By way of introducing my subject of study today, let me tell you a cute little story from which we’ll draw what I hope will be an interesting and thought-provoking lesson.
A little boy listened to his Sunday School teacher tell the story of the rich man and Lazarus. After telling the story, the teacher asked the class, “Which would you rather be, the rich man or Lazarus?” This particular little boy, being very honest, replied, “I would rather be the rich man while I live and then be Lazarus when I die.”
To echo some words of Jesus, “out of the mouth of babes….” (Mt. 21:16 citing Psalm 8:2) we can learn some great lessons and I believe that will be the case today as we look at the situation of trying to please the world and God at the same time and here is how we’ll go about it.
If we open our Bibles to the 16th chapter of Luke we’ll find the story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus and I think that we should be able to see some interesting thoughts in and around the story. Notice that I cited the 13th verse as an intro into this lesson and I’d point out to you that Christ said this to the Pharisees who were continually around trying to expose Jesus as some sort of charlatan.
Our study of this story will show us that Jesus was spiritually debunking a popular principle, one advocated by the Pharisees, that wealth is God’s blessing for being “righteous.” Of being very religious. A principle popularly espoused that said that those who were rich are those whom God loves.
Also, along with that notion, was that the poor not only suffered from want, they were not worthy of God’s blessing. This idea of wealth being a sign of God’s approval and the poor somehow out of God’s favor was pretty much accepted by society back then. Remember when Jesus healed the blind man (John 9) He was asked “What sin” he or his parents had committed to cause his condition?
Today is really no different than back then. People are still following that same false principle. That if you’re blessed with having riches, then God loves you. He’s smiling on you. However, if you’re poor, then somehow you’re not religious enough, therefore not being blessed by God. (This is the principle behind the inducement used by many radio & television evangelists in their pleas to followers to “send us more money” and you’ll be blessed, too.)
To show how pervasive this idea was in Christ’s day, even his disciples were astonished at what he told the Pharisees as they asked, if this is true, “Who then can be saved?” (Mt. 19:23) And, since this was a doctrine advocated by the Pharisees of Christ’s day, then I can only surmise that they are still flourishing and operating today.
Before I leave that point, notice how Christ spoke to them regarding that doctrine in Luke 16:15: “You try to justify yourselves before men. But God knows your hearts. For that which is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” Following that came the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
Another point seen in this story is this: that death makes it impossible to change the state of a soul. In other words, we die as we have lived. Thus, it’s the condition of one’s heart at the time of death that determines the eternal living conditions of the soul.
The final point I’m going to make from the story, basically, is the crux of the matter. Rich or poor is not the determining factor in the condition of the soul – it’s the condition of the heart.
Which, when you think about it, is why Jesus talked about the “camel and the eye of the needle.” Explaining why the rich have a harder time “entering the kingdom of God.” (Mt. 19:23-24) And why is that? Because their heart is set more on obtaining the riches than on being obedient to God. Yes, it’s really that simple.
But, just as in Jesus’ day, people are still trying to make earthly gain more important that spiritual gain. They’re still trying to be worldly and appear righteous at the same time. Figuratively, they are still trying to hold hands with the world and God at the same time. To make a succinct point and reference Matt. 25:33 at the same time let me just say it this way: you can’t live like a goat and die a sheep.
Just as Jesus told the Pharisees (and us) you “can’t serve God and mammon at the same time.” One will have rule over the other. A similar picture is seen in the account where Christ said to a man who wanted to take care of some earthly business before following Him: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61-62)
Basically, Christ by His teachings on this subject, is talking about an impossible and an unworkable situation. That situation being – God will not share a person’s soul with the world. That’s why “luke-warm” Christianity is condemned. (Rev. 3:16)
In fact, since we’re already there in Revelation 3, let’s just close this lesson with the reading of verse 17.
“For you say, I am rich. I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.”