The Rich Young Ruler – Luke 18:18-23

In chapter 17, we saw Jesus traveling to Jerusalem for the last time, teaching His disciples through a living parable what it means to be a true Christian: someone who glorifies God someone whose thoughts and passions are directed towards God. But guess what? Do you think that one living story would be enough to the stubborn disciples? Probably not. And so as the journey goes on, Jesus also continues to teach His disciples about true salvation.

In chapter 18, verse 9-14, Jesus tells them a parable about a self-righteous Pharisee and a tax-collector. The Pharisee was the one who thought he had everything figured out. He thought, “I am so religious, I am so godly, I am such a good man! God, you are so lucky that I even know you!” And then on the other side there is the tax-collector beating his chest, crying out to God: “God! Be merciful to me, a sinner!”

One was proud, the other one was humble. One thought he was so good he didn’t really need a Savior. The other one was so broken, he knew that without being dependent upon a Savior his life would have no hope. One was an unbeliever. The other one was saved.

And then we get to verses 15-17, where little children come to Jesus.

15.Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.

16. But Jesus called them to him, saying, « Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.

17. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. »

Jesus here continues to teach about what it means to be a true Christian. He says that being a Christian is like being a child. Not because children are innocent, because they are not. How many of you have younger siblings? Would you say that they are perfect, always watching for others and never being selfish? No way! Here Jesus is teaching that the kingdom of God is for those that are like children because children, just like the tax-collector, need to be dependent. The tax collector was asking help from God. Children are the same, they are always asking for help. They can’t live on their own. They need to be protected, provided for, educated, sheltered.

And so Jesus is with a crowd, teaching all these things, and then a young man from the group comes to him to ask a question. This man is the rich young ruler. In this passage he is only called a ruler, but from the same story in the other gospels we know that he was also young and very rich.

Luk 18:18  And a ruler asked him, « Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? »

Luk 18:19  And Jesus said to him, « Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

Luk 18:20  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.' »

Luk 18:21  And he said, « All these I have kept from my youth. »

Luk 18:22  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, « One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. »

Luk 18:23  But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

Now, if you had asked most Jews in Israel in the times of Jesus, they probably all thought that this man was on his way to heaven. First, he sought sound teaching. Not only he came to listen to Jesus, but he even asked questions. Secondly he was rich, which for a lot of people of the Old Testament it implied that he was blessed by God, and so in favor before God. God had promised to bless the faithful ones, so often they thought that those who had riches were the ones that were the closest to God. Thirdly, he knew the Old Testament and on an outward level he had even applied himself to obey some of the 10 commandments.

He was religious, he had been faithful to his convictions his whole life, he wasn’t openly rebelling against God or living a life of debauchery. He looked like a believer, talked like a believer, and hung out with believers. But guess what? He was not a true believer. He refused to follow Jesus. And he refused because ultimately his heart was self-centered, and not God-centered. And he is probably in hell right now.

Earlier today we talked about the story of the leper who showed to be a true Christian because of his focus on God and his worship of Him. Now we are going to look at 5 deadly manifestations of self-centeredness that depict an unbeliever. And as we consider those, let us look at our own lives to see how we can grow to be less centered on self and more centered on God.

I. SELF-SERVING

First, in this passage, we see that he is self-centered by being self-serving. He is using people to his own ends. He is a manipulator.

And this is how we see this: he comes to Jesus with flattery. He calls Him “good” even though he doesn’t really believe it. He calls him “good” because he is trying to deceive Jesus to fall into a system of external conventions so proper to the rulers and aristocratic of the day. He does not call Him good because He believes that Jesus’ teaching should be followed, we know that because he walks away from Jesus – he calls him good because he is trying to get Jesus to like him.

And why is he trying to get Jesus to like him? Because he wants to get in the kingdom because he is a nice guy, not because he is following the teachings of Jesus. See, Jesus had just taught to the crowds that the kingdom of God was for those who would be broken-hearted and dependent, like the tax-collector and the children. But this guy comes and thinks that he is too good to fit in those categories. “Well, that dependence stuff is good for them, but what about a cool guy like me?”

And so he comes to Jesus with flattery. We even see in the gospel of Mark, in the same story, that he comes and kneels down before Jesus. Jesus was teaching the crowds, and here he comes, in front of everybody, and kneels down. And he calls him “good teacher!”

Now, you need to remember something. We’re in the days of Jesus, not in modern times. Back then, they didn’t use paper like we do. A lot of transactions were done by speaking. And so words were very important. Very important. And people were so used to that that they were also a lot better at remembering what people said. So when this man praises Jesus like this in front of a crowd, they would remember for a long time how he “honored” Jesus with his lips. It meant a lot.

Imagine if you go to class, and before the class begins your teacher says to everyone: “Listen class! This guy or this girl is awesome!”

Now, if your teacher did that to you, would you like the teacher or not? If the teacher kept telling people in public how awesome you are, would you behave well in that class? Would you listen to the teacher?

But what if the teacher told everyone that you were awesome but didn’t even believe it. What if the teacher told everybody that you were awesome just so that he or she could get you to behave better in class? That would be called flattery.

The dictionary states that flattery is “Excessive and insincere praise, especially that given to further one’s own interests.”

And that’s what this young ruler was all about. He had his own interests in mind. He was self-serving, self-centered. He didn’t care about the teachings of Jesus, he cared about getting Jesus on his side so that Jesus would treat him well in return.

Pro 26:28  A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Flattering is nothing else but lying. And it is practical hatred and brings about destruction. Flattery kills relationships. It makes them superficial and meaningless.

Now why do you think God created relationships? After God created Adam He created Eve so that she could be a helper to him. The first relationship that was created was made so that two people could help each other to do God’s will. That’s what relationships are all about. It’s to encourage one another to love God more, to love each other, to care for one another and to keep each other accountable that we all are bringing glory to His name.

Pro 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy

A true believer does not want to flatter people, but he wants to tell them the truth even when it is hard, even when it hurts people. Is it easy to confront someone on their sins? No, it’s really hard! They might hate you for it, they might think you are judging them, that you are not tolerant; they might even stop being your friends if they love their sins more than they love you. One time I told my younger brother that I didn’t think he was a believer because of how he lived his life, and he got so mad that he hit the wall and punched a hole into it. But by God’s grace he got saved a month later.

And that’s the first sign of an unbeliever: and unbeliever would rather have people like him than telling the truth to people. An unbeliever would rather have people believe lies rather than to tell them the truth.

Did the rich young ruler care about Jesus? Not a bit. He wanted to manipulate Him. But Jesus caught his intentions right away: He asks Him in verse 19:

Luk 18:19  And Jesus said to him, « Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

Jesus didn’t necessary rebuke him in front of everybody. He was very tactful. But he didn’t let him go away with his flattery. In fact, Jesus in this passage is extremely wise in how he tackles the problem of the young man. His problem is that he is self-centered: too self-centered to care about God or care about people. And so with this first comment, Jesus slowly leads the young ruler to see the state of his heart.

“Wait a minute! What is this about? I’m not playing by your rules. I don’t care about your flattery. In fact, let me show you how deceived you are with your own words. You call me good? God alone is good. So if you want to use a word that describes God’s character, let me point you back to Him. It’s not about you, it’s all about Him.”

II. SELF-ELEVATING

So first he showed how he was self-centered by self-serving, by being flattering. Secondly, he showed that he is self-centered by being self-elevating.

As we just mentioned, Jesus had been teaching to the crowd concerning salvation and the kingdom of God. First he taught about humility, right, in verse 14: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Then he taught on being like children: “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

In these statements Jesus makes generalizations. He says first “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” And then he says “truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Jesus is making generalizations. He is speaking truths that apply to everybody. “If you want to be part of the kingdom and have eternal life, be humble. If you want to go to heaven, be dependent like a child.”

But here comes the rich young ruler with his question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Now you might be thinking, was he listening? Jesus just taught what the kingdom of God was all about!

He was listening, but only with one ear. With one ear he was hearing the words of Jesus, but with the other ear he was listening to his own voice speaking to himself: “You’re better than this. These truths don’t apply to you. You are superior to them. You are in a category just by yourself.”

Do you ever do this? You hear some challenges from Scriptures but think to yourself: “No, I’ve got that one figured out. That’s for someone else.” And you start reasoning in your mind why the truths that are being spoken about are not really for you.

That was what the rich young ruler was doing. He was elevating himself above others. He thought he was superior to others. He was prideful. He was completely self-centered. He thought it was all about him.

In 1 Peter 5:5 it is written that God opposes the proud, but that He gives grace to the humble. God hates pride. He abhors it. And when He sees pride, He opposes it. When Satan the angel of light became prideful and rebelled against God, God kicked him out of heaven. When Adam became prideful and disobeyed God and ate from the fruit of the tree, God chased him from the Garden of Eden, from His presence, and gave a limit to his life so that he would die. And when men continued to be prideful and to sin against God, He judged them all with a flood to destroy every man except 8 people. And when the men of Babel joined together in pride to build a tower to “make a name for themselves” so that they would be remembered, God judged their pride and confused them with different languages.

Whenever people raise their fists to God’s will and say to Him, “we’ve got something better for ourselves than what you want us to do!” God calls it pride, and He opposes it. And let me tell you, if you think that you can get away doing your own will rather than God’s will, He will stand up in your way. He will be in your face. He’s going to judge you. And it’s not going to be pretty. If you think that you can keep a hardened heart when certain truths of the Scriptures are taught and you distance yourself from them, watch out.

God hates pride with all of His heart. In heaven, there will be no pride. Heaven is for humble people, for people who want to serve and love others, for people who want to do the will of God, for people who have died to self, who like Paul have been crucified with Christ.

This rich young ruler was prideful, self-elevating, and self-centered. He thought he could look down on others. He thought he deserved more than they did. He thought he was important enough to get God’s favor and attention.

I can tell you that it would not have taken very long for Jesus to smell that pride. Oh no, God smells pride like nothing else. It’s the most distasteful, stinky and revolting odor in the world. He wasn’t going to get away with this. Jesus was not going to let him go off the hook with that one. He wanted him to see his pride.

And so he asks him that simple question. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

Here Jesus is simply and wisely redirecting both the self-serving flattery of the ruler and his pride to a focus on God. It wasn’t about him, it was about God.

III. SELF-SUFFICIENT

First we saw that he was self-serving, secondly we saw that he was self-elevating, then thirdly we see that he was self-sufficient.

Luk 18:20  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.' »

Luk 18:21  And he said, « All these I have kept from my youth. »

The 10 commandments can be divided into two parts: one part relating to how one should behave in regard to his relationship with God, in worshipping Him alone, not using His name in vain, not making idols and keeping the Sabbath, and the other commandments concern one’s relationship with other people: not to murder them, to lie to them, to steal from them, but to be faithful and to honor them. In short, half of them deal with loving God, the other half deal with how we should love our neighbor.

Now, based on what we had already seen, do you think that the rich young ruler really loved his neighbor? We just saw from one sentence coming from his mouth that he is a manipulator and an arrogant man, looking down on people.

No, the rich young ruler did not love people. He loved himself.

And so when Jesus asks him about the commandments, he thought: “this is easy. This is basic stuff. I know all of that. I’ve been pretty good at those. I am a righteous man. I have done all of them.”

Now, let’s go back to verse 9, the first that introduces the story of the proud Pharisee and the humble tax-collector:

Luk 18:9  He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

The Pharisees were like the young man, they looked down on people. And they did that because they thought they were righteous. They thought that they had God’s law figured out. They thought that they had obeyed the law enough to be found guiltless. And you know why? It is because they thought they could pick their own standards of justice.

Imagine that you are in a country where the only law concerning speed limit is this one: “don’t go too fast.” Now that is a very broad statement. How would you apply this on the freeway? Well, this is how the Pharisees would apply this. They would get together, find out a speed limit that they would know is very hard to go over, like 150 miles/hour, and then make an agreement. Too fast is 150 miles/hour. Then they would all feel good about themselves.

Now they did the same thing with the 10 commandments. God had told them not to commit adultery, which means to not have intimate relationships with someone who is not your spouse. But many of them, when they wanted to sleep with another woman, they would divorce their wives so that they could get married again. But because they were still “married” they thought they were all good.

This is why Jesus said in Matthew 5:20:

Mat 5:20  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus’ standards were different.

Mat 5:21  « You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’

Mat 5:22  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Mat 5:27  « You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’

Mat 5:28  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

For Jesus the 10 commandments were a lot more than a list of things to do and not to do. They were the principles that one who loved God and loved others would want to follow.

Now, do you think that this young ruler practiced those things? No, he didn’t. We just saw that he talked to Jesus with flattery, which is a form of deception and of lying. He said he honored his parents from his youth. Do you think that it is even possible?

Now, do you know why God gave the 10 commandments?

Rom 3:20  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The reason why the Law and the 10 commandments  were given was to show people that they could never obey perfectly, and that they needed a Savior. That was the whole point. It was to show that their hearts were wicked and that they needed God to heal their hearts.

But the rich young ruler did not think that he needed a Savior. He thought he had everything under control. When Jesus told him about the commandments, he was asking him one basic question: do you think that you really love your neighbor? And the rich young ruler to answer: “I have done everything I could to do so.”

IV. SELF-INTERESTED

He was blinded. He was blinded because he could see nothing else but himself. He was self-serving, self-elevating, self-sufficient, and here, fourthly, we see that he was self-interested.

What he really cares about are his own interests.

After hearing the very prideful words from the ruler, Jesus now is about to test him: “You say you did everything you could to love people? Let’s see.”

Luk 18:22  When Jesus heard this, he said to him, « One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. »

Luk 18:23  But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

Here Jesus continues to play the game of the ruler. He progressively set him up, and now he is able to give him a final challenge that will truly reveal what was in the heart of that rich young ruler.

“You’ve done everything? Wow, that’s great. But let’s see if there is something else lacking. Something small. I mean, you have already done everything you could, would there really be anything difficult to ask you? It’s probably not going to be hard for you. Go home, sell your stuff, and follow me.”

From the beginning until now, it is as if Jesus and the rich young ruler were part of two different conversations. The rich young ruler keeps talking about himself, and Jesus keeps trying to point to God and others. And here, finally, the two conversations merge. Finally the rich young ruler gets pushed to the corner and to the point where he has to listen to Jesus. But because he hadn’t been listening until now, what Jesus tells him falls on him like a bomb.

At last, the sinfulness and the selfishness of his heart are exposed. But instead of asking the Savior to help him, he walks away.

The problem was that he was self-interested. He cared about himself, not about others, and certainly not about the poor. For him to give all of his stuff to the poor made no sense. The poor? Are you kidding me? Those lowly, unworthy, dirty people? All my money to those undeserving people? What a waste! I would never do that! Just the thought made him sad. In fact the word uses here means “extremely sorrowful.”

He didn’t get sad because Jesus told him that he could not enter the kingdom of heaven: that was still possible for him. He was sad because he loved his money much more than he loved people.

He didn’t care about people. He cared about himself. He was self-interested. He wanted the comfort of this world with the approval of people, the fame and the name, the honor and the power.

Jesus was offering him a kingdom of self-denial, of sacrifice, of love for other people, of service, of seeking God rather than self-esteem. But he didn’t want that kind of kingdom. He liked money. He liked possessions. He liked things that helped him look better than other people. Without money, he would be just like everybody else. He wouldn’t have power, prestige, authority. But he liked those things more than he liked people, more than he liked Jesus, and more than he liked God the Father.

Now, when Jesus asked him to follow him, he didn’t say “no.” He walked away. He tried not to think about it. He tried to shuffle all these convicting truths in the back of his mind so that he could go on with his business without letting his conscience take over.

V. SELF-BELIEVING

This rich young ruler was self-serving, self-elevating, self-sufficient, self-interested, and finally we see that he was self-believing.

He believed in himself. Jesus wanted to test him to see if he could have faith. “Go, sell all of your stuff, and follow me, and see if God is really good.”

But that man did not believe that God was good enough to make it worth it. He thought that God would only be worth it if he still had his own comfort and stuff and selfish pleasures on the side. “Yeah, I want eternal life, but what I really want first is to be happy in my own way.”

Jesus’ test was that he would take the challenge to live by faith, to trust in God and not in the things of the world.

Jesus wanted him to understand what true salvation implied: when you enter the kingdom of God, you become a servant of the King. You can’t enter someone’s kingdom and do whatever you please. No, if you come under the King as your authority, then you have to submit, you have to obey, you have to give up whatever does not please that King to remind safe in his kingdom, lest he kills you.

Entering the kingdom of God comes with a cost. It comes with the cost of self-denial, of sacrifice, leaving behind things that don’t please God, sin, and a heart that is self-centered like that of the rich young ruler.

Is this possible without God? No it’s not.

Look at how the story continues:

Luk 18:24  Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, « How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

Luk 18:25  For 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. »

Luk 18:26  Those who heard it said, « Then who can be saved? »

Luk 18:27  But he said, « What is impossible with men is possible with God. »

Listen. Jeremiah the prophet wrote that the hearts of men are deceitful above all things. Without Christ and what He accomplished on the cross, it is impossible for people to get saved. We are so selfish, so self-centered, we are so prone to seek our own pleasures rather than the will of God.

Now I want you to be honest with yourselves. We looked today at the lives of two people: one who was saved, the leper, and one who was not, the rich young ruler. Which one would you think corresponds the most with your life?

We live in a generation that calls themselves Christians, but some people even here will probably go home tonight and not have even one single thought about God. We come to school, do our work, then go home and we think that the time belongs to us. And we do everything we want. We spend our time playing video games and doing stuff on the computer, and our days go by, one after the other, and we don’t do anything for others. It’s all about us, it’s all what pleases us and what makes us happy.

And when our parents ask us to help, we hate it. We complain, we give them a hard time, and we try to get away by doing as little as possible.

Is it easy to live a life to love God and to love others? No it is not. It is sacrificial, it is costly. But does God give us all the help we need? Yes He does. He always does.

But let’s be honest now. We looked at the lives of two men today, the leper and the young ruler. The leper was saved, and the young ruler was not. How could you tell the difference? One was singing praises to God and wanted to turn His focus on Him and worship Him. The other one was self-centered, selfish, prideful and only thinking about himself.

Which one do you think you are? Be honest. Do you love others? Would you be willing to give your stuff away to help people in need? Would giving away your stuff make you joyful, or would it make you sad?

Would you be willing to give your time away to serve at church, to help your parents, to encourage people, or do you hold on to your time as yours, as something that people can’t take away from you?

Now, you can be a believer and still struggle with these things. But let me tell you. You got to be honest with yourself. If you don’t have desires to love people and to live sacrificially, then maybe you should consider that maybe you are not a true believer.

But let’s turn to Mark 10:19-21

Let me ask you a last question. Do you think that God loved him because he was such a cool guy? Because he was better than other people? Because he was doing good things?

No. He loved him because God loves sinners. And that is who we are. We are sinners. And Jesus loved sinners so much that He showed us the greatest example of sacrificial love in laying down his life so that we could have eternal life.

Listen to me. We’re all sinners. And all of you are much more selfish than you think. All of you have much higher opinions of yourselves than you should. You are all way more prideful than you think.

But listen. Jesus loves you too. He loves you so much. His arms are open to welcome all sinners that repent. His arms are welcome for the sinners beating their chests in brokenness. His arms are welcome to people who come like children, wanting help, wanting a Savior.

But if you think you are ok, God will destroy your soul in an eternal fire of judgment.

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