May 26, 2020

Another Look: David And The Rich Young Ruler

Oswald Chambers asks, “Are you more devoted to your idea of what Jesus wants than to Himself?”

Yes, Lord, I am.

I will admit that my answer came so readily because God’s been hammering away at me for months to get me to see the distinction in a personal way. How often I pick the path of performing for him over loving him.

I’m embarrassed to tell you that I take refuge almost every day in my idea of what Jesus wants. I’ll venture to say that most of us have our own ideas of that and we feel satisfied or even prideful when we manage to put checkmarks in our spiritual to do list or paste in gold stars when we successfully avoid what’s prohibited.

Before you hate me for blasting works or service, let me say I was born a pleaser. I’m much happier working and serving than not. Doing good and helpful things feels safe to me. If Jesus would hand me a list everyday and say, “Here, go do these things,” I’d be a happy camper.

Give me a Bible to read. Give me your prayer requests. Give me a 40-day fast every year. Give me the chance to turn over my money. Give me some act of service to do. Give me lots of opportunities to be nice, nice, nice. Just don’t make me do something that others might not like. Don’t make me face any danger. Don’t cloud any black and white issues with something gray. Above all, don’t make me put down what I hold dear:  my people, my reputation, or my work.

In fact, the rich, young ruler of Luke 18 was probably someone like me, though I can’t claim riches or political authority or even youth anymore. He came asking what he needed to do to inherit eternal life and Jesus gave him the answer I think he was expecting. “You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.”  The young ruler may have thought to himself that Jesus would be pleased and tell him he’d passed the test. Indeed, he had done those things, but he was unprepared for the second part of the response.

“You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The ruler walked away sad. As it turned out, his devotion was to his idea of what Jesus wanted. Jesus surprised him by demanding something he did not anticipate—a love that would make him lay down everything he held dear and follow a wandering rabbi to unknown places living a life he couldn’t reconcile with what he’d always believed.

A few nights ago, back pain forced me to call a halt to a walk for the first time in a long while. I ended up lying in the driveway looking through the leaves of a pear tree into a dusky sky. King David came crashing into my thoughts. Perhaps more than any other Bible character, I find him intriguing. Despite being a man who committed monumental sins, he enjoyed a characterization I envy. He was called a man after God’s own heart. Except for the riches and authority he possessed as king, however, David was the antithesis of the ruler Jesus sent packing.

He was impetuous in action, passionate in emotion, forceful in verbal exchanges and he committed most of the sins the young ruler had managed to avoid. Holding their two lives up for comparison, we’d have to admit that the ruler’s life probably looked a lot tidier in law-keeping than did David’s. The ruler was a man bent on righteousness and service. He lived carefully.

David, on the other hand, lived. Looking at David’s life, there is a pretty fair balance between action and adoration, but if one outweighed the other, David’s love of God trumped his behavior, even in an age of Law. God reminded Samuel as he was about to anoint David as future king, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)

According to Acts 13:22, “I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”  This verse seems to link David’s distinction as a man after God’s heart, with action—doing what God wanted him to do.

That, he did. David was no mere dreamer. From his introduction into history as the shepherd boy who soothed a mad king by playing his harp and defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath, with a well-aimed stone fired from his slingshot, David moved through life forcefully. He had a long list of successes in the name of God.

Despite Saul’s attempts to kill David, David passed on several chances to take the king’s life. David rightly recognized authority, God’s direct authority and that which came from God through others. When finally crowned king himself, David exercised his own God-given authority making Jerusalem the political and religious center of the nation, amassing wealth and military victories for the kingdom and re-instating the abandoned practices of worship ordained by God. These acts were some of his public displays of service and obedience to God.

Privately, his was a heart of passion toward God as well. Thankfully, even his most personal meditations and prayers are preserved in the many psalms he wrote—from achingly beautiful worship, to angry rants, to prophetic wisdom, to outpourings of contrition and repentance.

Intermingled with his greatness, there is a list of moral failings. They were several and they were significant, born of his passionate and impetuous nature.

Once David and his men nearly killed a man named Nabal and his servants for refusing to make provisions to them as repayment for protection against enemy raiders. Nabal’s wife, Abigail, intervened, preventing the slaughter. David blessed her for keeping him from bloodshed—something he knew he would have regretted had he carried it out.

Another time, David took a census of his people and fighting men, demonstrating reliance on the number of his warriors rather than on God. The consequence for that departure in faith was a choice of three options: three years of famine, three months of flight from enemies or three days of plague. David deemed it best to fall into God’s hands and chose the three days of plague, but seeing the angel striking down his people, David called out to God, “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family.”

David’s most infamous sin was his adultery with Bathsheba. Somehow, it doesn’t seem surprising considering the passion that always simmered below the surface in him. Maybe David wasn’t surprised by that one either. It could be the subconscious reason he wasn’t off to war with his troops, as he should have been. Yet, his plot to murder Uriah must have taken him by surprise. “Search me, O God, and know my heart. See if there is any offensive way in me,” he wrote in Psalm 139.

When the prophet Nathan confronted him after David made Bathsheba pregnant and had her husband killed, David”s immediate response was, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12) He then penned the words to Psalm 51, confessing his guilt, pleading for forgiveness, cleansing and restoration and praying for God’s blessing on his people. Perhaps it was David’s willingness to always stand stripped before the Lord that made him the man after God’s heart.

His nearly naked dance into Jerusalem while the house of Israel brought the ark back into the city may be the metaphor that best depicts David’s joyous unselfconscious abandonment to God. It mortified his wife, Michal. Such displays of adoration will often evoke mortification in observers. Somehow, I don’t think the rich young ruler would have been caught doing such a thing. After all, he was more devoted to what he thought Jesus wanted than he was to Jesus.

This is really the crux of the matter for us. Do we merely believe in him and serve him carefully or do we love him and follow him, even if it means living with the contempt of others—even if it makes life untidy, even if it departs from what we always thought Jesus wanted?

Jesus minced no words when asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

It seems to me that when we love God, we please him most. The ruler came minus sins, but also minus love and was sent away sad. David came dancing and loving and yes, sinning. Expressing the most fervent contrition, David deplored his own sin, but he neither walked self-consciously through life nor stopped running toward God with a passion. It was David’s passion that pleased God and moved him in love to call this flawed king a man after his own heart.

And that is my desire as well.

Comments

  1. whoa. this was a great post. Thank you.

  2. Wonderful post.

    It’s speaks volumes about God that even in our lack of seriousness about Him…that He is serious about us.

    That is what makes the gospel so incredibly wondeful and liberating.

    That He has chosen to love and forgive us when we do not deserve any of it.

    It takes my breath away, sometimes. And at other times I absolutely take it completely for granted.

  3. Beautiful, Lisa. Yours and David’s posts tie in together so very well for me, personally.

    CM may be out of job if he doesn’t come back soon…

    • “Do we merely believe in him and serve him carefully or do we love him and follow him, even if it means living with the contempt of others—even if it makes life untidy, even if it departs from what we always thought Jesus wanted?

      Jesus minced no words when asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

      He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

      It seems to me that when we love God, we please him most. The ruler came minus sins, but also minus love and was sent away sad. David came dancing and loving and yes, sinning. Expressing the most fervent contrition, David deplored his own sin, but he neither walked self-consciously through life nor stopped running toward God with a passion. It was David’s passion that pleased God and moved him in love to call this flawed king a man after his own heart.

      And that is my desire as well.”

      Lisa, I just had to read through it all again…wonderful thoughts…

      • Lee-

        Can you imagine what would have happened if David would have been invovled in a SBC/Neoreformed/reformed/non-denominational/charasmatic church today? Especailly with his record and issues with lust? He would have faced accountability programs, faced discipline and then for committing a modern day Bathsheba his ass would be thrown out the chruch like spit through a trumpet.

        I find it so amsuing that so many Bible charachters wouldn’t be “good enough” to attend church today or even be a Christain and love God. Their sin would be held against them by Christians and they would be disqualified!!

  4. David Cornwell says

    “It seems to me that when we love God, we please him most. ”

    Love being the most important of the commandments becomes the ultimate fulfilling of the law. This is so easy to forget. David, being an impetuous and passionate man who frequently committed terrible sin had a love for God in his heart, that God saw as being of most importance.

    Great post. Now get back working on that “To-Do” list Lisa.

  5. Thank you for this post Lisa. I would have never thought to compare these two characters! David’s life is by far the more challenging and dangerous. May the gospel of grace continue to lead us in such a life.

  6. Great post – thanks! I have a dear friend pastoring down in East St. Louis. He spends much of his time working with young people there and they engage a number of service. We talk a lot about it but how he picks what to do tracks with your thoughts. He tells me he travels with the gang to whereever with an idea in mind, yet well over half the time, the service project isn’t even on the radar. He talks, he listens, and something moves across and on to the screen and he acts. Makes for some thinking on all of this.

  7. textjunkie says

    What a great compare-and-contrast!! I too am happier with the to-do list…

  8. I just heard an interesting note about this passage. The young man says he has followed all the commandments and wants to know what else he needs to do. We all think he walked away sad because he was asked to sell everything and follow Jesus, and that is true, but there is a deeper sadness there on his part. It wasn’t merely losing possessions, as difficult as that may have seemed, it was losing his complete ego and concept of who he was. Jesus never overtly challenged his claim of sinlessness which was, as we know, absurd. Jesus alone has kept the commandments. The challenge to his whole world concept was implied by the command to sell everything. He had to walk away thinking not only about money but also how he actually hadn’t kept the first commandment to love God above all else. He approached with quiet contentment and left with raw uncertainty about his commandment keeping prowess. Jesus didn’t disparage his money per se, He used it to highlight the man’s self sufficiency. The man didn’t just walk away counting pennies, he walked away realizing he was a sinner. That’s the crux (cross) of the matter. In all likelihood he was shaken and confused. With a different heart, his fortune could have been put to use but Jesus knew the only way that man could realize and admit his dependency and need for forgiveness was to dispense with the riches which wither and fade away and put his new found need into Jesus’ hands. Without ever saying it, Jesus told him that he had indeed failed to keep the commandments.

    • Lisa, I hadn’t read all the way through when I excitedly responded with these thoughts. I hadn’t read where you used the phrase ‘crux of the matter’ until now. It makes it seem like I am trying to switch what is the crux of the matter and I am not at all. Thank you for your insightful thoughts.

  9. I had never made that connection between the young ruler and David. Beautiful.

    T

  10. We (internet monk readers) need more Lisa Dye!!!! Good stuff, Lisa!

  11. Great stuff, Lisa.
    We Christians have created so much religious machinery over the centuries that we tend to think of God as a great, big, perfect machine. Hit the right buttons or enter the correct codes, and you’ll get the desired results.
    But, as Scripture reveals, He’s not a machine or a force or a system, but a person. And as a being of pure Spirit, He’s less comparable to a machine than we are as beings of flesh and bone, molecules and atoms. David danced, but God was the joy dancing in His heart — a joy of such extravagance and abandon that it could turn all of creation into a jubilant mosh pit.