A Time to Gain and a Time to Lose
A Time to Gain and a Time to Lose
You have heard it said, "It is the decisions that kill me"; and there is an element of truth in that. It all depends on the kind of decisions that are made. If we make the right choices, the inevitable consequences will be demonstrated in a life of righteousness. On the other hand, if we make the wrong choices, the effects will be manifested in a life of sinfulness. It is not easy to make the unpopular decision. In the book of Esther, we read that Queen Vashti refused to parade her beauty before a company of drunken and lustful men, and as a result, she lost her position of favor before the king. But she kept her moral integrity. We also have to decide between popularity and integrity. If we choose the latter we may be laughed at by the crowd, but we will retain something far more important—our honor.
Sooner or later there comes a time in human experience when a person has to decide on his or her life's ambition. Is it to be earthly gain or heavenly gain? Is the object of existence to be the service of self or the worship of God? Such a momentous decision involves the exercise of personal choice. And this is precisely what the Preacher has in mind when he says, "There is ... a time to gain, and a time to lose" (Eccl. 3:1, 6). Literally, the Hebrew reads, "To seek has its time, and to lose has its time." So the Holy Spirit would have us understand that somewhere along our earthly journey we have to seek, if we are to find, and we have to lose if we are to gain. To interpret these concepts we must observe that:
There Is a Time to Choose God's Purpose for Life
To "gain" or to "seek" presupposes the right of choice. This principle applies in every area of life. If a person decides to make his ambition that of wealth, fame, or power, he has made a choice. By the same token, if he determines to set his affection on things above, he likewise has made a choice. At some point in human experience there must be a time to choose. This solemn fact inevitably brings us to consider the sovereignty of choice.
When God created man, He endowed him with life's greatest gift: power of choice. And within the beauties and duties of the Garden of Eden, Adam was given the freedom to exercise his right of choice, even though this involved the possibility of disobeying the will of God. This is why his Creator said to him, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17). Not to have allowed this sovereignty of choice would have made Adam nothing more than a robot. We know, of course, that when put to the test, Adam misused his sovereignty of choice and through disobedience brought sin into the world, and death by sin (Rom. 5:12). The apostle Paul tells us that when offered the forbidden fruit "Adam was not deceived" (1 Tim. 2:14). This means that with the full knowledge of the consequences, he transgressed the will of his Creator. In like manner, we can choose whether or not we please ourselves, or "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matt. 6:33). You and I have the power of sovereign choice.
But more than this, we must recognize the urgency of choice. This was the burden of Joshua's final message to the children of Israel. Addressing them on that historic occasion he said, "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.... But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15). His emphasis was on the urgency of making the right choice.
And this note of urgency is found again and again throughout the Scriptures. Paul sums up the matter when he says, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Life, at best, is so short, and yet what wasted moments, hours, days, and years we shall have to lament when we stand before the judgment throne! We tend to forget that everyone will have to give account of himself. Not only will our works be evaluated, but our very words. Jesus made this plain when He cautioned, "Every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36).
Thus we see that there is such a thing as the urgency of choice. This is why the devil concentrates every effort to make us procrastinate.
Someone once had a dream in which he found himself in hell, overhearing a discussion between Satan and his demons. "But what is the method for keeping people from entering the kingdom of our Enemy?" asked Satan.
"Disprove the existence of God," suggested one demon.
"But that is no use," replied Satan. "At no time in history has man been able to accept atheism. There is a fundamental God-consciousness in him that no amount of argument or debate can change. The fact that there are so few individuals who call themselves atheists only goes to prove my point."
"Well, let us try to undermine faith in the Bible," urged another demon. "That is no use either," countered the devil. "Think back through the centuries and recall what has been done to destroy this Book. It has been attacked by the greatest minds, it has been banned, and even burned, but from the ashes of such burnings have sprung up even more translations and also the men and women to proclaim its message. No, undermining faith in the Bible will not do."
"Then I have an idea," blurted out a more thoughtful demon. "Let us start a campaign to spread the idea that there is plenty of time and, therefore, there is no hurry or urgency to consider spiritual things."
"That's it!" exclaimed Satan, "You could not be more accurate or relevant. Men and women, by virtue of their natures, will fall for that proposition; and, of course, it is fatal, as far as their eternal destiny is concerned. But why should I care, as long as they finish up in hell?"
With the urgency of choice, there is also the destiny of choice. In this regard, we need to think of a man like Moses. We read in Hebrews 11:24-27 that:
by faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.
We cannot study these verses without being amazed at this man's sense of values. Moses, under the providence of God, had been brought up in the luxury of the Egyptian court and trained in all the learning of the Egyptian universities. If anyone had a chance to acquire earthly wealth, power, fame, and glory, it was Moses. And yet we read that he "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin" (Heb. 11:24-27). He weighed up the issues, he evaluated the gains and the losses, and he made a choice. The only explanation for this amazing choice is the ultimate end he had in view. Three words help us to sum it up.
There was, first of all, the reproach of Christ. Like Abraham, Moses rejoiced to see the day of Christ and was glad. What others would have considered as something to be shunned at all costs, he esteemed as a prize to be eagerly sought. With Paul, he could say that he counted "all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus [the] Lord" (Phil. 3:8). So he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasure of Egypt.
But then he saw something else. Beyond the glitter of the pleasure and treasures of Egypt, "he looked to the reward" (Heb. 11:26). There was the reward of Christ. Like the apostle, he pressed "toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14). He could see beyond earthly gain to that heavenly reward.
But, supremely, Moses had eyes to perceive the reality of Christ, for "he endured as seeing Him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27). To him, this was life's greatest ambition. And, of course, this was true of Paul the apostle. At the very end of his life he could say, "That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death" (Phil. 3:10).
How this glimpse into the life of Moses shames our modern generation with its shallow outlook and materialistic ambitions! Only a man with a sense of destiny can choose the reproach of Christ, the reward of Christ, and the reality of Christ! All the men whom God has chosen to bless in this sin-cursed world of ours have been men who have chosen to forsake all for the reproach, reward, and reality of Christ. We could name such personalities as Martin Luther and his Protestant Reformation, William Carey and his modern missionary movement, David Livingstone and his vision and burden for Africa, and Roger Williams and his passion and program for religious liberty. These men "endured as seeing him who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27). There is a time, then, to choose; and we must face this choice. Will we use the sovereignty, urgency, and destiny of choice to make the right choice? Then we must acknowledge that:
There Is a Time to Lose Man's Purpose for Life
We cannot choose God's purpose for life without losing man's purpose for life. Jesus emphasized this when He said: "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:34-35). Jesus specifically taught that to choose God's purpose for life involves losing our own life for the sake of the gospel.
Someone might object, "But to lose one's life in Christ is to lose individuality." We reply that nothing could be farther from the truth. To lose our lives in Christ is to find complete individuality, for only in Christ is the human personality truly totalized (Col. 2:10).
This loss of our lives in Christ means that we must deny for Christ—"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself (Luke 9:23). This calls for the renunciation of anything and everything in our lives that would hinder the fulfillment of God's purposes.
I love that dramatic touch of Mark when he tells the story of blind Bartimeus (Mark 10:46-52). The opportunity of a lifetime had come, for Jesus had bidden the beggar to come to Him for healing. And we read that "throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus" (Mark 10:50). There was nothing intrinsically wrong with that garment. On many a cold day it had kept the blind man warm, but at this point in his life it could have tripped him in coming to Christ, so he cast it aside. Indeed, he sacrificed the good for the better, and the better for the best. Nothing was going to impede his advance to the only One who could heal him and save him.
Are you and I prepared to do this? Are we prepared to cast away anything that would hold us back from experiencing God's highest purpose for our lives? For some, this may involve the initial step of salvation; for others, this may be a new surrender to the sovereignty of Jesus Christ; for still others, this may signify the claiming of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Whatever it is, however, you and I have to lose before we gain; we must deny for Christ.
The figure drawn for us in the 12th chapter of Hebrews is that of a long-distance runner. Commenting on this passage, Dr. M. R. DeHaan says:
Some things which may not be evil in themselves still hinder us in the service of Christ. They may be just little habits or indulgences which have no spiritual value, like wasting our time in reading "empty" literature, excessive participation in sports, or preoccupation with social activities. If these things cut into our prayer life, Bible study, or Christian service, they are wrong! (Bosch 1975)
The believer must go forward unhampered by the things of the world willingly sacrificing even legitimate pleasures, if necessary, to gain the prize of God's special approval at the end of life's race (see 1 Cor. 9:24, 25).
Alexander Maclaren, that great preacher and theologian of the 19th century, said, "If we would run well on the Christian pathway, we must run light! To do that, we must constantly look to Jesus and not allow even so-called 'good things' to hinder us as we go forward for God."
But then, again, we must decide for Christ—"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). Deciding for Christ involves both a relationship and discipleship. The relationship is taking up the cross. Only through the blood of the cross can we know reconciliation with God. Only at the foot of the cross can we know the surrender of our lives to the sovereignty of God.
I recall Principal L. E. Maxwell of Canada telling the story of a girl from a wealthy home who was sent to a finishing school in Europe to complete her education. During one school term the girl was invited to an evangelistic service where she was gloriously saved. Being an honest girl, she wrote home at once and shared her newfound joy with her parents.
On receipt of the letter, the father cabled her to come home immediately. Obediently, she followed instructions and arrived home in a matter of hours. As the chauffeur helped her out of the Cadillac, her mother met her, and with hardly a greeting conducted her into the study where an infuriated father was waiting.
"Let us get right down to business," he began. "I have taken full cognizance of your recent letters and have completely made up my mind. I want you to understand that I have not spent all this money on your education in order for you to become involved in a religion of half-wits and feeble folk. Either you give up this nonsense and come to your senses, or you leave this house and all it represents forever!"
The girl bowed her head for a few moments, and then very quietly replied, "Father, please give me time to think it over." Then excusing herself, she stepped into the living room of that great mansion and closed the door. Once alone, she dropped on her knees, and looking into the face of her wonderful Lord, she prayed, "Loving Master, You have saved me and I can do nothing else than yield my all to Thee. I cannot go back. Give me the grace to face the consequences."
Rising from her knees, she went over to the piano, and sitting down she began to play and sing Henry F. Lyte's hymn:
Jesus, I my cross have taken,
All to leave and follow Thee;
Destitute, despised, forsaken,
Thou, from hence, my all shalt be:
Perish every fond ambition,
All I've sought, and hoped, and known;
Yet how rich is my condition,
God and heaven are still my own!
As her voice penetrated the building, the door suddenly opened and her father entered—with tears coursing down his cheeks. "My darling," he exclaimed, "forgive me, forgive me! I had no idea that Jesus Christ meant so much to you. Will you lead your wicked old father to a similar faith in your Lord and Savior?"
Deciding for Christ is taking up the cross. But it also means following Jesus. The Master said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). Following Jesus is discipleship. This entails losing ourselves in a day-by-day walk with Christ, going His way—cost what it will—until the fight is won and the journey's done. Only as we lose our lives in Christ and His gospel shall we find them in all the fullness of God's redemptive purpose. And all this demands Christian discipleship.
The challenge is obvious and inescapable. Are we prepared to choose God's purpose for our lives—and perhaps even more importantly—are we prepared to lose man's purpose for our lives? Our decision will determine our destiny.
Think on These Things (Phil. 4:8)
It is not without significance that our last two studies have focused on the vitally important matter of choice. In the final analysis, we are what we choose. Jim Elliott, who dedicated his life to missionary service during a week of revival meetings I conducted at Wheaton College in January 1948, wrote these words before he was speared to death in his attempt to win the Aucas for Christ in the jungles of the Amazon, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose."
— Time for Truth, A