Ultimate values -- "Don't throw your life away!"

Commentary on Luke 9 and Matthew 16

Luke 9:23-25; 17:33; Matthew 16:24-27

9 23 Then [Jesus] said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?"

17 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.

16 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

Week 15 (April)

She was blonde. She was cute, and she was in two of my high school classes in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, I have to confess that I don't remember her name. Too many years have gone by for me to remember.

In the summer before my senior year, we moved to Guthrie where my father became the pastor of the Church of the Nazarene. There, in my last year of high school, I met the little blonde.

I was a little sweet on her. I'm not sure she ever was sweet on me. But at least we did get to know each other. One day she found out I was planning to be a missionary.

"A missionary?" she exclaimed. "Oh, Howard, don't throw your life away!"

Throw it away? That stunned me. Growing up as a pastor's kid, I thought missionaries were people you looked up to. You read their books. You prayed for them. You loaded up cars and went to zone rallies where they spoke. Missionaries, to me, were heroes.

That day in Guthrie, I ran head-on into values different from my own. That little blonde and I weighed life with two totally different sets of scales. And that day, our value systems collided.

Jesus, through His story of the rich man and Lazarus, pointed up this difference in values. The rich man was not guilty of great crimes. But he apparently regarded life as one continuous party. He didn't seem to understand the real values, the high stakes we play for in life. As he came face-to-face with his grave miscalculation, the rich man pleaded with Abraham to aid his brothers in seeing the light.

It is easy for us to see some of the applications of this parable in the extremes of human life. But we also should be asking ourselves: What does the story of the rich man and Lazarus say to me, to my lifestyle?

Far too often, the devil successfully tempts good Christians to accept worldly values rather than godly ones.

For instance, during one Home Assignment period, I met a young Nazarene pastor who said to me: "If you don't make it in the church by the time you're 40, you don't make it."

Make it? What kind of language is that? Where does that kind of thinking fit into kingdom values? This is not a corporate ladder we're trying to climb, is it?

Once in a while, the devil comes around to me and whispers, "Hey, you could be making a lot more money in a U.S. church. You could have a much nicer home and drive a much better car."

It's those moments that I have to remember what value system guides my life. My standard of living is a good deal above that of Lazarus, and he, not the rich man, knew the true values in life.

Discussion questions

  1. How can we be sure that we are properly differentiating between worldly and godly values?
  2. In what ways do our personal value systems sometimes collide with those of people around us? How should we handle these situations?
  3. How might the story of the rich man and Lazarus be able to teach us which values we should prioritize?
  4. How can we resist the temptation to succumb to worldly values, especially in a culture that glorifies material possessions and rewards success?
  5. How can we make sure that the teachings of Jesus in Luke 9, Luke 17, and Matthew 16 inform and shape our values as well as give purpose to our lives?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

I wrote this devotional article while Barbara and I were missionaries in Italy. It originally appeared in Standard, a weekly Faith Connections take-home curriculum piece for adult Sunday school classes published by The Foundry.

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