In this lesson/commentary on Mark 10:21-31 you will discover several characteristics of genuine love as Jesus talks to the rich young ruler and his disciples.
Today, we are going to see some characteristics of genuine love. As followers of Jesus, you and I must learn how to love people even if they don’t accept what we say or stand for. We have a lot to look at, so let’s get started.
Let’s take a look at Mark 10 beginning in verse 17, As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” 21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them. But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. 25 In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” 26 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. 27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” 28 Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said. 29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. 31 But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.” (NLT)
We are told that “Jesus felt genuine love for him.” This “love” (agapao) refers to a pure and noble love. This “love” is not driven by emotion, superficial appearance, or sentimentalism. Agape love speaks of a love that sees value in the person and places value on them because of their soul. This young man was not perfect and misunderstood many things about God’s kingdom, but Jesus still loved him and placed valued on the man.
From this encounter with Jesus, we see five characteristics of genuine love that we should have in our own lives. Let’s take a look at them and see what God would say to you today about loving others.
Genuine love leads to consideration
Number one, genuine love leads to consideration. When you love people you think more deeply about them. You consider them, where they are in life and where they have come from. Notice carefully what Mark tells us in verse 21, Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him.
The word “looking” (emblepo) means to gaze at or stare at with the idea of thinking deeply about and considering who you are seeing. Jesus was looking past the surface and into the heart of this man. You and I cannot look into the heart of a person like Jesus can, but I do think we don’t look at people thoughtfully as much as we should. We don’t think about them and consider what they really mean and try to understand them. I think this is why Jesus “felt genuine love” for people, because He looked at them at a deeper level. For you and I this means we need to consider the other person’s perspective, try to understand them, and be considerate toward them. That’s what genuine love does.
Let me give you some examples.[i]
- Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let’s consider how to encourage one another in love and good deeds” (NASB). To “consider” means to think about what encourages them and what doesn’t. It means to pay attention to what motivates them and what doesn’t.
- 1 Peter 3:7 says, “You husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together” (NLT). To “understand” your spouse you will need to be considerate, thoughtful, and aware of her needs and her perspective. You want to understand why she thinks the way she does, why she feels the way she does, why this angers her and this makes her happy. This is understanding her. This is what genuine love leads to. This is considering the person.
When Jesus was looking at the man He was looking passed the surface and seeing someone valuable. Jesus was understanding him and considering him. This is genuine love.
Genuine love leads to truth
Number two, genuine love leads to truth. Because Jesus loves this man, He is going to answer the man’s question and tell him the truth. In verse 21 we read, “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Let’s break this down.
Jesus tells the man, “There is still one thing you haven’t done.” By all appearances this young man had done a good job at keeping the Ten Commandments outwardly. He thought he had done a good job. He told Jesus that he had kept the commandments since he was a boy. From a human perspective, he is a good guy. He has tried to live his life the right way. He has tried to love God and love others. However, the young man had made a mistake. He was using the Ten Commandments to measure how good he was when God had given us the Ten Commandments to reveal how sinful we are. Before anyone can enter the kingdom of God, become born again, and become a follower of Jesus they must come to the reality of how much of a sinner they really are. In this conversation, Jesus is helping him see this reality. Jesus loves this young man and wants him to know the truth. So Jesus says, “There is still one thing you haven’t done.”
What was that one thing? Jesus goes on to say, Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Jesus is saying to the young man, “If you want to receive eternal life your way, then you will need to keep all the commandments. From a human perspective you have given it a good try, but there is one thing you haven’t done. You need to go sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor then you will have eternal life.” This statement by Jesus addressed the real god in the man’s life. “You are going to need to walk away from your possessions and wealth and give them away.” Remember, Jesus is answering the man’s question, “What else must I do to inherit eternal life?”[ii] Jesus is saying that if you are trying to earn your way to heaven, which is impossible, you are going to need to keep the Ten Commandments in action and attitude. To do it the man’s way he would also have to give away everything.[iii]
The young man was guilty of replacing God with an idol. The young man was worshipping another god – his wealth and possessions – and God tolerates no rivals. Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “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” (NASB). His possessions and wealth was his god.
Remember, Jesus is preaching the gospel of law to him, not the gospel of grace. Jesus is saying, “If you want to be good enough to get to heaven you must keep all of God’s law outwardly and inwardly, in action and in your heart.” That’s impossible and Jesus knew it, but He needed the young man to see this for himself before he could ever have eternal life. The man, like all of us, must come to grips with the reality that we cannot save ourselves.
Jesus also mentions treasure in heaven. Can I remind us there is more to this life than what we can see, feel, and touch? There is more to life than our possessions. There is a heaven.
After telling the man to give away all he has, Jesus then says, then come, follow me.[iv] This is a call to discipleship. This is an invitation to the man to learn from Jesus. To live life with Jesus. This invitation is true today. Jesus is calling you to give up your idols and the things you think are important and follow Him, learn from Him, live for Him, and let Him live through you. Jesus says, Come, follow me.
Notice the man’s response in verse 22, At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Some observations.
- The man’s face fell refers to being deeply dismayed (NASB) and disheartened (ESV). He had lost his courage and confidence in all his good deeds to save him. He was feeling defeated in his attempts to earn eternal life.
- As a result, He went away sad. This refers to his grief (NASB) and sorrow (ESV). He went away grieving. Grieving is the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. The thought of having to give up his possessions grieved him. At this point in his life, they were more important to him than eternal life and the kingdom of God.
- The reason why the young man was grieving was he had many possessions. For him to receive eternal life, on his terms, he would have to give up what he loved the most, his money and possessions. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go. He possessed many possessions, but sadly his possessions possessed him.
This encounter is an illustration of Mark 8:34-37. Where Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” (NLT). The young man was not willing to give up his life for the sake of Jesus and His Good News. He was not willing to give up his own way and take up his own cross and follow Jesus.[v]
Before we move on let me make two observations.
- First, we are not told the ending of this man’s story. 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, but worldly grief produces death” (CSB). It is possible, the man thought about what Jesus said, came back and listened to Jesus teach later, or talked to some of Jesus’ followers and had conversations with some of his friends about what Jesus meant. It is possible that some time later his “worldly grief” turned into “godly grief” producing a repentance that leads to salvation. We will not know until we get to heaven.
- Secondly, when you love people and you tell them truth they may not receive it. They may walk away sad, angry, dismayed, and disheartened. It is your responsibility to lovingly deliver God’s truth and it’s their responsibility to decide how they react to it.
Genuine love leads to the truth. If you love someone you will be honest with and tell them what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear.
Genuine love leads to concern
Number three, genuine love leads to concern. In verse 23 we are told, Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!” 24 This amazed them.
As the young man walked away Jesus looked around and said to his disciples…. Wait a minute! Shouldn’t it say, “Jesus chased the man down to explain it differently or to try to convince the man to give up everything and follow Him?” Jesus answered the man’s question. Revealed to him that he was a sinner, told him he must die to himself by giving up his god of money, and invited the man to follow him.
I believe there are times where you need to share the gospel and share the truth out of genuine love and let the person have time to wrestle with what they have heard. You let them walk away. This allows the Holy Spirit time to work on the person’s mind and heart. This allows them to think and evaluate and consider the truth they have heard. Jesus never seemed to be in a hurry or a panic when it came to reaching new people or sharing the gospel.
As Jesus was looking around at the disciples He was getting their attention. He knew they were shocked and confused by what they had just heard. By pausing and looking around at the disciples Jesus was grabbing their attention because there was something significant they needed to learn about His kingdom from all this.
Then Jesus says something strange, How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! Jesus is saying it is difficult for wealthy people to get saved and be born again. Obviously this is not true for every wealthy person because many rich people have entered the kingdom of God. However, Jesus is laying down a general principle: It is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. The reason is worldly wealth has the power to blind people to their heavenly need. Wealth has the ability to deceive people spiritually. Jesus has already mentioned this back in Mark 4:18, “Others are like seed sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, 19 but the worries of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (CSB).
The reason the disciples were amazed at what Jesus said is it contradicted a deep rooted belief that assumed that wealth and power were signs of God’s blessing.[vi] If anyone should be blessed to enter the kingdom, they would have thought it would have been this rich young ruler who had kept all the commandments (externally of course, but not internally). The religious wealthy were able to buy the best sacrifices, give the most, help the poor, and so on. Surely it should be easy for the religious wealthy to enter into the kingdom of God. The disciples were amazed that Jesus would say it is difficult for them.
Why would Jesus say it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God? There are several reasons, but let me give you two.
- Their wealth can give them a false sense of security. Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 6, “Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable [that is where the false sense of security comes in, they don’t need God because they’ve got money]. Their trust [security, confidence] should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.18 Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others” (vs.17-18, NLT). For the wealthy it can be difficult for them to enter the kingdom of God because it is easier to place your faith in money than it is in God. Once your faith is in money then it becomes very difficult to transfer that faith to God.
- Also, their wealth can lead them away from God rather than toward God. God’s Word says in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows” (NLT). This isn’t talking about losing your salvation, which you cannot. It’s talking about being distracted from the will of God by money. You start making decisions based on the financial bottom line rather than by faith and what God wants you to do. You are wandering away from a life of faith and trusting God to making decisions that will eventually bring grief and sorrow (see also 1 John 2:15-16; Luke 12:16-21). Your decisions are financially driven, not faith
Because of all this Jesus says it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. To drive home His point, Jesus repeats Himself. In verse 24 we read, But Jesus said again, “Dear children, it is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God.
The disciples’ belief system said the wealthy are blessed by God and it should be easier for them to get to heaven because they can buy the best sacrifices for God. He knew this statement was going to be confusing and shocking and disturbing to them. Instead of rebuking them harshly for this belief, Jesus applies compassion and tenderness by addressing them as dear children. He loves His disciples, He wants to help them grow, and He wants them to know that He is not angry at them, but is here to teach them and guide them and help them understand. He wanted them to understand the kingdom of God.
However, instead of toning down His statement or softening it in any way, the Lord repeated it and broadened it to include everyone, not just the rich. This time He drops the statement about the wealthy out and simply says, It is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God. This is a shocking statement, even for us today. God’s Word clearly teaches that salvation is a free gift in the finished work of Christ for anyone and everyone who responds by faith. What is very hard about that? The problem comes when we somehow think we deserve it or have earned it by how good we are. Faith is hard for prideful people. Having faith is difficult for self-sufficient people. God’s way of salvation is faith evidenced by repentance and humility and for many this is very hard to accept. So Jesus says, It is very hard to enter the Kingdom of God.
Jesus then gives an illustration of how difficult it is to enter God’s kingdom. In verse 25 we read, In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” 26 The disciples were astounded.
When Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle He is referring to an actual needle.[vii] Jesus simply picked the largest animal that His disciples had ever seen and used it to illustrate how impossible it is for the wealthy to either buy their way into heaven with the purchase of sacrifices and offerings or for someone to be good enough to enter God’s kingdom. Jesus uses exaggeration to drive home the simple truth that there is no way possible that someone could earn their way into heaven with goodness or gold.
Again, we are told in verse 26, the disciples were astounded. They could not believe what they were hearing about religious wealthy people. Some translations describe the disciples as being “even more astonished” (NASB). The word astounded (ekplesso) literally means “struck out of one’s senses.” We would say they lost their minds. This teaching by Jesus blew the disciples mind.
However, their astonishment quickly moved to despair as seen in how they responded.
Genuine love leads to hope
Number four, genuine love leads to hope. Mark tells us the response of Jesus’ disciples to all this in verse 26, “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. 27 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”
The disciples reveal that they haven’t understood salvation by grace yet because they asked Jesus, Then who in the world can be saved? If this religious wealthy man cannot be saved with all the sacrifices he bought and offered and if he can’t be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments and if it’s very hard to enter the kingdom of God and if the wealthy who we thought were blessed by God can’t enter and it’s easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than a rich person to enter the kingdom of God… then who in the world can be saved? It sounds like nobody can!
Before we move I want to point out something significant about how Jesus grows His disciples, like you and me. When you read and study God’s Word you are going to come across some statements that are going to astound you. They are going confuse you and challenge your current beliefs and understanding. That’s a good thing. And it’s okay and expected for you to ask questions about what God says. He wants you to understand. As you follow Jesus you are going to be changed by Jesus. Your beliefs and understanding are going to change. There are going to be times as you study God’s Word you are going to be confronted with truths that cause you to say, “But I have always been taught this, but God’s Word actually says this.” Embrace those moments and learn and grow from those moments. This is what was happening to the disciples. Jesus had to help them unlearn something so they could learn something. He was deconstructing a false belief in order to rebuild a correct belief.
So Jesus looks at them intently and says, Humanly speaking, it is impossible. There is not a single person, rich or poor, who in their own power, will, and efforts can save themselves. Because by nature they are sinners they are incapable of entering the kingdom of God and having eternal life. There is nothing they can do. There is no amount of good they can do that would earn them a place in heaven. Humanly speaking, it is impossible on their own to save themselves.
However, Jesus goes on to say, But not with God. Everything is possible with God. When unbelievers, by the work of the Holy Spirit, reach the point where they desire to repent and be saved, having acknowledged their guilt, they can only cry out to God and ask Him graciously to forgive their sins and save them from judgment through Jesus Christ. Their only plea, like the repentant tax collector, is “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 18:13). By God’s forgiveness, grace, mercy, love, and power can one enter the kingdom of God and have eternal life.
The everything in everything is possible with God refers to everything that deals with salvation. The call to salvation, the conviction of sin for salvation, the hearing of the gospel, the understanding of the gospel, the faith to believe the gospel, the forgiveness of sins, the regeneration, the justification, and the pardoning of sin and the adoption into His family, becoming born again and everything else that is involved in a person’s salvation is only possible with God. Genuine love leads to hope.
Genuine love leads to balance
Number five, genuine love leads to balance. Still searching for understanding and clarification Peter says in verse 28, We’ve given up everything to follow you. Peter just heard Jesus tell this religious man who worked hard at keeping the Ten Commandments to go sale everything he has and give it to the poor. It’s like Peter is asking Jesus does our decision to give up everything to follow you mean anything. We have left our wives, children, family, homes, jobs, brothers, and sisters to follow you.
When Matthew tells about this event he adds that Peter says, “We’ve given up everything to follow you. What will we get?” (Matt. 19:27, NLT). We have left everything for You, then what will be for us in eternity? Do we giving up everything count for anything?
Jesus answers his question in verse 29, “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, 30 will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.
In verse 29 Jesus replied Yes. Yes, it does count for something because it proves something. You giving up everything does not make you saved, but it does mark you as saved. Your leaving everything behind demonstrates that you have real faith because faith without works is dead.
All believers become a part of the church, the body of Christ. While many lose their earthly families when they become Christians, they find that they have gained the heavenly family and are given many fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers in Christ.
Jesus didn’t want them to think that by following Him everyone this side of heaven was going to like them or understand them or accept them. Jesus said that those who give up everything for His sake and the sake of the Good News will experience persecution. Jesus informed the disciples that they would have their share of persecution. God balances blessings with battles, developing mature sons and daughters.
Then Jesus concludes this section with verse 31 saying, But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then. Right now, on earth, the world sees people like the rich young ruler as the greatest among them. In this world they appear to be the most important people. The followers of Jesus who die to their selves, take up their cross, and sacrificially follow Jesus throughout their life are seen as the least important. However, in God’s kingdom those who sacrificially follow Jesus are the greatest. Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Jesus looked at this young man and felt genuine love for him. Who in your life do you need to look at, consider, understand, and think more deeply about? Who do you need to look at with genuine love?
For some of you, you may be like this rich young man who has tried to get into heaven by being good, going to church, and doing the right thing hoping your good will out weight your bad. God’s Word makes it very clear that salvation can only come by faith in Christ. Are you ready to place your faith in Christ?
[i] Romans 15:1 says, “We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord” (NLT). Philippians 2:3 says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (NLT).
[ii] For a more in-depth look at the rich young ruler and his attempts to save himself through his good deeds and keeping the commandments (and why that will never work), read my comments in the article “Jesus: Confronting Superficial Interests (Mark 10:17-21).
[iii] The word “go” is in the present imperative calling for this to be one’s lifestyle. Jesus is not telling the man to give away only what he has now, but to continue giving away everything he will receive in the future.
[iv] For further study I suggest you read my commentary “Jesus: What it means to follow Him, part 1” based on Mark 8:34-9:1 and “The Process of Discipleship, Part 2” based on Mark 8:34-9:1 along with “Jesus: Worth Leaving Everything Behind” based on Mark 2:13-17.
[v] The demand upon the man was costly, but the response proved that the diagnosis of Jesus was correct. He preferred his present earthly possessions to future spiritual possessions in heaven. His riches had become thorns which threatened to choke the see of God’s Word in his life (Mark 5:7, 19), but the end of his struggle is not revealed.
[vi] According to the simplistic (and wrong) theology of first-century Judaism, wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Conversely, they saw the poor as cursed by God. Further, those who were wealthy had the means to pay for more sacrifices than did the poor. They also could afford to give more alms and buy more offerings than other people, and the Jews believed that almsgiving was key to entering the kingdom…. Thus, in the Jewish religious system, it should be easy for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, not impossible. (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 9-16, pg. 84)
[vii] Some, unwilling to face the stark reality that the saying implies, have attempted to soften it. Noting the similarity between the Greek words kamelos (camel) and kamilos (a large rope or cable), some suggest that a copyist erred by substituting the former for the latter. It is unlikely, however, that all three Synoptic Gospels would have been changed in the same way. Nor would a scribe make the statement harder rather than easier. He might change the wording from “camel” to “cord,” but not from “cord” to “camel.” But even a rope could not more go through the eye of a needle than a camel could. Others imagine that the reference is to a small gate in Jerusalem’s wall that camels could only enter with great difficulty. But there is no evidence that such a gate ever existed. Nor would any person with common sense have attempted to force a camel through a small gate even if one had existed; they would simply have brought their camel into the city through a larger gate. The obvious point of that picturesque expression of hyperbole is not that salvation is difficult, but rather that it is humanly impossible for everyone by any means, including the wealthy (cf. mark 10:23-24). Sinners are aware of their guilt and fear, and may even desire a relationship with God that would bring forgiveness and peace. But they cannot hold on to their sinful priorities and personal control and think to come to God on their own terms. The young man illustrates that reality. (John MacArthur, Luke 18-24, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, pgs. 41-42)