But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-8)
Yes, it’s easy to say, “Oh, that’s a great Bible verse, yes, indeed, I’m just like Paul, I treasure Christ more than anything.”
Easy words to say. But how do we live those words out, in this age of iPhones & Abercrombie? How do we really treasure Him?
If our hearts have been changed, if we truly have counted all things loss, then there must be some lifestyle implications. There must be something different, radically different, about our lives compared to anyone who doesn’t treasure Christ above all.
Anyone could look at Paul’s life and tell he wasn’t just blowing steam. He had went from a respected academic and political position to an outcast and a prisoner. No one ever looked at Paul & thought, “Hey, man, you say that you’re a Christian, but you’re no different than me.”
Take three minutes and watch this video:
Money is given to you so that you might use money in a way that shows money is not your treasure… Christ is.
Food is given to you so that you might eat it in such a way that it will be plain food is not your treasure… Christ is.
Friends, family are given to you so that you might live with them in such a way that it will be plain to the world they are not your treasure… Christ is.
Computers, toys, houses, lands, cars are given to you that you might use them in such a way that it will be plain to the world these are not your treasure… Christ is.
I have listened to those words over & over, and they still go deep into the core of my heart. How do I use money in a way that shows money is not my treasure? How do I eat, how do I love, how do I live a life that makes it plain that nothing is my treasure but Christ?
I don’t think this kind of life comes automatically once you become a Christian– it comes with a lot of thought and prayer and tears and sweat. And it’s a path that you have to keep focused on, keep coming back to, keep asking God to show you more and more.
My two year contract on my iPhone is up this month. As I discussed last year, I really had to think & pray over whether getting an iPhone was honoring to God, whether it was a God-focused desire or not. Well, I’m putting a lot of thought and prayer in it again. I have no doubt that it is a useful tool for me (I used it while writing this post), but is there any problem with treasuring Christ with it? Would the $70 a month I’m spending for mobile internet access be better spent elsewhere?
Honestly, it’s not as much what my final decision will be, as much as it’s that I’m down on my knees, knowing that it’s an issue, asking God for wisdom, trying to honor Him as best I can. That’s where I need to be on every facet of my life, taking it to God with an open hand and a God-focused heart, knowing the lifestyle implications.
One of the plot devices in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy was Captain Jack Sparrow’s compass. Instead of pointing toward north, it always pointed in the direction of the most desired treasure of the heart of the person holding it. What confused and irritated Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley was that the compass was all too accurate: it changed direction with changes in their hearts and sometimes it revealed that their heart’s treasure was not what their mind thought (or wanted) it to be.
Why does that plot device so resonate with us? Because we are like Captain Jack— we realize that sometimes we don’t truly know where our heart is pointing, while at other times we feel it pointing in a different direction than we want.
The human heart is a complex and subtle creation, and seldom easily understood. Where is your compass pointing? Do you know? Is it swinging back and forth? Is it pointing in a direction that your mind is at odds with?
Since you don’t happen to be holding Captain Jack’s compass in your hand, how do you find out where you heart is pointing to? To start, slowly, thoughtfully ask yourself some of these questions (and don’t be too quick to answer!):
What do I hope for?
What do I daydream about?
What would devastate me if I could not one day achieve it?
What would devastate me if I lost it?
What do I put all my energy into?
What is success to me personally, or failure or satisfaction or happiness or fulfillment?
What do I truly want to be able to look back on when I die and say that I experienced or accomplished?
Think over these questions, and write down the answers that come to you.
It’s important to answer the question “Where is my compass pointing?” But it’s MORE important to answer the question “Is it pointing in the right direction?” Now how can you find that out? Time for more questions:
Is it true about me? I had a friend in college who was pre-med, but he wasn’t really meant to be a doctor, he was a researcher at heart, and when he realized his compass was pointing at medicine only because his Dad was a doctor, he was able to steer a different course.
Is it dependent on circumstances or people beyond my control? Let’s say your compass bearing is “raise successful kids.” That’s certainly a noble goal, but what if one of your kids turns out rotten? Does that mean you’re a failure? And does that mean you live in fear or anxiety every day or lash out in anger at your kids when they mess up? If you change your compass to “give my kids a wise and loving upbringing” you can be confident you can achieve this goal regardless of how your children may or may not turn out.
Is it focused on me or on greater things? Yes, Donald Trump has successfully steered his life according to his compass but unfortunately he’s a jerk for doing so. There is a moral dimension to where our compass is pointing that we cannot disallow.
Although he wasn’t thinking about a mascara-wearing pirate when he said it, Jesus once commented on the treasures of our heart in Matthew 6:19-21:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I think he had it right: our heart really does point to where our treasure is, and it really is vital to know what direction that compass is pointing to, and whether the treasure of our hearts is one that we will enjoy for eternity or one that will crumble one day.
I would encourage you to take some time, and think about your compass— it can have a profound effect on your life. I recently on the counsel of a wise and good friend did just that, and saw my heart pointing in some directions I needed to change. After some soul searching and talking with God, I came up with some compass directions that have made a real difference in my day to day living:
God’s Word, His Presence, His love for me
Putting every last ounce of my strength into the Kingdom of God (well, & blonde jokes too)
Learning to love as God loves
Learning to walk with God
Moving with strength & wisdom & power & joy & love into the lives of my brothers & sisters in Christ and others God puts in my life
That I will never be defeated
God calls us all to follow Him, all along the unique path that He has laid out for us. Find your true compass bearing, and follow it today.
a requirement, necessary duty, or obligation: There is no need for you to go there.
a lack of something wanted or deemed necessary: to fulfill the needs of the assignment.
urgent want, as of something requisite: He has no need of your charity.
necessity arising from the circumstances of a situation or case: There is no need to worry.
a situation or time of difficulty; exigency: to help a friend in need; to be a friend in need.
a condition marked by the lack of something requisite: the need for leadership.
It’s a common word, used in a lot of ways. But it’s a dangerous word as well, because whatever we view as a need steers our emotions, our minds, our actions, our very lives.
We are all barraged by supposed “needs” as we go about our lives- needs for relationship (I need a spouse, I need a friend, I need a lover, I need a child, I need a divorce, I need someone not to die) needs for significance (I need to be appreciated, endorsed, promoted) and needs for material things (I need a new house, car, raise, extra brownie today).
What do we really think we need, what could we not do without? In other words, what truly is the treaure that directs our hearts(Matthew 6:21)? In Christ’s interaction with the rich young ruler, Christ knew what the man’s treasure was, what he thought he could not part with. Instead of his need of riches, Christ offered him something better:
Jesus said to him, “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.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)
Notice that Jesus did not ask him to say “I have no need, I have no treasure.” No, Jesus invited him to find his true treasure, for him to discover the only thing he really needed, by following Christ. Isn’t it sadly ironic, that the thing that this man thought he really needed ended up making him sorrowful? And yet that will be the end of treasuring anything but Christ.
So, what is it with you? What do you feel you could not do without? Are you willing to free your heart to treasure and need and love Christ? It is only by giving up what we think we “need” that we can fulfill the greatest commandment, to love God with all our heart and soul and mind(Matthew 22:37). May we be able to say with Paul:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
Just a thought: how easily we give our hearts away to lesser treasures than Christ. It only takes a moment, and a football game or a spouse or a ministry or a goal or something much darker takes preeminence in our thoughts, and our heart is given away. Maybe that’s why Jesus spoke repeatedly about treasures and hearts and loving God: He knew only too well how easily even those who walked with Him well and long could desert Him in a moment. How about being attentive today about where our heart is, and when we find it straying to simply focus on our glorious Lord and pray, “Jesus, my heart belongs to you.”
I’ve always been one to keep my pockets full. Usually you can find a knife, a wallet, a set of keys, and a palm pilot, usually with a cell phone and pager clipped nearby. But there are times when my pockets empty. Sometimes it’s when I’m doing work where I know my stuff would be a hindrance, or sometimes it’s when I’m going to get wet and I know my stuff is better off not on my person. Even so, sometimes I am not eager to part with my familiar companions. What if I end up needing them? Or maybe I just “feel” better, more prepared, more “me”, with them?
My pockets seem to be a metaphor of my life. I have stuff in the “pockets” of my life, literal like a car or a computer, or figurative like a nice vacation, my health, kids “growing up right”, that I want to keep close to me, so I can make sure I retain possession and control of them. But that’s not how God’s kingdom operates. God wants us to empty our pockets, to put all that we have or dream of in His hands, being willing to have them or not have them, according to His wisdom.
So often we grudgingly acknowledge this truth—“OK, God, I will (groan) lay this possession or desire on the altar because I know I have to” “It’s a sacrifice but I will”. But that’s not the way of the kingdom either. Jesus told the parable of the hidden treasure in Matthew 13:44:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid, and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Why does the man empty his pockets? Because he thinks he has to? Because that’s what being a real servant of God means? Because it’s a sacrifice he feels he is obligated to make? No, no, no. For JOY, for the sheer exhilarative joy of a treasure beyond words and beyond price. We need to pray until God reveals the Kingdom to us as that treasure beyond words and beyond price, and we with joy empty our pockets.
I wasn’t really expecting getting my first traffic ticket a few years ago to teach me anything about Christ’s presence. But while standing in the darkness of the night in my driveway, holding the ticket in my hand, God had something to say. And so I listened, and I wrote:
Every moment of my life is a gift to be cherished,
For every moment is an invitation from God
To pursue the deepest desire of my heart,
Which is intimacy with the One
Whom I love and treasure supremely.
Every moment is to be seized and savored or else squandered.
Every moment beckons me to fulfill Christ’s prophecy
That I will love Him with all my heart, with all my soul,
With all my mind, and with all my strength.
Every moment draws me to abide in Christ,
And have my life hidden in Him.
Every moment I must choose.
If I choose to abide in myself,
I choose that my way is better than God’s,
That by my maneuvering or planning or controlling of circumstances,
My life will turn out better.
This is foolish and the root of sin.
If I choose to abide in a lesser treasure,
I choose to value something above intimacy with Christ.
This is idolatry.
I choose to value Christ above myself,
Above my circumstances,
Above all else.
I choose to abide in Christ.
I have been reminded of the truth of those words again and again. Larry Crabb talks about perceiving where you are spiritually, to be able to see “where your red dot is” (to use an analogy of the maps you find posted in shopping malls.) I am always abiding someplace. I am either abiding in myself, or abiding in something else, or abiding in Christ. The trick is to take a second, stop myself, and see where I am abiding— and if it is not in Christ, to recognize it and move. To learn how to remain in Christ and not be pulled away is one of those great tasks of spiritual maturity that I think I will be working on the rest of my life.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:19-24 ESV)
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is showing us contrasts. All the contrasts are between the natural man and the regenerate man; the city of man versus the city of God; the broad road versus the narrow road; the things that are possible with man versus the things that are possible only with God.
In the above section Jesus calls us to look at two treasures, two eyes, and two masters. The first comparison is between laying up two treasures. The implication is that everyone is laying up treasure; because your “treasure” is whatever you value and cherish, and everyone will work to “lay up”, to get more of, whatever they value and cherish. If you value knowledge, you will go to college. If you value money, you will do whatever you can to make it.
Jesus first gives a command, to “lay up treasures in heaven”, and then the wisdom behind it, because the treasures of this life are doomed to pass away. But then he brings it back (as always), to the heart. I like John Michael Talbot’s paraphrase in one of his songs, “For wherever your treasure is, there will you find your heart.” You don’t have to wonder where you heart is; for it is revealed by where your treasure is. There are two applications to this insight: (1) The unbeliever is forced to look at where his heart truly is by his labor and (2) the believer is warned that following the broad road of treasuring the things of the earth will pull his heart away from where it needs to be, and encouraged to the wisdom of treasuring the things of heaven.
The second comparison is between two eyes. Here again we are talking about what we value and cherish; but in this comparison it is not what we are laboring for, but what we are lusting for. Both the eye and body mentioned are spiritual, not literally physical. If our spiritual eye is healthy and looking toward the light of the glory of God, the result will be a body full of light, full of God’s glory in every facet of our soul. On the other hand, the eye of the unregenerate looks only into darkness, and cannot see the light of God’s glory, which leaves his whole soul in darkness. As with the two treasures, the lesson of the eye judges the unbeliever of his blindness while the believer is encouraged and warned as to where his gaze should rest.
Finally, Jesus concludes by contrasting two masters. Here again, there are only two possibilities, and Jesus makes it plain that everyone serves one and only one. The earthly man is judged and found wanting, while the child of God is reminded whose he is.
So, where are you? If you look at yourself and cannot see that your heart treasures the things of God and labors for them, that your soul is filled with the light of the glory of God, that your service belongs to God alone, then you must judge that regardless of anything you may have said or done or thought, you must see that you are not truly a Christian. God calls you to repent, to turn, to see and embrace the wondrous glory of the gospel.
However, if you look at yourself and see the beginnings of those workings, of treasuring heaven, of light in your soul, of the lordship of Christ, then God beckons you onward, to deeper and deeper worship of Him, fellowship with Him, and obedience to Him as you journey towards Christ.
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, looking at him with sadness, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:18-24 ESV)
At first glance it looks like Jesus is telling this man that all he has to do is sell all his possessions to gain eternal life. But look closer. Jesus is simply giving him an example of why he can’t inherit eternal life. It’s as if I went to a NBA coach and asked him, “What must I do to be on your basketball team?” Let’s say this coach wanted me to try and see how hopeless it would be for me to be a NBA player, and he said, “Let me see you dunk a basketball.” I might become “very sad,” because I would realize there was no way I could dunk a basketball. Obviously, I can’t be in the NBA just because I can’t dunk a basketball— that’s just an example. I can’t be in the NBA because my entire being would be a complete failure in a NBA game. I don’t have what it takes.
In the same way, Jesus just took an example, an example he knew would sting this man’s heart, an example of how “no one is good except God alone,” how there was no way in his own efforts this man could merit eternal life and enter the kingdom of God.
The actual “one thing” the man lacked was the ability to value Jesus and the treasure of heaven above this world. The man turned away, because he knew that he didn’t, indeed he couldn’t value Jesus above all. So it is with all of us— we all lack the ability to value God above anything and everything else in our lives. Humanity lost the ability to choose God above all the moment that Adam and Eve chose the fruit above God.
The good news of the gospel is that God has made a way for our hearts to be regenerated, a way through faith in Christ for us to be born again so that we might once again learn to cherish Him above all else. This one thing we all lack and can never attain God Himself has graciously provided for us if we will come to Him in faith.