Spiritual Growth

What’s Your Treasure?

The Gospel writers tell us that this man had many possessions. But really we can see that his many possessions had him. They had him in their grip. They had his heart in their vise.

This article is an excerpt from God Does His Best Work with Empty by Nancy Guthrie.

I occasionally catch an episode of Antiques Roadshow on PBS. On this television show, ordinary people bring in objects of art, furnishings, collectibles, and other things that they’ve had stashed in the attic or around the house, hoping that the experts on the show can give them a sense of what these items are worth. And, of course, they’re hoping to find out that their items are worth even more than they might have expected.

The key to Antiques Roadshow is the experts who know how to rightly evaluate the worth of the objects brought in for appraisal. Of course, this skill of knowing how to rightly evaluate the worth of things is not only important on Antiques Roadshow. It’s important in life—in your life and mine.

Three of the Gospels tell the same story of a young man who appeared to have everything and who came to Jesus (see Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; and Luke 18:18-30). By looking at all three passages we learn a few details about him: He was rich, and he was a religious leader. He had plenty of resources to finance a comfortable lifestyle, plenty of morality and religiosity to engender the respect of others, and plenty of authority to get his way in the world. But there was one thing he wasn’t sure about, one thing he wanted to make sure he possessed.

Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
Matthew 19:16

Clearly this young man was thinking long-term rather than merely short-term. His question does, however, reveal an assumption: that what he sought could be apprehended by something he could do, that eternal life was available to him through a “good deed” that he must complete.

“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
Matthew 19:17

“Which ones?” the man asked.

And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 19:18-19

Notice that Jesus did not list out all ten of the Ten Commandments. He left out the commandments about loving God alone, not having idols, not taking God’s name in vain, and keeping his day as holy. And Jesus also left off the final commandment, “You must not covet.” Can these be accidental omissions? Of course not.

“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Matthew 19:20

Jesus knew where this man’s pressure point was, what he loved the most, so he went right for it.

Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Matthew 19:21

Jesus knew what was missing in this man’s heart—love for God—and what his heart was full of—the love of money. Money was the god he put before the one true God. It was the idol he worshiped. His lack of real love for God meant that in his role as a religious leader he was taking the Lord’s name in vain. And while he might have been diligent at keeping the Sabbath according to the laws of the Pharisees, his mind and his heart were set on his money seven days a week.

Jesus then called the man to obey the final commandment, to not covet what others have, by doing the opposite: giving away what he loves to others.

Of course the sticking point in what Jesus was telling him to do was that little word all. Jesus told him to sell “all” of his possessions.

The young man was so stuck on that word that perhaps he missed what was being promised to him in return: “treasure in heaven.” He had come to Jesus because he was aware of an empty place in his well-ordered life and he was hoping that he could just do what was necessary to add this piece. But instead of telling him how to add something, Jesus called him to let go of everything. Jesus asked this rich man to give away his riches. He asked this powerful man to surrender control of his day-to-day life.

Perhaps the young man took some time to think it through, to weigh his options. He rather enjoyed his money and everything that came with it. With money came power and prestige, and he probably liked the way people treated him, hoping to curry favor with him. He loved the pleasures that money could buy—eating at the nicest restaurants and going on the most extravagant vacations. Money gave him freedom he enjoyed, enabling him to do what he wanted to do as well as pay other people to do what he didn’t want to do. He liked that he could afford the latest gadgets that made his life easier and the luxuries that made his life more comfortable. He didn’t want to give any of that up.

And I get that; don’t you? I’m all for loving Jesus and having eternal life and doing my best to obey his commands. But if I’m honest, I’d rather add the promise of “eternal life” to my collection of creature comforts. I don’t want to have to surrender any of them.

Instead of telling this man what he needed to add to his life to secure his future, Jesus told him what he had to surrender to secure his future: everything. And for this young man, it was just too much—too much to ask, too much to expect.

At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
Mark 10:22

Only moments before, he had approached Jesus with self-confident expectation. And now, he was walking away from Jesus in stunned sorrow. We usually call him the rich young ruler. But perhaps we should call him the sad young ruler who couldn’t see how poor he really was and how rich Jesus wanted to make him.

As the young man evaluated the relative worth of his possessions and the treasure in heaven that Jesus was offering, he decided that following Jesus wasn’t worth it. Oh, how we need to reckon with the call of Jesus in our lives to value things rightly. How we need the worth of Jesus to loom large in our estimation so that it becomes unthinkable that we would walk away holding on to what will one day prove to be worthless, refusing to take hold of him.

The Gospel writers tell us that this man had many possessions. But really we can see that his many possessions had him. They had him in their grip. They had his heart in their vise.

Possessions and wealth are like that. For all of us. Yet when the Bible talks about “rich people” who will find it so hard to get into heaven, we’re always wanting to point to those who are at least one rung higher on the economic ladder than we are. But if we look at our lives in context of the wider world, most of us are, indeed, among the truly wealthy of the world.

Whatever must go, whatever must be abandoned to have him—he’s worth it. He’s worth it now, and he will be worth it into eternity.


God Does His Best Work with Empty by Nancy Guthrie

It’s amazing how heavy the weight of emptiness can feel, how much room it can take up in our souls, how much pain can be caused by something that isn’t even there. But while we may see the emptiness of our lives as our greatest problem, that’s not how God sees it. When God looks into the empty places of our lives, He sees His greatest opportunity. God does His best work in the emptiness of our . . .

  • Insatiable craving for things that don’t satisfy
  • Relational disappointments and loneliness
  • Frustrated search for purpose and meaning
  • Relentless desire for comfort and security
  • Ongoing struggle to live with loss and unfulfilled dreams

Join Nancy Guthrie in discovering why emptiness has never been, and never will be, a problem to God. As Nancy pulls back the curtain on God’s work to fill up emptiness as revealed throughout the Bible, you’ll experience page after page of grace and hope that your emptiness can and will be filled. You’ll begin to see that God really does do His best work with empty—as he fills it with Himself.

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Charlotte is a Consumer Marketing Coordinator based in the Chicagoland area. Charlotte is originally from Minneapolis but moved "south" for college, where she fell in love with writing and her husband Mark. In her free time, she loves to swim, bake bread, and dance around the living room with her daughter.

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