The Question that Arrests Us
"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?"
Scripture: Matthew 16:21-28
Old Testament: Daniel 5
Psalter: Psalm 73
Epistle: Philippians 3:4b-16
Though most people rarely reflect on this great question Jesus asked, many of us know the feel of questions similar to it. In what are sometimes very painful moments of truth, we've asked questions that are similar to his in feel if not in scope: "I worked night and day to get that promotion. But now my children are grown, and I barely know them. Was it really worth it?" "I had to step on a lot of people's toes to get elected to office. Now that I'm here it's lonely. If I could do it all over again, would I do the same thing?"
The thrust of the question.
Now take Jesus' question and feel its thrust. The stakes here are infinitely higher than those in the situations mentioned above. He presents us with two immense treasures, one of which is priceless. The first is the prospect of literally owning the entire world—unimaginable wealth, absolute power, and uninhibited indulgences for every desire. The second is the prospect of becoming a perfect human being, complete with flawless wisdom, unblemished character, healthy emotions, a completely clear conscience, and a perfectly loving will— at peace with God and one's self. Each is a universe of its own. One is external and tangible. The other is internal and spiritual. But both are immense.
The question is this: If expanding your wealth and power is shriveling your soul in the process, are you actually getting ahead at all? What's the net gain (bottom line now!) if accumulating wealth and power is turning you into a small, cold, hard, lonely, fearful, anxious person? Is "getting ahead" worth violating your own person?
The movie Driving Miss Daisy vividly portrays the contrast. On the one hand is Miss Daisy an aging, wealthy, Southern, aristocratic white lady. The years of striving for the top have turned Miss Daisy into a tiny tyrant. She's touchy, tight, rigid, demanding, aloof, vain, ungrateful ... and afraid. Visible through her character is a soul so shrunken it looks like a small, dry wrinkled pea.
On the other hand, and in stark contrast, is her poor, aging, illiterate, black chauffeur. Patient, gentle, forgiving, long-suffering, tender, kind, and eminently wise, his immense soul, overflowing with grace and humor, reveals what true wealth really looks like.
How souls are forfeited.
How do souls shrivel up so tragically? Jesus says it happens by a process called forfeiture. Remember how forfeiting a softball game goes? Your team shows up with only five players; the other team has all nine. So rather than getting clobbered, you choose to surrender without a fight. The weak capitulate to the strong... without a fight. That's forfeiture.
Now, look at our Lord. Satan, through Peter, is tempting Jesus to forfeit his painful mission in order to save his life. The loud voice of the evil one shouts out, "You're going to get clobbered! Save your skin! Abort the mission! Forfeit!" Jesus faces this weighty choice: Will he surrender obedience for survival? Will he forfeit his soul for his life, his person for his body? This is the ultimate question of life. And Jesus says, "Never!"
When we choose to let our soul lose out to anything that violates its integrity or hinders its growth, we're forfeiting it.
It's big news when someone loses a part of his or her body. And we speak in hushed and sobered tones about someone whose mind has succumbed to some form of dementia. But rarely do we reflect upon what our choices, pursuits, and aspirations are doing to our souls. Even religious work can shrivel a soul!
Upon his return, our Lord's question will be, "How is it with your soul?" Have you kept your integrity, copied Christ's character, kept a clear conscience, and walked in obedience? It's not what you have or what you've done that is the ultimate issue, but what having it gave you (or cost you) and what doing it did to you. In the end, all we're left with is what we've become. Sobering!
Call to Worship
The Lord who calls us to worship him today is the same Jesus who refused the temptation to worship the evil one. Rather than receive the glorious kingdoms of this world, he endured the shame of the cross, and today is Lord of lords and King of kings. Now are gathered in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, glory and power.
With the saints of all ages we say "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"
Prayer of Confession
Lord, in your mercy hear our prayer. We confess that it is still all too easy for us to sacrifice our convictions for convenience, your standards for status, your principles for promotion, your absolutes for our ambition, our souls for shallow and unsatisfying success. How easily we are seduced by power, prestige, pleasure, or possessions—seduced into violating our integrity or harming our fellowship with you. From earth's fullest bliss we turn to you again, unfulfilled. Forgive us our half-hearted devotion and our double-minded spirit. In the name of him who refused to save himself we pray. Amen.
Psalms and Hymns
Psalm 73: "God Loves All the Righteous"
Psalm 86: "Lord, My Petition Heed" (especially st. 3,5,6)
"Christian, Do You Struggle"
[PsH 575, TH 574]
"Jesus, Lover of My Soul"
[PsH 578, PH 303, TH 508-509]
"Jesus, Priceless Treasure"
[PsH 572, PH 365, RL 448, TH 656]
"O God, My Faithful God"
[PsH 574, PH 277 RL 69, TH 602]
"O Jesus, Joy of Loving Hearts"
[PsH 307 PH 510-511, RL 27a TH 646]