An Eleventh Commandment?

• Story of the rich young ruler.
• The interpretation.
• An eleventh commandment?
• The promise.
• Takeaway.



Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann. Click to enlarge then hit back-arrow to return to blog article.

A certain ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him,” …You know the commandments: ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT TESTIFY FALSELY, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER.’”
He replied, “I have kept all these things from my youth.”

When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “You still lack one thing; sell everything that you have and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.

Jesus looked at him and said, “How difficult it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
[Luke, chapter 18, Amplified Bible]

The standard interpretation is that the wealthy man focused too much on his riches, placing his faith in wealth or status.

But is there a deeper message here… that the man was ignoring the poor, and that this was a problem? It’s clear that Jesus was sensitive to the poor and disenfranchised. It seems to me he spent half of his three-year ministry helping the poor and needy, and the other half telling parables or preaching.

Is it possible that this is an eleventh commandment? I looked carefully and helping the poor isn’t embedded in any of the other commandments. But helping the poor is a common theme of the Bible – both Old and New Testaments (see post-script below).

Treasure in heaven? Click to enlarge or to source.

The promise of this eleventh commandment is, “If you sell everything you have and give the money to the poor—it will become treasure for you in heaven.” A beautiful image, because everyone loves the idea of seeking treasure and finding it.

I still recall the shine on Ibok’s face when I gave him a few hundred dollars. He was a faculty member at Oral Roberts University, originally from Africa, and his family was hurting for money to pay bills. He wrote in a card his thanks, and how important the gift was for his family. I inserted the card in my Bible and have kept it there for twenty-five years. It’s a reminder to me to keep helping someone to hope. I think Ibok’s face will be part of the shine of the treasure in heaven.

The ending of the story is negative: the rich man walks away very sad. And it suggests that Jesus might have been disappointed.

I found myself asking if Jesus might be disappointed about my behavior. I’ve been a follower of God (and Jesus) for many years now. I’ve always tried to keep the Ten Commandments, and…

I feel like I’m rich. Absolutely. Living in America… the richest country in the world. I own a house better than my parents’ house, I drive a 2015 Subaru crossover, own a big flat-screen TV and an iPhone, and have built up an IRA that allows me to retire happily with at least one major vacation trip each year, and an occasional overseas junket.

Food for Starving Children program in Albuquerque.

So… how much time and money do I spend helping the poor? I do give away 10-20% of my time and money. A lot of this I send to NGOs that drill water wells in Africa or feed Syrian refugees or provide medical attention to Haitians or shelter children rescued from sexual slavery in Thailand. Should I be giving more? How much more?

And a last thought: are our churches doing enough? It’s probably fair to say our Christian churches are rich also, being American. Do our pastors and ministers talk enough about helping the poor and needy in the USA… or in third-world countries overseas?

Volunteers from one church in Albuquerque packaging unperishable food for starving children overseas.

I would appreciate reader’s thoughts on this Bible story and its application to regular people. I’m genuinely interested in how others interpret and apply this story of Jesus.

The slide here shows a list of references in the Bible about helping the poor. I didn’t compile this list, so I can’t say if its comprehensive or not.

But at first glance it seems that just about every book in the New Testament addresses the issue of helping the poor. Not surprising since the New Testament is all about Jesus.

But the message is in the Old Testament as well. I can’t read the rich, poetic verses of Isaiah 58:6-11without being moved.

I heard that in the first few centuries after Jesus, when a plague arose in Italy and killed a huge number of people, the Christians didn’t flee the plague but stayed behind to help the sick and dying. I’d love to validate this story if a reader can help out please.

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The Gray Nomad ….. Help someone to hope.
And if you pour out that with which you sustain your own life for the hungry, and satisfy the need of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in darkness… and the Lord shall guide you continually… and make strong your bones.
[Isaiah chapter 58]

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Don M.
Don M.
5 years ago

Thanks Ian for another thought provoking blog. I believe this “eleventh” commandment is also related to the commandment “love thy brother as thyself.” The scriptures are most clear regarding this commandment. After all, aren’t we all beggars before God. I don’t think the Lord wants most of us to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor; however, I do believe we should always keep the needs of others very close to our everyday thinking and prayers; and that we should sacrifice to contribute to others who are in need. I often wonder how pleased the Lord is with me when I spend money on things not needed, when that money could be contributed to a worthy cause, especially needy mothers and children. I will be more aware of this eleventh commandment in the future.

Don C.
Don C.
5 years ago

Great blog on the young, rich ruler’s encounter with Jesus.
I’ve always hoped he rethought his decision and did as Jesus
instructed him to do.
I know that you have caught the vision to be a “giver” over the
years…and no doubt have seen many blessings come back to you.
Unfortunately, so many Christians miss out on this blessing. They give
some, but not all. Giving all is scary and requires a giant step of faith to
give your house…car…savings…retirement…insurance policy, Etc.
I know God sees if our things “own” us…or we “own” our things.

Karen A Larre
Karen A Larre
5 years ago

Dear Ian, You are truly an inspiration. I observe that you give as you are inspired to give (and to people and causes you are inspired to help). That is the difference between you and the rich man in the story. The rich man was not giving anything. Jesus asked him to give everything in contrast to stimulate the response. I feel your giving (anyone’s giving really) is perfect if it comes from the heart. If you are inspired to give more, give more. If you feel the way you currently give is appropriate, enjoy it fully. Do whatever your heart leads you to do.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x