I remember not long before I started my classes at the Seminary and went into this career, before Shi and I had our little munchkins, asking myself a very honest question. “Was this really what I wanted to do?” At the time I was concerned about the finances, we were broke college students looking ahead to being broke college students for another 4 some years while I worked on my Master’s degree, was this the best choice for me, my wife and then God-willing my future children? Knowing that the career I would be following, though as much as I was able to know it would be able to provide for us, I knew we would never be wealthy in material things, it just simply was not the way this career would take me. I thought that maybe I should stop now with my Bachelor’s, reorient my career towards a more lucrative master’s and be able in the future to be wealthier in material things. It was an honest question and one from the very fact that I am standing here with you today; you know the answer I came to.
What led me here today was first and foremost this desire and call upon my life by God to serve His people as a shepherd. But there were other considerations as well as I tried to make this choice wisely. One of the things that I truly spent some time doing was counting the cost. I knew that following this given path of pastoral ministry I would not be materially wealthy but I would God willing become wealthy in love and in the Spirit. Thinking of this as polar opposites I asked if I followed a career path that was know to be lucrative at the end materially what would it cost me and I realized as I spent the time talking with those who followed that kind of career path that far to often for them the cost was a poverty in spirit and family life.
Now let me stop there for a minute and give a caveat. I believe in hard work and providing for the needs and sometime desires of my family and I try to do this all with a responsible eye towards the future. In my given career, like any career, I can work 10, 20, 30 times harder and may be more successful but less successful in things of family and the spirit. There are also many out there who are successful in careers that are more financially rewarding and have an active spiritual and family life.
But what I’ve learned is that there is are always points, crossroads, where a choice needs to be made upon what your real wealth is going to be and what you will do to pursue and receive that wealth because everything we do has a cost, those things we must sacrifice to achieve the wealth we desire. Often times, the areas of life that fall on either side of this balance are family, love and the Spirit on one side and material gain and possessions on the other. It seems that one of the realities of this life is that one side is lighter so the other side can be heavier, and focusing on one side will always make that side heavier and the other one lighter.
This came to mind again this week when I was reading an article from BBC news about a widely popular and fast growing website in England for potential Sugar Daddies to connect with potential Sugar Babies. What the individuals were entering into on this website was what was called euphemistically “transactional relationships.” On this hugely popular site were typically men who were very well off, the typical examples were hedge fund manager and investment bankers, who as they admitted were very lonely but could not afford the time for a real relationship. The girls on this site, all typically around college age either saw this kind of transactional relationship as a way of quickly getting material things because a shopping allowance was almost always included or as a way of paying for the ridiculous price of tuition to get to one of those careers that the lonely, isolated men were currently in. They found that to become wealthy on one side of the balance they had to become poor on the other.
Another example of this is happening in our churches all across the country. It’s no secret that our current church structure function as both a non-for-profit business and the other side is sometimes called ministry and oftentimes the two sides clash and fight, because the very nature of ministry is sacrificial and self-giving and the very nature of business, even non-for-profits is receiving. So when the two fall out of balance and the receiving is viewed as more important than the giving, instead of the receiving as being a means to giving even more, you have conflict and infighting. So there has been this broad ranging trend in churches across denominational lines to hire pastors who are able administrators and business people first and theologians second. What the result has been is that these people called have become very successful in creating non-profit churches that have large bank accounts, large campuses and large pastoral salaries but so often are theologically and spiritually bankrupt, with little biblical knowledge and understanding to underpin what they are doing. They have become materially wealthy and spiritually light. So what happens is that other churches start competing with each other for the same “customer base” to become more materially heavy, but most churches are not equipped to compete with other churches that have far more greater resources.
But as we have seen, with how much talk is going around about churches closing everywhere, big and small, is that this philosophy isn’t working, because many who are truly seeking are quickly seeing through the façade of materially heavy or materially envious but spiritually light churches, saying this isn’t what I was looking for and seeking what is deeper and more substantial even if it isn’t as shiny.
As we read this passage from Corinthians 6:1-13, not surprisingly this same kind of conflict was happening in the Christian church in Corinth. I know when we read and hear this list that Paul gives about his marks of being an apostle, beatings, imprisonment, starvation and scorn, we get uncomfortable and feel like Paul is bragging and commending himself for all that He has done for Jesus. We ask ourselves, doesn’t this go against boasting in God instead of boasting in ourselves? That criticism would be true, if the people he was pleading with in the Corinthian church valued those kinds of things, like suffering for the Gospel of Jesus, but from what we could tell, they didn’t What they valued, in that highly influential and materially wealthy city, was the exact opposite, they valued those things that were materially successful and smooth speaking with all of the trappings of popularity to them. They may even have been looking at someone in the city at that time who had all of those trappings and when compared to Paul, he seemed shabby, like yesterday’s news.
So what did Paul do to commend himself to the heart of the people that he loved so very much, that he gave so very much to pastor and to share the Gospel with? Did he try to compare himself to that ideal person they had in their head, make himself seem more attractive or wealthy, try to get into a popularity contest? No. Instead, he took the ultimate of risks, he knew that even though he loved them that he wasn’t really what they were looking, so instead of trying to become that idealized person, he was completely honest and frank with them about who exactly he was and what he had experienced for the Gospel of Jesus and for their sakes as well, knowing full well they may reject him even all the more.
But in holding up this list and showing with such utter honesty and clarity how much of a loser he really was in a material and popularity contest, he also holds up for them the honest truth that we have been discussing, that even though he may be bankrupt materially by the grace of God he was wealthy beyond compare in the Spirit and God’s love. Look, he says, we are treated as liars but we have the very truth of God, we are not known in popular circles but we are known fully by the love of God, we seem to be dying out here but we are more than Alive in the Spirit, we seem poor but we are making you rich in the Gospel, we seem like we have nothing but look we have everything.
This is the contradiction that seems to follow those who follow the crucified savior, it seems as if Jesus had nothing but look He has everything in the palm of his hands, Jesus was rejected and abused but look He is the very love of God from eternity, Jesus was dead but look he is alive eternally and gives life to those who believe. This is the life of Christ that gives to us a faith-filled perspective and seen through the eyes of faith. We have material possessions, some less, some greater, but look what we truly possess is eternal held with God in the heavens. We may be hurt or abused, or even rejected for our faith, but look we look we are received, loved and made whole. We will die but look we are alive in Christ.
In this life now we will have to make choices on which side of the scale we will put the weight of our time and our energy, and it is good to consider the cost and to choose wisely, knowing that the time put on one side, will make that side heavier but may very well make the other side lighter. What is the better investment of who you are and the time that you have in this world, does it make eternal sense to allow yourself to become bankrupt in the spirit, heart and family because of the time and energy spent on the other side of the scale? Jesus’ warning speaks as true for us today as 2,000 years ago: what good is it for someone to gain the whole world but to lose their soul?
As a father’s on Father’s Day this really struck home for me as a constant reminder about where my true wealth lies and the investment I would like to place in that wealth to watch it grow. Amen.