Rev. 20 March 2004
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Listen to him! (Mark 9:7)Why do you call me "Lord, Lord," and not do what I tell you?Jesus, Luke 6:46
The principals of Jesus apply to every disciple, in every situation, time, and place. They are not confined to him and the early apostles. He is the leader who, by precept, commandment and example, has mandated the Way, the only Way, to life. It is the only route to his kingdom and glory. He is the way and the door, and everyone who would enter must follow. There is no other way to God. There is no other way to inherit eternal life.
The way is hard. It was hard for him; it is hard for us who follow. Hard, yes – but possible. We have his footsteps to trace, like a trail blazed through the wilderness of this world, because he has gone before us. If we abide in him, that is, in his Word, he strengthens us with his presence. He will never leave or forsake us. Still, it is hard. He said it, and made no apology for it. It is hard, because it means to take up the cross in the world. This must inevitably have radical effects that we would prefer to avoid. I have found, though, that the application is not always so radical as it first appears, nor the effect of the application always so severe as one might suppose.
This final chapter seeks to clarify some points of application. The principles are so simply and concisely stated, though, that their application should not require much clarification.
I also offer this word of caution: this is the application as I see and experience it. It may differ for you, though the principles are unvarying. I am not offering myself as an example. Only Jesus is uniquely qualified to exemplify the Way, and he alone is our leader.
Early MistakesIt is easy to make mistakes. I illustrate here by describing two of mine. Joining a church was the first of which I am aware. This exposed me to a multitude of errors masquerading as the Truth, which I gullibly accepted. With many others, I kissed him in the midst of betrayal. The result was some twenty-five years of heartache and perplexity of mind as I sought to blend church loyalty with loyalty to Christ. This is not possible. I know it now; if only I could have known it then! Still, all was not lost – I learned from it. It was a learning experience from which our Lord finally extracted me. I tell you this: I am glad it is over!
Another mistake came after I left the church. Having lost there a ready congregation, I was ill prepared for having no one eager to hear what I had to say. I felt compelled to reach out for converts and fellowship, and Jesus' words were ever near me:
. . . whosoever does not forsake. . . cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).The words are plain enough, so I finally forsook my employment and my family and went out into the world to make disciples. There was nothing right about it. I never felt that I was in the Lord's will. I tried many places, people, and things. Nothing worked. There was little fruit and less gratification as I moved from place to place. Finally, like the prodigal, I "came to myself" in the realization that I was still confused and uncertain about the implications of the Gospel. There were many questions and few answers. I could not accept a commission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel unless I understood it. I realized that I should return to my family and to secular employment, which I did.
Later yet, I came to see that it was a need to do something great in the world that had at least partially motivated me. I wanted to get a little worldly glory for myself. That motivation is the kiss of death to true discipleship. I had thought I was only being obedient to Christ, but my motives were impure and confusion reigned in my heart. Through this and other experiences I came to realize that the motive is crucial, because it has it's origin in the will, which is the prime focus of both righteousness and salvation.
These are not my only serious mistakes. I mention them because each illustrates opposite extremes of error in the application of the principles of Christ to life in this world. On one hand stands the temptation to go with the crowd, to defer to the wisdom of the elders, to follow the easy way. On the other hand there is the overemphasis of radicalism, the taking of extreme positions in the seeming literal application of every aspect of the Word. This can sometimes be pure folly. It may be folly even when it appears to be the obvious response to the Word.
I could have avoided such mistakes by carefully examining the life of Jesus. He stands in an exclusive relationship to us as a leader and example. No one else is able legitimately to occupy that position. It is for this reason that I do not offer myself as a leader. He said:
Neither be called leaders, for one is your leader, the Christ (Matthew 23:8-10).Churchmen offer lip service to this principle but in practice they ignore it. This has contributed to a fragmented religious establishment. Some follow the Pope as leader, some the Patriarch, some Calvin, some Wesley, some Luther, some Campbell, some Rutherford, some Smith, some Baker and only a few follow Jesus. It was no different during the Apostolic Era, nor is there any prospect of change in the future. Jesus called us to follow him. It is imperative that we do so, exclusively, if we are to be pleasing to God. Let us therefore study his example and apply it to our lives.
Learning from Jesus' ExampleWhat can we learn from one so long crucified? There is a paucity of information about Jesus. Except for the last three years of his life, we know very little. Is this the only period when he served as an example? I do not think so. His uniqueness sprang from his beginnings in the world. Therefore the early, and longer portions, of his life also must have been exemplary.
He acknowledged his uniqueness as early as the age of twelve when, speaking to Joseph and Mary in the Temple he said:
How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house (Luke 2:49)?Yet in many ways I think he was not unique. He returned with his parents to Nazareth, where he remained with them for many years. He was subject to them, as is normal with young children. I infer from scripture that Joseph died while Jesus was still very young, about fourteen. There were many siblings. There is specific mention of James, Joses, Judas and Simon, together with a plurality of sisters (Mark 6:3).
I infer therefore that his siblings had come along about every two years during this early period of his life. There would have been, at Joseph's passing, at least six of them, of whom the eldest was about twelve, the next ten, the next eight, the next six, the next four, and the last, two. You may object that average birth intervals of two year are unrealistic during an age that knew little of birth control. Perhaps so; there may have been more than two sisters. Some may have died in early childhood. Anyhow Joseph, at his passing, left Mary with a large brood of at least seven young children of whom Jesus was the eldest. As such, it fell to him to take on the primary responsibility of family breadwinner. He would logically have done so by continuing Joseph's practice of carpentry and /or construction labor. We also can infer that he continued in this capacity until about the age of thirty, when all knew him as "the carpenter." He then forsook his trade and his family, and began to fulfill his mission.
His OccupationSo, for perhaps sixteen years, he labored as an ordinary carpenter – until the youngest children had reached maturity and could fend for themselves. His mother did not remarry. It would have been very difficult for her to find a husband, burdened as she was with the dual disadvantages of poverty and many children. Had she remarried, she would have relieved Jesus of his bread winning responsibility earlier. He would have begun earlier to pursue his mission. These inferences account for his townspeople knowing him as "the carpenter," and for their making no reference to Joseph in identifying him (Mark 6:3). Jesus served as our example during this ordinary period of his life, as he did later when his uniqueness again prevailed. By working as a carpenter and fulfilling family responsibilities for many years, he showed that we who follow also can be breadwinners. We, too, can engage in a skilled occupation. We likewise can support ourselves and our families.
Was he a wage earner, an independent contractor, a shopkeeper and small businessman? It is no matter. As a carpenter he could have been all of them. If Jesus could follow this type of activity in the world, so can we. Therefore, no man has followed the example of Jesus until he has earned a living. No one has followed the example of Jesus apart from fulfilling family responsibilities. There is no "free ride" in the Kingdom of God.
His stance toward the world was not so radical that it interfered with success in earning a living. As a person of unparalleled honesty, who treasured neither material wealth nor time, he would have provided full value for goods and services sold, and a full days work for a full days pay. These characteristics contribute to a successful career. They might present a temptation, to one so engaged, to commit his life to this success and become a wealthy man. This is a temptation to which Jesus never yielded. He was, after all, not of this world (John 8:23), and to that non relationship he tenaciously and consistently adhered.
Not of the WorldSince it is true that he was not of the world, he would not have identified as a citizen of Israel, a nation of this world. His basic stance must, then, have been that of an alien. As such, he would not have participated in the civic, political, and national activities of his home country. Neither would he have been a party to the revolutionary movements that were common among the Jews. He would have accepted the circumstances of his people, doing nothing either to alter, to end, or perpetuate them. He had a unique mission in the world, and a unique agenda for fulfilling it. With this as his compelling interest and commitment, he lacked any inclination to involve himself in local, national, and world affairs.
Jesus' stance as an alien in the world is the most radical position imaginable. Yet the world does not recognize it as such until one reaches out for converts and succeeds in winning them. Until then it poses no evident threat. This contrasts with the effect produced by most radicals, who gain their laurels by efforts to effect changes in society, thus making many enemies. Therefore Jesus would have incited no animosity while he pursued the mundane chores of a carpenter. I think he would have had much respect from the community for his hard work, skill, honesty, and fulfillment of family responsibilities. It was a different story, though, after he won adherents and gained influence. It made no difference then that he was not seeking to change the world. All who are threatened by new ideas will suppose that change is in the offing and will react, in a hostile manner, with misguided efforts to protect their worldly interests. The love of life compels them. Look at the Pharisees, whose antipathy toward Jesus was fueled by the thought that his growing movement would result in the coming of the Romans to "take away our place and our nation" (John 11:48).
The Paramount RevolutionarySome may have thought him strange due to his lack of interest in public issues, but this would not have generated hostility. His neighbors could have perceived no threats to themselves. I believe, therefore, that we can follow the example of Jesus and live a normal life in the world until we become militant witnesses. On the positive side we work as Jesus worked, earn our living, maintain our integrity, love our neighbors and show mercy. On the negative side we do nothing in disobedience to his commandments. This means that we do not take oaths or seek wealth. We do not go to war. We do not, we cannot, divorce. We do not engage in the public display of piety. We do not seek our living through appointment to religious posts since our religion teaches that "whoever seeks to find his life shall lose it" (Matthew 10:39). We, who seek only the glory of God, do not engage in or support seditious activity. We do not involve ourselves in either revolutionary or counter-revolutionary movements, or in either national, political, cultural or racial initiatives. I must add, though, that Jesus is, in Truth, the paramount revolutionary and the ultimate radical. His movement has already sealed the fate of the nations and of the whole world. That is one reason we seek no other revolution. But do not suppose that Jesus manifested a normal life for many years because he sought such a life. Such a motive would have been a gross inconsistency for one who hated his life in the world, as Jesus surely did. No, it simply turned out that way as he moved in an exemplary fashion to earn his wages and fulfill responsibilities to those who depended on him. It was the will of his Father in heaven and the ensuing circumstances of life were incidental.
Personal RelationshipsHow did he relate to those closest to him – his immediate family? His rapport with his brothers was not good. They hated him with passion, and nursed strong resentments. Their familiarity with him bred contempt to the point of seeking his death. I refer to this account in John's Gospel: "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee, . . . because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, "Depart hence and go into Judea..." For neither did his brethren believe in him (John 7:1-5). Then Jesus said to them:My time is not yet come; but your time is always ready (John 7:6).They were urging him to go into a territory where they knew the Jews were seeking to kill him. They did not believe in him. We therefore draw the conclusion that they hated him to the point of seeking his death. I infer therefore that anyone who imitates Jesus can expect to be the object of animosity, even from close relatives. The True Faith is no prescription for good relationships with one's neighbors and relatives. Loving our neighbors after the manner of Jesus does not solve our relationship problems. It may add to them.
The Gospel is no free ticket to a smooth ride in the world. We will have all the problems that others have, and sometimes, depending upon the nature of our calling and the state of world affairs, there will be additional ones.
Everything in its TimeThe above incident in the life of Jesus also reveals an important key to his actions: he did everything in its time. When it was time to abide with Mary and help to raise his siblings, he did so. When it was time to forsake his family and pursue his mission, he did so. When it was time to lay down his life in Jerusalem, he did so, but he did nothing before its time.
The early period with his family in Nazareth is therefore very revealing, just because of its existence. He could live with his family and pursue a normal occupation for many years without gaining any reputation other than as the carpenter, the son of Mary (Mark 6:3). There is no evidence that Jesus manifested radical ideas and activities during this period. To the contrary, the evidence, sparse as it is, strongly suggests that it was a very ordinary life. It was filled with responsibilities, work, and sibling resentment and rivalry.
LifestyleFrom this I conclude that it is not essential that everyone take on a radical lifestyle to follow Jesus. Lifestyle is irrelevant to one who hates life in this world, as Jesus did. The lifestyle we happen to experience will be incidental to whom and what we are. It is never an object for consideration within itself. It is only the life that becomes ours because of discipleship. I can think of no circumstance that would cause us to make lifestyle one of our goals. Jesus does not compel a radical response from his followers. He only asks for obedience. Whatever life results from that is the one we must lead. The life, or lifestyle, is not a consideration as we contemplate the will of the Father.
Can one find other evidence from the gospels to sustain this?
Yes. There was a Roman centurion in Capernaum who sought help from Jesus. He did not seek it for himself, but for his sick and dying slave. When Jesus responded by approaching his house, the latter objected saying, "I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go.' and he goes, and to another 'Come.' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this.' and he does it." And Jesus replied:
Truly I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 8:10-12).This man was a Roman officer who was the commander of soldiers in the army of occupation. He maintained a house and owned slaves according to the custom of the times. Yet Jesus gave him high praise, with words that made him a strong candidate for the Kingdom. Significantly absent from Jesus' response was any command to resign his post or commission, free his slaves or forsake his house, family, and Roman associations. Instead, Jesus granted his request and healed his slave, while giving him high praise for his great faith.
There was a man in Jerico named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector (a publican) and he was rich. Being also short of stature, he climbed a sycamore tree to view Jesus above the crowds. Jesus commanded him to come down and invited himself into the man's house. Zacchaeus received him joyfully and said, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."
Then Jesus replied:
Today salvation has come to this house, since he also a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:9-10).Jesus granted salvation to this man who had resolved to give up only half his wealth. Nor did he say anything to him about abandoning his house, or resigning his office as a tax collector.
Again, a young lawyer (scribe) once stood up in the crowd to put Jesus to the test. He said, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus replied:What is written in the law (Luke 10:26)?He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And Jesus said to him,You have answered right. Do this and you will live (Luke 10:28).Here, as before, Jesus promised eternal life with no evident radical qualifying demands. We now know that the love of God entails the radical hatred of life, yet Jesus did not see fit to press this lawyer on the details. He did not command him to alter his occupation or other functions in the world. Perhaps Jesus, knowing the man was hostile, chose not to waste words. We know that he would not "cast his pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). Yet Jesus' complete prescription for life here is simple obedience to two commandments, which the man himself enunciated.
Finally, we have the very different case of the rich young man who came to Jesus asking, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" Jesus replied,
Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter into life, keep the commandments (Matthew 19:17).Then Jesus quoted certain of the ten commandments and the young man replied, "All these I have observed. What do I still lack?"
Jesus answered,If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me (Matthew 19:21).Then the young man went away sorrowfully, for he had great possessions.
Now here, for a change, is a radical demand! Why require so much from this man, and so little from the others? I think the answer is implicit in the mood of the young man as he went away, sorrowfully. His possessions possessed him. They had infected his heart and molded his character. He could not part with them. Jesus, knowing his heart, knew this also – and with Jesus, the heart is critical. This man's love of money was in the same category as an alcoholic's love for alcohol. The cure for both is the same – abstinence! He was not free to embrace the love of God until he had dealt with his love of money – therefore he could not enter eternal life. On the other hand, the centurion, a commander in the hateful army of occupation, was a good man who was mercifully attentive to the needs of the Jews. He had built their synagogue! His heart was open to the love of God in Christ. His office did not possess him. If Jesus had required him to resign his commission, he would doubtless have done so. Therefore Jesus did not require it. This man could have maintained his position in the world without guilt or qualms of conscience while circumstances permitted him to use the office to express love. This tells us that guilt comes not solely by association. It is the heart that is determinative, not the uniform!
Worldly AssociationsBut changing circumstances can make a vast difference. A generation later, when the Roman army brutally suppressed rebellion and purged the land of Jews, this centurion would certainly have resigned his commission before ordering his men to kill. Jesus' command to love the enemy (Matthew 6:44; Luke 6:27, 35) would have taken precedence over any order to muster his troops and march on Jerusalem.
It would be an unnecessarily radical response to the Lord for one to resign every worldly association. We will continue to be "in the world" until death, which is our most obvious association. Jesus also was in the world, and his Father did not condemn him. How could he? He came only because the Father sent him. One thing is needful – that we love the Lord and keep his commandments (John 14:15). While the association permits this, there is no need to sever it. If, however, the association compels one to disobey the Lord, a severance is in order. This includes our association with life itself. The associations in which we find ourselves when we come to Christ, of themselves, bring condemnation to no one. If it were otherwise, we would end our association with this world in the moment of our conversion.
Understanding the application of the Gospel can be a tricky business. It is important to recognize that the Centurion, from the moment of his commitment of Christ, ceased to be "of" the Roman army, though he may have remained "in" it. When you have committed your heart to Christ, you cease to be "of" anything that is of the world (John 15:19).
There are some associations in the world that do not permit this detachment while allowing a continued involvement. Then it is necessary to make a clean break. If one does not, compromises will destroy the faith. So the rich young man went away with his wealth rather than break that association to follow Jesus.
I had to make a similar decision when I resigned a commission in the Navy in 1951, during the Korean war. Before the war, I wore my uniform without guilt or qualms of conscience. Then the war came, and I realized a responsibility, as a Reserve officer, to enter active duty. No one compelled me to enter, but they encouraged me, a seminary student, to go into the Chaplaincy. They did not call me to active duty, due to my status as a ministerial student, but this was a problem for me. Why should I be free while others were not? I carefully considered becoming a chaplain but I could not do so as that compelled an intimate association with a military that was killing its enemies. In the end, I found peace only by resigning my commission. I think the Centurion, if he were still in the Roman army, would have done the same when his army began its genocidal war with the Jewish rebels.
Jesus' response to Zacchaeus implies that it is possible to be a disciple and retain the possession of wealth if it does not possess our hearts. Zacchaeus' readiness to give half his wealth to the poor while restoring four-fold any fraudulently obtained funds probably would have left him penniless anyway. Whatever the details, it was his willingness to begin such a divestiture that was his salvation, for it revealed that his heart was pure.
Liberating EffectsThe application of the way of Christ to life in the world has powerful liberating effects. First, we find ourselves freed from any compulsion to effect changes in the world, no matter how adverse the circumstances of birth. If our circumstances happen to be painful and we find it possible to relieve them, we do so. No one enjoys pain nor do pain and suffering in themselves have any redemptive effects. We do not, however, feel compelled to spend our energies in efforts to change what strongly resists change. We are free from the evil Crusades!
Second, we are free to accept ourselves just as we are free to accept our circumstances. We can feel good about ourselves. We do not condemn ourselves but if we have bad characteristics we change them. A liar can feel good about himself only by lying to himself. The ability to make such changes is part of the liberation. However, we are able gracefully to accept our natural limitations in the knowledge that we are not to be condemned for them. If God does not condemn us, why should we condemn ourselves? A slave need have no compulsion to change either himself or his circumstances. Neither must he remain a slave should the opportunity for freedom come.
Third, we are free to accept others. That means that we have no compulsion to condemn them because of their associations, circumstances or natural characteristics. While I was unable to maintain my association with the military during a time of war, I have no right to judge others who followed a different course. Only God knows what is in their hearts! Besides all this, we have the commandment of the Lord,
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge shall you be judged (Matthew 7:1-2).Fourth and last, we are free to be or to become anything that is in accord with the will of God. There are no compelling worldly allegiances or loyalties, such as family or nation, that can dictate the course of our lives or that can continue to hold us contrary to the will of God. The essence of this, of course, is the hold that life itself would continue to place upon us. These things are crucial to the freedom that Jesus promised when he said, If the son of man shall make you free, you shall be free indeed (John 8:36).The application of the principles of Christ to life in the world is so simple that a child can understand, provided one has once realized that our only purpose here is to qualify for hereafter. Having realized the Truth, having found the Kingdom of God, we hate life in this world and do not any longer wish to remain here. The Father also does not want us to remain, but wants only that we share with him his eternal Glory.
Reasons for RemainingThere are therefore only two reasons for our remaining – to confirm our faith and to witness that others also may see and enter the light. These two purposes mandate two functions that must be fulfilled – discipleship and witnessing. We can serve no other legitimate functions in this world. Any effort to do so testifies to our continued attachment to one or more facets of life in the world, and therefore to our condemnation.
As disciples, we commit ourselves to study in the School of Christ, who alone is our Schoolmaster and Teacher. We apply ourselves to the task of learning from him, so that we may be confirmed in the faith. The instantaneous point of conversion, when we decided to look at things from a different point of view, does not immediately purge all worldly affection from our hearts. That takes time. It takes more time for some than for others. Our Lord mercifully provides this time to purge our hearts of attachments to the world. Then, we may appear before him desiring only the treasures of heaven.
It is not that we do this in our own strength. Never! Christ gives us the needed strength, as Lord, teacher, example, wayshower, savior and divine word. As we yield to him and learn from him, we become like him. We strain forward eagerly to our graduation from this school, hoping only to pass the final examination and enter the Glory of our Father. It is therefore a time for growing in faith and knowledge and for purging our hearts of every taint of defilement, which is affection for life in the world.
As students of Christ, we have no grounds for glorying in ourselves. Our frequent failures must inevitably humble us and purge our hearts of false pride, leaving us with no worldly ambitions. Our inevitable learning to value only the eternal while despising the temporal treasures leaves us no earthly treasure to seek. When he has fully taught us, no material wealth, no temporal relationship, and no earthly position will have any value in our hearts. The world will have no value and no hold upon us. We will be perfectly free, precisely as our Lord and Teacher promised.
As witnesses, we operate on the authority of our Lord's commission, which he expressed as follows,
Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:46-48).
Facing the Threat to LifeSome persons face the threat to life repeatedly yet without dying. Everyone must face it at least once, that is, when death comes. This threat comes in many different forms yet when all is said they remain the same. Each is a threat to life in this world; this, and nothing more.
I could continue categorizing threats to life, for this is not all. These are sufficient, though, to illustrate the point, which is that while the threats may in themselves exhibit differences they are ultimately all the same. They threaten the end of each life they approach. This overrides all differences and compels a common strategy for dealing with them. It also greatly simplifies the analysis of this topic, for it means that our responses to these threats are similar, although there will be differences in the details.
- There is the threat presented by another person. The enemy on the field of battle, the armed robber, an enemy intent on murder, a state executioner (as with Jesus) – all are examples of this threat. Here, the distinguishing feature is that another person moves with violence, deliberately perhaps, but not necessarily with premeditation, to threaten one's life.
- There is the threat presented by accident. Traffic accidents, industrial accidents, accidents in the home and on the farm and at work, are appropriate examples. Here, while another person may be involved, there is no intent to harm. That is the distinguishing characteristic. Yet circumstances still combine to create a danger.
- There is the threat presented by physical afflictions. Disease, physical malfunctions such as aneurysms, kidney failure, and infections exemplify this threat. These are the threats that hospitals and physicians combat.
- There is the threat of old age, which will finally claim us if the others do not. The body and the brain, shackled to the futility of this age, inevitably wear out and at some point can no longer sustain life.
- There is the threat arising from natural disasters. Famine, flood, tornado, and earthquake are prime examples. These are the so called "acts of God," and they claim many, many lives.
To yield or to resist? This is the question. The answer does not depend upon the nature of the threat. It is entirely dependent upon subjective features of the heart of the individual. Therefore, only the individual can properly judge whether to yield or resist. No one can make this judgment for us, and we can make it for no one else.
There is an utterance of Jesus that is applicable to every threat. He said:
Whoever would save his life shall lose it. And he who loses his life for my sake, will save it (Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33).This reduces all considerations to the root level of the will of the individual. It is whoever would (wishes, wills to, wants to, desires, aims at) saving his life, who will lose it. One may save one's life for other reasons without coming under condemnation but one must not save it because one desires to save it. So it was that Jesus rescued his life from the threat of death at the hands of the citizens of Nazareth when they sought to cast him off the precipice. He remained in this life only to fulfill his mission in the world, and not because he wanted to save his life. His desire was – first, last and always – to go to the Father in Glory.
We must not judge others who have saved their lives. We cannot know the desires of their hearts. With ourselves it is generally a different matter. If we respond to the threat-to-life in fear of death, desiring from the heart to save the life in this world, we will generally know it. Remember that the love of life is your ticket to hell, and pray that the Father will leave you here only while necessary to cleanse your heart of this defilement.
The Will and the Threat to LifeSince it is the will of the individual (the desire of the heart) that is crucial, let us examine the threat-to-life as it relates to the will. First, one's life is wholly dependent on the beating of the heart but the heart begins and goes on beating with absolutely no reference to the will of the individual. Your will does not start its action, does not maintain its operation and cannot stop it as a mere act of the will. While men call it a natural function, we know that, in its essence, it is the act of divine will that operates it. Your will can stop it only by putting a bullet through it or by committing some other form of suicide. I have already shown how suicide is an act of despair and is not the will of God. Or else it is putting God to the test, tempting him with the presentation of yourself at the gates of Glory to test his willingness to receive you. In either case, it is not the will of the Father.
Second, one's life requires the continued action of breathing, the constant operation of the diaphragm, chest muscles, and lungs to inhale and expel air. Like the beating of the heart, this is an automatic action having no reference to the will. It started without the operation of the will, and it continues thus. Also, you cannot will the cessation of breathing, except very temporarily. If you hold your breath until unconsciousness, then you lose control and resume breathing again, contrary to the will that held the breath during consciousness. What you can do is remove the air (as in drowning), or introduce some poisonous substance into it. Then, though you continue to breathe, it does not sustain life. But this, again, is an act contrary to nature and to God. It is suicide.
Third, the maintenance of life requires the ingestion of food and drink. As with breathing, one can willfully refuse food and drink and for a much longer period. One can fast to unconsciousness and death if the will is strong enough. It is done with great suffering and difficulty and against all the natural inclinations of the body. Hunger and thirst have driven people to madness before death arrived. For those who persist until death, the result is the same as for those who breath poisonous gas or put a bullet through their hearts. It is suicide and therefore forbidden by Him who long ago proclaimed,You shall not tempt the Lord your God (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12).The food requirement introduces a new dimension to the picture that is not found in the other two. The heart beats without willful effort and requires no special provisions. The air that the lungs require is everywhere. Food is different. It must be provided and prepared. It must be wrestled from the earth or sea by hard labor, and stored up for the off season. Now, if a person in isolation, knowing the necessity of providing food for himself for the winter to come, decides not to do so and perishes from hunger – that person also commits a form of suicide.
Fourth, the maintenance of life requires the provision of protection from exposure. Here, the threat to life is not so obvious and immediately evident as in the other cases, yet it is there. Therefore, at the most basic level, people build houses to shelter them from the extremes of heat and cold. They prepare garments to protect them from the cold, rain burning sun when they must be in the elements. Failure to make the necessary provisions, when possible, is tantamount to insuring one's own death. This also is suicide. It is as if a person, despairing of life, should go naked out into the winter storm with the expectation of freezing to death.
Fifth, the maintenance of life requires the provision of safety measures when circumstances are hazardous. When crossing the street, one looks both ways. When working with electrical equipment, one turns off the power. When driving, one observes safe driving practices. The failure to approach such hazards safely is a form of Russian roulette. It is pure folly at best, and at worst, may expose a death wish. In the latter case, when it results in death, it is, again, suicide. It is the will operating to take one's own life.
Sixth, we often require medical care for the maintenance of life. How does the hatred of life apply to this? It usually makes no difference but there are special circumstances where it interdicts any recourse to medical care. You are hurting; you get care as required to control the pain. You are injured and bleeding profusely; you get care to stop the bleeding and bind up your wounds. There is no divine calling to bear pain needlessly or to fail to repair the injuries to the body to minimize the damage. You have accidentally ingested poison; you seek an antidote. You have an attack of appendicitis; you have an appendectomy. You have influenza; you apply appropriate remedies. You have cancer; you seek available remedies.
The difference lies in the motive for doing these things, for if you are doing them solely to save your life, you are under condemnation. Instead, you do these things because you act in the faith that the Father has placed you here and has given you this time to be a witness and to confirm your faith in the life to come. You do them reluctantly (except measures specifically applied to control pain) because, if your faith is firm, you prefer not to do them and go quickly to the Father in Glory. Thus it was that Jesus acted always to preserve and maintain his life until his crucifixion. As you are doing these things it will be evident to you, if your faith is firm, that there is no fear of death in your heart. A proper testimony mandates that this also should be the impression you impart to others. The time will come, though, when we know we witness much more effectively by dying than by living. Jesus knew this when Golgotha approached. No one can tell us this time nor can anyone decide for others. Therefore we can make no judgments about others who are acting to preserve their lives.
Now, let me speak for myself. It seems, as I contemplate my departure from this world, that there are certain circumstances that would dictate my prompt departure. If my physical condition is without remedy and leaves me no energy to witness then my only witness is to go joyfully to the Father. If it comes to the use of extreme measures, it is time for me to go. If I engage in futile efforts to extend my life, without any other purpose, I have stayed too long. Every day longer under these conditions only detracts from whatever testimony I may have previously made. I should have called a halt at some earlier time, before damaging my testimony. Again, if I should be persecuted for the faith, and threatened with death lest I recant, I go gladly to that fate. I do it in gratitude because the Father will have called me to martyrdom, the most glorious witness. Thus it was that Jesus went to the cross without hesitation. Know your heart and do not be afraid of the critical judgment of other people. Do everything according to the will of the Father, who places us here and would have us remain until he calls us to his Glory. He sets the time but we will know when it comes. This should provide each of us with the precious opportunity to use the hour of death as a powerful witness to the hatred of life. We endure it, like Jesus, for "the joy set before us." Let us therefore go joyfully and gladly. That is our marvelous freedom in the Lord.
Seventh, the maintenance of life may require protection from the enemy. If my city comes under aerial bombardment, I would seek sanctuary in the bomb shelter with others. If the shelter became full so that others could not enter, my only recourse would be to yield my place to someone else. This would not be a form of heroism. I would only be going according to my hearts leading if I consequently lost my life. This would not be a sacrifice if I expect to gain eternal life in return. In summary, one who follows Christ confronts every threat to life wanting to go to the Father yet reconciled to remaining according to his plan and purpose. Like Jesus, one appropriates all natural and normal means of preserving the earth-life yet without willing to save that life for its own sake. We recognize that the Father has so ordered reality that we preserve our lives without any operation of the will by respiration and heartbeat. We also recognize that he has ordered the body so as to require food, shelter, and certain kinds of care for its preservation. We therefore accede to the will of the creator until our time comes to go to Him. We must not seek death before our time. We must not seek to preserve our lives beyond our time, which testifies to the love of life and therefore to condemnation.
Jesus showed how to apply the hatred of life to the living of it. His Truth has liberated us from the bonds of this world to live out the rest of our time in joyful anticipation of the Glory of God. We approach the hour of death filled with gladness and hope. We are glad he has blessed us to find the purpose of this life in its fulfillment in the life to come. We know the Truth . . . and we are free!
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