The Christian Value Proposition

(Mark 8:34-38)

Yesterday I wrote about what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his life. Overnight I felt there was more that needed to be said, especially in relation to the second question Jesus posed. He said, “What can a man give in return for his life?” (Verse 37) Jesus actually answered that question in this section, and has also answered it elsewhere, so I would like to address this question further.

fair-valueBefore doing so we need to understand what he is talking about when speaking of profit. I touched on this yesterday, but overnight had more information and insight given to me by the Lord.

When man talks about profit he is talking about something of value. In this world every person spends their time whether they know it or not, seeking value. When we work we are seeking value, wages so we can buy things we need. When we buy something we are exchanging one thing of value, our work effort converted into money, for something else of value, the goods or services being purchased.

Money is only the medium of exchange. The real value in the transaction is in the work we perform and the time we put into working, in exchange for goods and services to satisfy our needs; food, shelter, clothing, entertainment or whatever.

In everything we do in life we are looking for a value proposition that is acceptable to us and the other party we are dealing with. Basically there are three types of value proposition. When we are satisfied with the exchange of value we have a “fair value” transaction. If we think we have paid too much for something we feel “ripped off.” On the other hand if we believe the value of the goods or services is greater than what we have paid, we believe we have a “bargain.”

Now when Jesus asked, “What can a man give in return for his life?” I have often thought of this as sort of a rhetorical question. As I considered this overnight I realised it isn’t. What the Lord asks of man to give in return for his life IS his life! That is, if we are to receive eternal life the Lord is seeking us to forsake the things of this life that would lead us astray and away from the Lord.

In a nutshell, the Lord is seeking our obedience to the word of life so that we can receive life eternal. He says as much in this same section. Verse 35 says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” That is, whoever would seek the things of this life, wealth, riches, power, material possessions and so on, will lose the opportunity of eternal life. All the trappings of this world are of this world and not of God.

However the second half of this scripture says that anyone who will forgo all the trappings of this life and the world as we know it for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel will receive his eternal life. Is this consistent with other scriptures? Yes it is. For we see in the following scriptures from Matthew 13:44-46 this same sentiment expressed.

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,
46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

In both these parables the two men discovered something of great value that they desperately wanted to possess. In order to gain this thing of great value they went and sold everything they had so they could own it. The value of the treasure and the pearl were so enormous that they outshone the value of everything else they possessed and everything else was completely insignificant by comparison.

That is what entry to the kingdom of God is like. The opportunity of eternal life so exceeds anything on this earth that the value of it makes anything else seem worthless. So in answer to the question Jesus posed saying, “What can a man give in return for his life?” the answer is that we must be prepared to give up everything in this world and of this life to receive the far more valuable treasure of eternal life.

Coming back to the value proposition, is this a “rip-off,” or a “fair value trade” or is it a “bargain”? The truth is that there is one other value proposition that is better again and the gospel of Jesus fits into that category. The only thing better than a “bargain” is to also get a “bonus.” What we are trading our life in this world for is a life into eternity. By any measure that is a great bargain. We are trading a life of typically sixty to eighty years in a world full of sin, trouble, pressure, stress, suffering and anxiety for a life into eternity without any of those things. That has to be the greatest bargain of all time.

BonusBut it gets better because there is a bonus as well. By following the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of the truth we also get a better standard of life here and now. We get a great treasure in this world, not in a monetary sense, but in the things that really matter in this world. In Jesus we have peace, security, joy, love, happiness and the knowledge that any and every problem we may come up against we can hand over to Jesus for he cares about us. Now that’s what I call a bonus!

People chase money, wealth and power in the hope of have peace, happiness and security, but money and possessions can never provide these things. Money and possessions can be lost, stolen and destroyed as we have seen in the recent financial crises around the world. Money cannot be relied upon, but God can. If we want happiness, peace and security then we need to come to Jesus for these things do not exist in a reliable form anywhere else.

It seems the church has fallen for the same trap as the world. Those ministers who preach a wealth ministry are basically telling their flock that they cannot find happiness and security in God. They are replacing the God of Creation and Jesus Christ with the false god of this world, money. There is no security in money as the value of currency is at the whim of the markets. Some years ago I travelled around the USA when the Australian dollar was worth around fifty US cents. Today the Aus dollar is worth around US$1-06 because of the financial crisis. This dramatic shift was caused by the greed of a few financiers who have brought the global economy to the brink of bankruptcy for their own gain.

Should you then rely on money as a saviour? Can you rely on the dollar for security when it can be so quickly devalued? No. And neither should it be preached as the will of God for us to be rich. These wealth ministers have fallen into the trap of the church at La-odice’a written about in Revelation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot!
16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.
17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

Thinking they are rich they have missed the truth. The gold they need to buy from God is the knowledge of the truth so they can be truly rich, not in monetary terms, but in spiritual terms.

We must seek his kingdom first and then we will be in a position to receive the greatest bargain of all time and the bonus that goes with it. Eternal life in God’s kingdom and a life of peace, happiness and security now. That is the real value proposition of Christianity that is on offer to all of mankind. Who in their right mind would pass up on such a bargain? Nobody, but many still will and do for they are blinded by the trinkets of the here and now rather than the greater value that is on offer in the future.

(Picture sourced from stock.xchng http://www.sxc.hu)

Anointing of Jesus

(Matthew 26:6-13)

There are a few principles we can learn from this section of scripture where we see the anointing of Jesus by this woman. We see here a woman came to Jesus while he was in the house of Simon the leper and anointed him with a flask of very expensive ointment.

The disciples were indignant over this matter saying that this was wasteful. They thought it would have been better for the ointment to be sold as it was quite valuable, and then the money could have been used to aid the poor. The intentions of the disciples may have been good, but they were wrong. In other versions of this incident it was Judas who made these claims. He did not care for the poor but he was a thief and was stealing money from the moneybox. (John 12:1-8) No doubt they could have sold this ointment and used it to help the poor, but that was not the path Jesus took in this matter.

Jesus said to the disciples not to be indignant and not to reproach the woman for her actions. Instead he said that this woman had done a beautiful thing for him. In doing this she had done what she could in preparation for his burial. Jesus also made the point that they would always have the poor with them and could use whatever opportunities arose to help them out at other times. But they would not always have Jesus with them in the flesh. There are some principles here that Jesus was making and which we all should consider.

First we must understand that the flask of ointment belonged to the woman. She had the right to do whatever she wanted to do with it. If she wanted to take it and give it to the poor she could have done so. If she wanted to take it to the sea and throw it over a cliff she could have done that too, for it was hers to do with as she pleased. By anointing Jesus with this ointment she was doing what she wanted and was honouring the Lord in a way that was pleasing to her and the Lord.

This same principle is seen in Acts 5:1-5.

1 But a man named Anani’as with his wife Sapphi’ra sold a piece of property,
2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
3 But Peter said, “Anani’as, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?
4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5 When Anani’as heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.

The point Peter was making here is that the property that this man and his wife had was at their disposal to do with as they pleased. They did not have to sell it nor did they have to offer all of the proceeds of the sale to the apostles for distribution to the poor. It was theirs to do with as they chose both before and after the sale. Their fault was in lying about the matter to look good. They sold the property and kept part of the money and then lied saying they sold it for a lesser amount than they actually received. They would have been better to have sold it and then offered a part of the proceeds and told the truth about the amount rather than lie to try and impress others or make themselves out to be better than they were. They paid for their lies with their life.

Whatever we own is ours to do with as we choose. We can give it or keep it. When we give it should be given freely and without feeling pushed into giving for then it is no longer a freewill gift. Nor should we give expecting something in return.

No person has the right to judge another for his or her decision to give or not give either. This is what the disciples were doing with this woman who gave her expensive ointment to Jesus. They did not have the right to judge and reproach her over her gift for it was hers to do with as she pleased. And in recognition of her gift, Jesus set them straight and said that she would be remembered always for the gift she gave to him.

The importance of this scripture to us today is to be careful likewise not to judge someone for his or her decision. Whether they give or choose not to is up to them, not us. If their decision is wrong, they will wear the consequences of that decision as Anani’as and Sapphi’ra did. But ultimately it is their decision to do whatever they please with their property. We may hope they use it well as we should try to use our own property well, but it may not always be the case. We may not understand the reasons, but we must accept them for it is worse to judge another person especially as we may not know the circumstances under which they are making their decisions. It is especially important for us not to take the path the apostles took. When a person does give we should not denigrate or minimise the value of the gift as they did for the gift is from the heart and according to the wishes of that person to help as they see fit. We should not judge another persons decision but accept it for what it is as giving is an expression of love. Do not condemn over an expression of love.