The Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin court gnashed their teeth and covered their ears. They refused to listen to another word from the deacon Stephen. A murderous mob then rushed on the accused and dragged him out of the city to the edge of a deep pit.
Seething with hatred, some of the men who falsely testified against Stephen removed their outer cloaks to more easily perform their task. The deacon‚Äôs hands were bound, and he was pushed into the pit. Seeing he did not die from the fall, two people hefted a large rock above Stephen‚Äôs chest and thrust it down, crushing his rib cage. Then, those watching began taking up whatever stones they could find and hurled them at him until he was no longer breathing.
Stephen‚Äôs death marked the first martyrdom in the New Testament Church. (Read Acts 7 for the full account.) While the exact details of his execution are unknown, the above scenario matches how stoning traditionally occurred in New Testament times.
Except for John, all of the early apostles faced execution. Peter‚ÄĒcrucified upside down. Paul‚ÄĒbeheaded. Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Simon and Jude‚ÄĒalso crucified. James, the son of Zebedee‚ÄĒslaughtered with a sword. Matthew‚ÄĒaxed to death. James, half-brother of Jesus‚ÄĒthrown off a high point of the Temple, then killed with a club.
Hebrews 11 describes God‚Äôs faithful being tortured, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn asunder, slain with the sword, afflicted and tormented (vs. 35-38). And this did not just occur in biblical times. Martyrdom has been a constant theme throughout the Church of God‚Äôs history.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica records that the wife of Holy Roman Emperor Justinian ‚Äúhung, crucified, beheaded or drowned some 100,000 of them [Christians, true and false], and drove yet more‚ÄĚ into the wilderness.
In the 1100s, the Waldensians lived in the hills of France during the time of the Inquisition. Under this system, Christians, both true and false, were imprisoned, burned alive, raped and murdered. Many times there were mass executions. In one instance, 200 were killed.
This continuous record of persecution and death should not come as a surprise. Christians are to mirror the life of Christ, who was Himself mistreated, brutally beaten, and put to death.
Each of these martyred Christians lived out the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:39: ‚Äú‚Ä¶he that loses his life for My sake shall find it.‚ÄĚ When these brethren wake up in the First Resurrection, they will find themselves in the God Family‚ÄĒready to rule with Christ!
Some among every Church era who preached the gospel of the kingdom suffered persecution, were tried in courts, and even mercilessly killed‚ÄĒall except one era. Faithful brethren at the end of the age are assured they will not suffer such a fate (Rev. 3:10).
Our generation is given an inspiring responsibility‚ÄĒand a choice. For us, living Matthew 10:39 takes on new meaning.
To understand what Christians are required to do in these last days, we must fully examine the passage in question. Return to Matthew 10, and this time read all of verse 39: ‚ÄúHe that finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life for My sake shall find it.‚ÄĚ
While this verse may seem confusing at first, breaking down the words it contains begins to make its meaning clear. If a person actively ‚Äúfinds‚ÄĚ (present tense) his life, he ‚Äúshall lose it‚ÄĚ (future tense). But if he actively ‚Äúloses‚ÄĚ (present tense) his life in the name of Christ, then he ‚Äúshall find it‚ÄĚ (future tense).
Put simply, what you do now has a direct impact on your future.
Yet what do ‚Äúfind‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúlose‚ÄĚ mean?
Thayer‚Äôs Greek-English Lexicon shows the Greek word for find can mean ‚Äúto find out for one‚Äôs self, to acquire, get, obtain, procure‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúto find by enquiry, thought, examination, scrutiny, observation, to find out by practice and experience.‚ÄĚ
The lexicon defines the word ‚Äúlose‚ÄĚ as ‚Äúto destroy,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúto put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúrender useless,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúto kill,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúto declare that one must be put to death,‚ÄĚ ‚Äúto perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed.‚ÄĚ
Given this, the first half of Matthew 10:39 could be rendered, ‚ÄúIf you are finding for yourself, getting, obtaining and procuring for your life now, then your life will be utterly lost, ruined and destroyed in the future.‚ÄĚ
Yet the context of the verse shows why we must lose our life now. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus sends His disciples to preach the kingdom of God to the lost tribes of Israel (Matt. 10:6-7). In other words, Christ was commissioning them to do the Work of God‚ÄĒthe same Work the Church does today!
We must give of our lives (lose them) to support the Church‚Äôs commission of spreading the gospel.
This is not the only time the principle of ‚Äúfinding and losing‚ÄĚ is mentioned in the Bible. Similar verses are found throughout the gospels:
- ‚ÄúFor whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it‚ÄĚ (Matt. 16:25).
- ‚ÄúFor whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the gospel‚Äôs, the same shall save it‚ÄĚ (Mark 8:35).
- ‚ÄúFor whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it‚ÄĚ (Luke 9:24).
- ‚ÄúWhosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it‚ÄĚ (Luke 17:33).
While these slightly differ from Matthew 10:39, the word save adds another element to what it means to be finding/losing your life. In each of these cases, the Greek word translated ‚Äúsave‚ÄĚ is sozo, which Thayer‚Äôs defines as to ‚Äúkeep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction.‚ÄĚ
The context of these verses reveals Jesus is also talking about covetousness. For example, ‚ÄúFor what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?‚ÄĚ (Luke 9:25). Also, ‚ÄúThen said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me‚ÄĚ (Matt. 16:24).
In other words, a Christian must give up his natural human interests, wants and desires. He must quit ‚Äúfinding‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúsaving‚ÄĚ for this physical life. (Recall the definition for find: ‚Äúto find out for one‚Äôs self, to acquire, get, obtain, procure.‚ÄĚ)
Keep this concept simple. When Jesus spoke of finding and losing, it was always when speaking of doing the Work of God and avoiding covetousness. Spreading the gospel requires prayers and funding. If a person holds back and overly focuses on this present physical life (finding it), he cannot do his part in supporting the Work financially or with prayer.
Here is the responsibility for Christians: they must organize their lives, removing (losing) everything that hinders them from prayerfully and financially supporting the Work of God. This means we must all dig deep and carefully examine every aspect of our lives.
There is one more element that Christ often mentions with the finding/losing principle‚ÄĒthe last days. This is most clearly seen in Luke 17: ‚ÄúAnd [Jesus] said unto the disciples, The days will come, when you shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and you shall not see it‚ÄĚ (vs. 22).
What follows is an explanation of what condition society will be in before Christ returns. The account continues: ‚ÄúAnd as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed‚ÄĚ (vs. 26-30). (The companion passages in Matthew 24 make clear that Jesus is speaking of the last days.)
The conditions of this age make some feel as though there is plenty of time to ‚Äúcatch up‚ÄĚ on prayer, Bible study, and putting their full effort into God‚Äôs Work. But this is impossible! Those who rely on this feeling will not receive the protection promised in Revelation 3:10. Instead, they will be thrust into the Great Tribulation or even fall victim to the Four Horsemen before the Tribulation!
The following verses make this clear and expand on exactly what is at stake if Christians do not ‚Äúlose‚ÄĚ their lives now. Continue reading this longer passage and make note of the fuller context of the finding/losing principle.
Jesus continued: ‚ÄúRemember Lot‚Äôs wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto Him, Where, Lord? And He said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together‚ÄĚ (Luke 17:32-37). (These verses are thoroughly explained in Mr. Pack‚Äôs ‚ÄúThe 1,335 Days of the Son of Man‚ÄĚ sermon series.)
This brings up a choice: either we fully support God‚Äôs Work now, or choose to live for the moment, forfeiting our protection from end-time events!
Spirit of the Age
Realize the uniqueness of what is promised to us. Unlike any other generation, we can choose to be protected from martyrdom. What Christ requires is for us to be ‚Äúlosing‚ÄĚ our lives now.
Look at how people in the world live. Every day, they do what they want to gratify whatever they desire. The attitude exhibited by all is, ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs in it for me?‚ÄĚ This is a fulfillment of Jeremiah 8:10: ‚Äú‚Ä¶for every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness‚Ä¶‚ÄĚ
This is an attitude we must battle daily!
Let the warning of Luke 12 sink in: ‚ÄúTake heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man‚Äôs life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses‚ÄĚ (vs. 15)‚ÄĒand this is the main theme of the next 18 verses, within the context of the last days!
Christ knew covetousness would be difficult to overcome in this modern age of technological gadgets, constant Internet access, and giant department stores filled with items to buy. He knew this would be a society where people are judged by their possessions. This is why He often emphasized greediness when discussing the end times.
Excess ‚Äústuff‚ÄĚ makes it much harder to focus on spiritual things. These put our focus on the ‚Äúhere and now,‚ÄĚ and not on God‚Äôs kingdom. They all distract us from our top priority (Matt. 6:33).
Finding or losing your life can be summed up in the principle of ‚Äúgive versus get.‚ÄĚ Are you living your life to get, accumulate and gain whatever you desire? Or are you constantly giving your time, resources and prayers to help the Church and Work?
When we ‚Äúfind our life now,‚ÄĚ our time is consumed in getting material things, with little room to pray, or think about how to proactively support the Work.
In the end, covetousness hinders you from putting your whole heart into the Work. This results in smaller offerings, less prayer and study, and limiting how God can work in your life.
The following verses should serve as regular reminders to flee covetousness:
- ‚ÄúLove not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides forever‚ÄĚ (I John 2:15-17).
- ‚ÄúBut we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition‚ÄĚ (I Tim. 6:7-9).
- ‚ÄúLay not up‚Ä¶treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up‚Ä¶treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal‚ÄĚ (Matt. 6:19-20).
- ‚ÄúThe heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours: as for the world and the fullness thereof, You have founded them‚ÄĚ (Psa. 89:11).
- ‚ÄúThe silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, says the Lord of hosts‚ÄĚ (Hag. 2:8).
The last two verses should frame our thinking about possessions. Everything we have belongs to God and was given to us by Him.
Treasure in Heaven or on Earth?
Many of God‚Äôs people live in nations that still enjoy the blessings God promised to Abraham‚ÄĒbut only for a little longer. They have a standard of living previously unknown in human history. Almost all have nice homes and apartments with modern conveniences. This presents a grand opportunity for Christians. These blessings mean more is required.
With all the resources still available to many of us today, are you storing up treasure in heaven or on Earth?
Each of us should ask ourselves this question on a daily basis: ‚ÄúAm I actively losing my life now‚ÄĒwith the Work of God my main focus‚ÄĒso that I will save it later?‚ÄĚ Be careful not to give yourself a passing grade too quickly. Rather, meditate on the matter and look deep within yourself.
Then, when you look around your home, ask, ‚ÄúAre there items lying around that I no longer need, which can be sold to help further God‚Äôs Work? What about old clothes, equipment, cutlery, tools, machinery, etc?‚ÄĚ Many times, things sit in our homes gathering dust. Do we really need them?
Now consider your offerings. Scrutinize every purchase you make. What is the motivation behind it? Do you really need an item? Are you going without some of your wants (desires) so you can give bigger offerings?
Whether we are rich or poor, God expects us to change our thinking going forward. Time is short.
As you do this, think of what all the great servants of God would have given to live in this time. What would Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah or Moses have done if the Return of Jesus Christ were imminent? Yes, think of them with your circumstances.
Listen intently as you hear of record-breaking statistics and huge advancements in the Work. Learn to cheerfully give (II Cor. 9:7), knowing the great reward that awaits us.
When the time comes to flee, will we be able to carry all of our possessions with us? The answer is clearly NO. There is really no point of holding onto things we will have to leave behind.
Remember, do not give to the point that you are unable to survive. We can still enjoy a certain level of quality. We need a place to live, food to eat, and appropriate clothes for Sabbath services.
Another caution is appropriate. Because of tough economic conditions, some ‚Äúexperts‚ÄĚ and well-known personalities are telling others to store food, water, gold, silver and cash as protection against the times to come. While it is not wrong to ‚Äúsave for a rainy day,‚ÄĚ excessive storage of wealth and other possessions is unwise and unnecessary‚ÄĒand, for Christians, wrong!
Live the Way of Give
As Christians, we live in this world, but should not be part of it. We are to be different‚ÄĒtransformed by the renewing of our minds through God‚Äôs Spirit (Rom. 12:1-2). Our thinking must go against the materialistic trend of this world. While others are striving to acquire more and more possessions, we must be continually considering how we can give.
God has called us to support His Work. This requires diligent effort. There is still a lot to accomplish by a relatively small group of people‚ÄĒone of whom is you!
We can, and must, sacrifice more for God‚Äôs Work. This can be done if we set our minds on things above (ruling in the God Family) and not on things on the earth (acquiring more and more possessions). Read Colossians 3:1-4.
If we attempt to cling to our possessions and physical interests (save our lives), we will lose out. But if we actively lose our lives now‚ÄĒwe will ultimately find them (first when taken to safety and then in the kingdom).
The choice is before you: will you find or lose your life?