Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Following Christ costs. It requires taking a cross, daily voluntarily setting aside whatever would keep me from drawing spiritually closer to Jesus. We must be willing to sacrifice anything for Jesus. The request is reasonable due to the cross He endured. He who asks my life from me first gave His life for and to me. The request is reasonable also because taking a cross is the best life we can live.
Matt. 10:39b “. . .and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
This paradox, one of Christ’s most forceful and memorable statements, is recorded at least six times by the Gospel writers (MT 16:25; MK 8:35; LK 9:24; 17:33; JN 12:25). The truth it contains is obviously a cardinal tenet of our faith.
The lesson is blunt. Selfishness is foolish. It misses the purpose of our existence, never gains what it seeks, and squanders life in the futile attempt.
If we seek only comfort and ambition, we may succeed in achieving them, and thereby enjoy the fleeting, flippant happiness they bring–the Bible does say there is pleasure in sin for a season (HB 11:25)–but such a life ends with nothing worthwhile to show for it. To satisfy our true selves, our life has to be spent, or as Jesus said it in our text, lost, given away by pleasing God first and others second.
In this way only do we enjoy real living. Self-denial is self-completion, not self-destruction; self-development, not self-mutilation; self-discovery, not self-neglect. Heed our Master’s words. Self-denial yields self-fulfillment. Living for God first and others second is the best life we can live in this worldly existence.
Self-seeking is self-defeating (Filson). It shrinks joy and usefulness. By clutching temporary thrills we cannot keep we forfeit eternal joys we cannot lose.
As long as we control our own destinies, our lives are never our own. Only as we serve God first and others second do we master ourselves, for only then do we find and fulfill what we were created to be.
Our text is not a call to monasticism. Few of us will ever be called on to leave jobs, possessions, and home permanently. For the vast majority of us, the ultimate issue in life will prove to be not the abandonment of life as we know it, but rather good stewardship, faithful trusteeship, of everything we are and have.
We must at any moment be willing to leave all, if we sense God would have us do this, but usually the struggle is fought in inward attitudes, not in outward actions. We must hold possessions, place, and people rather than let them hold us.
Timothy is a good example (AC 16:1-4). He was living a normal life, enjoying family and familiar surroundings, when into his world came a man, Paul the Apostle, whose life required more than one person to live it. Timothy found himself caught in the vortex of Paul’s call. By holding people and stuff loosely, Timothy was prepared for the key moment when it came. He was willing to leave everything and everyone to join in on a mission journey. For most of us, a call to leave all will not come, but we must be ready and willing to do so if it ever does.
Our text is not a call to humanitarian aid only. Granted, even for unspiritual people, unselfish is better than selfish, but this is not what Jesus is calling us to in our text. The best life, highest life, is one surrendered “for My sake,” Jesus said.
To be a Christian means, by definition, to be a kind person. People cruel and harsh at school, work, and home know nothing of what discipleship means.
“Be ye kind one to another” (EP 4:32) is rudimentary, one of the kingdom’s first, most elementary laws. However, the danger is, we will spend our lives being kind, without Jesus ever receiving any of the credit for it. In all our kindnesses we must subtly find ways to let others know the sweetness coming from within us is because of Jesus. Otherwise kindness can become glorified selfishness, a means whereby we receive strokes for our own egos and brownie points with others.
When God created the world, His intent was that human existence would revolve around knowing and enjoying Him. God was meant to be the center of human thought and experience.
When Adam and Eve sinned, this intended equilibrium was disrupted, thrown into chaos. Ever since that moment, an event called the Fall of mankind, the natural inclination of humans has been to make ourselves our own centers.
In the Garden of Eden, self became tyrannical. To this day, its dominion is hard to escape. Our God-given appetites and desires mutate by nature and by habit into lusts and crazed passions wrongly directed toward stroking and indulging self.
When we become Christ-followers, part of God’s gift to us is the ability to break this vicious, selfish cycle. Jesus enables us to live an ever-widening sphere of life beyond ourselves, to love Him first and others second, to sacrifice for Him and them. He gives us a chance to bless, to live a truly beautiful, worthwhile life.
This is not an automatic for believers. Successful Christian living requires ongoing surgery. Self keeps oozing back in, attaching itself to the center of our lives like barnacles. This center has to be constantly cleared for God and others.
This is not easy to do. The old obstinate part of our nature, desiring to order its own life based on its own comforts and wishes, does not want to be pliable in the Potter’s hand. The thought of relegating self to the margins of our existence, of making God first and others second, and trusting Him to care for us, scares us.
To live life God’s way requires courage. We have to defy natural instincts and inclinations, and step off into actions that to our flesh look very iffy. We have to risk finding adventure in paradox, to hazard finding order in contradiction.
God grieves over a world full of pain, disease, crime, injury, and greed. Our natural inclination is to look away from these things. We don’t want to dwell on how much these things grieve God. We prefer not to dwell on His pain, but by not considering and sharing in His sadness, we miss the means to finding our own joy.
In running from the discomfort of others we run full speed into discomfort of our own. Finding selfish satisfaction keeps us from ultimate satisfaction. Our joy is found in embracing God’s pain and in helping carry someone else’s sadness.
Our text is not a call to a morbid existence. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7). This truth tells us God expects us to have cheer in the giving life He wants us to live. We plant our duty to blossom our delight. His yoke is easy.
The gleam of His love reflects off the cross we take. It is possible to find such joy in losing life we can ask with one martyr, “Can I die but once for Christ?” and say with another, “Blessed be God that ever I was born to this happy hour.”
Our Master said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (JN 12:24 NAS). If self-conscious, a seed would not want to be buried in dirt. It is a dark rotting, but the end product is a joyous harvest. A grain of wheat selfishly saved is actually lost, wasted. Only by being sown does a seed yield productive, worthwhile results.
Similarly, only a life sown, laid down for Jesus and others, reaps joy. If we withhold life from Jesus and others, it ceases to be worthy of the name. We can hoard life, but in doing so we lose all that makes life valuable. To clutch this selfish life only is to make a losing bargain, to forfeit the only life worth living.