2. The Rich Man

In Luke 18, there is an incident where a wealthy man asked the price for getting eternal life. He knew that Jesus was teaching that there was an eternal life that could be had, and he wanted to know just what things he needed to do in order to obtain this reward.

Luke 18:18: A certain ruler asked him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 19. Jesus asked him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good, except one - God. WEB

Obeying Commandments

The initial response to the question is fairly straightforward. Jesus speaks about tangible things that the man could do.

Luke 18:20: You know the commandments: `Don't commit adultery,' `Don't murder,' `Don't steal,' `Don't give false testimony,' `Honor your father and your mother.'" 21. He said, "I have observed all these things from my youth up." WEB

Jesus first laid down the basic principle of obedience. To a Jewish person of the era, it was something that was obvious from their law, but Jesus emphasised that it wasn't something to be forgotten as a basic principle. Our whole hope of eternal life is based in promises made by God many years ago, and those promises were themselves related to obedience to God. In Galatians 3:16, the apostle Paul connects the promised Jesus to the promised seed, or descendent, of Abraham. The direct promise of this seed is recorded in Gen 22:18, and ties it to Abraham's demonstration of obedience,

Genesis 22:18: In your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." WEB

Obedience is directly connected to eternal life as a theme through both old and new testament record. In Jesus' teaching, disobedience is directly linked to the loss of eternal life,

John 3:35: The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. 36. One who believes in the Son has eternal life, but one who disobeys the Son won't see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." WEB

This aspect of obedience is quite clear and, in some ways, the easy part.

Good Teacher

In responding to the question of the ruler in Luke 18, Jesus seemed to take exception to the form of address of “good teacher”. He asked in return, “Why do you call me good? No one is good, except one - God.”.

It is a true enough statement by Jesus that no person is truly the Good Teacher - not even Jesus himself, and that was something that could be filled by God alone. The context of this statement is odd though, because the ruler's statement doesn't seem so strikingly wrong to warrant reprimand. It wasn't uncommon for someone to be called “good”. Jesus himself spoke of “good men” as recorded earlier in Luke when he said,

Luke 6:45: The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks. 46. "Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and don't do the things which I say? WEB

Jesus also gave himself the title of the “Good Shepherd” in John 10. Even though in that phrase the word recorded in the Greek manuscripts is different for “good”, we are left to think why Jesus took exception to being called the “Good Teacher” by the wealthy ruler.

Clearly Jesus wanted to reduce his level of perceived authority, and demonstrate that he wasn't at the level of God, and instead was the servant. Perhaps it makes more sense if taking the ruler to be a man with pride in a high station of life. In that case it is more compatible with pride to ask a great teacher for advice, than to ask just anyone. There is a a shame in having to ask some lesser person, but asking a “good teacher” could be considered wise.

Jesus, in emphasising how he himself was not the “good teacher”, was showing the ruler that he too was just a man before God and that his status as a wealthy ruler wasn't making him any more important or closer to the good things. He was raising an issue of humility, that would form a critical part of the answer to eternal life.