Matthew 16:26 (ESV)
26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
In a great illustration that I saw recently, a preacher had a rope stretched around the perimeter of an auditorium. Holding up a short end wrapped in red tape, he explained that the rope represented eternity and the tape was our brief life on earth. Then, asking this very question from Scripture, he lamented how we work so much to benefit the first inch while ignoring preparation for the rest of the rope.
Sadly, we are a society that thrives on immediate gratification. Gone are our grandmothers’ days of pinching pennies to buy something big. An item purchased at a rental store may cost three times its value by the time it’s paid in full, but the customer has it right away while TV and the internet bombard us with products we “can’t do without” at such a fast pace that they’re often obsolete before we buy them.
So, what about the rest of the rope? Several versions of the Faust story from the 1500s on tell the tragedy of a man who sells his soul to the devil for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. The day of reckoning comes, however, for Faust to pay for his extravagances as the devil arrives to collect what was bargained for. For a very short time, he had gained the whole world at the cost of his soul.
Most of us do not go to the extremes of Faust. No, we sell out at a much lower price. We compromise obedience to the gospel and a true walk with God for a state of quasi-Christianity. We give if it doesn’t inconvenience us, believe a mixture of information we’ve picked up in church and on social media, and tell of Jesus only if it doesn’t make us too uncomfortable. True study, prayer, and service to strengthen our relationship with God is secondary to checking our watches to get on to our “real” lives.
If a command seems too strict, we call it outdated; if love and forgiveness, mercy and grace are too hard to offer, we justify a reason not to extend them. Only half-gaining the whole world, we still forfeit our souls. A deal with the devil has been struck—we’re just haggling on the price.
Instead of being so nearsighted, God would have us look beyond the temporary tape on the end. James describes our existence as a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Rather, should we not prepare for the rope that stretches into eternity?
This article will also appear in the January/February 2019 issue of Christ For Today, David Tarbet editor.