Don’t pursue glory.
Don’t focus your efforts on accumulating treasure.
Such counsel feels wise and biblical. Even commonsensical. The problem is, Jesus is not in agreement. Jesus doesn’t tell us not to pursue glory, power and treasures. Instead, he tells us how to pursue glory, power, and treasures.
@@Jesus doesn't tell us not to pursue glory, power, and treasures. Instead, he tells us how.@@
You Can Always Have Glory
As Christians, our reflexes tell us that we should avoid the pursuit of glory. Yet, at the same time, something deep within us cries out for greatness. The common religious wisdom tells us our desire for greatness comes from our flesh and we must kill it. If you’ve attempted this, you know it is not easy. Yet, Jesus provides us another way. He tells us to to redirect our desire for greatness away from the paths the world offers and toward the path that will truly lead us to our destination.
As his disciples broke out into an argument over who would be the greatest amongst them. Jesus, notably, did not respond to them by saying, “You should not desire to be great.” He responded to them by saying,
“…Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-27)
In other words, Jesus affirms his disciple’s desire for greatness, but informs them that the only way they will ever be great is by imitating Jesus, the Suffering Servant, who voluntarily lays down his life in service for others.
In Matthew 23:11-12, Jesus again teaches, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” In this passage he both a) endorses the pursuit of greatness and b) points us to the only road that leads there.
Thus, if we follow Jesus’ example, we should stop telling people to stop worrying about being great and start telling people that the only way to achieve the greatness they desire is to get busy serving others in humility.
You Can Always Have Treasure
In a similar way, we Christians have an instantaneous negative reaction to the pursuit of treasures. Such pursuits sound like greed to our ears, and we know greed is sinful and foolish. Yet Jesus does not seem to share our assessment. In fact, Jesus explicitly encourages us to accumulate as many treasures for ourselves as we can.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.¨ (Matthew 6:19-20)
Here, Jesus takes a similar attitude toward the pursuit of treasures as he does toward the pursuit of glory. Instead of telling us not to do it, he tells us how to do it successfully. Just as real glory is only found through serving others, real treasures are only found in eternal things rather than temporal things. And Jesus wants us to accumulate as many such treasures as we can.
@@Jesus wants us to accumulate as many treasures as we can.@@
In fact, people often point to the famous story of the rich young ruler as evidence that Jesus is opposed to the accumulation of treasures. But this is the exact opposite of what Jesus actually says. When Jesus tells the rich, young ruler to generously give his riches to the poor, he does not tell him to do so in order to renounce the pursuit of treasure. He tells him to do so in order that he might gain more treasure, real treasure, eternal treasure in heaven.
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Once again, Jesus both a) endorses the pursuit of treasure and b) points us to the only road that leads there. In doing so, he appeals to a desire that we Christians tend to think of as inherently sinful —the desire to accumulate treasures— as a means of motivating his people to faithful obedience.
@@Jesus appeals to a desire Christians tend to think of as inherently sinful as a means of motivating us to obedience.@@
Thus, if we follow Jesus’ example, we should stop telling people to stop worrying about accumulating treasures and start telling people that the only way to obtain the treasure they are seeking is to direct their efforts toward the only treasure that lasts.
We would be wise to re-evaluate how we think and speak about our desires, especially those that sound to us to be inherently sinful. We may find that these “sinful” desires are, in fact, desires Jesus wants us to fulfill and for which he provides fool-proof instructions to do so. We can confidently trust Him as our guide, as he himself found glory through his service (Revelation 5:12) and eternal treasure through his stewardship (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. His books, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused By Absent, Abusive & Aloof Fathers and The Gospel Is: Defining the Most Important Message in the World are both available now. Connect with him on twitter or facebook.