“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Have you ever been asked the conversation-starting question of with whom in history you would most like to have dinner? I’ve heard several people answer that they would like to have dinner with Jesus because who wouldn’t want to have dinner with Jesus? I’ll tell you who: Just about everyone who actually did. From the various reports of people eating with Jesus in the Gospels, He would have been a terrible dinner guest. At one dinner in particular, as recorded in Luke 14, Jesus was invited by some Pharisees to join them for a Sabbath dinner. This would have been for them a little like inviting the preacher over for Sunday lunch once was for church folks. They would have received honor from their community for hosting such a well-known rabbi for this formal occasion and they knew it.
Jesus made Himself a bother from the start. He kicked off the meal by healing a man right there in the room and called out the ones who had the nerve to act offended by His obvious violation of the Talmud for their hypocrisy. Then, He told a parable that chided the group for seating themselves according to who was seen as the most honorable among the party rather than approaching their peers with a little more humility.
He followed that up with another parable that gently scolded the host for only inviting folks who were able to return the favor rather than opening his doors and his resources to those who were in need. When one of the guests tried to take back control of the conversation by declaring blessed those who will eat with Jesus in the kingdom of God, Jesus responded with yet another parable suggesting that none of them were going to be in it. Instead, it would be filled with the people whom they thought for sure didn’t stand a chance of making the cut.
Then He really got rolling.
The next thing that Jesus said was hard. He looked at that group and told them that folks considering following Him needed to diligently count the cost before they took on such a journey. He added that if they planned on taking His path to the kingdom, they needed to be prepared to lose everything along the way. What they didn’t want was to face the embarrassment of falling off the wagon along the way.
Paul here reveals that He got the message. I wonder, have we? Are we willing to say that we do not count our own lives as of any value in comparison with accomplishing the mission, completing the ministry God has set before us? Are you? Am I?
That’s a big question. The challenge, as Oswald Chambers observes in his reflections on this verse, is that we are sorely tempted to believe that we have value in this life beyond our value to the kingdom of God. We have so much value, in fact, that it’s okay if we put the things of God on the back burner, because our enduring value in these other things will be sufficient for a lasting legacy.
This is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow, but, it’s not true. In the scope of eternity, the only legacy that’s going to matter is what we did to help advance the kingdom that will be eternal. Everything else will be burned away and forgotten. Anything we elevate in importance over the work God has called us to do is necessarily something that is getting in the way of the most important things we could possibly be doing.
Now, this does not at all mean we should only be doing the things our culture might readily identify as “God’s work.” Rather, we should be pursuing many of the same things we would otherwise be doing, but with an awareness of the real reason we are doing them and the real value behind them. And, where we have an opportunity to intentionally prioritize the things of the kingdom in ways that perhaps go outside what is normal, we take it.
Jesus was clear that treasures in heaven are the ones that will last. Kingdom work is the source of those treasures. Nothing else ranks close in terms of importance. If we are to call ourselves kingdom citizens, let us be sure our priorities reflect that.