Lessons from the Rich Man and Lazarus

Tue, 14 Jul 2015 Source: Gyebi, Daniel

Many of us have read or heard about what Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said about the rich man and Lazarus as recorded in Luke 16:19-31. To summarize it, poor Lazarus was a beggar who was laid at the gate of a rich man hoping to obtain some of the food that fell from the rich man’s table. The rich man was dressed in fine clothes and lived in luxury. Both died. The rich man went to hell and Lazarus went to heaven to be on the side of Abraham.

While being tormented in hell, the rich man saw Abraham from far away with Lazarus by his side. The rich man made two requests. First, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his fingers in the water and bring it to him to quench his thirst. Second, he requested Abraham to send Lazarus to deliver a message to his five brothers about the horrors of hell so that they would change their ways and avoid hell. Abraham rejected both requests. Regarding the first request, Abraham explained that the rich man was getting what he deserved and that there was a big gap between them making it impossible for anyone to cross from one side to the other. Abraham rejected the second request because there were already prophets delivering the same massage and so sending someone from the dead would not make people more willing to accept it or repent.

When I first heard about this story as young boy, my take away from it at that time was that poor people were likely to go to heaven and rich people were likely to go to hell. At that time, that lesson was not bad for me because if you separated people into two categories -- rich or poor -- I knew the side to which I belonged. Today, it does not matter because it is not a question of rich or poor. The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich, and Lazarus did to go to heaven because he was poor.

Many interpretations can be made and lessons drawn from what Jesus intended to convey in this Bible passage. Here are five out of the many lessons that can be learned from what Jesus said.

Lesson No. 1. Heaven and hell are real. Whether the Bible passage is a story, parable, or prophecy, the fact that Jesus himself narrated it brings some reality and seriousness into what will happen to us after we die.

The Bible says that it is appointed unto men to die once and after that judgment (Hebrews 9:27). The outcome of that judgement could be eternal life with God in heaven or eternal damnation with Satan in hell. Jesus provided a little glimpse of the conditions in heaven and hell. In heaven, there are comfort and plenty of water for its citizens. In hell, however, there are torment, fire, agony, acute shortage of water, and lots of regrets by its citizens. That is why many people believe that a loving God will not condemn some of his children to hell. Please do not share this belief. In the greatest sermon ever delivered, the Sermon on the Mountain or Beatitudes, Jesus warned about the danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:22). It is better to be on the same side with Jesus. It is also better to live your life as though heaven and hell are real, even if it turns out to be false, than to live an unrighteous life and find out that heaven and hell are true and real.

Jesus promised that he was going to prepare a place for us and come and take us to join him there (John 14:1-3). And so we know that our citizenship is in heaven and we wait eagerly for the return of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20). This should be our focus. Therefore, we should not spend too much time engaging in fruitless arguments about the existence or non-existence of heaven and hell.

Lesson No. 2. Lack of care and compassion for fellow human beings may lead us to hell. The rich man was dressed in purple and fine linen clothes and lived in luxury. In other words, he lived extravagant and expensive lifestyle while a miserable, poverty-stricken person was laid at his gate.

Note that the rich man did not do anything bad in particular against Lazarus; he just did not care. We cannot solve all the world’s problems, but we can show care, mercy, and compassion on some of the people with whom we come into contact. Random acts of kindness do not go unnoticed by our Lord. Christ wants us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, show kindness to strangers, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit those in prison. And he points out that as we do these for the least of his brothers in this world, we do them for him, and may earn us eternal life. On the other hand, whatever we do not do for the least of his brothers, we do not do them for him, and that may earn us eternal punishment (Matthew 25:21-46).

Our ultimate goal as Christians is to make it to heaven. We know that salvation is by grace through faith in Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and not of works (Ephesians 2:8). However, we should not forget what Paul said that we should work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). That includes being good ambassadors of Christ on this earth and doing the things that Christ would do. Would Christ live in luxury in the midst of abject poverty? Of course, not; he would use his resources to benefit all those around him. Therefore, we should be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1) and focus our eyes and minds on those things that would make us worthy citizens of heaven.

Lesson No. 3 No one is coming from the dead to deliver a new message; we have to listen to God’s messengers here on earth who are delivering the same, old message (v 29-31). And what is the message? Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to this world in human flesh to die for our sins, so that those who believe in him will not perish, but have eternal life. Jesus was crucified; he rose from the dead and, before ascending to heaven, he commissioned his followers to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There is no provision in this Great Commission for a new savior, a new religion, or a new message other than “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (see 1 Corinthians 2:2).

We should watch out for those who come in the name of God, but deviate from this simple message. For Christians, the Bible is our Constitution. Read it, learn it, study it, meditate on it, and talk about it. If you do these, no one can lead you astray. We should follow the example of the people of Berea as recorded in Acts 17. The Bereans were praised as being of noble character because they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Act 17: 10-12). If the Bereans had the audacity to examine the truth about what Paul said, and were praised for doing so, should you not also do the same with those who currently preach the Word of God? Therefore, do not let anyone intimidate you with his or her personality, position, title or message. If the message contradicts the Bible, ignore both the message and the messenger.

Lesson No. 4. What we are today does not necessarily determine what we will be tomorrow. Rich people are used to getting what they want. In hell, the rich man needed help, and he thought he could have his way as he did in his earlier life. In the two requests, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus. Why did he not ask Abraham to run the two errands himself? After all, regarding the second request, Abraham, the father of our faith, would have been a more credible witness than Lazarus to proclaim the message to his five brothers. Well, the rich man knew and respected Abraham, the Patriarch, and could not conceive of sending Father Abraham on an errand. On the other hand, there was poor Lazarus by Abraham’s side. In the mindset of the rich man, Lazarus was not worthy of respect; so he could be sent on the errands.

Even if Abraham had wanted to act positively on the two requests, it is not entirely clear that Lazarus would have been the errand boy. Among the millions of people in heaven, the fact that the rich man could see Lazarus by the side of Abraham may suggest that Lazarus was probably not just an ordinary person there. Maybe, in heaven, Lazarus occupied a unique place of honor, perhaps part of Abraham’s inner caucus, and that in his new, exalted position in the bosom of Abraham, he could not be sent on an errand just like that. Whatever your current station in life or status, consider it as temporary. God is able to turn things around for those who put their trust in him.

Lesson No. 5. We should make use of legitimate opportunities to better ourselves. Lesson 5 may not be so obvious, but it is worth noting. In almost all countries, cities, towns, village or communities, the poor outnumber the rich. Have you ever thought about why Lazarus chose to be at the rich man’s gate instead of at the gate of one of the many poor people in the community? Lazarus was poor and wretched, but he was not a fool. He was wise enough to align himself with the rich and patient enough to endure inhumane treatment in order to survive. He could have pitched his tent among other poor people, wallow in self-pity, and blame the rich and powerful for all his problems, but he chose to stay near the rich where there were opportunities for food and his daily sustenance. Rich people tend to have rich and powerful friends who might come to visit their friend and offer some help to Lazarus. If he had pitched his tent among the poor, even some of the alms he may have collected would have been taken away by others poorer than him.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in difficult and unpleasant situations, but we should stay in order to achieve certain goals. You may not like school, but you should go to school because you need a good education to survive at the workplace and in this world generally. You may not like a particular teacher at school, but you may need to take and pass a course taught by that teacher in order to graduate. You may not like to serve anyone, but you may need to learn a trade by serving a master in order to become a master in future. And you may not like your boss or employer, but you may need to work to survive in life. Humility, patience, endurance, and long-suffering are helpful for survival. If you lack any of them, pray to the Almighty God who freely gives these gifts to those who ask.

Many of us like to talk, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. However, we should do more and talk less. That means, for example, minimizing blame and excuses and taking advantage of every legitimate opportunity available to you to improve yourself. Lazarus did not like dogs licking his sores, but he needed to look beyond that in order to obtain some of the food that fell from the rich man’s table. As much as possible, we should put pride aside. When you come across an opportunity, pray about it, grab it with your two hands, embrace it in your arms, and sometimes, jump into it with your two feet as well.

In summary, we have learned five lessons from this Bible passage; namely:

• Heaven and hell are real;

• Lack of care and compassion for fellow human beings may lead us to hell;

• No one is coming from the dead to deliver a new message;

• What we are today does not necessarily determine what we will be tomorrow; and

• We should make use of legitimate opportunities to better ourselves.

May the Almighty God help all of us to understand and appreciate the reality of heaven and hell, and to choose the path that leads to heaven. We should move away from sin, draw nearer to God, show kindness to our fellow human beings, and do those things that Christ would do; in the hopes that, by his grace, God will have mercy on us and take us to heaven and to the bosom of Abraham.


Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers.

Dr. Daniel Gyebi, Attorney-at-Law, Texas, U.S.A., and Founder, PrayerHouse Ministry, Kumasi, Ghana.

PrayerHouse Ministry is dedicated to providing a quiet facility for Christians to pray individually by themselves without any intermediary priest, pastor or any other person. This is a free service. No money is demanded or accepted. The facility is located at Kyerekrom / Fumesua, near Building and Road Research Institute Offices, one mile off the Kumasi-Accra Road and next to a house called Grace Castle. If you are interested, please contact Agnes at 027-7423815.

Columnist: Gyebi, Daniel