Comfort and Convenience. These two words, perhaps more than any other have become mantras of the consumer-minded West. There has never been a culture in all of history that has maintained the opulent lifestyle that we take for granted. Having things, of course is no sin in itself. We dont need to feel guilty if we have been blessed with a large amount of material goods. What does matter, however, is how we utilize our possessions for Gods Kingdom. Is everything we have (including ourselves) at Gods disposal? Or, are we engrossed in the relentless pursuit of things, scurrying up the socio-economic ladder of the American dream? As Christians we need to constantly evaluate the grip the things of this world may have on us , versus the grip of the Holy Spirit. Are we attached to our material goods, or are they Gods resources, stewarded by us for advancement of the Gospel? Material attachment can prohibit us from pursuing and obeying Gods will in our life. There are times when God asks us to make sacrifices for Him, and the love of things can hold us back from such divinely appointed tasks. I am reminded of Ignatius, a disciple of the apostle John, and the choice he had between a certain death in Rome, or the relative comfort of his pastorate in Smyrna. As he was being led in chains to Rome, he wrote a letter to the Church there requesting them not to risk their own lives in attempt to rescue him from his death sentence in the amphitheater with the lions. In his own words he said:
"I am writing to all the churches, and give this injunction to everyone, that I am willingly dying for God's sake, if you do not prevent it. I plead with you not to do me this unseasonable kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the wild beasts, through whom I can attain to God. I am God's wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so I may become the pure bread of Christ...Do me this favor...Let there come upon me fire, and the cross, and the struggle with wild beast, cutting and tearing apart, racking of bones, the mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body...only let me attain unto Jesus Christ".
Ignatius knew that there was a chance that other believers might be able to secure his freedom. Perhaps he didnt have to suffer the discomfort of his imprisonment. He could have loved his own life enough to cooperate with the attempt to free him. He could possibly escape the torment of being eaten alive by ferocious felines at Rome. Yet, he also knew that he had finished his course. He had sought to bring glory to God during his life; now, he could bring even more glory to God with his death. His sacrifice would continue the legacy of Christ and His apostles, that of lives fully surrendered to Gods will, even unto death. Comfort and convenience can have no part in the equation. In 107 AD, Ignatius became cat food.
Today, we tend to think of the gospel as a benefits package. Blessing upon blessing, gift upon gift, until we are ready to burst with all the good things that Christ has heaped upon us. In a sense, this is true. All good gifts come from God (James 1:17). He has bestowed upon us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Yet, we cannot forget that here we are to be living sacrifices, not merely self-indulgent recipients of Gods goodness and mercy. We need to be constantly expending ourselves for God, with not only our resources, but our very lives as well. This may mean extreme discomfort, inconvenience and labor for the Kingdom of God. Just to highlight this point, make note that when God called Paul, He did not say "Im going to bless the socks off you and make you a household name!" Instead God told Ananias regarding Paul that " I will show him how much he must suffer for my names sake". (Acts 9:16) Frequently suffering will accompany our efforts to advance Gods kingdom. Did the apostle Paul resent this? Did he complain that his theology only allowed for nice, luxurious things? Not so. Instead Paul embraced his calling of laying down his life for Christ. He actually says in Colossians 1:24 that, for the sake of the Body of Christ, he was making up in his own body what was lacking in the suffering of Christ. Although Christ's salvific work on the cross is complete and lacking nothing, God still needs individuals who will emulate the pattern of perfect submission and obedience, to carry the redemptive work around the world, as well as around the neighborhood.
In closing, I must note the obvious point that few of us have the opportunity to actually experience martyrdom in our age and culture. Nevertheless, we need to embrace the same abandonment with respect to our lives and goods when it comes to furthering Gods Kingdom. We must not think that our walk is merely reaping a timely and convenient harvest on the backs of others who have laid down their lives. To paraphrase Justin Martyr in the 2nd Century, it is the blood of Christians which is seed. Someone must continually sow such seed, to ensure a future harvest. Some of us may be blessed with a life of comfort and convenience. Praise the Lord. But we still have to embrace the vision of being a living sacrifice, to be immolated on Gods altar for the sake of others. Some of us have been given much in material resources; but we still, like Ignatius, have to have a heart which is ready and willing to "feed the kitty". Where is our heart with respect to these matters? What legacy will we leave the others who follow behind us? Will we each be remembered as one who pursued the American dream, loving comfort and expediency, or will we be remembered as people who laid everything on the line for Christ? Are we lovers of material goods, or lovers of Gods Kingdom? May God stir in our hearts the same zeal that Ignatius modeled as he went to "feed the kitty". Let whatever trial, sacrifice or suffering that God may have allotted for the sake of His Kingdom come upon us. Only let us "attain unto Christ Jesus".