Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Un-Precious Life

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24).

There is a counter-intuitive, inverse correlation between self-love and ultimate joy. The more one loves self, the more the self actually erodes into oblivion. The more one savors Christ and expends everything for the sake of the Kingdom, he finds himself more alive than ever possible.

After spending three years with them, Paul told the Ephesian elders on the beach minutes before his departure that he viewed his own life as un-precious. He said, “I do not account my life of any value…to myself.” He does not deny that God created him unique or stamped him with the imago dei (Genesis 1:27). He does not deny his role as Apostle or church planter. He says he viewed his life as un-precious to himself (emphasis added).

The un-precious life is the key to living fully and radically for the glory of Christ. Let’s look quickly at four marks of this “theology of self.”

First, un-precious men are often viewed as crazy, even by other Christians. The un-precious man is almost always greatly-misunderstood in his own time. Most think they are weird. Perhaps in some degree they are. Even their parents, peers and fellow believers don’t “get” them because they live so contrarily to their age and culture.

If you want to live like Paul, know and expect that most will not relate well to you. Your reputation among others cannot be highly prized in your own eyes. Often it is not until history looks back upon them that their genius is received.  Think about Jim Elliot (d. 1956) who was martyred at the hands of the Waodani Indians. Consider his wife Elizabeth Elliot who went back to preach to those who killed her husband. Most had tried to talk them out of this “foolishness.” Today we hail them as heroes.

Second, un-precious men take risks because their decisions are not based on self-preservation. This builds on the last point. The reason they often aren’t understood is that they make decisions with little regard for self-preservation. Paul says in Acts 20:23, “The Spirit testifies to me that in every city imprisonments and afflictions await me.”

How is it that Paul seems to have no fear of death? Well the simple answer is that he knows he’s going to heaven. But a slightly more nuanced answer can be seen in his manner of life as well. Paul has no fear of death because he has already died to self a thousand times over. He says in another place, “I die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:31). 

By “losing his life” (to use Jesus’ expression, i.e. forsaking health, material gain, comfort, ease, leisure, prosperity) Paul has “found it” in spending and being spent for the Gospel. Death cannot take anything away from a man that he has already willingly renounced! Over such a man, death has no sway.

Third, un-precious men accomplish incredible feats because obstacles are viewed as negligible. Un-precious men are not inhibited by the obstacles that stop other men because they serve a God that is big enough to overthrow any resistance by His Mighty Hand. Words like “cost,” “risk,” “expense,” and “danger” are not in their vocabulary. David regarded his life as un-precious when he fought Goliath. Joshua considered his life un-precious when he took Jericho.

Fourth, many un-precious men die early through excessive use of the body. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) considered himself un-precious.  He preached 600 times before the age of 20. His sermons sold 20,000 copies a week. He led the first mega-church of the modern era, some 4-6 thousand persons at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. By his fiftieth birthday, Spurgeon had founded some 66 organizations including orphanages, publications, and missions.  His writings today comprise 63 volumes. Many do not know that his wife became an invalid at age 33, and for next 27 years could not attend her husband’s preaching.

David Livingston the famous missionary once asked Spurgeon, “How do you manage to do two men’s work in a single day?” Spurgeon replied, “You have forgotten, there are two of us.”[i] By this he meant the power of the Holy Spirit living within him!

Spurgeon wrote,

“If by excessive labor we die before reaching the average age of man, worn out in the master’s service, then glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of heaven. It is our duty and privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices whose lot it is to be consumed.”[ii]

Finally, of course, the greatest man who lived as though He were un-precious (although He was of ultimate, supreme value in the entire universe!) was our Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

Praise God that Christ lived as un-precious for you. Will you resolve to live as un-precious for Him? 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. Friend him on Facebook at or follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard.

[i] Quoted in John Piper. Charles Spurgeon: Preaching Through Adversity. (1995 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors).
[ii] Ibid.

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