Pearl of Great Value - Matt. 13:45-46

Be Ready!

 

Eternal Perspective, by Richard Kirby

II Cor. 4:16-18:  “Therefore we do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; 18 While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporary; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

 

I’m afraid it is not really true of most of us, even most Christians, that “we do not look at the things which are seen.” To be honest it has always been this way. Since God, angels, spirits, and the entire spiritual word are invisible, we understandably feel that the things we perceive with our five senses are more real than spiritual things. Paul says that the opposite is true. The things which are not seen are eternal, that is, they are more real than visible things, which are passing away.

 

It’s a symptom of our fallen human nature that we believe what we see more readily than we believe what God has said in His Word. We say, “Seeing is believing.” But in the biblical view of things believing is seeing; “we walk by faith and not by sight.”

 

Add to our natural inclination the current craze among many Bible-believing Christians to focus on the here and now rather than on the by and by. The most popular preacher in America has written a book entitled Your Best Life Now.  And nearly every program on Christian television is about prosperity, wealth, or divine health. Church Growth techniques focus on being seeker-friendly, rather than on preaching the old-time Gospel, or on “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.” Mega-ministries concentrate on filling churches rather than on filling church members with the Holy Spirit. The modern business of the church is apparently to meet the “felt needs” of the community rather than to declaring God’s demands for repentance and holiness. If this is not pandering to the flesh, I am mistaken.

 

As part of their fallen nature inherited from Adam and Eve, all mankind is plagued with an "earthly-mindedness." Any teaching or church practice that draws our attention to the “cares of the world,” rather than to our heavenly inheritance, merely reinforces our natural blindness to spiritual reality inherited from our first parents.

I don’t condemn Christian writers who give us books to help us solve our problems by applying the principles of Scripture. But many Christian self-help books are little different from non-Christians books of the same kind. They take secular principles of success and look for Scriptures to support those principles. For instance, I challenge you to compare Joel Osteen’s, book, Your Best Life Now, with other books by secular and new-age writers. You will find them to be virtually the same, with a little Scripture thrown in to make them seem spiritual. Osteen’s book contains a section entitled “Envisioning Your Success.” This is precisely the method used by new-agers and pagan sorcerers or witchdoctors. Visualization of the thing one wishes to materialize is a time-honored technique of all occult practitioners. But let us see if it’s biblical. Does Scripture teach us to visualize earthly success in order to bring it about? Absolutely not! In the text I read at the beginning, Paul tells us to set our minds on invisible, eternal things.

And what does James say?

James 4:13-15: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit,’14 whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. 15 Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’”

 

This is the opposite of what these writers are telling us. They say that by holding before us the thing we desire, we make it materialize, manifest, come to pass.

Paul told Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Tim. 6:6). If there was ever a book designed to make Christians discontented, it’s Osteen’s Your Best Life Now. The Bible teaches us humble resignation in all and every circumstance—“I have learned in whatever state I am in, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11). I have learned, Paul said, “to prosper or to be without,” all this by the power of Christ, Who gives me strength (4:13).

Osteen’s book, with such chapter titles as “God has more in Store,” “Enlarging Your Vision,” “Developing a Prosperous Mindset,” “Understanding Your Value,” conveys almost the opposite spirit from the one which says, “I brought nothing into this worlds and I will take nothing out of it.” (I Tim. 6:7). How far it is from Jesus’ instructions to “lay up treasures in heaven.”! How different are the classic Christian books written to inspire heavenly-mindedness from this book by a Christian pastor that focuses on financial success and material gain! In a section entitled “Be Content Where You Are,” Osteen pays lip service to contentment; but read further. If you are content now, he says, not whining or complaining, he suggests, you will be able to “get where you want to be," to "have all the money you want," and to "get ahead."

 

Admittedly, there’s much to admire on a mere human level in this book, some sound wisdom; and I’m sure Osteen didn’t mean to teach that we can have our best life in this world, rather than in heaven. I’m sure he would agree that Heaven is far better than our best possible life here. He was showing how to have the best life possible in this world. But even here I must take issue with him. The best life even now, is one lived for eternity; it is the life which seeks first God’s kingdom and its righteousness, that minds the things of the spirit, that sets mind and heart on the invisible things of eternity. These very things Osteen tells us to set our minds on and visualize are the things Jesus treated as merely incidental, things of secondary importance. He said that they would be added to us if we seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness.

 

We are called to focus on “things above where Christ is,” not on “things on the earth.”

 

Paul wrote in Col.3:1-4: “IF then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2, Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

 

Does Osteen acknowledge this? Not really. On pages 13-14, Osteen interprets "the things above" in this passage to mean "the higher things" in this life (i.e. success, financial increase, preferential treatment, etc.). Based on this verse, he claims that you should "expect circumstances to change in your favor . . . expect to be at the right place at the right time. . . . Expect to excel in your career"—all things that pertain to this life now. He ignores the fact that all these things are “things on the earth”—the very things Paul says not to mind. As well-meaning as Osteen may be, this is a shameless distortion of this scripture. Osteen gives it exactly the opposite meaning than Paul intended.

 

I don’t doubt that Joel is a sincere. He thinks he’s doing good; and judging from his popularity, many others do too. But I believe that the entire thrust of his ministry is wrong. By focusing the hearts of his people on success in this life, he is encouraging the opposite spirit from that which Paul urges upon us—godliness with contentment.

 

The Outward is Passing Away

 

Paul says our “outward man is perishing.” That’s an indisputable fact. However we might want to cover it up with cosmetics or postpone it by healthy lifestyles, still our bodies are proceeding inexorably towards decay and death. We spend enormous amounts of energy and money to slow down or reverse the process, but the process goes on anyway. Our outward man is perishing. We observe it every day in ourselves and others—in the aches and pains, the medicines, the trips to the doctor, the obituaries.

I’m very sympathetic towards people who eat healthy diets, go to the gym, who give up smoking and eating junk food. I applaud all sensible attempts to slow down or to reverse the process of aging and illness. Paul himself admits that bodily exercise is profitable for a little. Actually in terms of health it profits a lot. As I heard one doctor say, “The best thing you can take for yourself is a walk.” People who take measures to insure their health and longevity are to be admired as sensible and wise.

But that concerns the outward man, the worldly perspective. That’s why Paul downplays the value of physical exercise from the eternal perspective, which according to Paul is the only one worth having.

But notice, in I Timothy 4:7b-8, Paul draws a contrast between what concerns the outward man and what concerns the inward man?

“…exercise yourself toward godliness. 8 For though bodily exercise profits a little, godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

 

Godliness is profitable for this life and for the life to come.

Profitable for this life. Godliness is the reverential fear of God, which causes one to carefully fulfill all his duties towards God. Think of the peace, joy and other healthy emotions that belong to the person who seeks first God’s kingdom! Godliness is profitable for this life.

Even in those things which are seen, the Christian life is the most blessed, healthiest life one can live.

 

But even more it is profitable for the life to come because it focuses on those things which are not seen, the invisible eternal realities of heaven.

 

Our inward man is being renewed. While our body is aging and dying, despite all we can do to prevent it, we’re preparing our inward man for rule with Christ in His Kingdom. I’m very much afraid that books such as Osteen’s and teachings such as we hear on Christian T.V. turn the mind away from the inner man towards those earthly things which are for the moment and will soon pass away. What sad foolishness it would be to neglect the care of our souls while we exert our best energies to preserve our bodies! What a tragedy to put have all our treasure in this world, which is passing into nothingness, and not be laying up treasures in heaven!

 

Moses prayed, "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Ps. 90:12). That is to say, “Teach us to be always conscious of the brevity of life, so that we may have an eternal perspective. Our days pass quickly, full of so many things, that we scarce give a thought to the fact that one day soon we will die.

 

In the past very serious Christians used to keep near them some reminder of death; it was called a memento mori. It might be a death’s head, a human skull, placed on the desk where the person would see it every day. While this practice may sound a little morbid to us, and I’m not recommending it, it’s based on a sound Scriptural principle.

 

The Wise Man said (in Eccl. 7:2), "It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to his heart..."  Going to funerals should serve us as a memento mori, a reminder that we too are moving towards death. What is sadder than a funeral in which the life being remembered leaves loved ones no hope of heaven for the one to whom they are saying goodbye for the last time?

 

Many Scriptures call attention to the shortness of life. “He knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust”; our lives are “as the flower of grass he shall pass away”: “we all do fade as a leaf”; “Ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away.” But the final, dreadful word about life and death is this: “It is appointed unto man once to die; and after that the Judgment.”

 

We can sometimes learn a lot from epitaphs.

 

Gregory Alan. A Canadian, recognizing the shortness of life, had this put on his epitaph: “Don't waste your short life reading epitaphs like this.” Another read, "What I spent I had; What I gave I have; What I saved I lost."

Imagine the time you stand before Him, either at death or when He returns; and imagine that you then realize that most of your time and most of your best energies have been spent on things that pass away. Your life has been spent looking “at things which are seen.” What shame, what loss, what sorrow will be yours! I urge you today to change your perspective. Begin to look at everything in the light of eternity. Each of us, young and old, could be a mere breath, a moment, away from eternity. How is it that we give ourselves so completely to matters and things that are as nothing compared to the endless ages of eternity. At that moment we will learn the truth of the little saying: “Only One Life, T’will Soon Be Past, Only What's Done For Christ Will Last.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!