Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox (Proverbs 14:4).
While we may like a clean manger, and the corresponding freedom from the upkeep an occupied manger requires, we will never enjoy the fruits of abundant crops apart from oxen. In other words, no one has a clean manger and abundant crops at the same time. A choice must be made.
For those of you who have children, keep the long view. The home is often messy, particularly with young children, and it can be frustrating when basic order seems impossible to maintain. So, try as you can to keep order, and train your children to do so, but remember that abundance doesn’t come with a clean manger, and you are choosing the better part.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34).
I find Peter’s life tremendously encouraging. He is a man of enthusiasms, loyalty, fears, and faults. There are times when I think I understand him, times when I seem to be like him.
It is not entirely clear, at least to me, what Jesus meant when he told Peter that Satan demanded to have him, to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31). Likely the situation is similar to Job’s, where Satan was given limited permission to afflict Job, in an effort to destroy his faith (Job 1—2). We know that Satan wasn’t given full permission over Peter because it nowhere says that Satan entered into him, like is said of Judas (22:3), and because Jesus prays for him, that his faith may not fail.
What I find so encouraging about this passage is the fact that Jesus, at the very same time he assures Peter of his prayers, he foretells Peter’s denials. Jesus is specific—“when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus knows Peter will turn away, even as he prays for Peter’s faith not to fail. Which suggests to me that Jesus is praying that Peter’s faith may not finally fail. Certainly Peter’s denial of Jesus was a failure of faith. Peter certainly saw it as such, for after the cock crowed and Jesus looked at him, “he went out and wept bitterly” (22:62). And, yet, Jesus’ prayers were answered. In fact, just as surely as he knew Peter’s faith would fail at the cross, he knew that Peter’s faith would not finally fail. In his last words to Peter in the Gospel of John, Jesus says “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go,” John then commenting “This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:18-19). In the end, Peter’s faith would hold. He would glorify God.
Like he did for Peter, Jesus continues to pray—for us: “Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). And so does the Spirit: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
In the end, the reason Peter’s life is encouraging is the intercession of Jesus. Left to himself, Peter would never have turned back. But Jesus prayed that his faith would not fail. And in the end, it didn’t.
But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich (Luke 18:23).
One of the sobering truths of the Scripture is that we become like the things we love. Those who love idols become like them. Those who love God become like Him. Of the idolater, consider Psalm 115: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (Psalm 115:4-8). Trusting idols deadens the idolater.
The love of money has exactly this effect, rendering us insensible. The deadening effect of the love of money takes very practical expression in the life of those who love it:
Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! (6:4-6).
Can you see the effect? The sin wasn’t having wealth, but the fact that they didn’t grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Loving money deadens our love for our neighbor, particularly the vulnerable. We become less and less like God, and therefore less and less human. The love of money is a particularly dangerous sin, because it changes the one who loves it.
So the call of Jesus to the rich young man—give. It was a command, but also a blessing, for giving weakens our love of money. It also forces us to reckon with the question: Who do I want to be? The answer to this question will reveal who or what I love. The rich young man was given an invitation not just to follow Jesus, but to be like him. After all, Jesus is the one who, though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9). This young man was presented with a choice, not just concerning what to do with his money, but concerning who he wanted to be.
A person having money does not mean that he loves money. Whether he loves God or mammon will be known by the fruit of generosity in his life. For a church as wealthy as the church in America, we do well to pay attention.