“In the same way, you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
The notion of sacrifice is so alien to our culture in the western world that this verse needs to be emphasized as well as the previous one. It is one thing to make a personal decision to pour oneself out even unto death for the purpose of building the Kingdom of God. Yet it is entirely another thing to be prepared to rejoice when one that you love is doing so. How quick become filled with worry for others when those we care about make such a decision.
My favorite missionary from history is a man named John Paton. John discerned a calling from God to travel to the New Hebrides Islands with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The problem? The tribes that lived on the islands were cannibals and had already slain (and eaten!) one group of missionaries who had traveled to that island group. When John announced that he would be going to Tana Island in the New Hebrides, a member in his congregation sought to change his mind. “But they will eat you!” said the man to John. John’s reply echoes the spirit of the Apostle Paul in this chapter; John said, “But when you die and they put your body in the ground, worms will eat you! Whether worms of cannibals, what difference does it make if I am serving God?”
How often, our response to those who are ready to pour out their lives for the Gospel is to tell them they need to pull back. How sad it would be if they were to die young, having spent themselves for the glory of God. How often it is counseled to young ministers that they need to slow down and pace themselves so they don’t burn out and so that they can have long ministries until they are ready to retire comfortably in old age. While I have no desire to disparage those to whom God has given a long and healthy ministry and have been able, in their old age, to look back and see how the hand of God was moving through them, we should be ready to “spend and be spent” for the Gospel, as John Wesley put it. And we should rejoice with those who have such a commitment.
As I write these words, my mind also thinks of those brothers and sisters of ours who come to faith in Muslim areas and who often face terrible repercussions for their conversion…many even losing their lives. Yet, would we be content to not evangelize them? Would we think that for them to live a healthy comfortable life here on earth is worth their losing their soul in Hell? Where a trade off needs to be made — comfort in this life or comfort in the next — which will we choose for others or for ourselves? Though we may live a hundred years on earth, what is that in comparison to eternity in glory? We place such weight in the here and now that we often lose perspective on the eternal. Rejoice, beloved, in the things that God has done in you but also rejoice and be glad for those that God has privileged to have their lives extinguished in the proclaiming of the Gospel. Grapple to taste just a bit of God’s eternal perspective rather than to be satisfied with the passing perspective of earth.