In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar. In this fascinating story, we see a lavishly wealthy man living in luxury and a crippled beggar, named Lazarus, covered with sores, hungry, and even the local dogs would come and lick his sores. Both Lazarus and the rich man die. The rich man goes to Hell, Lazarus goes to be with the Lord.
If you read the whole parable, you’ll uncover a conversation between the rich man in Hell and Abraham, who was with Lazarus in Heaven. While that story is incredibly intriguing and serves as the springboard for a host of questions and dialogue about Heaven, Hell, the nature of salvation, etc, what first catches my attention is the information Jesus gives us at the very beginning of His parable. Jesus tells us the name of the beggar, Lazarus.
Now this is really important because of all the stories and parables Jesus told, only one character has a name: this beggar, named Lazarus. Even in this story the rich man has no name, he’s simply, “the rich man.” There must be a reason why Jesus gives a name to the beggar, when no character of any other parable is assigned a name.
The name Jesus chose to give the beggar is loaded. Lazarus means “one whom God helps.” The beggar’s very identity was bound up in God. God was his only help. He was crippled, he had open sores, he had no money, he had no food, he had no friends, other than the dogs who licked his sores.
Contrast that with the rich man. His identity is clear, he is “the rich man,” dressed in purple and fine linen who lived in luxury every day. His fundamental state of being, his understanding of who he was was bound up in his wealth, his power, his luxury. God was not at the root of the rich man’s identity, rather, his riches were. This explains why the rich man ended up in Hell and Lazarus in Heaven. Lazarus worshiped God, the rich man worshiped his money.
To worship someone or something means to find your identity in that person or thing. You look to it for comfort, you look to it for stress relief, you look to it for rejoicing, you look to it for security, you look to it for all the things that only God can provide. It becomes your god, and your identity is bound up in it. In the introduction to this parable, Jesus very simply shows us by how He identifies the characters who their hearts worshiped. Lazarus, the “one whom God helps,” looked to God for identity. The rich man did not. Lazarus’ God was God. The rich man’s god was his money.
Now apply that to your life. For some, maybe the idol is money. For others it could be work, family, social status, acceptance, religion. Ask yourself this question: what is the one thing that you cannot live without? What is the one thing, that if you lost it, you would lose your sense of self, your identity? If that one thing is anything other than Jesus, it’s an idol.
We tend to think of idols as bad things, addictions like alcohol, drugs, pornography. Certainly, those are idols and those are bad things. But in evangelical circles, our idols are often far more subtle. Our idols are often good things that we make into ultimate things. Maybe it’s our kids. Perhaps it’s our work. It could be our spouse. Maybe it’s our style of worship or our way of doing church. Maybe it’s our ministry.
I’ll be honest, one of my biggest idols that I struggle against and constantly fall on the grace of Christ to overcome is my work. As a pastor, I tend to often confuse my work with the One for whom my work exists. At times I will even neglect my relationship with Jesus because I’m too busy planning worship services, meeting with people, writing music, and yes – blogging! In these times, I find myself thinking of myself as a pastor. My identity comes from my work, my ministry.
I need to think of myself first and foremost as a Christian, a child of God, Jesus’ little brother, a sinner saved by grace through faith and not of any of my own works. I am not a pastor or a musician. I am a Christian who God has called into pastoral ministry. I am a Christian who God has called into music ministry. Only after I find my identity in Christ can I then put everything else in its proper place. I am a Christian, then a husband, then a father, and finally a pastor.
Who are you?