Romans 3:23). Loving [the accumulation of] wealth more than one loves God, or one's fellow man, is just one of many, many ways humans can sin (n.b. Ray's answer).

So, what about the cited objections?

Jesus was addressing that man in particular. It doesn't apply to everyone.

Jesus was most certainly calling out that particular man's specific sin, but He was also giving a general lesson about our ability to merit salvation on our own.

If it's not a problem, those appealing to this claim should be able to meet Christ's challenge, but almost none do.

Christ challenges us to be perfect. Do you know anyone (other than Christ) who succeeds? The point of the challenge, whether in general, or to the rich man specifically, isn't that we can succeed, it's to show us our need for Christ.

Then there would be no room for blessings.

Material wealth can reduce anxiety and allow one to better focus on Christ. (Although I hear the opposite is also true.) Accumulation of wealth can permit one to make a greater difference that would be possible if one were to give away all of one's additional blessings as soon as they become available. Dinesh D'Souza wrote a book on the matter, The Virtue of Prosperity, that may be enlightening.

Why is distributing resources without a self serving bias considered superogatory?

Anything we do is superogatory; that's the entire message of Christianity! We can't do it ourselves. We need God's Grace... and God's Grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9). Read up on Sola Gratia. Also keep in mind that "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7); if you're giving of your resources (blessings) because you expect to get something in return, you're doing it wrong.

Where in the text does Christ imply that this is directed to this one person?

Where in the text is it implied otherwise? By reading into such a small snippet that clearly isn't conveying the entirety of Christianity, you're arriving at a conclusion that is both right and wrong at the same time. It's fine to say that the rich man failed to live up to the commandment to love his neighbors, or that we're all under that commandment, but again, that's only half the point. Ray is correct that we should also take into consideration the social effects of trying to be too literal about how we interpret the law... but the ultimate point isn't that we must keep the law, but that we can't. That's both the moral of this particular story and the overall theme of Christianity.

8
  • Thanks for taking the time to read and reply to the whole question. "but the ultimate point isn't that we must keep the law, but that we can't." Does it matter whether we can but won't? Can I repent if I choose to continue to do what I'm repenting for?
    – Hal
    Aug 1 at 21:42
  • 1
    @Hal, Romans 6:1-2 seems to speak to your first question. Also, if you are deliberately doing something you know is wrong, are you really repentant? To your second, again, Christ is pointing out that the qualification to merit eternal life is perfection, which we cannot achieve. Note Matthew 5:21-22,27-28. Matthew 19:16-22 sort of stops before getting to the gospel, with only the phrase "with God all things are possible".
    – Matthew
    Aug 1 at 22:04
  • 1
    This is my point (repentance). If you are deliberately not feeding your starving neighbor despite having the means to do so, and despite knowing that you are commanded to do so, then are you really repentant? I think it's fair to say that you're probably not. If repentance is a minimal condition of salvation (and salvation does have conditions - e.g. at least belief + something that the devil doesn't do [because even he believes]), then are you saved if you don't feed your starving neighbor. I can't see a way around that. Either repentence isn't required or you're not saved.
    – Hal
    Aug 1 at 22:28
  • 1
    I'm not sure you read my comment.
    – Hal
    Aug 2 at 11:45
  • 1
    @JohnBollinger, that's not what I meant; edited. Thanks.
    – Matthew
    Aug 4 at 18:14
5

Has anyone with accumulated wealth been saved?

The short answer seems to be yes. At least according to Catholicism.

Being wealthy may be a blessings in this life, but the key thing is how to put one’s wealth to use in this life.

Saint Louis IX of France was the King of France from 1226 to 1270. He is a recognized saint in the Catholic Church and thus is saved. Various biographies tell us that he fed the poor and cleaned the wounds of lepers personally. He also partook in two crusades in order to free Jerusalem from the infidels. He administered his wealth in a very Christian way, both for himself and those within his kingdom.

Other examples can be found with a little research.

Let us remember that no matter what our station is in this life, rich or poor, let us always see to it that in all things God may be glorified. Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus.

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. - 1 Peter 4:11

9
  • So that's what I mean when I say that it seems that most people consider passing the rich man's test to be superogatory (i.e. the Catholics and just about every other denomination have examples of wealthy members). I'm asking how it's possible that these members could be genuine Christians. In other words, how can we say that we love our neighbors like we love ourselves when so many that we might call our neighbor are starving. If I loved myself and them equally, I would feed us both equally (but I don't do that).
    – Hal
    Aug 1 at 18:33
  • @Hal, notice Mark 14:7, "You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to.". If one combines that with your idea that Christians should give away everything they have to help the poor, the result is that all Christians will always be the poorest of the poor. ¶ Is perpetual abject poverty what God wants for all Christians? If not, it means that either Jesus was wrong, or the idea that Christians should give away everything is wrong. Which one is wrong? Aug 1 at 18:46
  • So long as there's more than enough for everyone, then it doesn't follow that we'd live in abject poverty.
    – Hal
    Aug 1 at 21:37
  • @Hal, if we perpetually even out all the resources, no one will invest in infrastructure, no one will build factories, no one will do anything to improve the overall situation. Various forms of communism have been tried, from the Pilgrims to the Soviets, and they've all failed for the same reason. Aug 2 at 1:56
  • In other words, adding efficiency as a means to better others doesn't suffice to motivate Christians? They're solely motivated by earning and keeping more than others? You're suggesting a world where everyone behaved perfectly (by Christ's own definition) would collapse?
    – Hal
    Aug 2 at 2:34
4

Key to this query is knowing what Jesus thought about money, and entrance into the kingdom of God. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the Bible agrees with Jesus on this. Take, for example, what the apostle Paul said:

"For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:10)

Paul then went on to counsel Timothy to flee from that, and to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and meekness, in order to "lay hold on eternal life" (vs. 12). Notice how money, or lack of money, has no bearing on pursuing those godly things? Further notice this link about righteousness (as the young man asking Jesus was deeply concerned to be righteous before God.)

"See ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). ['These things being necessary things for living on Earth.]

The rich young man had a problem he was unaware of, until Jesus flagged it up - his love of money. That was an obstacle, a stone he was stumbling over without realising it, but that obstacle could be removed if he sold up, gave the proceeds to the poor, and then followed Jesus. When he went away sad, Jesus then said how difficult it is for rich people to enter into the kingdom of God. Notice, he didn't say it was impossible - just very difficult. He went on to say to his astonished followers that being saved is impossible for men, but not with God. That is because every time a sinner is saved, that is a miracle from God, because nobody could be saved without God showing his grace and enabling salvation to 'happen'. (Matthew 19:23-26)

This means that salvation is not about money, or position, or morality, or fastidiously striving to keep every law of God in the Hebrew scriptures (as that man was trying to do.) The salvation that gives entrance into the kingdom of God is freely given to those who trust God utterly, and who have stopped trusting in their own abilities, or efforts, or funds, or position etc. They are seeking God's righteousness, you see, as per. Mat. 6:33, not their own.

Jesus, who reads hearts and minds, knew from his encounter with that young man what his real problem was. He was coveting money in his heart (as per. 1 Tim. 6:10). So Jesus did not beat about the bush - he quickly, yet kindly, stated what the young man had to do (Mat. 19).

The problem for him - as with everybody coveting money - is that such desire for money prevents them seeking first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness (Mat. 6:33). They might not see that and not say so, but here we have it from the lips of Jesus himself. Being saved is about putting him first and leaving all behind when he requests that; it is about focusing on God's righteousness, not our own supposed righteousness (for we have none of our own.) But notice that the Lord does not always require his followers to part with all their wealth? There were a group of women disciples who supported Jesus and the apostles out of their own substance. He never told them to get rid of it all!

Only when we grasp that salvation has nothing to do with money shall we then be opened up to how many other 'things' are not the issue with being saved or not. The key to being saved for rich and poor alike is to do as Jesus said to us all: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [necessary things in life] shall be added unto you." (Mat. 6:33)

So, to answer your question, "Is anyone with accumulated wealth saved?", "Salvation has got nothing to do with accumulated wealth any more than it has to do with total lack of wealth."

2

Abraham was rich but also righteous before God.

The teaching was that the man loved Mammon more than God and that no man can enter the kingdom of heaven by his own power.

To please the poor with your money is to show all people that you have more trust in God than in Mammon.

2

Money (Mammon) is a drug/false god, if you love money more than you love God you have a problem.

However, you can have money and love God. King David and King Solomon would be good examples.

How does loving God work, it shows as fruit, look at scripture around Jesus and fig tree. So loving your Neighbour is just the fruit of you understanding that God loves you.

Lastly if God loves you, and have forgiven all your sins because you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, then how can you not love your neighbour? (i.e. hate him?)

1
0

I can't quote chapter and verse but I know it's misinterpreted a lot of times that the Bible says that money is the root of all evil it does not it says the love of money is the root of all evil. Which to me translated means any love you put before Christ you lose. Again can't quote chapter and verse but it says there would be easier for a camel to fit through the eye of the needle than a rich man to go to heaven but the camel and the eye of the needle they're referring to is the doors of the Temple and a rich man is not necessarily wealthy give to Caesar what is ceasers.

2
  • 3
    "Again can't quote chapter and verse" It's not hard to search online! Google is my number one way to find verses. So please do spend a little time looking for them and editing this post, it would improve it.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 3 at 8:26
  • Welcome to Christianity! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Aug 3 at 13:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .