January 15, 2021

David vs. 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.


  1. Ms. Dye,

    This is one of the most beautifully written and reasoned things I have ever read on the Internet. Thank you.


  2. Thank you for this writing.

  3. I need to be reminded of what the crux of our faith is about again and again. It is so easy to forget – it is, primarily, about our relationship with God – everything flows from that. My external life is so complicated at the moment that I tend to lose sight of how simple my internal life needs to be:
    “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.” Of course, HOW I learn to love like this is hard but it is a simple concept and one I need to hang on to. Thank you Lisa for reminding me today – that is a message I needed to hear.

  4. Given this picture of David, it begs the question how many churches would feel comfortable with someone like him in the congregation…

  5. Thank you for writing this.

  6. Good post thanks,

    Has anyone else ever made the connection between Matthew 19 16-30 and later in Mark 14 verse 51 I personally like to think that this was the rich young ruler who did sell all even his clothing and literally followed Jesus.


  7. Beautiful.

    Over the past few years, I’ve had several college students ask me what the NT said about tithing and handling of money. My patent response has become, “Jesus wants very little of your money, but 100% of your self.” Christ wants all of us…all of our beauty, goodness, and admirable qualities…as well as all the scars, dysfunction, and flaws. David is a perfect picture of this.

    Wonderful thoughts today, Lisa. Thanks…

  8. Beautiful post, Lisa. From the various posts you write, how you write, and the heart that comes through, I , for one, would venture to say you Are a woman after God’s own heart!

    The selling of all one has…I thought of the times I literally did this to enter the religious life…first time at 18. It was easy then to walk away from things. Then again at around 30. It was harder then. Not the selling and giving away of furniture, clothing, and everyday stuff….but the “things” I had accumulated in my journey with God that had been part of my journey with Him.

    A missionary crucifix I so often literally clung to, cried and prayed holding it to the point of wearing it down…so many memories, graces and blessings, trials and comforts. Moments of intimacy with Jesus. Could I let it go….no. It came with me. Journals I had kept …. could I let them go…no. They came with me. Books that God used to so speak to my heart that I may never read again. Could I let them go….no. They came with me.

    It it one thing to sell and get rid of things. Another to become detached from everything…whether we keep it or get rid of it. To be totally free, detached from everything that is not God so He can be our All in All…in First place….. That I found is harder. Harder to recognize and harder to do. Yet, if I am to Love God with All my heart, All my soul and All my strength…..I must become totally detached from within. I found it to be sometimes a pain-filled process as it, at times, still is….but, I found it was only then God could fill my heart with His Love and enable me to Love in a way I never had and love people I thought I never could or would.

    • Thank you, Daisey. Your comments humble me, teach me and inspire me.

    • Awesome comment. Thanks for sharing.

    • Daisey,

      I envy anyone who is called to the religious life. I checked it out briefly, but realized that it wasn’t for me. I suspect partly because I am attached to physical stuff, pretty stuff like grandmother’s punchwork roses, paperweights, etc.

      Thank you for your devotion.

  9. >>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?<<

    Thanks for this post. I used to think Jesus wanted to bless me with all of the comforts my riches allow. I used to wonder when hardship came to me or those I knew…why? I used to thank God for blessing me so well, for taking so good care of me. Then I was humbled with real suffering, and I don't think any of that anymore. When I prayed the two greatest commandments over my life and clung to God (often with a hand raised and deep tears) I began loving God with all of me. I began loving Jesus for saving me. I began loving others because we are all his creation. And that has meant for me that I've been questioned by family and made to feel more and more like an outsider among friends who I was once more like-minded with. I've been questioned for trying to earn points with good works when I've only been loving others after praying that I would love others better.

    Thankfully, I've also been encouraged by others, including you and others on this site. Thank you again, Lisa, for this essay.

    • Once I went on a hike starting at a popular trail head. My destination was a small lake several miles into the park. At first, I encountered lots of other hikers, but farther in there were fewer people and the trail narrowed and became more difficult to follow. For me it was a picture of the path we travel to follow Christ. The way gets narrower, lonelier and more difficult as we go. Your story is good reminder of this. Thank you, Kris.

  10. Wow – this was excellent. Thank you.

  11. For me it is not just the material possessions but status in my culture that is hard to give up. I find great value in the acceptance and recognition of others. In Christian circles I can get acceptance and recognition as I serve. But am I pleasing God or man. If I live with a “unselfconscious abandonment to God” it could cause me to loose the the acceptance and positve recognition I desire.

    I appreciate you article. It is challenging.

  12. Wonderful, Lisa! It brings us back to the question we have been struggling with – what does it take to be dangerous?

  13. Frank Jones says

    So I read this, and I I like it. I even, to a degree, live it. Regardless, I’ve learned that it is relationship.,.period. The work of Christ is done. He said, “It is finished!”…Praise be to God, indeed.

    Not tryin’ to make a shameless plug, but considering the focus of this website, many folks might like this guy’s ministry and what he’s about.: http://www.gracewalk.org/

  14. David Cornwell says

    Lisa, thank you very much for this. At the end I was thinking “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and totally depend on God’s grace.

  15. Beautiful, Lisa!

    I would ask folks, though, what does it MEAN when we say: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind?” What does that look like? Can you look at other people and know they are doing it? How? Will you know when YOU are doing it? These are the things I think about sometimes. How would I answer these questions? Well, I guess I would say that I would have no idea if someone else is doing this or not, but you would THINK that if someone was loving God so totally they would also be showing love towards humans. But, like in Lisa’s example, David did some very unloving things toward people and yet we consider David to be loving God and to be loved by God. But, we are ALL loved by God. So, that kinds of brings me back to my original questions. Would it mean that we would be aware of God’s Holy Spirit at all times and be guided by that Spirit? If so, I don’t know that many people on earth would be satisfiying that qualification. Does it just mean that we have right intention, do our best and pray and worship whenever we can while still being useful in the world? Hmmmmm……

    • Joanie,

      I’m more inclined to look at how someone acts toward others, rather than how spiritual they are. Which do you think is closer: a woman very active in church, frequent Mass and devotion attendance, yet proud of being not very forgiving or one, an atheist who escaped from Islam, yet thinks that the best way to integrate and change immigrant communities is for the Christian churches to go in, work with them and to love them.

  16. David Cornwell says

    Good questions, and complicated. I’m not sure we can answer them. God knows when we love him, just as he knew David’s heart and the heart of the young man. These are good reasons to be concerned about ourselves as individuals, but is it possible to be too concerned? I don’t know.

    The rich young ruler obeyed the law, was good and moral, was concerned about his standing with God, but something was lacking. If he got rid of his riches, he would then have to be totally dependent on God and his grace. His own works would no longer suffice.

    As far as judging the love of other people toward God, it can be very dangerous. The important things are not what we might know about David or about the rich young ruler, but what God knows about them and their hearts. David, with all of his flaws and sinning, in the end threw himself on God’s grace.

  17. Denise Spencer says

    Lisa, I’ve never before seen a comparison of these two men. Thank you!

  18. Lisa,

    Thank you for this posting. I love your choice of pictures to go with it. I’ve always been fascinated with how other cultures portray Bible stories in their own styles.

    Have you seen the Japanese interpretation of the Annunciation?

    • Anna, I wish I could take credit for the pictures. They are beautiful. Jeff Dunn chose them to go with this essay.

  19. Wow, Lisa! I think you cut right to the heart of that thin, often overlooked divide between religiosity and truly loving God. Thank you for reminding me.

  20. Thank you, Lisa. The Lord is with you. I long to be more like David but feel stuck in the way of the RYR. I know I’m to give up (or give away?) knowledge, reputation and spirituality. Regretfully, these are things that have become more important to me than loving Christ and others. But I don’t know how to let them go or let God take them from me. I wish he would steal them away from me in the night when Iam not watching or stuck in analyzing the process (or negotiating the terms and conditions). I don’t know if we are all wired to be like David. But whatever our wiring, it is for Christ to dwell in us and us in him. It is to be devoted to him with our whole being in loving God and others. I think it sometimes more tortuous to know these things and not be living in them than to not know them at all. To return to child like ignorance and innocence.

  21. Oh Ms. Dye, I will read this over and over and over and over again. I pray that the Lord will show me how to love Him and not just how to serve and follow His rules. I long for the passion and excitement I had about Him. I had turned into a drone, a robot- fearful of Him if I messed up and feeling so distant even when I didn’t. Thank you again so much for your article- how clear you make His call to love!

    Thank you,


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