The following post was written by Pastor Larry Lin.
Last Sunday, we covered the first half of 1 Corinthians 15 in our sermon, and one of the verses in this section is 1 Corinthians 15:19, where the apostle Paul writes, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Paul says that if Christianity is not true, if our hope in Christ only applies to our current here and now, and if there are no eternal implications to our faith, then “we are of all people most to be pitied.” But would that actually be true of us?
In other words, imagine that at the end of your life, you find out that Jesus Christ was not the Son of God, that he did not rise from the dead, and that all of the time you had spent praying, reading the Bible, participating in church activities was just one big placebo effect. None of it was real. Imagine that. And imagine what people would say about your life.
Maybe they would truly say, “What a pitiful life this person had!” Or maybe they would say, “This guy wasted some time doing this Jesus-following stuff, but no, I don’t think I would pity him. He actually had a really great life.”
Here’s the thing. Many of us–if we are honest with ourselves–would probably say that if we were to die today, we probably won’t be pitied, either by Christians or by non-Christians. People who don’t even believe in Jesus Christ would say that we had pretty good lives. Why? Maybe because we’ve invested enough in this life to make this life worthwhile.
Jesus says in Matthew 16:24-26, “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
Jesus commands us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. Jesus commands us to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake. But many of us haven’t done those things. We have convinced ourselves that we can save our souls and gain the whole world at the same time. And as a result, we have been living this dual role where we’ve invested enough in Christianity that we would be saved if it is true, but we’ve also invested enough in the world that we wouldn’t look pitiful to others if it wasn’t true.
Obviously, we should not intentionally go out of our ways to look pitiful. Nobody in the Bible tried to be pitiful when they didn’t need to be pitiful. But there is a clear theme in the Bible of people who chose to follow God, and as a result, they looked pitiful in the eyes of others.
Just look at people like Jeremiah, Peter, and Paul. They often looked like fools to in the eyes of the surrounding culture.
Some may, “But what people like Joseph or Esther? Didn’t these people live dual lives where they held secular positions of respect and honor?” That is true, but even the people of example who looked respectable and honorable in the eyes of the surrounding culture did so not because they were hoping in and investing in the world, but because they made God-honoring sacrifices. Joseph’s path to honor took him through slavery, false accusation, and imprisonment. Esther’s path took her through risking her own life to save her people. Or another way to put it is that although Joseph and Esther had positions of honor, those positions required them to intentionally go through pitiful experiences to get there.
And of course, the main character of the Bible, Jesus himself, encapsulated this very concept. He chose to give up his respect and honor, to live a pitiful life, and to die a pitiful death. But now, because he had hope that this life wasn’t it, he has risen from the dead and is now seated in glory at the right hand of the Father.
Regardless of the specific lives God has called us to live, I think that we should regularly be asking ourselves two fundamental questions.
“For the sake of Christ, am I willing to look pitiful in the eyes of the world?” The form or timing of this may look different from individual to individual, but we as Christians all need to wrestle with the basic principle. If an opportunity presents itself when we realize that our faith may cause us to look pitiful, whether for a moment or whether for our whole lives, what will we choose?
“Where am I placing my hope?” Ultimately, our willingness to go through difficult circumstances comes back to where our hope lies. Am I placing my hope in Christ alone? Or am I placing my hope partially in Christ, and partially in the world?
May God give us the wisdom and the integrity to truly deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus.