Human Effort

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Ecclesiastes 5:15 | Commitment

arlingtonWhat is the major commitment in life that consumes all of the time you have? Stop now and think for a few moments and think about what the number one commitment might be. We have many commitments, some not of our own choosing, but there likely is some single commitment that is most important to you. Spouse? Kids? Work? Service to a Country at war? Politics? Sports? Something material like a house or car? Maybe a charitable cause to eradicate homelessness, or hunger is the commitment? I am a practical person and my major commitment is my wife and children. Much of what I do in life is for their benefit. Take a look at the people, ideas, and things you place a commitment on and then ask to what end you are committed to those people, ideas, and things. I ask the question that way because this life is temporary. We are all going to die, and if you are fortunate you will get around 80 years of this life to work on your commitments.

Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands. Ecclesiastes 5:15 NIV

Just think about how temporary that is. Is that Job in and of itself worthy of your time and effort? Is that Charity serving a cause of worth? Is the most current news on Sports Center worth the attention and time?

For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone? Ecclesiastes 6:12 NIV

I reflect on this sobering idea of the temporary nature of this life. As Americans living in the relatively peaceful west my mind drifts toward the east where Israel and Palestine are at war. Where Russian and Ukrainian fighting has accidently killed hundreds of people flying overhead at 30,000 feet. It is so meaningless and evil the end to those lives. More closely to home I look at the soldiers who serve to keep me safe, who serve to keep the shores where I live at peace. That is a commitment from them that I am grateful for, because it allows my commitment to my family to be possible.

There is one commitment I have read about that gives me pause and it is of Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth. They served as missionaries in China around 1900 to great personal sacrifice. Their commitment was absolute and it lasted a life time. Johnathan did not buy Rosalind an engagement ring he gave the money for the ring to the poor. They lived most of their productive life in Asia as missionaries suffering illness and even the death of 5 of their children. They had to flee a 1000 miles across China when war broke out. Toward the end of their service Rosalind returned home to Canada with their children and she wanted Jonathan to return with her. He refused and asked this question to her “Suppose our country were at war with another nation and I, a British officer in command of an important unit. Much depended upon me as commander as to whether it was to be victory or defeat. Would I, in that event, be permitted to forsake my post in response to a call from my family”? Johnathan eventually returned home to Canada at the age of 74 and almost blind. He then traveled preaching the gospel even preaching four times on the Sunday before his death.

Jonathan’s commitment to the Gospel of Jesus overrode any other commitment even to that of his family. I and most others may balk at such a disregard, but he viewed the world as a battle ground that needed his attention. Just like the soldiers who leave their families at home and commit to service in a war in another land Jonathan followed the same ideal.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24 NIV

I think men and women like the Goforth’s grasped the idea of deny and follow from Jesus in a way that I living in the comfort of my job, home, family, and consumerism are afraid to absorb. Johnathan was committed, he was willing to “deny” the life he wanted with all the comforts for a radical life serving Jesus. If this life is temporary and eternity with Christ is forever then are my commitments in this life really the best choices? What does that say about me if I selfishly make myself comfortable while my neighbor who does not know Christ has only this life now to look forward too? Maybe I like Johnathan should “deny” myself even just a fraction of the extreme he followed? Jesus used the word “deny” here to mean that this follower would “lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests”. This word is only used in the Gospels and only in context of words from Jesus to the disciples. Jesus calls us to walk away from the selfishness of ourselves and join Him in this work.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24 NIV

Following where Jesus leads means that the plans I have for myself and the commitments I want to make may not align with the plans Christ has for me. This is demonstrated in the act of Baptism. The individual who has accepted the Lordship of Christ and wants Him to be their advocate before God symbolically is immersed under water and then raised out of the water. The old commitments, life, desires give way to a new commitment, life, and desire.

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life … Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. Romans 6:4;13 NIV

As you think of the commitments that take up your time are there any that might not be so important? Is the one big commitment something Jesus wants from you? My commitment to my wife and children is aligned with the life Jesus wants for me, but Jesus would not accept a commitment to my family to give them only material goods without teaching them an eternal perspective that is in service to God. Would you commit to search the scripture and pray for commitments from God that should be higher in priority? The service to God will last forever. You can take that with you. Service to self in this short life is temporary and none of it will benefit us in the life to come.

Tucker, Ruth A. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya A Biographical History of Christian Missions. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.