In Matthew 19:16 a man came to Jesus asking a question. He said, “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”
There are several places in the New Testament where people ask a question similar to this. Surprisingly, the answers vary greatly (see John 6:25-29, Luke 3:10-18, Luke 10:25-37, and Acts 16:30-31).
In this particular case Jesus answered the man, “keep the commandments.” But that wasn’t as clear as it needed to be so the man asked another question, “Which ones?” The people that count such things have found 613 different commandments in the OT. So I think it was a good question.
To which commandments was Jesus referring? He started with a portion of the list of the 10 commandments found in Exodus 20:12-17 (and repeated in Deuteronomy 5). But surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t list all of the 10 commandments and the ones He does mention were strategically chosen.
Let’s count along with him. (I’ve included each commandment’s number for your convenience.)
Which commandments (and in what order) did Jesus prescribe?
- #6 – Don’t murder
- #7 – Don’t commit adultery
- #8 – Don’t steal
- #9 – Don’t lie
- #5 – Honor Dad and Mom
Then Jesus adds a commandment from Leviticus 19:18 at the end… “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Did you notice something? Jesus doesn’t bother mentioning any of the first four commandments! It’s clear He’s only concerned with the second portion of that list. The first three commandments specifically address the proper relationship between God and man. Commandments 5-10 deal with interpersonal relationships.
The man responds by saying he’s been doing pretty good in the area of interpersonal relationships… and Jesus doesn’t seem to disagree.
Then, in verse 21, Jesus suggests that if the man desires to be “complete” or “mature” in how to treat people in God’s economy… go sell everything and give it to the poor. Did you notice… this is the missing commandment… #10… regarding coveting possessions! Evidently, this one the man hasn’t conquered quite yet.
Most people assume the man that Jesus is talking to doesn’t truly believe in God because it says he “went away grieving… for he was one who owned much property.” Honestly, how many true believers would joyfully receive this instruction? I know I would struggle with it… and probably need to grieve a little too.
I think it’s dangerous to assume everyone Jesus meets in the gospels is a lost soul looking for redemption. In this case, the instructions given to the man might best be heard by “believers” who have a lot of stuff. It’s a reminder that no matter how well we are following God’s instruction in our life… we are always in need of a Savior who knows us well. One that can expose our weaknesses… for our sanctification and His glory.
The interaction between Jesus and this wealthy individual is just one of the items I cover in The Matthew Study video lesson for chapter 19. You can watch the entire lesson below… or preview the other videos and download chapter lessons from The Matthew Study by visiting: THE MATTHEW STUDY VIDEOS page.