“What Am I Still Lacking?”

Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler

When we begin reading the account of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus (Matthew 19:16-22), we read of one who seemed to be a good man with a good attitude who showed a lot of promise in becoming a disciple of Christ. Notice the good qualities we are told about this man:

  1. He was spiritually minded – He was interested in eternal life and came to Jesus in order to find out how to obtain it (Matthew 19:16).
  2. He was religious – When Jesus listed some of the commandments that he needed to keep, the young man said, “All these things I have kept” (Matthew 19:20).
  3. He was interested in improving his service to God – After affirming that he had been keeping the commandments that Jesus mentioned, he asked, “What am I still lacking?” (Matthew 19:20).

Unfortunately, despite the promise that he showed initially, in the end he “went away grieving” (Matthew 19:22), presumably because he was unwilling to do what Jesus told him to do – sell his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Him (Matthew 19:21).

We need to be like the rich young ruler in the sense that we desire to grow and improve our service to God. However, unlike the rich young ruler, we must also be willing to do the work that is necessary to improve or fix what is lacking in our lives.

We might ask the same question as this man: “What am I still lacking?” Let us notice some things that might be lacking in our service to God so we can see the areas in which we may need to improve.

Proper Priorities

The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property” (Matthew 19:20-22).

The lack of proper priorities was the problem that the rich young ruler had. His sin was not in being rich, but that he valued his riches too highly. Jesus, as omniscient God in the flesh (Colossians 2:9; Luke 16:15), would have known this about this young man. It is not a requirement for all Christians with “much property” to sell and give it all away (cf. Acts 5:4). But it is a requirement to “be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:18). We must guard against “the love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10) and always put spiritual things first (Matthew 6:33). We must not allow the riches of this life to hinder us in our service to God.

Understanding

After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man’” (Matthew 15:10-11).

Peter said to Him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ Jesus said, ‘Are you still lacking in understanding also?’” (Matthew 15:15-16).

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for vain worship and elevating the commandments of men to the same level of importance as the law of God (Matthew 15:6-9). The particular human commandment under discussion was the tradition of washing one’s hands before eating bread (Matthew 15:2). While it may be a good idea to wash one’s hands before eating, it is not a divine requirement. Jesus explained this point when He said that man is defiled not by what enters the mouth, but by what comes forth from the mouth (Matthew 15:10-11). Peter needed further clarification on this point because he lacked understanding. We are commanded to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). Therefore, if we lack understanding as Peter did, we must work to correct this condition. This requires an honest heart (John 7:17), time devoted to the study of God’s word (2 Timothy 2:15), and the willingness to think critically about the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16).

Self-Control

Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a women. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:1-5).

Paul made the point that one of the benefits of marriage is that it helps one to avoid sexual immorality. God designed marriage as the place in which sexual desires could be lawfully fulfilled (Hebrews 13:4). Yet when a married person commits adultery, the spouse of the adulterer is not to be blamed – that was not Paul’s point at all. One is tempted to commit adultery, not because of a lack of sexual activity in marriage, but because of his “lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). Married or not, we need self-control to avoid sin – not just sexual immorality, but every type of sin. Jesus said that such self-control and the denial of one’s fleshly desires is necessary for discipleship: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). If we lack self-control, we must learn to refuse the temptation to sin.

Endurance

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Trials are not pleasant. This is why James told these brethren to “consider it all joy” when they encountered them. Joy is not a natural reaction. But why should Christians rejoice in the face of trials? It is because trials lead to endurance which leads to perfection, completeness, and being lacking in nothing. Entering the kingdom of God is associated with having to endure “many tribulations” (Acts 14:22). If we lack endurance, we need to develop it so that the hardships of this life do not prevent us from reaching our reward. The Hebrew writer said, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right had of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Wisdom

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Paul prayed for the brethren in Colossae that they would be “filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom” (Colossians 1:9). Why was it important that they would be filled with knowledge and wisdom? It was so that they could live in such a way as to “please Him in all respects” (Colossians 1:10). If we lack wisdom, we are told to pray for it. Furthermore, this prayer must be offered “in faith without any doubting,” otherwise we “ought not to expect that [we] will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7). But what happens after we pray in faith for wisdom? Are we to wait around, expecting to receive it miraculously? No! We are told elsewhere to pray for “our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Yet we are not to sit around and wait for God to miraculously give it to us; we are to work for it (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The same is true in our prayers for wisdom. After praying for wisdom in faith, we must learn and practice the word of God (James 1:21-22) so that we can acquire the knowledge and experience upon which our wisdom must be founded.

Conclusion

As long as we live, there will be room for us to grow in our service to God. If we desire to improve our service to God (like the rich young ruler), then we must actually take the steps necessary to grow (unlike the rich young ruler).

If you examine yourself in light of God’s word (2 Corinthians 13:5) and find things in your life that you need to change or improve, do not go away sorrowful as this man did – unwilling to do what was necessary for him to do. Instead, make the necessary changes so you can then rejoice knowing that you are doing God’s will.


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  1. […] Andy Sochor spends some time with the rich young ruler of Matthew 19 and encourages us to ask: “What am I still lacking?” […]