Rich, Young & Succesful!
Matthew 19: 16-22
I'm an American and I believe in freedom. I believe in our system of government, capitalism, and what is left of the American Dream. I love stories about how someone started with nothing and through hard work and persistence, became a success. However, as patriotic as I am, I have realized in recent years that there is a huge difference between the American dream and the gospel. In many ways the two are polar opposites, and in America, the church has a hard time accepting or even seeing the differences. The American Dream says, "believe in yourself and you can be successful." Jesus said that we must deny ourselves if we want to follow Him. These are two drastically different world views, and more times than not, we end up with a twisted perception of ministry in America.
We want to think that if a ministry is successful and in good standing with God, money and success will be a sign of God's blessing, favor and even anointing. In America, we are drawn toward success, so the church that is doing God's work will have a multi-million dollar campus, hundreds of thousands of dollars in stage lighting and sound, a pastor who shows up in a thousand dollar suit and stands in the lobby signing copies of his latest self help book that promotes the American dream more than it does the gospel. He lives a much more affluent lifestyle than most of his congregation, and if his wealth is ever questioned, the default response is God's blessing and favor. The Christian music industry is no different. I know artists who will do everything they can to drive a newer bus, buy the clothes and do all they can to appear to be financially successful because they believe it will help them be more desirable to churches and as a result be more successful. It sounds crazy, but in most cases it works.
Most of the ministers and singers that fall into this mindset are good people. They actually believe that their income and success is confirmation that they are living in obedience. This may be the case at times, but I want to give you a great example in scripture that will show all of us how we can be so easily deceived by financial success
In Matthew 19: 16-22, a very successful young man comes to Jesus and asks Him a very important question; How do I get to heaven and live forever?" First, notice the focus of the question. It is very revealing of his motives and his, 'what's in it for me' attitude. How can I make sure I live forever and reap rewards for eternity. No interest in the work of God and how he could impact the world around him, just tell me how I can get the final reward. It's a subtle point but one worth noting. I've been to many churches, large and small and the only time they get emotional is when the topic of heaven comes up. Focusing on all that heaven has for me with no concern for others who may not make it there is nothing short of selfish. I'm not trying to diminish the hope of heaven at all, but if all we think about is what will be waiting there for us, and we do nothing to reach those around us, then we have no love, no compassion, and absolutely no desire to do the work of Christ here and now. But it's okay because God will overlook our disobedience as we are counting our rewards in our very own mansion.
After the successful young man asks Jesus how he can make sure he will live forever in heaven, Jesus tells him to keep the commandments and names a few of them. Don't murder, don't steal, don't commit adultery, honor your parents and love your neighbor as yourself. The rich young man tells Jesus that he has kept these commandments since he was a child. He must have been a pretty good guy. He had an excellent resume for a ministerial position. If he could sing, he could have bought a new bus, hired the best singers, had the best sound system money could buy. They would have been the best dressed group on the road. They could easily be on the road 250 days a year. He could have certainly had a church staff poison or even started a successful church in America. His best selling book could have been titled,"The Night I Met Jesus!" We would all buy tickets to go see and hear this young minister who had the means to brand and market himself as the guy who had met Jesus. His success would be proof that God's favor was on him. Yes, today in the United States, the rich young ruler could easily be America's pastor!
On the outside he is successful. There is no denying that he had encountered Jesus and eye witnesses would testify to the fact that he had in fact met Jesus. No scandals! He is a good guy. He Doesn't lie, doesn't cheat on his wife, never killed anyone, yet something isn't right. This guy was listed in scripture and had a conversation with Jesus, yet we don't even know his name. How could scripture not tell us the name of such a successful and influential man? Who is this guy that most of us work to be like? His only identity was success. In the end, the only thing we know about him was that he was rich and young. He was everything we want in America and possessed every attribute we want to see in a singer or preacher. Jesus looked at the successful young man and in so many words said, "Just one more thing. I want you to give up your identity and follow me." Take everything that is important to you and give it away. The bible says that he walked away from Jesus sorrowful because he couldn't get past himself and all he had worked for to follow Christ. He would not deny himself, lose his own identity to follow Jesus. He obviously had a certain level of faith in Jesus or he wouldn't have asked Him such a question. Like so many, he wanted the reward, but wasn't willing to pay the price.
I believe there is another reason why the young, rich guy was not named. At one time, I was that guy. I know a lot of people in ministry who are that guy. If Jesus told them to sell the bus, walk away from the fancy suits and the stage, they would walk away sorrowful and not miss one singing date. I'm not saying they've never met Jesus, but I am saying that many of them would not walk away from their identity of what they have aspired and worked to be identified as. Their identity, brand or image is the hardest thing to give up. They are also convinced that somehow in the self promotion world they've created, that Jesus is the one being promoted. We can go to great lengths to justify ourselves.
I could end this right here, and just let the singers, preachers and people in ministry examine themselves, but I'm not going to. This applies to ALL of us. Do you know why this endless pursuit for fame and financial success so easily becomes an obsession for so many in ministry? Because churches feed it and contribute to the problem. When we schedule singers and outside ministries into our churches, we want the most well known, successful celebrities our budgets can afford. The higher our perception is of them, the more we will pay, and the cycle never ends. We want a celebrity who is so busy, the only time they are in church is when they are being paid to be there. It is a recipe for disaster Then when that "celebrity" ends up on drugs, loses their family, and ends up like most Hollywood celebrities that crash and burn, we wonder what on earth went wrong. After all, they were so successful!
The story of the rich young ruler who was financially successful and spiritually bankrupt should cause all of us to redefine our definition of success. Don't pursue what you can't give up!