God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:
healing the sick
distinguishing between spirits
interpretation of tongues.
All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when. — 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11
This morning, as I was sitting in church, the pastor said something that has resonated with me all afternoon. He was talking about the importance of truth in the midst of today’s culture. It seems as though even self-proclaimed Christians are denying Jesus, ignoring the inerrancy of the Bible, conforming to sin, and living spiritually reckless lives. He mentioned that many Christians know about the nine gifts we are given according to scripture but we are likely unfamiliar with the tenth gift; that is the gift of goodbye. Now he was saying that with a bit of humor because that isn’t listed in 1 Corinthians 12. But as I’ve thought about it, I do believe it is a gift God gives us.
Jesus and the man
The Gospel of Mark tells us the story of a man who encounters Jesus. This man ran up to Jesus and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
This man clearly knows the importance of God’s kingdom and he understands that it is Jesus who holds the answer.
The man is focused on the right thing but he mistakenly thinks he has all the power to make it happen. Jesus obviously sees this discrepancy in the man’s question versus his heart.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
The man is eagerly agrees with Jesus: “Teacher . . . all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
He has worked hard; he has kept the rules; he has tried his best. It all looks good on paper. He is probably thinking he has this wrapped up and well on his way to the heavenly promised land.
Then an amazing thing happened. It’s easy to overlook it. Scripture says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
Read that again.
This is the only man in the entire Gospel of Mark whom we are explicitly told Jesus loved. And that’s startling given what the love of Jesus looks like in this story.
Jesus loves this man too much to allow him to continue in his self-deluded little world that says his hard work is the way to God. Jesus refuses to invite this man into further ego-driven beliefs that just because he has checked off all the necessary boxes, he is on the narrow path to God’s kingdom. Instead, Jesus issues a command.
In scripture, Jesus often spoke in parables. It wasn’t always easy to understand the basic point but not in this case. Jesus was direct and incredibly clear. And with this one command, Jesus undermines the whole foundation on which the man has built his life.
“One thing you lack,” [Jesus] said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
No negotiation, no misunderstanding. He must sell everything.
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
And there it is. The crux of the man’s story. He had great wealth. Why is that important? Because Jesus demands it all. That is the command. Period. It’s not just a hard command. It’s impossible, and it was supposed to be.
It’s an important moment because Jesus loves the man—and he lets him walk away. Jesus doesn’t chase after the man or change the rules. He simply says good-bye.
Jesus demands it all.
True then. True now.
Why would Jesus make the price so high? Why would Jesus demand something that can’t be done? Not because he’s cruel and harsh, but precisely because Jesus is love.
You see, the man had reduced God’s commands to something he could achieve. It was like a daily checklist that needed to be accomplished. He couldn’t see that this wasn’t about works but rather it was about the heart. If the man had simply surrendered to Jesus in that moment, he could have honestly said to Jesus, “I can’t do it alone.” But his identity was wrapped up in things of the world therefore there was no place for Jesus in his life. Not truly.
So, how does this relate to today and even the “gift of good-bye?”
Think back to what Jesus said to the rich young man. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor.” It’s easy to react to that: Of course he doesn’t mean I should do that. That would be ridiculous and impractical. He was only talking to that man. He just means I should be more generous. Yes, I think I can manage to be a bit more generous. I don’t have to actually suffer.
And that’s precisely the problem. We find a solution to the problem of obeying the commands of God—but we aren’t obeying Him at all. We decide what scriptures to live by and what scriptures to ignore. We decide that things, places, events, people are much more important than our relationship with God. We affirm sin and water down hard words of God to avoid upsetting people. We cling to traditions instead of God’s Laws. Our lack of obedience to God is exactly why Jesus said to the man, “Go, sell everything you have.”
Every command found within the pages of Scripture will expose your worldly anchors if you stop and listen. It is uncomfortable. It is hard. But it is there, in that authentic place, that you will truly learn to whisper those two little words: I can’t.
I can’t continue making the choices I’m making. I can’t continue hanging with the wrong people. I can’t continue to water down my beliefs. I can’t.
Two and a half years ago, I said, “I can’t.” I could no longer be part of a denomination that denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. I could no longer keep quiet about the way God was being pushed out of that worldly institution. I could no longer serve alongside those who mock God by claiming He makes mistakes. I fell to my knees and said, “I can’t.” And in that moment, the Holy Spirit gave me the gift of good-bye.
“And if no one will … even listen to what you have to say, leave that place, and once outside it shake off the dust of that place from your feet. Believe me, Sodom and Gomorrah will fare better in the day of judgment than that place.” — Matthew 10:14
Shaking off the dust of some place or someone you love is not easy. But without the gift of goodbye, given by the Holy Spirit, it is not possible. I’ve watched as several people I know and love have embarked on these good-byes within their own lives. It’s heartbreaking but also freeing. The more you push away from the world and all that it stands for, the closer Jesus Christ is to your every breath. Jesus showed us how to love, even to the point of good-bye. And sometimes it is through our good-bye that we show the most love of all.
What about you? Are you like the man, clinging to the riches of your world? Do you find the comfort of disobedience easier than the discomfort of giving it all away? Perhaps it is time for you to say, “I can’t” so you too can receive the gift of good-bye.