Does God Reward Us for Giving?
A Sermon on Mark 10:29-30, Coty Pinckney, 3/19/00
The year is 1856. You are a successful urban missionary in Glasgow, Scotland, with hundreds of converts and a tremendous influence among the poor. Yet you hear Godís call to overseas missions. Not only overseas, but to the New Hebrides, almost directly opposite Scotland on the globe. Not only on the opposite side of the globe, but to a group of islands inhabited by cannibals. And not only cannibals, but notorious cannibals. In 1839 Ė only 17 years ago -- the first Christian missionaries to the New Hebrides, John Williams and James Harris, lasted only about 10 minutes before they were clubbed to death, cooked, and eaten.
So following Godís call certainly means leaving your ministry, and leaving your aging parents; it is not unlikely that following this call will result in your death, soon. What do you do?
This was the situation facing John Paton. Paton did decide to go, and presented his case to the elders in his church. A Mr Dickson strongly discouraged him, declaring, "You will be eaten by cannibals!" Paton replied:
Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer. (p. 56)
When we follow Jesus, what do we gain? What do we lose?
Jesus himself tells us to count the cost. The cost can be high indeed. Jesus desires our all; he must be first in our hearts or he wonít be there at all.
Yet he promises us that our gains far outweigh those costs:
29 Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, 30 but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29-30 NASB)
Today weíll explore what Jesus means in these two verses. How is it consistent with suffering, with loss by Christians? Is this a promise we can claim? Fundamentally, can we trust God with our lives and the lives of our loved ones?
While these verses are our focus, we will understand them better if we first understand the context. So let us first go back to the beginning of this section of Mark, at the end of chapter 8. Jesus has just told his disciples for the first time that He must die. He know tells them that they, his followers, must die too:
34 And He summoned the multitude with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it. 36 "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? 37 "For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:34-37 NASB)
What does Jesus mean by "losing his life for My sake"? Certainly, he includes actual martyrdom, but just as certainly, he means more than martyrdom. In Lukeís account, Jesus says we are to take up the cross daily. So what does He mean?
One key (as noted in the NIV textual footnote) is that the same Greek word is used for both "life" and "soul' in verses 35-37. This is the word which is more commonly translated "soul;" it is not the usual word for "life," for life in contrast to death. Instead, this word emphasizes your individual life, your particular needs and wants, what makes you you. The difference between these two words comes out in John 10:10-11, where Jesus says:
I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. (NASB)
In verse 10, "life" is the usual word; Jesus came to make alive those who are spiritually dead. Here He contrasts life with death. But in verse 11, Jesus says the good shepherd lays down his life -- all that he is, his personal self, his wants and desires -- he lays down all this for his sheep. That is the idea in Mark 8. So we might paraphrase Mark 8:34-37 this way:
"If you want to follow Me, you must first deny yourself, and take up your cross -- you must die to yourself; only then can you truly follow Me. 35 "For if you want to hold on to what makes you you in this world, you shall never become what God intends you to be; but if you give up what you think makes you you for My sake and the gospel's, you shall become what God intends you to be. 36 "For what does it profit you to gain everything the world has to offer and to actualize what you think you should be, if you then forfeit what your Creator intends you to be? For what shall you give in exchange for the very thing that truly makes you you, the essence of who you are?
In chapter 9 (see sermon), the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest. Jesus does not reprimand them, but instead teaches them that the way to true greatness is different from what they believe; one becomes great, in part, through service to others
In the first 12 verses of chapter 10 (see sermon), Jesus applies this to marriage. We are to die to self in marriage, glorifying God in this picture of Godís relationship to His people, of Christís relationship to His church, and thus we must never even consider divorce.
Then in verse 15, Jesus says:
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all."
We must receive the kingdom like children if we are to enter it at all. What characteristics of children are we to emulate in our faith? I would highlight four.
We too must be straightforward with Jesus, trusting Him fully, having a great sense of wonder at Godís power and majesty and mercy, and then respond generously to the needs we find around us.
This brings us to Mark 10:17-22, the story of the "rich young ruler." Weíll look at this in somewhat more detail, as it leads directly into todayís text:
17 ∂ And as He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 "You know the commandments, 'DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.'" 20 And he said to Him, "Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up." 21 And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property. (NASB)
Jesus says, "One thing you lack," but then gives him five commands: Go! Sell! Give! Come! Follow! What was the one thing he lacked?
He needed to follow Jesus. But he could not follow Jesus while loving his possessions. As Jesus says elsewhere, "You cannot serve both God and money." So this man needed to deal with his love of money in order to be able to follow Jesus.
What might have been going through the rulerís mind while he walked away? Perhaps he was thinking something like this:
Note carefully: The fact that something is difficult, or completely impractical, has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not it is Godís command. One of Jesusí most explicit statements is one of His most impractical: "Be ye perfect as your father in heaven is perfect."
Living the Christian life means following your Lord, no matter what. So, he asks us to stay in tough marriages; he asks to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable; he tells us to yield all our life to Him; he tells some to give away all their possessions.
Far from promising us an easy life, Jesus promises us trials and troubles: "In the world you have tribulation," Ė but praise God He doesnít stop there Ė "but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33). Godís promise to us is that He is in control, and that He will strengthen us and enable us to live lives worthy of His calling, as He works all things together for His glory and our good.
he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property. 23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 26 And they were even more astonished and said to Him, "Then who can be saved?" 27 Looking upon them, Jesus *said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God." (Mark 10:22-27 NASB)
Why did the rich young ruler go away grieved? What does the text say?
"For he was one who owned much property." His riches were the source of his problem, not the solution to his problem. Therefore, Jesus says, "How hard it will be for the rich to enter the kingdom of God."
Note that Jesus here says that the rich are to be pitied, not envied. In virtually every culture, the rich are looked up to, are seen as lucky or blessed by God, and most people desire to be rich. But Jesus says we are to pity them, for it is impossible for them to enter the kingdom of God.
This leads to two important questions: What is it about riches that makes entering the kingdom of God so difficult? Second, who is rich? Are we rich?
There is much we could say about riches, but the most important barrier for entering the kingdom is the illusion of control provided by wealth. Poor people in poor countries (including all countries in the ancient world) all acknowledge that they are at the mercy of the elements. Illness, natural disasters, even a bad rainy season can mean suffering or death for members of the family. Today in the poorest countries about one child in five dies before age 5; in the ancient world, those numbers were undoubtedly higher. So the poor know that they cannot control these powers that determine their fate.
On the other hand, the rich tend to think that they can protect themselves, that they can use their money and influence to make sure that they do not suffer. As Jesus relates in Luke 12, the rich fools says to himself, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' He thought he was in control, was now safe from the influence of random events. But that very night God took his life.
If the illusion of control, if protection from random hazards is the key here, I contend that all of us here this morning are rich. For random hazards are rare for most Americans. Put yourself in the position of those who are listening to Jesus say these words. How would they label someone who:
Imagine! Wouldn't such a person be considered rich indeed? So in comparison to those listening to Jesus, we all undoubtedly are incredibly rich.
But even in comparison to our fellow Christians around the world today, we are rich. The poorest person among us this morning may be in the bottom third of US income; nevertheless, that person is better off than at least 4 billion people around the world.
So when Jesus says, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God," he is speaking to you and me.
So Jesusí warning is for us: How hard it is for us to enter the kingdom of God Ė because of our supposed self-sufficiency, our security. The rich young ruler depended upon his riches for his security, for his self-image, and thus was unwilling to give up riches to follow Jesus. How many of us have that same unwillingness?
Furthermore, possessions enslave us. "You cannot serve both God and money." We become used to our possessions; we start calling our desires "needs" -- and then we won't even consider following Jesus in a way that would lead to:
We begin to require God to support us in the manner to which we have become accustomed.
Sometimes we justify this attitude by referring to our children: "I can't do that; what would become of my children?" But what do our children need more than a parent who follows Jesus, wherever He may lead?
Ray Stedman uses an apt phrase to describe our condition, saying we are "addicted to comfort and ease." Surely this is true of the Church in America today.
So if we are addicted to comfort and ease, if we depend on riches, if we find our security there instead of in our relationship to God Ė mightnít Jesus be saying to some of us: "One thing you lack: Go, sell, give, come, follow?"
What happens if you hear that, and do it? Do you lose security? Do you lose out on joy, on pleasure? This brings us to todayís text:
28 Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You." 29 Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, 30 but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 "But many who are first, will be last; and the last, first." (Mark 10:28-31 NASB)
In the week ahead, I ask you to focus on the profound statements made in verses 29 to 31. Meditate on them. Pore over them. Let them sink into you. Listen again now, carefully:
Jesus says in effect, "Whatever you give up for me now, you will receive one hundred times as much now -- and billions times as much in the age to come."
I think we expect Jesus to make the eschatological promise, the promise of future joy in eternity with Jesus. We don't comprehend all that entails, we certainly can't grasp what that will be like, but we know the promise is made many places in Scripture:
Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (NASB)
1 Peter 1:4 [we have] an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven (NASB)
We know, furthermore, that we are better off risen with Christ than we can ever be in this life; as Paul says, "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain."
Clearly the eternal joy that is ours should be our primary hope. But Jesus says more than that here. He says that whatever we give up, we will receive one hundred times more in the present age. What could he possibly mean by that?
Does he mean that if I give the church $4,000, I'll get back $400,000? Some health, wealth, and prosperity preachers use these verses as a proof text for that idea. But clearly if that's what Jesus meant, there was no reason for the ruler to walk away. Jesus could simply have said, "Look, give all this away, and within a few years you'll have one hundred times as much money, wealth, and prestige. That's quite an investment!" Such a promise would appeal to his greed -- the very problem he faced, and we continue to face.
Part of the promise surely is that we have eternal life right now. We have "joy unspeakable" because of our relationship to God; we have the love, joy, and peace the world longs for because the Spirit dwells in us. We have a true intimacy, a true fellowship with one another because He has made us brothers and sisters in Him, He has made us into one body. And, as we saw at the end of chapter 8, we are fulfilled as we become what God intends us to be. All this is much more valuable than anything we may give up.
But Jesus' statement can't mean only that. Note that Jesus includes material goods in His promise: farms and houses. Our brothers and sisters multiply in the family of God; what about our material possessions, our farms and houses?
This is the key: If you give all you have to the Lord, you will receive one hundred times more joy and pleasure from the material possessions you have than you would have received from the entire hoard if you had given nothing away.
Think about that statement. Some of you might be thinking, "Oh, is that all He means? I thought by giving I was going to get more!"
You are going to get more -- more of what you really want! Why do we want possessions anyway? Because of the joy, pleasure, and security they give us, right? God promises us complete security; nothing can harm us until we have completed His work for us in this world, and then we will be received by Him with great rejoicing. And in this life, He promises us the joy and pleasure we really want, that we try to get from hoarding possessions.
Why will we get more joy and pleasure from a few possessions when we follow Jesus, than we would get from vast hoards of possessions if we don't follow Him? Consider these reasons:
(1) As stated above, our possessions become our master. We worry about losing them, we devote time and energy to amassing them, and, in the end, they can make us miserable. Many wealthy men have been among the most miserable who ever lived.
(2) Even more importantly, we enjoy whatever is left more because we know it is all a gift from someone who loves us dearly. Think, now: What possessions do you value most? For many of us, we value most not the expensive item we bought for ourselves, but some little trifle that was given to us by a loved one. Perhaps a picture drawn by a three-year-old, perhaps a ring, or necklace, or a letter from your husband; perhaps the gift your parents gave you when you left home. These may not be worth much monetarily, but they are most valuable because they represent the love of another.
The Christian knows that everything we own is a gift from the One who loves us more than we can imagine. So even a few possessions can generate in our hearts unspeakable joy, because they all represent His love. So instead of considering these possessions as things we've earned, as things we deserve, we consider everything a special gift of love from the King of the Universe. We deserve nothing Ė rather, we deserve eternal punishment in hell -- yet look what He gives us! Air to breath, warmth at night, food to eat, covering for our bodies! Every minute we live, then, we can thank God for His great mercy, for the love He shows us in everything that we used to take for granted.
Furthermore, we know that much more is coming! I commend to you the study of Philippians 4:10-19. Here the Philippians have sent a gift to Paul. Paul says, "God enables me to be content in whatever circumstances I am in; I am perfectly happy in jail, I am perfectly happy free; I am perfectly happy with abundance, and I am perfectly happy in poverty. But I am overwhelmed with your generosity, which is a fragrant sacrifice to God. I praise God for you, and look forward to seeing the fruit of your gift in your own lives." And then he says this: "My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory."
How much of your needs will He supply? All your needs. At what level? "According to His riches." Sometimes we are confused by this expression; we understand the phrase "The Gospel According to Matthew," but the word is used differently in Philippians 4:19. Substitute for "according to" "in accordance with" or "in proportion to." "My God will supply all your needs in proportion to His riches." And how large are His riches in glory?
John Piper puts it this way:
There is one hundred times more joy and satisfaction in a life devoted to Christ and the gospel than a life devoted to frivolous comforts and pleasures and worldly advancements. . . . as J. Campbell White said in 1909 when the Layman's Missionary Movement was at its peak, "Fame, pleasure, riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans."
So we are back to the theme of the end of chapter 8: Everything around us tempts us to pursue a type of life that, in the end, will never satisfy. Jesus calls us to give up that false life so that we might find true life, true joy, true love in a relationship with Him. And when we do that, we find that we now have all the love, joy, peace, and security that we used to seek through the ways of the world -- at least 100 times as much as we had before. And our hearts are overflowing in thanks and praise to the One who gives us so much that we donít deserve.
But note that Jesus says this gift of 100 times as much as we give up will be accompanied by persecutions. Is this just an offhand comment? Does it belie the rest of the statement? If Paulís statement is true -- "My God will supply all your needs" -- what about the need for health for ourselves and our children? What about the need for protection from those who are persecuting us?
We donít need to look very far to find Christians who suffered death, suffering, various physical ailments, persecution, martyrdom, and torture. Some of us here this morning are suffering.
Did God make a mistake? Does His promise not hold? Or do His promises hold, but those who suffer forgot to pray for protection?
When God says "Lo, I am with you always," He means it. When Paul writes, "My God will supply all your needs," he is stating Truth. When God says, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you," He is giving us a promise that will hold regardless of our circumstances. But how are these promises consistent with our suffering?
Paul writes 2nd Timothy shortly before his death. In chapter 4 he writes: ĎI am already being poured out as a drink offering"-- an apt figure for one who would be beheaded. But then later in the chapter he writes, "the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack." Paul writes this even though he knows he will be executed. The inescapable conclusion: His execution is not an evil attack.
Just so with us:
When it is for our good and His glory, he lavishes safety and relationships and possessions and worldly success on us.
When it is for our good and His glory, he lavishes persecutions and trials and troubles on us.
When it is for our good and His glory he lavishes death on us.
God is in control of all, and he constantly uses what men intend for evil for His own good purposes. Whatever happens, He is in control; His purposes are beyond us, but He is always good, and always wise.
We left John Paton with a certain calling to the New Hebrides. He followed that call. Paton didn't give up all his financial resources initially: he came from a poor family -- the oldest of eleven children -- and whatever money he made in Glasgow went to the paying off of a family debt, incurred years before when his father was swindled. Paton married shortly before leaving Scotland; his wife apparently was better off financially, so he may actually have had more when he left than at other times in his life. We know he took family heirlooms and even a piano with him to the New Hebrides.
Paton and his wife arrived on the island of Tanna in November of 1858; this island was only a few dozen miles from the island of Erromanga, where Williams and Harris had been killed nineteen years previously. Yet all began auspiciously; the islanders initially were not too antagonistic, and Mrs Paton gave birth to a baby boy on February 12, 1859. Paton writes, "our island exile thrilled with joy." But that joy was brief. His wife developed a fever and died suddenly, only three weeks after the birth. Seventeen days later, the baby died. Paton buried them both, digging their graves with his own hands. Now he is all alone on an island of cannibals. He writes:
Stunned by that dreadful loss, in entering upon this field of labor to which the Lord had Himself so evidently led me, my reason seemed for a time almost to give way. The ever- merciful Lord sustained me . . . and that spot became my sacred and much-frequented shrine, during all the following months and years when I labored on for the salvation of the savage Islanders amidst difficulties, dangers, and deaths. . . . But for Jesus, and the fellowship he vouchsafed to me there, I must have gone mad and died beside the lonely grave!
After four difficult years with only a handful of converts, facing death almost every day, Paton was driven off the island. He lost all his possessions in the flight (except his faithful Scottish terrier).
So what about Mark 10:29-30 in Patonís life? He gave up his earthly family, separating himself from his parents, brothers, and sisters, and then losing his wife and child to death. He lost all his possessions, and saw almost no success in spreading the gospel
Did Godís promises fail? For him? For his wife?
Paton wrote much later in his life:
Whatever trials have befallen me in my Earthly Pilgrimage, I have never had the trial of doubting that perhaps, after all, Jesus had made some mistake. No! my blessed Lord Jesus makes no mistakes! When we see all His meaning, we shall then understand, what now we can only trustfully believe, that all is well - best for us, best for the cause most dear to us, best for the good of others and the glory of God. (p. 488)
After four years raising support for missions, he returns to the New Hebrides, this time to the island of Aniwa. He has remarried, and God blesses him with more children (although another dies of disease). Eventually, the entire island of Aniwa comes to the Lord.
One of the highlights of his life comes when one of his own converts on Aniwa goes back to Tanna as a missionary, with considerable success. After relating this event, Paton writes:
My heart often says within itself Ė when, when will menís eyes at home be opened? When will the rich and the learned . . . renounce their shallow frivolities, and go to live amongst the poor, the ignorant, the outcast, and the lost, and write their eternal fame on the souls by them blessed and brought to the Savior? Those who have tasted this highest joy, "The joy of the Lord," will never again ask - Is Life worth living? Life, any life, would be well spent, under any conceivable conditions, in bringing one human soul to know and love and serve God and His Son, and thereby securing for yourself at least one temple where your name and memory would be held for ever and for ever in affectionate praise, - a regenerated Heart in heaven. That fame will prove immortal, when all the poems and monuments and pyramids of Earth have gone into dust" (pp. 411-412).
Paton gave up all worldly comforts and safety; he willingly faced the possiblity of martydom; he lost his family -- and he had no regrets whatsoever. What God gave back to him even in this life was worth far more than what he gave up. And Mary, his first wife, had finished her work for God -- it was for Godís glory and her good for her to die when she did.
This is Jesusí command to us this morning: Lose your false life; give it up. Yield all your plans, all your earthly desires, all your security to Him. Lose your life for Jesus, for the gospel. Become great through service. Become like a child: trusting, straightforward, lost in wonder, exceedingly generous. Then step forward Ė knowing that God will supply all your needs, and give you a joy beyond measure even in this life, as you overflow with thanksgiving for His supply. So step forward knowing that you are invulnerable until God has acomplished His purposes through you in this life.
This sermon was preached at Good News Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA, on 3/19/00, and thus is not part of the Community Bible Church series on Mark. There is considerable overlap between this sermon and the March 5, 2000 sermon on Mark 10:13-31. The quotes from John Paton are taken from John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography, now published by Banner of Truth Trust. Highly recommended. For more information or to order through Amazon, click here. For more on Paton, see John Piper's talk at the February 2000 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, which inspired me to read the biography. The Piper quote is from his 1983 sermon on Mark 10:17-31, "Missions: Battle Cry of Christian Hedonism."
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