Living with Secular Priorities
Why should I guard against basing my life on the values of this secular world? To do so would be to miss the true purpose and meaning of life, and to end up losing everything at its end.
What are the basic properties that characterize your life? When someone observes you, what values do they see represented? We tend to do exactly what we want to do without lives. We see it in our checkbooks; we see it in our calendars. We make choices every day that fully describe our true character, and each of us has a very unique character. This character is shaped in full by our values that have been shaped by what we believe and truly value in our lives. The natural person in us, that person that ignores the promptings of the Holy Spirit, tends to motivate us to surround ourselves with others with similar, unholy, values. The result is a society that is stratified into a mosaic of different subcultures. People of like values cluster together, segregating society into exclusive enclaves who each think that they are the most valued society.
One who lives under the sensitive obedience to the Holy Spirit is also a member of a subculture of society. This is the subculture of the elect children of God who have been saved from the condemnation that ungodliness demands. However, this subculture is not exclusive, and each of its members are immersed in the ungodly culture of this secular world. Christians are faced with choices every day that select between godly and secular responses. For those who have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, these decisions are always made under the caring knowledge of God the Father, and we usually give authority to the Holy Spirit as we make such choices. As a result, there should be a definitive difference between our values and those of the secular, godless world around us.
When we tend to surround ourselves with others of like values we lose two important assets in the Christian life, (1) we fail to see that distinction between ourselves and the world and can become discouraged, and (2) we fail to be a meaningful witness for the Holy Spirit in the secular world around us. The worst-case scenario is that we become spiritual Mugwumps: fence-sitters with our mug facing one side and our wump facing the other. However, my experience leads me to suspect that this is the exception rather than the rule. We, as Christians who live in a secular and hedonistic society can often profit by the reminder that we have very little in common with the secular world around us. We will find that the only things we have in common with this ungodly world are in the area of basic needs. Yet, things of the world can often appear attractive and turn our focus away from our true purpose. If we are not careful, we can wander away from our mission as a Christian believer and squander the resources God has given us to conduct His ministry in the secular society.
Let's each take part in this simple thought exercise, a "vision quest". You are about to embark on a journey to an unknown, foreign land, never to return again. You may only bring three things with you. Everything else you now have will be permanently left behind. Take a moment of serious consideration and list those three things. You have only one minute to make your choice. (Note: it was this very exercise that inspired one of my friends to quit his job, sell all of his belongings, sell his house, buy a travel trailer and go to work with his wife as Habitat/Vista volunteers. ) Write your three things on the front of a sheet of paper.
... Do not continue until your list is completed...
What did you choose to take? You probably selected things that were relational in nature rather than possessive. For example, if married you first listed your spouse (or at least, you should have!). If a parent, you probably listed your children. I once heard a true story of a missionary couple who were being evacuated from a war zone and could only take a limited amount of weight. After days of sifting through their belongings, they were able to box up their most precious belongings. Upon entering the plane, the commander asked them, "What about your children, they are part of the weight allotment?" Immediately their possessions became refuse and the family got on the plane.
Apart from immediate family, what was on this list? Some Christians often include a single good Bible. Those who know me would probably assume I would take my computer! (Maybe I could, now that my children are grown. :) It's confession time... when I did this my three things were my wife, my Bible, and my bank account after I liquidated all of my assets. With an assumption that this is a mission enterprise, those assets should go a long way in the field.
Upon completing this exercise, did you find that the material things of the secular world were very important? What things were the most important? This lesson gives us some insight into the consequences of maintaining a heart that still yearns for things of this world. .
And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.
In this portion of the book of Luke, we find Jesus in the midst of his teaching journey that started in Capernaum and ended in Jersusalem where He was crucified. When teaching the crowd he was interrupted by a man who had a question that, at least the man thought, was genuine. What was that question? This man had a conflict within his own family, and desired the inheritance that had been given to his brother. Jesus had been teaching the disciples about the need to persevere in the faith, a message that included some of the most profound and inspirational and instructional materials they had yet heard. Perhaps this person in the crowd was within hearing of this teaching. If so, he was not listening to a word that Jesus had spoken. His question seemed out of context with the message that Jesus was bringing. The man was ignoring Jesus' message and was obsessing this issue in his mind. What was his mind on? He was apparently upset that his brother would not divide the inheritance in the manner that he desired. Under their law, the oldest son gets two-thirds of the inheritance, and the last third is divided up among the remaining sons. In the context given here, it appears there were two sons, with this one was to legally receive one-third. Perhaps the older brother may have been holding back on the one-third that was rightfully to be distributed under the law. It is also possible that the man wanted the inheritance divided in half, contrary to law. What does this question say about this person? While this man had the privilege of experiencing the first-hand teaching of Jesus, his mind was focused on the things of this world. He was missing both the message and the messenger.
And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? 15And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a manís life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
Rabbis often served as judges to settle all sorts of civil disputes in ancient Israel. Since in the popular mind Jesus was Himself an expert in the Law, it is not surprising that a man in the crowds might call on Him to pass judgment on an older brother who was illegally withholding the one-third share of an inheritance the two received when their father died. Jesus refuses to become involved in this dispute, but rather comments on the motivation of those who care so much for money that they are unwilling to do what is right.
First, Jesus answered them man's question with another question, a common teaching mechanism. Jesus could see the heart of this man, a heart that revealed a basic misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what His purpose and teachings reveal. It was a heart that was blinded by the lust for worldly possession. Rather than addressing the specific question presented by this person, a question that Jesus was not inclined to directly answer, He gave the person a stern warning that exposed the man's motives. He told the man (and the crowd as He used the man as an example), to guard against greed, against the lure of worldly and corruptible goods. We see this warning frequently in the teachings of Jesus. Why did Jesus place such emphasis on this one problem in His ministry? The material things of this world can appear strongly attractive to us and draw us under their authority, away from God's authority. Jesus then went on to present a parable that illustrates the context of the truth of His statement.
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
The story, at face value, is simple, yet like all of Christ's illustrations it is also profound in its application. Jesus tells of a wealthy farmer whose lands produced plentiful crops. The complacent farmer contemplates a future made secure by the abundance of his possessions-and orders new barns constructed to hold the overflow.
Even without the bountiful harvest, this man is described as rich? How many of you have dreamed of what it would be like to win a multi-million dollar lottery? What changes would you make to your life if you received such a windfall? This man, who was already rich, receives an exceedingly bountiful harvest. What is the dilemma he faces in verse 17? Rather than tear down his barns and build new ones (expending a significant portion of profit in order to protect the remainder,) what could he have done with the harvest? (1) He could have sold it. However, this took place at harvest time when the price for the goods was at its lowest point. He wanted to hold on to his grain so that he could get a higher price when it was out of season. (2) There were always people in need. He could have taken some of what God had so richly given to him, and distributed it to the poor, hungry, and needy. The man's motives are clearly self-centered to the point that he has no consideration for the needs of others.
We recently witnessed media coverage of a woman who won a multi-million lottery jackpot. It is interesting that she chose to take only one-half of the original prize so that she could receive the entire allotment in one check rather than receive the entire prize by distributing it over several years. By taking delivery of one half of the jackpot, after taxes, she received just under a quarter of the original awarded amount. Having already lost over three-quarters of her fortune because of her desire for quick reward, she could only publicly testify to the things she wanted to buy. I was reminded of this parable when I saw her decisions. It is easy to understand how a lost soul who knows only the values of this secular world would respond this way. However, is this the way you would respond?
By the way, the prize was 170 million dollars. Now, how would you respond in her situation? While the lottery tickets for this prize were being purchased, a convenience store attendant asked me if I was interested in winning the lottery. I told her, "If God wants me to win it, I'll win it." End of discussion. She responded with, "You don't understand: you must buy a lottery ticket!" I responded, "You don't understand God. If God wants me to win it, I'll win it." She understood my point that God was the one in control, and that I recognize first that He is its source. My first thought upon addressing this question was to consider how God would want me to respond to such a windfall. I see myself setting up a network of tax-deferred trust funds that would receive the entire prize distributions over time and produce income that could meet personal and ministry needs, with significant proceeds going to missions, some going to seminaries, and some going directly to assist the poor and needy. I could live quite well off of the investment interest alone, while distributing the bulk of the principal to ministry. That way, Uncle Sam would get almost none of the money back in taxes, and the Kingdom of God would receive about 90% of the earnings. In the meantime I would still get lots of toys, could continue to pursue my interests both sacred and secular, and leave a financial legacy to my children. And, yes, I would buy a Harley.
So, the rich farmer decides to hold on to all of his crops, holding out for higher prices against the cost of destroying his barns to build bigger and, literally, grander ones. What else did he declare in verse 19? His windfall would allow him to fully live a secular and hedonist lifestyle that he always truly desired, free of the burden of work. What does this say about this individual? His true nature was hedonistic. He held himself totally under the authority of the desires of his flesh, rejecting entirely the authority of God, even refusing to acknowledge God as the source of his riches. We know this from verse 20.
The set of values that are demonstrated by this rich man is typical of that of this secular world. When there is no consideration of God, all of the consideration of this world's values are self-centered. When one is driven by self-centered motives, those things that satiate selfish desires become of utmost importance. I once worked in the company of very rich men. Heirs of the original Ford Motor Company, they were consumed by the maintenance of their riches. All of them had suffered divorces and broken families. The management of their wealth generated tremendous personal stress. They, without exception, managed their wealth with little or no consideration of God. At the end of my year's contract they offered me a very large salary and a portion of the company assets if I would quit my university career and join them. They guaranteed me a million dollars in four years. I told them, "No thanks. I need to return to my ministry and to the university." One of the partners called me a fool. He could not understand that there are things in life that are more important than what they thought was valuable. I often thought of this rich man when I interacted with the company partners.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 21So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
The scripture referred to this man as rich. God refers to the man as a fool. It is interesting to note that the word that is translated fool is a combination of two words that refer to a person who lives as though he believes in his heart that there is no God.
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good (Psalm 14:1).
What are the consequences of placing our priorities in worldly, secular things? Is there any real concern for these issues in our own lives? The list we made at the beginning of this study might reveal this to us. Did you decide to take with you things that would make your physical world more comfortable or did you take with you things that would support you in Christian ministry? Our true, and only, purpose for taking up space on this planet is to be obedient to God as we seek to serve Him as his hands and voice as He seeks to save a lost world.
The New Testament makes repeated references to a man named Demas, who had an apostleship ministry in the early Christian church, receiving his mentoring from none other than Paul himself. We are introduced to Demas in Paul's letter to Philemon.
There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; 24Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers (Philemon 23-24).
Demas is introduced in a list of some pretty well-known, dedicated, and influential men of God. He was an important part of Paul's ministry. Demas is listed prior to Luke, the writer of the books of Luke and Acts.
Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you (Col. 4:14).
Here we see a similar list that was written a little while later. Instead of being listed ahead of Luke, Demas is listed at the end. This in of itself might not be too significant, until we take a look at the next chronological reference to Demas.
Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. 11Only Luke is with me (2 Tim. 4:9-11)
This letter was the last of Paul's pastoral epistles, and many say it is the last surviving letter that Paul wrote. He is still imprisoned in Rome, held without charge, but due to the disinterest of Caesar, about to be put to death. Writings outside the canon of scripture record that Paul was executed shortly after this letter was written. What happened to Demas?
While Crescens and Titus left Paul for ministry positions, Demas left the ministry. Demas failed to take advantage of the opportunity he had in the ministry because the pull of this world was too great on his spirit. Those who make a commitment to God are not impervious to the attraction of this secular world. One way to recognize and reject this temptation is to takea good look at your basic priorities, and your basic purpose as a Christian. Again, each of us is taking up space on this earth, breathing its air, consuming its resources. Why did God put you here? Are you to be just another secular and godless animal, or are you to be ministering to the world in the name of Christ? Are you serving God completely and without reservation, or is there something in this world holding you back?
Take that same piece of paper that you wrote your list of three valuable things on, and on the back, list the top three things that are holding you back from fully surrendering to God's call. After completing that list, pray over it, seeking God's guidance in placing those things in God's hands.