I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.
We would expect nothing less from an apostle. Perhaps we would expect also that a missionary or a pastor of today would have the same or almost the same commitment. But the level of commitment here espoused is for every believer – for Christ said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow after me” (Luke 9:23). We should each deny ourselves and be committed entirely to the spreading of the gospel of God’s grace.
The King James translation in particular uses words that are unusually touching, “Neither count I my life dear unto itself,” and seems to catch the spirit of the phrase with its hyper reflexive-ness. It is easy for us to become self-centered, as though our lives serve to merely entertain us, as though we are eternally staring into the looking glass and seeing the many things we can accumulate in life. Yet such a life has a hollow ring to it, like a one-actor play, where the same actor serves as the director, playwright, and even as the audience as well.
The only life truly worth living is not one lived before the mirror of our own ambitions, but one lived under the microscope of the Spirit. And it is in the act of losing ourselves for the sake of Christ that we find ourselves.
This point of commitment is arrived at not out of fear of God’s sovereignty, but out of intimacy with Him and love of Him. I have often heard people give testimonies that reveal a limited understanding of their true relationship with God. Obedience is based mostly out of what they can get from God, or out of fear of His punishment. They see God as mighty and powerful, but then leave Him there and do not follow the entire revelation of God, that He is also our Father and our Friend and our Comforter. If we do not understand these relationships commitment will also have an unpleasantness about it – as though it is some onerous onus that we have to do, but can never truly enjoy. If there is any unpleasantness about this type of commitment we are still considering our lives as dear unto ourselves, regardless of what we have “given up.”
Henry Blackaby has detailed different levels of understanding of God and how these influence our responses to Him. As (1) Sovereign Lord we fear God but keep Him at arm’s length and our obedience is based on fear of punishment. As (2) Forgiving Savior our obedience is based on gratitude and we are beginning to learn to trust Him. As (3) Loving Father our obedience is based on our need for approval and we begin to trust more in God’s love for us. We progress through these three as we draw near to Him and we learn more of His desire to love us and draw us near to His heart.
Can you imagine that the prodigal son coming home to his father but stopping the father from embracing him? Can you imagine the son saying something like, “Oh, don’t misunderstand me! I am grateful for your forgiveness, but I just feel so unworthy that I do not believe I can ever let you embrace me again as a son”? If he had of said that he would have been thwarting the will of the father, who desired not only to forgive his son but to have him back into his intimacy and close affection. We can do the same with God who desires not only to command us and forgive us but to draw us close to His heart.
As (4) our Faithful Companion He is close to us and our obedience begins to be based on love for Him. As (5) our Good Friend we are walking with Him hand in hand, communing with His Spirit daily, bringing Him into every situation and every challenge of life. Our obedience is based on love and on a growing desire for and knowledge of His will. As (6) our Intimate Friend we never want to leave His presence and our obedience is based on a deep heart’s desire to please Him in every area of our life.
As we grow in this love relationship, there is a transfer of our goals and plans and dreams, from our own selfish plans to seeing the beauty of God’s Person and His plans. We are willing to let go of our plans because we have learned to trust that God’s plans are always greater and better.
Lord, forgive us when we have counted our lives as dear unto themselves. Draw us close to Yourself, to Your heart, to Your wisdom, and to Your purposes. Amen.