Here at Thornydale Family Church our mission is to develop mature disciples who follow, serve and proclaim Jesus as Messiah. Just prior to Easter, we spent seven weeks getting to know Jesus better through His “I am” sayings found in John’s gospel account. And the primary thing that we learned during those seven weeks was how to do be more effective in the first of the three actions that are set forth in our mission statement – following Jesus.
This morning, we’re going to begin a new series from the life of Jesus that will help all of us to be more effective in the second action in our mission statement – serving Jesus. Or another way to put it would be that we are going to focus on how to be more effective in our ministry. I almost hesitate to use that word because in some people’s minds, ministry is something that vocational missionaries, like Thomas and Laura Requadt, do. Now there is no doubt that what they do is indeed ministry and I’m looking forward to hearing more about that ministry later this morning. For others, ministry is viewed as something that I do as the paid staff member here at TFC or something that the elders are called to do.
But the Bible is really clear that every Christ follower is called to be a disciple and that every disciple is called to be a minister. The purpose of the church, and particularly the leadership of the church, is to equip every one of us to engage in ministry. Most of us are probably familiar with what Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus regarding that principle:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry...
Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV)
If you’ve committed your life to Jesus and chosen to follow Him then you are, by definition, a saint. And if you are a saint, then Jesus has called you, as His follower, to engage in the work of ministry.
Unfortunately, far too often, when we think of ministry, we only view it as something that we do within the four walls of this building, or as something we do as part of some church program. But the truth is that most ministry takes place far from where we gather this morning.
Our ministry takes place wherever God puts us – in our homes, our neighborhoods, our community, and in our jobs among other places. I know I’ve shared this before, but if we could really get a grasp on that fact, I’m convinced that it would completely transform the way we view our lives – especially our jobs.
We live in a culture that’s characterized by the title to the 1981 classic by the rock group Loverboy – “Working for the Weekend”. We even try to bring God into that thought process by proclaiming “Thank God it’s Friday” because that means that our weekend is about to start. But if we really understood that our work is part of our ministry for Jesus, then wouldn’t we say on Sunday night “Thank God it’s Sunday”, because that means we get to get back to that aspect of our ministry on Monday morning?
Obviously there is no better way for us to learn how to be more effective in our ministry, both personally and as a body, than by studying how our Master, Jesus, ministered in the lives of others. So for the next several weeks, we’ll look at some of the occasions where Jesus ministered to people and see what we can learn and can apply in our own ministry to others.
We’ll begin this morning with the account of the rich young ruler. We’ll read that account as it is presented to us in Matthew’s gospel account. So turn with me to Matthew 19 and follow along as I begin reading in verse 16:
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “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.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Matthew 19:16-22 (ESV)
This particular event is chronicled in all three synoptic gospels and although the accounts are virtually the same, Mark and Luke do add some additional details that are not included in Matthew’s account.
For instance, it is Luke who identifies the young man as a ruler of some kind – possibly a ruler in one of the local synagogues. And Mark lets us know that the man came running to Jesus and knelt before Him. Mark also adds one more detail that is crucial in helping us to identify the primary ministry principle that we’ll focus on this morning. We’ll get to that in just a moment, but first let’s take some time to set the stage.
My first reaction when I read this account is “Where was this guy when I was trying to earn my evangelism merit badge?” This guy had to be the best evangelistic prospect ever! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had anyone come running up to me and ask me what they have to do in order to have eternal life.
And yet Jesus stops this guy right in his tracks. He doesn’t say, “Just pray this prayer and you’re good to go.” He doesn’t say, “Well you just join my church and come here every Sunday and you’ll have eternal life.” He didn’t say, “When you hear the congregation start singing ‘Just As I Am’, just walk down the aisle and you’re in.” So why is Jesus so hard on this guy? I think we find that answer in Mark’s account of this same event:
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Mark 10:21 (ESV)
In that one verse, we find the ministry principle that we’re going to focus on today:
Jesus loved people so much that He always told them the truth
Notice Jesus’ attitude toward this young man – He loved him. And because He loved him, He wanted to make sure that the young man didn’t make some rash decision before He had the truth – the whole truth.
The easy thing for Jesus would have just been to rejoice in the fact that this young man wanted to have eternal life and that he had been working really hard to live his life in such a way that he could obtain it. And just think what this young man could have done for Jesus’ ministry. He had wealth and prestige that surely could have been used to influence others to follow Jesus.
But Jesus knew that ultimately would not be good for either the young man or for His ministry, because it would have all been built on a foundation of falsehood.
There is a very important lesson for us to learn here, both as individuals and as a body. Sometimes the easiest thing to do is to just let people be deceived with their wrong ideas about what it takes to become a follower of Jesus rather than to do the hard work of confronting them with the truth, but we must not succumb to that temptation. As Paul continued his letter to the church in Ephesus that we looked at earlier, he pointed out the importance of speaking the truth in love for the growth of the body of Christ:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:15-16 (ESV)
Now obviously this concept of speaking the truth in love can be abused and misused. The key word here is love. And, not surprisingly Paul uses the Greek word “agape” here, a word that describes a sacrificial, selfless love that looks out for the good of another person. Unfortunately it is pretty easy to use that which is true to tear down another person and then to justify it by quoting this verse and claiming that we are speaking the truth in love. But if we truly love the other person, we will use the truth to edify and build up, not to tear down.
As a body it is also tempting to welcome those into our church who have money or prestige or influence, because of how what they bring to the body might be of benefit to our mission. And I can tell you that we have had people like that come here and offer to make a significant financial contribution to our church. But in most cases, two problems always seem to arise.
First, there are those who genuinely believe that their contribution is going to somehow earn them favor with God. And the second problem is that the person usually expects something in return. To be real honest I haven’t always applied this principle as well as I should with these people, but as I’ve grown more discerning as I’ve gotten to know Jesus better, I think I’m a lot more effective at speaking the truth in love with these people, because in the end that is in their best interest and in our best interest as a church.
Not only does Jesus demonstrate this ministry principle of loving people by telling them the truth, He also gives us some insight into the nature of the truth that we need to be imparting to others. Let’s look a few of the most significant aspects of truth that Jesus communicated to the young man:
• Receiving eternal life is not a matter of “minimum due”
The question that the young man asks Jesus is very instructive here:
“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
Notice that he asks what good deed – singular – and not what good deeds – plural – that he must do to have eternal life. In a sense, he was looking for the easy way out. His idea of receiving eternal life was that there was one thing that he could do to earn it on his own. In a sense he was asking what was the least he could do and still have eternal life. He wasn’t really interested in becoming a disciple; he just wanted a fire insurance policy.
Unfortunately we live in a culture where this idea of “minimum due” has become entrenched in every area of our lives:
o As a teacher, Mary certainly sees this in the classroom, both with her elementary school and junior college students. With a few exceptions, most of the students don’t come to school to see how much they can learn, but rather focus on what is the least amount of work they can do in order to get a passing grade.
o This is certainly evident in the workplace where the vast majority of employees only want to do what they absolutely have to in order to keep their jobs. One of the clearest examples of this mindset was an employee that once worked for me. Every time he accumulated another sick day, I knew that he was going to call in sick on either a Monday or a Friday because he knew he could do that and still keep his job. While we’re on this topic, let me just note that if you’re a Christ-follower that kind of work ethic flies in the face of how we are to treat our jobs according to the Bible:
Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:22-24 (ESV)
So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that this same attitude has infiltrated the church. And far too many churches are guilty of peddling what Dietrich Bonhoffer described as “cheap grace” in his book, The Cost of Discipleship:
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
So we tell people to just “walk the aisle” or “pray the sinner’s prayer” and then assure them that they are now right with God. I know that some of you, like me, come from a church background where every week there was a public invitation for people to walk down the aisle and “receive Jesus” while we sang “Just As I Am” over and over. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, we have chosen not to do that here at TFC because we want to make sure that we explain fully what it means to become a follower of Jesus before someone makes that commitment. And that just isn’t possible in just a few minutes at the end of a worship service.
So the first truth that Jesus communicated is that receiving eternal life is not merely a matter of “minimum due.” The second truth He expressed was that…
• Receiving eternal life requires one to come to God on His terms
This young man suffered from the very same problem that we saw with the Jewish religious leaders when we examined the Sermon on the Mount. They were so focused on the externals that they failed to deal with what really mattered – their hearts.
In essence the young man is saying to Jesus, I’ll come to you, but it has to be on my own terms. You just tell me what one thing you want me to do and I’ll do it and then I can have eternal life. Now I will have to say that at least on the surface, this young man was at least willing to let Jesus tell him what the one thing was that he must do. But frankly, and we’ll discuss this some more in a moment, I don’t really think the young man earnestly wanted to hear what Jesus had to say as much as he wanted Jesus to approve of what he had already done and that he figured was adequate to receive eternal life.
Certainly this young man represents the prevailing attitude in our world today. Many people are willing to come to God, but it has to be on their own terms. Thus there are now nearly as many different ways to God as there are people. And again, sadly the church has often gotten caught up in this way of thinking. So we often try to boil down how one can receive eternal life into one external action of some kind:
o Just pray this prayer
o Just recite this creed
o Just join our church
o Just follow this program
But the problem is that those are all just external actions that fail to deal with our heart condition. But if Jesus would not allow the young ruler to be deceived into thinking that he could be made right with God by coming to God on his own terms then we dare not allow that to occur either. As the writer of Proverbs makes clear, this is a matter of life and death:
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 16:25 (ESV)
So if it is true that we must come to God on His terms and not ours, what exactly are those terms? We’ll answer that question with the third and final truth that we’ll look at this morning…
• It is impossible to receive eternal life without dealing with one’s sin
Jesus takes a very interesting approach to illustrate this truth to the young man. In essence he says to the man, “Okay, you think that you can do what is needed to earn eternal life. Let’s start with something really simple – the Ten Commandments.
As most of you probably know the Ten Commandments fall into two distinct groups – the first four deal with our relationship with God and the last six deal with our relationship with other men. Jesus doesn’t even mention that first group that deal with our relationship with God. Instead he begins with the second group, specifically mentioning five of those six commandments. And the young man answers that he has kept all of these faithfully.
We know from our series on the Sermon on the Mount that couldn’t have possibly been true since the essence of those commandments is our heart attitude and not just our outward actions. So while the young man may have never murdered anyone or committed adultery or stolen from someone or gave false testimony, he still wasn’t guiltless.
But Jesus, discerning the heart of this young man, then brings up the one commandment He hasn’t addressed yet, the one that deals with coveting. And now the young man’s heart condition is clearly revealed.
As much as Jesus loved this man and as much as He was not willing that he would perish, Jesus knew that this man had to deal with his sin before he could receive eternal life. And the one sin to which this young man was most blind was his covetousness, so Jesus is very direct in pointing that out.
So is Jesus saying that anyone who wants to have eternal life must sell all of his or her possessions and give everything to the poor? Obviously that particular command was directed only to that young man and not to Jesus’ followers in general. But when Jesus was discussing the cost of discipleship in another setting, He did provide us with a general principle that does apply to all who want to follow Him:
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 (ESV)
The word translated “renounce” in that verse literally means “to bid farewell to”. The idea here is that in order to be a disciple of Jesus I must be willing to say good-bye to anything that I hold more precious than Jesus. For the young man, that was his riches, but for each of us that might be completely different. And whatever is more important in our lives than Jesus is sin that we need to deal with before we can receive eternal life.
This truth has some important implications for our evangelism. It is not merely enough to show someone how Jesus is going to satisfy his or her psychological and emotional needs or bring them happiness, although that may be an important first step. Ultimately, the imperfect sinner must be held up against the perfect law of God so that he or she can see that they have lived in rebellion against a holy God. It is only when a person sees that true nature and is willing to deal with their sin that they can truly come to God on His terms.
So if we want to minister to people the way Jesus did, we must have an unwavering commitment to love people so much that we always tell them the truth. As you have the opportunity to minster to others in your homes, your neighborhoods and your workplaces this week, I pray that you’ll keep this principle in mind.
But before we close this morning, I am convinced that there is also a very practical and crucial principle here that deals with how we respond to God’s Word personally. And I would certainly be remiss if I didn’t take a few minutes to close our time by pointing that out.
What will I do with the truth of God’s Word?
As I read this account, I get the sense that the young man really wasn’t coming to hear what Jesus had to say so much as he wanted to hear Jesus confirm that what he was already doing was what was all he needed to do in order to have eternal life. I really think he was hoping that Jesus would commend him for his good works and assure him that he was on the right track.
But before we’re too quick to condemn that young man, I think we need to consider how often we come to God’s Word with that same attitude. How many of us come to church each Sunday to enter into God’s presence, sing a few songs, and then hope the pastor is going to preach a message from the Bible that makes us feel good about where we are in our walk with Jesus?
But the truth is that every time we come face to face with God’s Word, whether here on Sunday mornings or in our own time in the Bible, there is a battle of wills that occurs. It is always my will against God’s will. That was certainly true for the young man and it is equally true for all of us.
But only one will can survive. The other must die. If we come to God’s Word and leave unchanged, then the chances are that our will has prevailed and God’s will has died. That’s what happened to the rich young man and he went away sad and empty.
The fact is that it’s often painful to open up our lives and allow them to be exposed to God’s Word. That’s why the writer of Hebrews describes the Bible as a cutting sword:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)
We ought to expect that God’s Word is often going to bring some pain as it does its work of exposing our sin so that God can cut it out of our lives. It is true that we can avoid that pain, at least in the short term, by doing what the rich young ruler did and failing to heed it. But in the long run it means that we’ll turn away from God and be empty and sad.
We don’t know what happened to this rich young ruler after this encounter. I think that God conceals his ultimate fate because He wants us to know that it is never too late to turn away from our own self-centered sin and turn to God. Perhaps somewhere down the road, maybe after the resurrection of Jesus, this young man remembered the words of Jesus and acknowledged and dealt with his sin through the shed blood of Jesus. The Bible at least leaves open that possibility.
Maybe you’ve been like the rich young ruler, smug in your own unrighteousness, not willing to heed the Word of God and let it expose the sin in your life so that you can deal with it through faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. If that’s the case, the good news is that it’s still not too late.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
God is being patient with you because He doesn’t want you to perish. But that patience won’t last forever. So as you hear God’s Word today will you need it, even if it’s painful, even if it means that you have to make some really difficult changes in your life in order to be obedient to it? If you’ve never committed your life to Jesus and placed your faith in Him, will you do that today? And if you have already made that commitment, will you commit today to bid farewell to anything in your life that is getting in the way of your relationship with Him so that you can be His disciple?