Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 4

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It Does Not Envy.

            ‘Two neighbours came out together to tender their petitions to the god Jupiter,’ describes one of Aesop’s tales entitled “Greed and Jealousy.” The two wanted their heart’s requests to be granted. The one neighbour was full of greed, the other consumed by envy. As the fable goes, Jupiter granted that each might have their request on the condition that the god would also give the alternate neighbour double the first one’s request.

The greed-filled neighbour began by praying for a room full of gold. The deity provided it and, as promised, furnished the other with two rooms full of the same. Now it was the envious neighbour’s turn. Envy not only covets, it cannot bear to think of another having more pleasure than itself. So, in spite of the two rooms of gold now at his disposal, the man devoured by envy prayed to have one of his own eyes blinded. What kind of request was that? It was an entreaty of a man ruled by envy to ensure that his neighbour would never be able to enjoy the beauty of his single room of gold.

“Envy,” explains author Chris Webb (“God-soaked Life”), is an example of “misdirected love. (Envy) can’t abide the idea of being exceeded by others.” While Aesop’s fable describes the extremity of one man’s envy against another, envy also insinuates itself into our lives in quieter, less obvious ways. It camouflages itself so that we are slow to recognize it, loath to acknowledge it and to do whatever it takes to remove its influence over us.

When we caution a friend to avoid certain new opportunities, we may be expressing envy by attempting to foil their success. When we share with others intelligence regarding the weaknesses of a common friend, envy may be our hidden motive. When we view others’ excellences with criticism or bitterness and are secretly happy to see them fall, envy is at the root of our reaction. For some, envy expresses itself in purposeful endeavors to discredit even God Himself. But as in Aesop’s fable, envy always consumes and eventually destroys its host.

The ‘Love Chapter’ of I Corinthians 13 is God revealing to you and me the tendencies of the human heart. It reveals the parameters of His idea of love—love that is directed in a uniquely non-destructive way. So while the Apostle Paul has begun his text with the placid phrases, “Love is patient, love is kind,” he now moves to aim his pen into the territory of our innate human vices, beginning with envy. Envy is love twisted inward. Envy is submitting to a greater disposition toward self than toward others. Envy wants self to rule supreme, and all others to be lesser.

But godly wisdom coaches us to see envy for what it is and to deal with it as with a mortal illness. As the Apostle Paul puts it in another epistle, envy arises out of “foolish(ness), disobedien(ce), dece(ption) and enslave(ry) (to) all kinds of passions and pleasures” (Titus 3:3). Those are hard truths to hear. But there’s more. He goes on to present the means of dealing with envy in our lives. Here it gets very personal; not everyone is willing to get so personal, so relational. He tells us we must embrace Christ’s redeeming grace and mercy, admit we’ve practiced a warped version of love and instead accept Christ’s version. He explains we need to make use of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit who gives us rebirth, renewal, and does a slow but complete clean-up in our lives.

Then we begin a process of learning a new kind of love, love arising out of the infinitely complete love of God. This love is called wise because it accounts for infinite reality and results in true human fulfillment in relationship with God and others. It “is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

So let’s take a deep breath and make a mental note to be alert to envy this week. Let’s ask God for eyes opened to our own envious thoughts, maybe even words and actions. Let’s acknowledge our sin, recognize the grace of Christ that heals us, and nip in the bud every bit of envy that tries to entangle us. God is faithful and wants to work in us the kind of love that Jesus’ life expresses. It’s the kind of love by which a human being like you and me can be transformed. It’s God’s love.

(Photo Credit: By Agnico-Eagle – Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16231250)

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Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 3

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Love is Kind.

What is love? Singer-songwriters—those who have the social contract for reflecting on what our culture understands as love—agree: Love is “what you do to (or for) me.” Artists illuminate the popular conception. Love, they cry, is what we get from our special other. Love is how they make us feel when our relationship is budding. Love is the passion and attraction and pounding heart rate their presence instills within us. Yes, we’ll return the favour, but we’ll only persist if we keep receiving the incoming sensations of ‘what they do to us.’

So when the Apostle Paul follows his “love is patient” tag from I Corinthians 13 with “love is kind” we may feel surprised, maybe even a little disillusioned. Love is…‘kind’? Kindness sounds so anticlimactic, so monotonous and mundane—a bit like the word ‘nice’. It was bad enough Paul began with love is patient, does he now think that love being kind will inspire us to expressions as grand as we imagine love ought to be?

To help us solve this dilemma, let’s explore kindness using the same template with which we investigated patience. With patience we began by pausing and simply acknowledging God’s existence, by recognizing that God is. Let’s do that again. Then we went a step deeper in step two, exploring how God exemplifies patience. So now we can ask the question in reference to kindness: Is God kind?

“The LORD is compassionate and gracious (another word for kind), slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8); “…the riches of [God’s] kindness, tolerance and patience…God’s kindness leads you toward repentance…” (Romans 2:4); “…[God’s]glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:6).

We are beginning to see the picture. God is kind and there is nothing mundane or monotonous about kindness. It is full and rich, creative and expressive, helping and healing. God speaks kindness, He acts kindness, He exudes kindness. The vast extent of His kindness is expressed in history’s focal moment: Jesus’ sacrificial and redemptive death on the cross. This kindness—completely unmerited by us—absolves us from the guilt of our rebellion against Him. This is the epitome and climax of everything the word kindness entails. Inhale that thought and we find the ‘love is kind’ concept expanding beyond our human conception. Christ enters our world and conquers spiritual death out of kindness for you and me.

Then comes step three. Let’s do as we did with patience. Let’s apply it. Let’s take the concept of kindness revealed to us through God’s Word and let’s do it. Be it. Kindness is no longer the bland, pedestrian image of an old woman feeding pigeons in Central Park; it is the Christ’s-love-motivated ambition to meaningfully touch others’ lives for good. And we are not called to show kindness only to the weak and helpless. We are summoned to be kind to the tiresome, obnoxious and maddening individuals in our lives—our enemies, for want of a better word. Jesus commands it.

“I tell you, love your enemies,” He challenges us. “Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind” (Luke 6:35,36).

Did you catch the overarching rationality of living out kindness? Jesus says it is our God-created identity to be kind. As the Old English root of the word explains, kindness is tied to our identity. It reaches out “with the feeling of relatives for each other; natural, native, innate.” To be kind is to treat others as if they were kindred hearts, beloved members of one’s family. We must begin to think of others with grace and acceptance—perhaps as if they were our younger brothers and sisters.

And what will be the result of kindness?

Kindness works somewhat like forgiveness does—it changes the doer sometimes more than the recipient. Kindness changes us from trivial to sincere, from judging to just, from self-centred to selfless. It molds our character into becoming more Christlike as we practice kindness in our day-to-day lives. How do we learn to be kind? By studying Christ’s life. By reading it, meditating on it, eating, drinking and sleeping it. By submitting to Christ’s Spirit who wants to live out kindness through us we become Christ’s healing hands and feet to those with whom we connect—but only when we are kind.

So as we step into the foray of the day’s appointments, interruptions and interactions with an assortment of people—people we want to learn to love—let’s not forget the simple opportunities for kindness that suggest themselves to us. Patience calls us to slow down and wait; kindness calls us to step up and enter into. We do patience and we do kindness little by little. Each small success enables us to try next time with more skill. This is how the kindergarten of love works. Are we up for today’s lesson?

(Photo Credit: By Christopher Walker from Krakow, Poland (The Old Lady and the Birds) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 2

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Love is Patient.

We’re asking, “How do we love the culture around us—co-workers, neighbours, friends, family, those who offend us, those who reject us, those who may even be changing our culture for the worse—how do we love them in a way that pleases God?”

We’ve seen what love is not. It is not big talk, brassy proofs, or bold campaigns—not that big, bold productions are necessarily bad. Look at God’s intrepid exhibition in creating the universe: stars, planets and moons flung into vast, meteoric order so that one small planet could sustain life. That’s mettle with infinite love at its core. But we’ve observed that when we humans try to replicate the show, it comes from a heart of fear: fear of being found out as frauds, fear of failing, fear of missing out, fear of not realizing our unique selves.

We are infatuated with the idea of love; we think expressions of passion and stagings of happy-ever-after romantic matches are love. We think love is something we fall into, something of which we are passive recipients, something we must release with open hands when we no longer feel its fire. We use the idea of love to justify actions that promote our own satisfaction regardless of the long-term consequences.

In what colours does the ‘Love Chapter ‘of the Bible paint love? If we still expect a pyrotechnic revelation of love, we’re in for a shock. Rather than love as the roar of a waterfall, we’re shown it as the whisper of a hummingbird’s wings. “Love is patient,” the Apostle Paul begins. The words painstakingly inked onto the original papyrus would have taken no small amount of determination to inscribe. The grain of the stripped, flattened and glued papyrus leaf would have tended to draw the ink in strange directions like bicycle wheels caught in a rut, careening off their intended path. It took resolution to write those words. It took patience.

But patient writing with ancient inscribing materials is nothing compared to patient loving. Patient loving, explains the Apostle, must persevere against the grain of our natural earth-bound inclinations. What is patience? How do we begin to grasp the facets of this complex and difficult-to-practice aspect of love?

Patience begins with looking at God, with recognizing the vast eternality of His existence. “Be still and know that I am God,” He commands through one of the psalmists. To be patient is to be stilled and silenced in awe of the One who is Supreme. He is. Inhale the thought of Him.

Next, patience grows through learning about the patience of God Himself—the perfect, ultimate form of patience. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” explains another psalmist. One of the breathtaking results of reading through Scripture is seeing examples of God’s great patience in the lives of ordinary folk—people like you and me. You and I are the Adams and Eves, the Abrahams, Sarahs, Rebeccas and John Marks of this century. Like them, we stumble along making messes that God patiently works through to align history with His great plan to bless this world. God never tires of taking us back into His arms after each of our breakaway attempts to do things our way. He patiently heals the wounds with which we’ve pierced ourselves, helping us understand the beauty of soul He desires to create in us.

And finally, perhaps most, difficult, patience matures when we step into the lives of others, when we treat them with the sort of patience God has shown us. Practicing patience means no one is beneath us because we recognize how far God has reached down to us time and time again to lift us up. Practicing patience is seeing all people as inherently valuable—nothing they say or do can change our mind that they are made in God’s image. No wound they inflict is unforgiveable. Practicing patience is…practicing. It is a trial-and-error sort of loving, recognizing we ourselves are imperfect, and that while our attempts to love are imperfect, we will keep on trying. For those who have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Jesus, there is the inside help of His Holy Spirit, counseling us, awakening our consciences, moving us into situations where patience is required. For those who have not His Spirit, patience is a much more difficult virtue to practice.

If we want to love we must grow patient. We must look at God and His great patience with us; we must turn outward to express that patience to those who need love: our families, friends, peers and co-workers, drivers on the roads of life, people online and off the political centre—none are immune to the loving effects of patience. God be with you.

(Photo Credit: By “Mike” Michael L. Baird, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3593420)

Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 1

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What Love is Not.

A plethora of ethical and moral causes pulls at our hearts and consciences. Social media is full of it. Attempts to rescue endangered species, stop pipeline expansions, damn intolerances, tax polluters, and challenge our passive disinterest inundate the news. How do we determine which petitions and persuasions should take hold of us and move us to act? Some sound far-fetched but many sound so good. There is something within us that wants to be part of goodness winning over vice, of justice prevailing, of culture being reinvigorated or reinvented. We may even feel deep inside that our justification for living will never be truly realized until we have impacted our culture in a noteworthy way.

It is here that the Apostle Paul speaks across two millennia to address this contemporary issue: How do we love the culture around us—amid its myriad of issues—in a way that pleases God?

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,” begins Paul in his well-known chapter on love, “but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Why does this very famous ‘Love Chapter’ start with what love is not? Maybe because it is written specifically to Christians(!). Perhaps it is because one very subtle inclination is to make a spectacle of our love—an external statement for everyone around us to see. A motive of wanting to control others or be acclaimed by them replaces the motive of love. But the Apostle Paul is saying that these displays of ‘love’ are not really love. In fact, they are nothing more than a grating, irritating cacophony in God’s ears. God sees our hearts and He sees what’s going on deep inside. He recognizes that our sharp and loud voices, some of our bold projects, and many of our religious programmes have more to do with the opposite of love.

What is the opposite of love? Read it between the lines of the first three verses of I Corinthians 13. The opposite of love is fear—fear that moves us to try to control people and manipulate situations, our own selves, and sometimes even God. We can try to control others by speaking eloquently, by spouting all the most recent scientific, psychological, or social information on a subject. We can try to control others by launching campaigns, or by parading in front of others how compassionate we are. We can try to control ourselves by hiding the fear we have deep inside that we might not be of any worth. We can even try to control God with our good works, by thinking we can put Him in debt to us—to cause Him to do for us what we demand of Him. But it is all about fear.

One option is to demolish what many feel is the source of fear. Slogans like ‘No Fear’ champion the supremacy of human ability and achievement. The problem with this method of dealing with our innate fear is that in order to claim human supremacy, we must, by necessity, reject the supremacy of God. There is something connecting our fears with our ideas of a God who demands certain things. The basis for our morality then shifts from “God says…” to “I say…” in order to dismantle fear this way. But is this way of thinking consistent and livable?

The other option is to accept God for who He is and watch that create a change within us from the inside out. “God is love,” explains the Apostle John. “Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in him… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (I John 4:16-18).

When we accept the truth that our innate fear is based on our intuitive knowledge of having sinned against God, we begin to step out of the shadow of fear; and when we remember Jesus’ debt-paying death on our behalf, we move from fear into the light of God’s expansive love. This is the necessary preamble to loving others. We must first accept God’s love for us God’s way: Jesus’ personal goodness projected onto us is the sole basis for God’s loving acceptance of us. Returning to this truth again and again is what drives fear away from its hold on our hearts. It is what restrains us from our gong-sounding, cymbal-clanging tendencies to be in control.

So when the tendency to be ruled by fear returns, when we are tempted to silence it by taking control of the situation and of others, let’s choose to rest in God instead. Kay Bruner, counselor and author, savors: “Fear says, ‘Don’t do it! You’ll be powerless!’ Love says, ‘You’re Beloved.’

 

 

The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm, Following Jesus: Conclusion

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“Then they came to Jericho.” The gospel writer Mark concludes his tenth chapter by relating Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem by way of Jericho. It’s no coincidence. Jesus has been illustrating for His followers the impossibility of humankind’s journey toward God without divine intervention. And now here is Jericho—Jericho, the city of impossible barriers.

The wall surrounding the Jericho of a millennium before Jesus’ time had been at least 14 metres high. It had presented an impossible barrier to anyone wanting to enter Canaan by that route. The inhabitants of the walled city were healthy, wealthy, and rather protective of their impossible barrier. Yet, as the story—and the Afro-American spiritual—goes, that barrier “came a tumblin’ down!” God had required His people to trust Him and to follow His instructions in order for the barrier to crumble.

But this was now Jericho of more than a millennium later. The city had been rebuilt a number of times. The Roman Empire owned it now, and Jesus was merely passing through its cobbled streets enroute to Jerusalem. His disciples and a large crowd surrounded Him, trying to hear a word from this unusual Rabbi.

A blind beggar sat by the roadside that day. From his perspective a crowd was a good thing: more opportunity to coax sympathetic passersby to contribute to his empty bowl. There might be enough to buy himself a proper meal if the crowd was generous. But even as the coins clattered into his bowl, Bartimaeus heard a name coming from the lips of many of the people; “Jesus.” Was this the reason for the throng? He had heard of the miracle-working man who had walked on water, healed the sick, and brought mad-men back to their senses. Many said these stories were impossible, but were they?

“Jesus, Son of David,” Bartimaeus began shouting, “have mercy on me!”

“Shut up, old man!” the nearest travelers hissed as they dropped their coins into his dish.

“Son of David,” Bartimaeus persisted, “have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped.

And in that moment, the sound of old Jericho’s impossible walls beginning to crumble echoed in Bartimaeus’ ears. Would Jesus help a blind begging nobody like him?

“Call him,” Jesus commanded one of His closest followers.

“So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:49-52).

One man’s impossible barrier was demolished that day. The obstacle that had hounded this poor beggar was suddenly removed at a word from Jesus. Bartimaeus’ entire identity was transformed by that word, and he was free to do…anything now. Bartimaeus could have found his way home, taken up the family business, become a wealthy man, and built a high wall around his home and business. Never again would he be humiliated by self-important almsgivers. But instead, we’re told, he followed Jesus.

None of the gospel writers tell us any more about Bartimaeus. We’re left to our imaginations in his regard. We know he followed Jesus, and that is enough. We know Bartimaeus’ faith was in some way a part of the alchemy that Jesus used to break down this man’s most restricting barrier. And we know Bartimaeus took the opportunity to ally himself with Jesus. Perhaps that is all we need to know.

Maybe it makes our own personal stories more able to parallel Bartimaeus’. We all have barriers that keep us from following Jesus. Many of us have heard of things that have even turned us off of religion for good. But Jesus makes sure He passes every person’s way. Everyone gets the opportunity to call out to Him personally. Everyone with an ear open to hear Him has the chance to ignore the crowd, get past the distractions of their own barriers, and come to Him when He calls. And in that moment, with not much more than a micron of faith, we each have the opportunity to entrust ourselves to Him, to let Him heal us in His own way, to enable us to follow Him. The impossible paradigm is no longer impossible because Jesus calls us. It is His voice, His redeeming work, His limitless life that gives us what we truly need: relationship with Him. The impossible has become possible.

(Photo Credit: By RichTea, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13637163)

The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 4

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Impossible?

Picture the largest indigenous land animal in your country—on the west coast of Canada it would be a grizzly bear. Now picture the smallest hole which technology of our day has devised—that would be the apertures made by UC Berkeley’s semiconductor laser that are smaller than a single protein molecule. Now, imagine you want to communicate a hyperbole to make a point. You might say something like, “That’s as likely as a Grizzly squeezing through a semiconductor laser aperture!” It would be unusual enough that you would be making your point (no pun intended).

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Jesus making a similar comment—a first century Middle Eastern version of it. Jesus uses hyperbole to make a point, to catch His disciples’ attention, to correct a firmly held cultural belief. Jesus’ comment follows His interaction with the rich young man who has turned away, unwilling to redistribute his wealth, precursor to softening his heart to following Jesus.

“Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23-27).

The problem was that Jewish culture equated wealth with spiritual blessing. It read Moses’ words, “God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to” (Deuteronomy 15:10) and made it into a holy grail. Wealth became a defining sign of God’s reward. The wealthier the Jews became, the more they ignored God’s words fore and aft of the ‘blessing.’ The commands, “do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother” (v.7), and “be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land” (v.11) had been disregarded. It is human nature to twist God’s words in such a way that it benefits oneself rather than obeying the true spirit of the command.

Jesus’ hyperbole was meant to bring that mindset to a screeching halt. The disciples are “amazed” and then “even more amazed” at his words. He is clearly explaining that we can neither earn our way to eternal life nor presume that our wealth, social status, or ethical standards give us a foot in the door to paradise. There is nothing we can do to position ourselves to deserve God’s blessing. No one can be saved.

Exactly, confirms Jesus. “With man this is impossible.”

But Jesus continues. There is hope because God turns the impossible into the possible. As in creation when He speaks His Word and everything from rainbows of light to species of life are created, His Word must be spoken for humanity’s salvation to occur. Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh, and it is He who makes salvation possible for each of us. He is the one who has spent the wealth of His perfect sinlessness to pay with His life-blood the debt of our moral bankruptcy. They unpayable bill has been paid in full.

No matter where we are at today—long-time followers of Jesus, cautious explorers of this thing called saving faith, or hard-nosed atheists—we are all on common ground. Not one of us can access any real paradise on our own. It’s impossible. But Jesus can and does. Jesus makes the impossible possible.

Be amazed an even more amazed. He has made eternity available to us.

The (Almost) Impossible Paradigm: Following Jesus, Part 2

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Identities.

“Good teacher,” asked a young man one day, running up to Jesus and falling on his knees before him, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

At first glance, we seem to be observing an individual who is a genuine seeker. His posture has communicated keen interest and even submission; his face has likely transmitted eagerness and enthusiasm; his words have articulated respect and resolve. What more could Jesus want in a seeker? Yet Jesus begins His response with a challenge.

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”

Strange. The man has merely used a respectful form of address, and yet Jesus confronts the very first word that has come out of the man’s mouth. Why?

From our records of Jesus’ three years of ministry, His death and resurrection, Jesus does not routinely correct people’s usage of language, so why now? Why this word? The answer lies in Jesus’ correction of the mindset behind the man’s use of the word ‘good’.

Jesus already knows something about this young man that the young man himself does not know—that he is motivated by false identities and false loyalties. He sees Jesus as a teacher—a good one, yes, but just a teacher. This is one of the easiest identities for us to apply to Jesus. It allows us to show him respect as one who authentically tried to add his voice to help a hurting humanity; it allows us to learn from his compassionate disposition; it allows us to appear to be reasonable, inclusive and tolerant of him, as one of many good moral teachers this world has produced. But it also allows us to distance ourselves from real core life change—from a relationship with the Son of God. Teachers are significant and memorable, but they’re neither perfect nor eternal. They’re not God. But Jesus claims to be God.

Secondly, the young man sees himself as good—a good obedient son and a good obedient member of the Jewish religion. He hears the list of commandments Jesus recites, and checks them all off as done.

“You know the commandments:” reminds Jesus, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

“Teacher,” he declared (notice the young man has withdrawn the word good as he addresses Jesus this time), “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Wait. Has he really kept all the commands? Flawlessly? This young man has a self-identity issue happening here. He has defined goodness as something he has attained. He has already forgotten Jesus’ intelligence that “no one is good—except God alone.” Not only that, but he has failed to notice that within the list of the commandments to be followed Jesus has deliberately omitted the prime commandment contained in the Mosaic Law: “I am the LORD your God…You shall have no other gods before me”(Deut.5:7).

This is no coincidence. Jesus has been testing the young man. He has been trying to help the young man discern the state of his inner being, of his soul, of his relationship with the LORD his God. But the young man comes up empty. He completely forgets why the commandments exist. And the reason the young man has become distracted from the prime calling and purpose of human life is because he has found a replacement for God. He has found wealth.

Money, material possessions, and the power and social status that accompany the acquisition of wealth have bumped God into second place in the rich young man’s life. Perhaps it has happened so gradually he has not even been aware of it. He has conferred a false identity upon both wealth and God that inverses their true value and sovereignty.

Jesus has diagnosed the foolish rich young man’s heart condition from the moment the young man had come to Him. And now, Jesus offers the one prescription that will reverse the prognosis of spiritual decline into which the young man has fallen: dispose of the intruding god; jettison the cargo that is causing his ship to sink; eradicate the disease that is killing him. Give away his wealth.

Ah, say we. I’m not that wealthy. This doesn’t apply to me. But take a good hard look at how we identify ourselves. What two or three things are we most likely to want to communicate to others about ourselves overtly or covertly? Is it about our social position, our trendiness, our gender, our education or career, maybe even our identity as a victim of something? Anything with which we identify ourselves above our identity as worshipers of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a false identity, and Jesus says ‘Get rid of it! It’s destroying you and it’s destroying your relationship with God.

If this stirs our hearts, if it shakes anything within the core of our souls let’s do the impossible; let’s put God back into first position in our lives. It might hurt. It will mean a change of identities. But there is one thing we can know for absolute certain: it is good.

(Photo Credit: By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], File: False Identity Cards; via Wikimedia Commons)