Amidst all the talk of cutbacks and layoffs this year, it came as a surprise last week to read about one oil and gas company giving $100K year-end bonuses to all of its 1400 employees! With such hefty bonuses given the downturn, I can imagine those employees were feeling pretty good about their situation!
Feeling fruitful about our work is often associated with what we accomplished and the reward or compensation we received in exchange for our efforts. Conversely, we can feel pretty lousy when things aren’t going well on these fronts.
According to Scripture, fruitfulness is the product of the indwelling Holy Spirit. That, Paul says in Galatians 5, includes “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” This is the work of God in us and through us. This fruit is born out in how we use our time, talent, and treasures. In other words, time, talent, and treasures in life are the branches upon which the Fruit of the Spirit grows!
I want to focus on the branch called treasures.
Treasure is that which has value or meaning for us, including our possessions and money. Fruit born out in the area of our life is a strong indication that our identity is growing in Christ alone, not the treasure itself.
Mark 10:17-31 tells the story of an encounter Jesus had with a very successful and wealthy young man. This young man comes to Jesus calling him “good teacher” and kneeling before him with a request: “What must I do to inherit enteral life?”
Immediately, Jesus rebukes him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” At the time, it was a rabbinic tradition to respect your teachers by not comparing them to God’s goodness. It does not appear that he young man recognizes Jesus as God’s Son. Therefore, he doesn’t fully understand the goodness of Jesus. In other words, this man admires Jesus but he doesn’t worship Jesus. It is the latter for which Jesus came!
To this point, Jesus continues by listing off commandments from Jewish law. The upstanding, eager young man says to Jesus, “All of these I have kept since my youth.” Yet, despite his obedience to God’s law, this young man felt that something was missing, hence his seeking out Jesus. He’s coming to get something from Jesus; his interest in Jesus isn’t apparent. A quick comparison to the children in Mark 10:13-16 and this man illustrates this point.
Mark says that Jesus looked at him, loved him, and spoke to him. It’s as if Mark wants us to know that Jesus is really connecting with this young man and is speaking very specifically to him. Jesus is connecting with this man more than this man is connecting with Jesus! As is the case throughout the gospels, people often approach Jesus without fully appreciating who he is. This is certainly true for the young man.
He asked Jesus, “What must I do?” The gospel is first and foremost about what Jesus does for us! The gospel elevates the work of God through Jesus and minimizes the work of man in the flesh. The good news of the gospel is that we cannot and need not try to earn God’s favor — i.e. eternal life. God’s favor comes through Christ alone by grace through faith alone.
Jesus responds, “Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me,” (Mk 10:21). With that, the man’s heart sank to his feet. He turned, full of sorrow, and walked away with his many possessions.
Christ is the incomparable treasure of heaven. This is precisely what the man lacked -- heaven’s treasure! He needed Jesus, not simply a status symbol. On his own, he was stuck in his riches and unable to enter the kingdom of God. Instead of his wealth paving the way, it was a stumbling block into the Kingdom. More importantly, his wealth defined who he was. He was a self-made, well-to-do man. Taking possession of the treasure of heaven would change his identity. Instead of an identity build by his own doing, this one would be given to him by grace though faith. As a follower of Jesus, his earthly possessions would be used for the glory of God and the good of others. Instead of sensing the wonderful promise this offer was to him, the young man could only hear that he had to give up how he understood himself by selling what he owned.
The children in Mark 10:13-16, by comparison, had nothing but were embraced by Jesus. “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Jesus, in other words, wasn't piling onto this man’s burden, he was offering him a chance to unload it! In exchange, he, like the little children, would experience the joy of heaven’s treasure!
The man came looking to own that which he felt was missing: enteral life. But, Jesus was calling him to be someone: a citizen in God’s kingdom. Even today in churches you hear people talk about eternal security like its something they own. Jesus is offering us a new identity, not selling life insurance! He’s offering a way to enter into the Kingdom of heaven — He is the way!
What are we willing turn lose of in order to take hold of God’s gift? More than anything else, Jesus is calling us to use our possessions for God’s glory and the good of others. This is the kingdom ethic that love leads us to. It takes the branch of our treasures and grows the fruit of the Spirit! This man had a huge branch upon which God wanted to grow a bumper crop! He couldn’t even imagine how wonderful and beautiful this new identity could be in Jesus.
And so he walked away. He was filled with sorrow, not joy. This man figured this to be impossible! He wasn’t alone. Jesus’s disciples figured as much: “If this man can’t be saved, then who can?” Even for us, it’s a head-scratcher: the man’s goodness was keeping him from God’s best! Unless God helps us in our blindness or goodness, all of us — rich or poor — will be left out (Mark 10:27).
Fruitfulness, then, is not measured in what we earned, succeeded, or saved this year. It is measured by the fruit of the Spirit manifested in us and through us. God prunes our treasure by His Word so that nothing else competes with God’s plans and purposes in our life. Therefore, we can trust that God will use our poverty or our riches for His glory!
Instead of building an identity on what we have or don’t have have, God will build our identity on the person and work of Jesus.