For what would it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matt. 16.26a)
I have always considered this a striking question of Jesus. At the least it assumes a couple of things. First, there is something which is profitable to a person. Not all is in fact futile or nihilistic. A person may profit from something in this life. The question posed by Jesus is, where is that profit to be found?
Is it to be found in the acquiring of the entire world? What would that even look like?
Would this be sole-possession of every speck, every nook and cranny of this big old globe with call Earth? Would it be absolute power, prestige, position, wealth, admiration, indulgences, excesses, and fame to the most absurd measure?
If so, I think many would conclude that would be quite a gain. That, in fact, would be the whole enchilada. It just wouldn’t be some things or many things or even most things: but every thing!
Wow! What gain! What opulence. What extravagance. Talk about the world being your oyster!
And what would a person be required to give up in Jesus’ scenario? His/Her soul. That’s it, some may ask in disbelief?
It’s much like in the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou?, when the three pilgrims pick up Tommy Johnson at the crossroads and ask what he’s doing there. He informs them he had to meet the devil there last midnight to sell his soul to him. In exchange, he received the ability and talent to play guitar. When asked why he would give up his everlasting soul for such a thing, he shrugs and says simply, “Well, I wouldn’t using it.”
What’s the big deal, really? My soul, something I can’t see or touch in exchange for the whole world? That, to many, would be a no-brainer.
Of course, in Jesus’ question this is not all that is assumed. It is also assumed that a person has a soul in the first place.
Many would go a step further than the fictional Tommy Johnson and scoff, saying, “What’s the big deal in giving up something that doesn’t even exist?”
Jesus however, clearly assumes the existence of the human soul.
Gaining the whole world though may seem a far stretch. It seems Jesus is taking the argument and extending it to its most extreme conclusion.
So, let’s back up, and be more moderate in our acquisition.
How about, what would it profit you to gain that job, or that raise, or promotion, or contract in exchange for your soul?
A spiritual sellout.
What would it profit you to gain acceptance with this or that group, recognition in the community, a good name, respect, esteem, prowess, admiration in exchange for your soul?
The fact is, when we sellout, when we deceive, lie, swindle, cheat, undermine, use pretense, scheme, fib, use untruth as an ally, hedge, compromise (in the bad sense) . . . we are selling our souls, or at least our morals.
What does it really profit us? What is the cost of a seared conscience? What is the profitability of a shallow soul?
What have we really gained? Anguish? Heartache? Guilty conscience? Shame? Conviction?
Is it worth it?
Jesus calls us, his followers, to a higher standard. He calls us to a life of sacrifice (see the preceding text in Matt. 16). He calls us to live by his kingdom perspectives.
And this question can reach all areas of our lives . . . what does it profit you to always have the last word? to make the snide remark? to gossip? to cut down a brother or sister who is struggling? to be prideful, haughty? to be mean? unkind? unforgiving? unloving? uncaring? unsympathetic?
What does it profit?
There is no profit. All this is the way of the enemy. It brings harm and destruction into our lives.
The alternative? Lose your life and you will find it in Christ. Give up the achieving, the get-ahead-at-all-costs mentality, the step-on-others perspective; instead, practice the love and mercy of Christ.
It’s only natural to want the whole world at your fingertips and beck and call . . . but, that’s just it, Jesus calls us to rise above this sphere. Why? For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6.19-21)