Choosing Between the Good and the Better
Our children were dressed like princesses and pretending to drive race cars while Matt and I sat catching up after lunch. Even after a several year separation, we fell quickly into a relaxed and honest conversation. Our families had always treasured the natural comfort we shared, but opportunities to catch up with Matt’s family are precious and bittersweet — he and his family live in Sweden where they serve as missionaries, planting a church and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.
They had sacrificed the immediacy of loving and supportive extended families and close friendships –good things—to do the better thing of bringing the gospel to those who need it.
When faced with the choice between the good and the better, how do we fight off fear and step out in faith, especially when the direction the Lord seems to be leading is uncertain or requires sacrifice?
God Gave Up His Son for Us
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
I did not fully appreciate the amazing love of God the Father until I had my own children. My sin and the sin of my children can put a strain on our relationship, but any frustrations are a small price for the joy and love of caring for my children.
However, the relationship that Jesus and the Father had before the crucifixion was never strained. Jesus always did the will of the Father (John 4:34; 5:19; 6:38), and for all eternity they had shared perfect communion and love.
Yet, the Father considered it the better (and best) choice to send his only Son into the world to live a difficult life and die a painful death. He sacrificed that which was most dear to him to bring sinners to himself.
Jesus Gave Up the Glory of Heaven for Us
…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
Jesus gave up the immediate connection to the infinite love of his Father to come to earth. He gave up the perfect comfort and beauty of heaven to be born in a stable and live a provincial life. After living a perfect, but impoverished, life Jesus died one of the most painful deaths imaginable for the time.
Jesus thought it better to suffer and die in order to save us than to stay with his father in the joy of heaven.
Paul Gave Up All Earthly Comforts for the Sake of Christ
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6)
I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. (Acts 22:3)
So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” (Acts 22:27-28)
Saul of Tarsus had a promising future: He was well thought of in the Jewish community; of a respected family; trained in the law by a prestigious and honored teacher; recognized as a staunch and outstanding keeper of Jewish law, and chosen to stamp out the growing cult of blasphemous Christ-followers. On top of all that, he was born a Roman citizen, an honor that many paid for dearly.
But when Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, he walked away from all his religious prestige. Not only did he stop pursuing the acclaim of the Jewish religious elite, but he also joined the very group he had been sent to destroy! He cut himself off from his old life as completely as he could so that he could follow Jesus.
In Saul’s case, that only seems right. Saul persecuted the followers of the Messiah! He threw them in jail, likely causing the death of some — it only makes sense that he would leave that all behind to serve Jesus once he knew better.
But what sort of earthly reward did Saul receive for turning to Christ? He tells us in the book of Corinthians:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
Saul didn’t just give up his sinful ways and worldly acclaim to live a quiet, contented life for Jesus. His new life in Christ brought pain, suffering, and anxiety. He even gave up his apostolic rights to be a more effectively minister to whomever he met (1 Corinthians 9:11-12) His entire life became about giving up his rights and comforts in order that the gospel should be spread.
Why Strive for the Better?
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)
The Father sent his only Son to earth to suffer, and Jesus willingly left the wonders of heaven to give us himself. The Holy Spirit prepares all believers for an eternity with God by making them more like Jesus: “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
My friend Matt and his wife were led to uproot their whole family. It would have been good to stay around family, serve in his church, and spread the gospel where he was. That is the life Christ has given many of us, and we can be content with this. However, the burden on Matt’s heart and his prayerful inquiries of God and Scripture led him to make a better, harder choice.
Not all of us will be called to make such a drastic choice; many of us will be called “to live quietly” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and serve Christ more simply; but at some point we will all be confronted with what William Barclay calls “a choice between two goods— that which is good for the moment, and that which for the moment may be difficult and demanding, but which is good in the long run.”
Whenever that choice comes upon us, we must remember the example of God the Father, God the Son, and all those who have gone before us and choose to fully follow Christ, whatever the cost.