January 14, 2015

Eternal values

After watching bumper-to-bumper traffic headed to the car collectors auction, I’m thinking about possible reasons I might build a collection, particularly of things that are not needed. When I was a teen, I collected pictures of Elvis Presley. Before that, it was stamps, and pictures of horses. Since becoming a Christian, I’ve moved too many times to keep stuff, except books. I cannot think why I might want any collections. My hubby thinks some might collect things because no one else has that car or that many cars, but that hardly applies to salt shakers or cardboard boxes. For collectors, their hoard of items has some sort of great personal value.

As I read the above passages, values seemed a consideration. In the first reading, two brothers were always in competition. When one of them, Jacob, was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field. He was exhausted and said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!”  

Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now” and Esau replied, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob made him swear away his birthright for the bread and lentil stew, and Esau ate and drank and rose and went his way, revealing his contempt and lack of value for something he should have highly valued. (Genesis 25:29–34)

(By the way, birthright was a particular right of possession or privilege that a person has from birth, especially as an eldest son. It was usually double that of his siblings, as well as the role of leadership.)

The next passage puts great value on food, drink and enjoyment, which seems the opposite almost to the attitude of Esau who put value there and lost something far more important than a bowl of stew. This time the Bible says, Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18–20)

Considering the context in both passages, my conclusion is this: God speaks to both ends of the spectrum. There are people who are so interested in food and personal comfort that do not consider the worth of more important things. These people need to consider the life of Esau and how he lost out because he desired instant gratification. However, there are also people so bound up in having purpose and performing their duties that they cannot enjoy the pleasures God gives, either in their work or in their possessions.

It takes a lifetime to learn what God values and how to make that my values. The disciples of Jesus were learning that too. They wanted to be great (who doesn’t) but when they asked Jesus how to attain that valued goal, He called a child into their midst and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1–4)  God values humility, even to the extent that He considers it greatness. Have I learned that yet?

A few verses later, Jesus gave them (and me) something else to think about. He told them, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” (Matthew 18:8–9)

I can hear Jesus say to Esau, “If your hunger is going to make you forfeit what is good, then don’t ever eat again lest your stomach holds you in bondage to sin.”

Jesus values a holy life and saving faith far more than He values physical wholeness. Some say He is speaking metaphorically, but the message is clear; I’d be better off crippled and maimed – than whole in body but sinful in behavior. Sin is a far worse enemy than is illness or physical impairment.

One more passage gives another set of values, this time using the image of a shepherd and his sheep. Jesus asks, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.’ (Matthew 18:12–13)

Jesus values redemption, salvation, saving the lost. He suggests that I be willing to leave the comforts of being with those who are where they should be and go find those who are strayed and lost. In the mind of the Lord, the lost are worth the search. They may resist my efforts to restore them, but that does not change the fact of their value, to God. He wants me to value people as much as He values people.

This is much to think about, yet the bottom line is simple: value what is important to God. Leave behind my pride in what I think has value and base my life and my activities on the eternal value system of the Lord. 

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