There’s so much that the bible can teach us about wealth—and that includes the lessons in the parable of the rich young ruler.
Matthew 19:24 contains a scary warning for any American in pursuit of wealth. Jesus says, “Again I tell you; 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” (ESV). You don’t have to be a seamstress or camel-jockey to understand that a camel fitting through the eye of a needle is impossible.
That presents a very important question for anyone who takes Jesus’ words seriously: Why is it hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven and should Christians avoid riches? Let’s take an in-depth look at Christ’s words to arrive at the answer.
The Rich Person
If your first thought after reading Matthew 19:24 is, “Good thing I’m not rich…” then I have bad news for you: you are. When I first heard this verse as a child, my mind immediately went to the wealthiest people I knew. Stinks for them, I thought, but good thing I’m not rich. The problem with the term “rich person” is that it’s subjective. Everyone has a personal definition of what it means to be wealthy, which makes it easy to justify how this verse does not apply to us. Fortunately, there was a very objective distinction during Jesus’ time that separated the wealthy from the rest: If you had more than one garment of clothing, you were considered rich.
There is a high likelihood that you own more than one outfit. As 21st century Americans, it’s easy to compare ourselves to our peers and forget that in biblical terms, we are “wealthy” people in a very wealthy country. As tempting as it is to dismiss this verse if you aren’t a multi-millionaire, the stark reality is that Jesus’ words very clearly apply.
The Camel and the Needle
Jesus is essentially saying it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the average American to enter heaven. Is it a microscopically small camel or a goliath sized needle? Jesus’ disciples were also confused: “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26, ESV).
The catch? There is no catch. Jesus doesn’t try to explain the statement away and neither should we. Instead, he doubles down and confirms what He implied – with man, it is “impossible” for a rich person to get into heaven.
With Man This Is Impossible
What are we rich Americans supposed to do with this important information? Is it impossible for us to get into heaven? Absolutely not: “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
These famous verses must be considered in the context of when they were uttered. Jesus gave this warning immediately after He spoke with a rich young man (in verses 16-22). This rich young man insisted that he obeyed all the commandments, so Jesus presented him with an ultimatum: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21, ESV). Here, Jesus exposed the young man’s heart by revealing his true desires: when forced to choose, would he choose his material riches or Jesus? Verse 22 provides the answer: “When the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possession.”
This background helps us understand Jesus’ warning. If left to their own devices, a rich person will always choose to keep their riches over following Christ. Therefore, it is “impossible” for a rich person to enter heaven. Our natural hearts are so inclined to worship our possessions that we cannot willingly choose God over them.
But With The Wealth Of God, All Things Are Possible
Praise God that verse 26 continues, “but with God all things are possible.” Just as it is impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle, it is impossible for a rich person to love God more than His possessions. The Bible teaches that even though it’s impossible for us to save ourselves, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5, ESV)
Everyone, rich and poor alike, is born with an inclination to worship relationships, money, possessions, or success; we naturally love something more than God. The miracle of salvation truly is a miracle – God overcomes our rebel hearts and enables us to love Him above all. This is the mark of a true believer: loving Jesus above all else.
If you have a closet full of clothing then take heart: while it’s impossible for you to get into heaven on your own, all things are possible with God. The goal of these verses is not for you to sell all your clothes, pursue bad investments, and be homeless for the rest of your days. In fact, Jesus makes it very clear that He expects us to use our earthly wealth wisely. What Jesus wants us to do with these verses is to recognize the power that riches have to capture our desires and the power He has to overcome those desires.
Building wealth does not go against Jesus words in Matthew 19.
Invest biblically and use your wealth to build eternal treasure, but take this time to examine your own heart: if forced to decide between your possessions and following Christ, which would you choose?
This report is a publication of Demand Wealth. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date, but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change.