“For what does it benefit someone to gain the whole world and yet lose his life? (CSB – Read the chapter)
We have been talking about how we can be good at being rich for the last three weeks. This verse, in context, doesn’t have anything to do with that at all. But what it does do is give us a perspective we can take to every part of our lives – including our wealth – that has the power to totally transform our thinking, and by that, our living. If you want to truly be rich – in this present age and any age beyond it – this is a perspective you need to consider embracing.
Let’s start by addressing this verse in its context for a second, and then we’ll talk about the perspective shift it can bring more broadly to our lives. This verse comes in the context of Jesus’ famous challenge to His followers that anyone who intends to follow Him must be prepared to deny himself and take up his cross.
If you’ve been around the church for long, that’s an idea you’ve heard so many times that it has perhaps nearly lost its meaning for you. The imagery Jesus is using was much more colorful for His original audience than it is for us because they had all seen a crucifixion happen with their own eyes. They knew how great of a challenge Jesus intended this to be. Jesus was absolutely serious about His followers’ being willing to literally lay down their lives in pursuit of His kingdom. Anything less leaves them unfit for it. The doors of His kingdom are open to anyone who desires to enter, but He demands absolute allegiance from those who choose to do so.
If this seems like an enormous ask from Jesus for His followers, that’s because it is. But before we balk at this, v. 36 here invites us to think about it just a bit further than our initial reaction. In following Jesus, life itself is at stake. Not merely the life we live here and now, but eternal life. There is a life beyond this one that will last forever. What we have now will eventually be seen as so short that it barely qualifies as a blip on the radar of eternity. The alternative to that is eternal death. Either way, we are made for eternity.
Jesus’ point here in v. 36 is to bring us to a fork in the road. Yes, the demands for following Him are high. There’s no question about that. We will give up and go without much in this world if we take that path. There’s simply no way around that. There are things and experiences this world has to offer that we will miss out on entirely if we commit our lives to following Jesus. He wants us to be clear-eyed about that. And He won’t force us to miss out on them. We can pursue those instead of following Him. We can’t do both, but we can choose. If we choose the world instead of Him, though, what we are giving up in our choosing is our eternal life in His kingdom.
That’s the question Jesus sets before us. Is that tradeoff worth it? It is worth it to gain the world in this life, but lose eternal life? Objectively speaking, of course it’s not. Giving up something eternal in order to experience something temporal doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. Yet when the immediate is staring you in the face, that choice feels much more difficult. When you can see right now what you are missing out on, but you can only catch the most fleeting glimpse of what you are getting in exchange, it seems like the present lack is a whole lot worse than the future one. When you have people who are actively pressuring you either with the promise of pain or the promise of pleasure to join in on what they are doing, giving up something that feels intensely good or else consigning yourself to something you know is going to feel intensely bad in favor of something you may not experience for a very long time is not nearly so easy as it seems like it should be given Jesus’ question here.
This brings us to the thing I think Jesus really wanted us to understand here. Embracing the eternal at the expense of the immediate is always a good and wise thing to do. It will bring an incredible payoff. That payoff may not come right away. It may not come until after our lives have ended. But we are nonetheless guaranteed of its coming. The Jesus who predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection assured us of it. And when someone predicts and pulls of their own death and resurrection, you trust what they have to say about whatever it is they are addressing.
Now, make the applicational leap with me to what we have been talking about for the past few weeks. If we want to be good at being rich, this same choice between the immediate and the eternal is one we are going to have to make. There will always be something immediate that is demanding our attention from the standpoint of the use of the resources God has placed directly at our disposal. There will always be a bill to pay or an experience to have or a desire to be fulfilled. Kids will beg for this or that. Something is going to break down and need to be replaced or repaired. An upgrade or update is going to come out and life would be so much easier if we went ahead and got it in spite of our not really being able to afford it in the moment. A terrific vacation opportunity is going to come that will require us to back off on our giving and saving for a few months in order to afford. There will always be something. There will always be some reason to use the resources God has given us to suit our own ends rather than His. And we will always have a reason why choosing ourselves makes the most sense in that given moment. God will understand. We need it. We deserve it. We couldn’t help it. Someone else needed it. We just needed a break. On and on and on we could go.
Now, hear me well: This is not by any means to suggest that it will never be okay to use our resources for something we want. It will very often be not only okay, but good and right to do that. What it means is that we need to carefully consider what our larger perspective is going to be when it comes to how we use our resources. Are we doing it with eternity in mind, or only with today in mind? Is our ultimate goal to satisfy ourselves with it, or to glorify God? What are we aiming to gain? The world, or eternal life? We can’t have both. We must choose. The trick is, if we choose the world, eternal life will be off the table. If we choose eternal life, though, we just may get some of the genuine goods of the world thrown in as a packaged deal. Opting for eternal life means we will get to enjoy the resources as they were meant to be enjoyed. That will always be the truest and richest pleasure.
If you want to be good at being rich, opt for the kingdom. Such a path will not always be easy, but it will always be good. And you’ll always, ultimately, be glad that you did.