In Matthew 16:24-27 (NKJV), we read ...
"Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works."
One of the most difficult concepts for us to grasp is … context. It’s too easy to think that each decision, circumstance, or moment we live in is the most important one that will ever happen. With that mindset, we often make choices that fail to understand the bigger picture that is our lives.
Now some moments and decisions actually are higher in importance. But the truth is most, while deserving of attention, fail to qualify as truly life changing. Yet, we treat them that way and end up making decisions that then do have life changing consequences. So what is the broader “context” that should envelop our lives? Jesus gives us some insight here in this passage.
Our greatest need for context is in standing on the truth that this world is not, nor will ever be, all there is. Now it needs to be clear that this scripture does not judge or criticize those who pursue gain or profit. Who is criticized is those who do so at the cost of losing something far greater. There can come those moments or choices that bring benefit today or fulfill a carnal desire now but in the end can diminish a lifetime.
The contrast here is “gaining the whole world” and “losing your soul.” Whether it be during those often turbulent teen years or someone facing a mid-life crisis, we all come to crossroads that bring the potential for adding pleasure to a moment while taking away from the broader context of our lives. The bottom line wisdom here … no momentary pleasure is worth that. I’m not going to address the idea about eternity and the impact of sinning on our salvation. I want to stay focused for now simply on the contrast of “gaining the whole world” against “losing your soul.” And the Lord’s comment is … “where’s the profit in that?”
Our human flesh is so mired in selfish desire and self gratification that all that matters to it is feeling good … now! It doesn’t matter who is hurt or what is the cost. As long as I feel good (or stop feeling bad) then it gets put on the table. And a lie that we often tell ourselves is that “well, even if it does hurt I’m only hurting myself.” While that is never true since none of us lives to themselves only, this scripture remains focused on that very way of thinking.
You see, the context here is not “gain the whole world” or “hurt your family.” It’s not “gain the whole world” or “destroy your witness or ministry.” The choices are “gain the whole world” or “lose YOUR soul.” That momentary journey down the path of selfishness and sin may bring you pleasure now but the lasting consequence on your soul (your very essence) makes going in that direction a loss (the opposite of profit). We can avoid this by placing our lives, and all the decisions involved in it, within the context Jesus provides here … taking up your cross, denying yourself, and following Him!
There is no moment in life, no single decision in favor of pleasure, that can match the blessed choice of following the Master. Again, this is not to say that every decision we make that brings pleasure or happiness means it’s a bad one. Determining whether a choice is bad or good truly cannot be measured by the moment alone—and that’s the point! You can’t assess things accurately simply by how you feel at the moment or how you think they will make you feel … at that moment. The broader question is does it help you better fulfill the divine call of “denying yourself?” Does it feed an “all I care about is me” attitude or an “all I want to do is please Jesus” way of thinking?
Can this be over-applied? Sure it can. It’s hard (and perhaps even silly) to apply this to whether or not to have that dish of ice cream. In most cases … go ahead and have the ice cream. But whether you are a teenage girl facing peer pressure to do what you know is wrong or a man facing a mid-life moment, flirting with throwing away a marriage and family for a moment of pleasure, your best course of action is clear. Place your crossroad in the context of the “whole world” –vs- “soul” model. In this scenario, making decisions for the moment leaves you outside of what Jesus Himself called profit. It leaves you in the loss column.
When faced with those moments, don’t ask yourself “Will it make me feel good now?” Try asking, “Will it truly profit my soul?” Remember, this is not just about bringing good or happy things to you but about bringing “profit to your soul.” And since God created your soul, He is the only authority on what truly feeds it and on what takes away from it.
One of the blessings in this scripture is that we are promised that if we go ahead and give our lives to Him (lose them in Him) then we will truly find or gain them. So remain determined to live a life in context instead of one focused on “living in the moment.” Or better stated, “a life of profit” instead of “a life of loss.”
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