“Easier for a Camel to Go through the Eye of a Needle”

Camel

And Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’ And looking at them Jesus said to them, ‘With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:23-26).

This is one of the difficult statements of Jesus. It almost seems as though He was discouraging a portion of His followers and future followers (the rich) from coming after Him. Yet His statement was not meant to be discouraging, but a warning of the potential danger that riches can be to one’s spiritual well-being.

What Jesus Does Not Say

It is important to first notice what Jesus was not saying here. First of all, Jesus was not saying that the rich cannot be saved. Rather, He said it is “hard” for them to be saved. We will consider some reasons in a moment as to why this is. But we must first have this in our minds – those who are rich can be saved because God makes it “possible” for them to be saved.

Jesus was also not saying that riches are evil. Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). He did not say that money itself was the root of evil. Riches can come as a result of man being blessed by God through His providence (Ecclesiastes 5:19).

Something else that Jesus did not explain is the definition of rich. If you ask people in this country what qualifies someone as “rich,” some might say that one who has a million dollars or more is rich. Others might judge it by one’s income level. Certain lawmakers have latched onto the figure of $250,000 as the annual household income that marks the threshold between the rich and the middle class. Yet having a $40,000 household income would seem “rich” to many in poor nations around the world. Jesus was not talking about how much money one has or what their income level is per se. Rather, He was addressing an attitude about riches and the need to put spiritual things first.

Riches Can Be a Hindrance

When Jesus said that it is hard, but not impossible, for a rich man to be saved, He was warning that riches can be a hindrance in one’s pursuit of eternal life. He made this point in the parable of the sower as He explained the seed that fell among the thorns.

The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).

Notice that those who were represented by the thorny ground initially received the word and some growth began. But the “worries and riches and pleasures of this life” choked out the word and made them unfruitful. Focusing too much on the things of this life, which is common for those who have an abundance (Ecclesiastes 5:12), makes it easier to ignore spiritual things. Notice the parable of the rich land owner:

Then He said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.’ And He told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God’” (Luke 12:15-21).

This man’s sin was not in his prosperity, but in his neglect of spiritual things. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). Unfortunately, many (though not all) of the rich serve wealth as their idol, making it impossible for them to serve God faithfully. This is why the Law of Moses contained the following warning regarding the rich blessings of the promised land:

Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14).

This is the attitude that Jesus was warning about – arrogance, complacency, and being more concerned about earthly things than heavenly things. This is why Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).

How to Keep Riches from Being a Hindrance

As we have already noticed, Jesus did not say that it is impossible for a rich man to be saved. So how can we keep from letting our riches (however much they might be) hinder us in our pursuit of heaven?

  • Remember that all blessings come from God – James wrote, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Riches are among the many blessings which God bestows upon us. “Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19).
  • Remember that riches are temporary and uncertain – Timothy received this message from Paul: “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Jesus warned about one fixing his hope on earthy treasures as well: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19). All earthly treasures can be lost, stolen, or destroyed. Besides this, when we die, any riches we have will be left behind (1 Timothy 6:7; Ecclesiastes 5:15).
  • Do good with your blessings – In writing to Timothy about the rich, Paul said, “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). Solomon, who recognized riches as being a “gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19), also said, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime” (Ecclesiastes 3:12). Paul said that the fruit of one’s labor allows him to “have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). Those who are rich have an even greater ability to do this.
  • Recognize the greater riches that await the faithful in heaven – No matter how much wealth we accumulate in this life, it will be nothing compared with the reward in heaven. Jesus asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The reward for the faithful is described as “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4; cf. Matthew 6:20-21).

The rich man can be saved. But he must put God first ahead of his riches. For many, this is difficult. But we must remember the reward that awaits us, avoid the love of money, put the Lord first, and serve God rather than our earthly possessions.


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Comments

  1. Good article, Andy.

  2. Thanks, Devin.