Of all the questions Jesus asked none rise higher than the ones found here: Matthew 16:26 “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Jesus would not have asked the question unless it was possible or even realistic. Sadly, history is littered with men making trades for their souls. In biblical times, Judas traded away his soul for recognition and a few pieces of silver. Esau traded his birthright for a temporary reprieve from hunger. Demas traded his apostolic authority for the attractions of the world. Paul wrote that Demas “loved this present world.” He must not have considered the next world.
The exchange doesn’t seem rational in light of eternity, but there are no shortages of bad deals. Some trade fellowship and the preached Word for a football game. Some trade communion with Christ for the pursuit of money. Even worse, there are people who allow grudges and bitterness to separate them from the church. These things stand as deterrents to the Cross. Paul asked, “What shall separate us from Jesus Christ? Shall trouble or strife? Success or failure? He asked such things to provoke the reader to think about the loss in separation and to proclaim his own adherence.
Time in the ministry has taught me that those who make such trades never think that they are trading away their soul. Bitter or entangled people rarely think they are. They see it altogether different. The exchange is never viewed as spiritual death or turning away from the Truth. In the moment of conflict, pleasure, or pain, they do not recognize that they are forfeiting the very thing that matters most: Eternal life! While they are gaining things that rust and fade away, they are losing what cannot die. All the rest is like dust cast against the wind. All of it fades leaving emptiness behind.
What if, “he shall gain the whole world”? What would it amount to in the end? The loss of the never-dying soul is too great to bare. In fact, juxtaposed against a timeless state, nothing compares. Weighed against Heaven and all it entails, everything else is petty and meaningless.
Jesus asked the question and surprisingly there is an answer. Some speak of being disenfranchised, while others talk of busy work schedules. The list is endless, but so is Eternity.
Jim Elliot’s words ring deep in my heart. I’ll offer them to you:
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. “
I leave you with an old lyric of deep meaning, “Only what you do for Christ will last.”
Pastor Jeffrey Harpole