THE HIDDEN PRICE OF GREATNESS
Greatness is reached by basically one road—the one of sacrifice! There are many expressions of sacrifice, but deep below the involvement, that is what you will find, it is a price gladly paid by a godly few.
It was love for the Lord Jesus that produced this spirit of willing sacrifice that enabled these people to “… live a life worthy of the Lord … bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience …” (Colossians 1:10-12, NIV)
Today’s Christian motto is: “I do not work hard, I work smart.” Unfortunately that leads, in time, too often to not working at all. Unwittingly it often leads to that far too soon! We desperately need a clear understanding of the vital role that sacrifice plays in reaching levels of greatness. It is a big part of character formation and of the nature of faith. Jesus never apologized for saying take up your cross; how do you do that without an element of sacrifice?
We must return to the fact that our Lord, Jesus Christ, was the most extreme radical the world has ever witnessed. He never stopped saying to His disciples, you must give up, forever, your cherished ideas of living a selfish, trouble-free life to be one of Mine!
In fact, we must learn this again by reviewing the New Testament Scriptures and a study of the history of key people, in the history of the church. Those two things alone would give anyone a clear perspective on this neglected subject. If we took this challenge, we would encounter truth plus a great cloud of witnesses, all testifying with one voice about a willingness to lay your life down and pay the price of sacrifice. They would say, it is this that is essential to godliness and effectiveness. I dare you to take a look at those who made a difference, look across all the centuries, the cultures, and the various circumstances for the convincing evidence is the very same—a great price paid of sacrifice, even their life!
So I forcefully contend it’s past time of freeing ourselves from the all too common and prevalent idea that it’s an easy rise to glory. And, yes, many faced persecution and conflict and other expressions of adversity, but it made them better and then great. It seems to have given them a rock-ribbed determination to conquer in Christ. Those exceptional people clearly exhibit the power of the New Testament message that in Christ and because of Christ and with Christ we are more than triumphant conquerors. Paul’s words, “much more than conquerors.”
They would all agree with Spurgeon’s statement, “The meanest work for Jesus is a grander thing than the dignity of an emperor.” They confessed that if it had to do with the honor of Jesus Christ, nothing was small and it always required wholeheartedness. There was a dignity in it and it required discipline and devotion. And when these exploits of faith were done, godly people quickly stepped back into the shadows. They believed, “If the work is done in Christ’s name, the honor is due His name.” (Matthew Henry) So if there is a theme that dominates the New Testament pages, it is that all God’s sons are servants and all servants make a humble sacrifice.
We are now discussing a no excuse attitude. Humility, which we claim, serves us falsely if it does not lead to refusing to shrink from God’s assignment. So that, the plea of unfitness or unavailability is an utterly insufficient excuse for any of us. And if you are diligent in asking, “What made them exceptional?” soon you will discover another factor, they obeyed Jesus in “laying up treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). That is, they looked beyond this world to that world.
The scholar C. S. Lewis, soon after his conversion picked up on this theme, remarking in this way, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next.” There was this spirit in all of them that what they longed for, this world could not offer them. They said in various ways, today we rise up to sacrifice for Christ in service, tomorrow we will rise and be honored by Christ. Yes, they carried a cross, but they looked to one day wear a crown!
Livingston protested; often he was introduced as a man who had “made a great sacrifice.” He said, no, not at all for he was rewarded in the labor now and would be rewarded in the Lord someday.
These self-sacrificing servants of Christ were often not super gifted people. William Carey was trained to repair shoes, so he simply said, “I plod.” What is most significant in every age of Christianity is how these people are using ordinary, natural ability which is sanctified. It’s a lovely play on words, but consider it: you can’t do all you want, but you are to want to do all you can. So, plod on and keep plodding!
And they were blunt about the part sacrificial service plays. The thought often repeated by them was: unless a person’s faith saves them from selfishness into a life of service, it will not save them from out of hell into a life of heaven. For them, true faith worked! So they constantly did everything as if God did nothing and while they constantly depended on God to do everything!
Sacrificial service was the evidence of conversion to that generation. And they expected to be used up and consumed in the fire, often comparing their lives to a blazing candle lit and the wax decreasing. Scottish saint M’Cheyne said, “The oil in the lamp in the temple burnt away in giving light, so should we.” So the hidden price of greatness was selfless sacrifice and the process would burn them away. Yet that was an honor, seen as the highest this world afforded them.
Here it is illustrated in the twentieth century. John and Betty Stam went to China and within weeks after arriving, an invading revolutionary army overran their city. They, along with their baby were arrested, their mission house looted and ransacked. They were made to march miles to another city, but before that the soldiers spoke of killing the baby because it would be too much trouble. When a faithful Christian spoke up, his words earned him a bullet in the head!
Upon arriving, the two were stripped to their waist and marched before people shouting insults at them. At last, John pleaded for mercy for others including his wife and child. The commander told him to kneel and, quick as a flash, he was beheaded with a sword. His wife fell to her knees and again the sword flashed, uniting them in eternity. They died before age thirty, leaving behind a three-month-old daughter.
Within hours news spread of their martyrdom and instantly more money was given to missions in the next twelve months than in the last five years. Hundreds of young people surrendered their lives to missions and one Christian spokesman said, “A life which had the longest span of years might not have been able to do one-hundredth of the work for Christ which they have done in a day.”
Here is an example of loving expendability which happens when our life is saturated by God’s love to the point that it overflows. Call it what it is, “transferring ownership” of our lives to the Lord, and the result is a progressive release from fretting and worry, from pettiness and preferences. But this is only learned through Jesus revealing Himself fully to us—His life becomes our lifestyle. It’s not a copy of Him, it’s a release of Him through us. Let’s make sure we understand that.
But, of course, there will be a head-on collision with our culture, even the Christian culture. Such a person will be out of step while they are in step with Him. Such a person must say “goodbye” to the normal life of most people Such a person will be radical, but then so was Jesus. Was Jesus normal? No, not fully, by this world’s standard, but take a look; even before the cross He sacrificed many pure enjoyments to give Himself to the Father’s purpose. He refused to please Himself, and as He was, so we should be.
John Stott said it succinctly, “Christian love is service not sentiment.” All Christian sacrifice blesses twice—it blesses the one who makes the sacrifice and the one who receives it. Duty makes us do things grudgingly, but love makes us do them beautifully! Too much of what we call Christianity today is drowning in sentimentalism instead of swimming with sacrifice. Real Christian sacrifice is given to Jesus, yet others are blessed, so we give our best to the one we love the most!
So then, always there is sacrifice and even some degree of suffering. “… rejoice that you participate,” said Peter, “in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (I Peter 4:13, NIV) And then the issue is settled with this question: Is it not fully possible to invest our lives in loving service to God and others? And in the end, that does produce more supernatural fulfillment than any other way of life. That is, according to Jesus, the supreme reason for living.
And now a brief footnote, you’re asking, “What happened to the baby of John and Betty Stam?” A faithful Chinese evangelist and his wife buried their bodies and preached in the open air to those in attendance. Following that, the evangelist, his wife, and his son walked a hundred dangerous miles to deliver the baby to the missionary associates. The child was named Helen and lived to maturity with Betty’s parents.