Sermon Manuscript . . .
People, Not Things, Are Eternal
Italian millionaire Gianluca Vacchi–when it comes to wealth and a life of extravagance, this guy’s got it! His Instagram (with over 14M followers) shows off his lavish lifestyle aboard private jets, yachts, and fancy cars. He has apparently amassed so much that he said in one interview, “At 45, I realized that the world didn’t have anything to give me anymore,” as he blasts social media with photos enjoying multiple vacation homes, dressed in tailored suits, velvet slippers, and his weird pajama collection.
Meet Julia Lorraine Hill, an American environmental activist known by the nickname “Butterfly”. In the late 90’s as a protest, Julia climbed up and lived in the branches of a 180-foot-tall California redwood tree for 738 days, to prevent it from being cut down. Julia refers back to a near-death car crash that brought her to a turning point in life. She says, “As I recovered, I realized that my whole life had been out of balance. I had been obsessed by my career, success, and material things. The crash woke me up to the importance of the moment, and doing whatever I could to make a positive impact on the future.”
Last, Monalisa Perez and Pedro Ruiz–this one’s sad, a teen couple who had a plan for fame. Ruiz convinced his girlfriend, Monalisa, to make a video for social media, in which she would fire a handgun into a book he held in front of his own chest. They told their online followers it would be the most dangerous video ever. On-camera, he holds the book, she pulls the trigger and the bullet goes right through the book. Emergency responders tried to save him, but he died on the scene. His aunt had, beforehand, pleaded with him not to do it, asking him why? Ruiz told her, “Because–we want more viewers. We want to get famous!”
Whether for wealth, luxury, environmental cause or fame, these people were willing to give their lives (even give up their life) for the thing that they valued. Tonight, our topic is “People (not things) are Eternal.” I think we actually have been calling it “People (not things) Eternal,” which is grammatically incorrect and makes you sound like a caveman. If I could retitle this message, I might call it “Life is short, invest in souls!”
So here’s where we’re going! I’m coming at this topic with a dual purpose–I want to help us as Christians to be equipped for reaching a world that worships things. But I also want to challenge us on our own attachment to the things of the earth and push us toward a deeper love and commitment to people. This is not an expositional message–we’re going to work our way through a number of selected passages. I’ll spend a little extra time here at the start to lay out some basic truths, and then I’ll give you five key takeaways.
As Christians, our eternal perspective on life and the direction God gives us for how we’re to spend this life (in light of eternity), sets us on a very different course than the rest of the world. In Matthew 28:19 to 20, the Bible gives us a very people-oriented commission. We are called, as Christians, to make disciples–to spend ourselves on intentional relationships with people for the purpose of either their salvation or sanctification. That’s why FBC builds all of our ministry philosophies around the goals of either people coming to Christ or becoming more like Him. This is the main activity that God has given us to bring Him glory while on the earth.
What we see in the world, like the examples I shared, is a short-sightedness. I recognize that some environmental activism has in view a preparation of a better earth for future generations. But even then, to what end? In every one of those scenarios, the lens of their effort is concentrated on happiness in this life, on this earth. When I have Gospel conversations with people in public or on an airplane, in order to progress the conversation I often point out three questions that I believe are common to every person who walks on the planet. Where did I come from? Where am I going? And what, then, is my purpose while I’m here?
Now the Bible gives us clear answers to those questions. But imagine for a moment how you might answer those questions for yourself without the Bible, without the knowledge of Christ? The person who doesn’t have a saving relationship with Christ, and therefore can’t possess the hope of the Gospel, is left clinging to things.
And there are many wonderful things in this world (because God made it all) He’s given all of us (not just believers, but all mankind)–extremely enjoyable experiences. Taste buds (thousands of varieties of foods), ears (a whole range of sound, beautiful tones in music). Jesus acknowledges these common graces in Matthew 5:45 saying that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
So it’s not surprising when the person who has no eternal perspective attaches their life (all that they are) to things. The problem is, they’re clinging to shadows–reflections of the goodness of God, but not God Himself. And therefore those things will do them no good in the end.
Romans 1:21 to 25 describes this sad reality. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
24Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
Without having their worship redirected toward their Maker, their lives will end in the destruction they deserve. Now hopefully, instead of scoffing at that ignorance, you weep and praise the Lord, knowing that were it not for grace, that would be you. And if you’re in this room and that is you, worshiping the created rather than the Creator, will you pray that God widens your perspective tonight? Your life will not make sense until you repent of that sin and surrender your life to the One who is worthy of all glory! Listen to Ray Comfort’s plea from last Sunday night. There is only one way to salvation, and that is through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now for those of us here who have the hope of Christ, who know that truth can be found in His Word, that His Scriptures are sufficient and can be trusted, how much more responsibility do we have to set aside any preoccupation with temporal things and to spend this short life investing in eternity? Responding to the Great Commission and engaging in the ministry of pursuing souls.
So as we think about bringing the Gospel to a world that is preoccupied with things, let’s turn it to ourselves–what preoccupies you? What are the hours and days of your life devoted to? You go to FBC, so I know that you know that we’ve been called to be engaged in this Gospel ministry. But are we?
Evaluate–what gets more of your time, entertainment or evangelism? What preoccupies your thinking, that next game, next toy, next vehicle, or using your gifts to serve others in the church? Maybe your thing is an all-consuming focus on health, fitness, body-building? Maybe you’re a young mom with a strong preference about how to raise your child, and instead of encouraging life-on-life camaraderie among other moms, the way you hold your opinion is actually distancing you and even causing quarrels?
There’s a wide spectrum when it comes to the things that distract us–and Christians aren’t exempt. Maybe we’re not living in trees or spending thousands of dollars on pajama collections, but do we prioritize that which is most important to God? Because “People (not things) are Eternal.” Life is short and we should be investing in souls. So how do we maintain that? Here’s our turn to five takeaways–five actions to push you toward God’s heart for people.
First Repent of your IDOLATRY
When things take the place of God and doing His will, that’s idolatry–call it that, both in our own hearts and as we communicate the Gospel to unbelievers. The person who has built their life entirely around the things of the world needs to realize that the God who made it all is jealous for His glory! That’s what Paul’s communicating in Romans 1, the exchange of worshiping the made instead of the Maker.
In the book of 1 John, John give us all these tests of eternal life–so what’s one of the ways we can know that we’re truly saved? First John 2:15 to 17, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
Notice how that passage lists “the things of the world“? And what are they? Two lusts and a pride–they’re heart attitudes. Idolatry is always about the heart. It’s affixing value to anything above God. So when you’re looking for idols, look in, to the disposition of your heart, to the attitudes behind the actions. For example, sometimes the thing that we want more than God’s glory when it comes to our relationships with people is control. Is that ever a thing for you?
As you invest yourself into someone you’re discipling, and change just isn’t coming–and you just want to jump in with your own strength and make them change. But haven’t we forgotten that it’s God alone who does that work of transformation? I would say a sinful desire for control is often at the heart of what keeps an unbeliever from laying aside their earthly pursuits. They want to stay in charge–a relationship with things gives the impression that you’re in control, but a relationship with God means He controls you. And that scares people to death.
On the street where I grew up in Maryland, there was a family who owned a German Husky–his name was Greyboy (it’s the dogs that kinda look like wolves). When I was in 2nd grade–with no warning, Greyboy bit me in the face. Wasn’t the worst injury in the world, but I ended up with about eight stitches in my cheek. My parents had the awkward conversation with the neighbor who owned the dog just to ask–“Is the dog safe? Should he be put down maybe?” And our neighbors were absolutely appalled by the idea. Greyboy was like a part of the family! So, we just let it go.
Within the next three years, Greyboy attacked four other people in our neighborhood, and the last one was a little 3-year-old boy who ended up with hundreds of stitches and staples, and almost lost his ear. Look, I loved Greyboy, but that animal was a threat–and the really scary thing was my neighbor’s perspective on the harm their dog was causing. If a human being had done the things that Greyboy did, they’d be locked away. I know there are some of you who love your pets, and I’m cool with that, but can we all agree that placing your pet above the well-being of your neighbor is a messed up value system?
The unrepentant sinner’s idolatry is often hidden from their own sight. But every unbeliever has a system of worship they live by, whether they recognize it or not. And when you have those Gospel talks, you will serve them well by pinpointing that idol, and helping to show them its frailty–at some point, that made-up god is going to fail them.
I shared the Gospel a couple of weeks ago with a young gal, a student, at the MSJC campus. She was somewhat resistant, but at one point I just encouraged her that when she comes to that next difficult trial in life and finds herself in a dark pit, to look to Jesus. She interrupted me, “Oh I’ve been in that pit before! I know that when those days come, there’s only one person I can rely on and that’s me.” There’s the idol. So I said, “What happens when you fail you?”
Their idolatry must be exposed and they must repent. So too, if we who say that God’s glory is first in our hearts and that we prioritize His will over our own, then we must repent.
Second Cultivate an ETERNAL perspective
If we’re going to prioritize the ministry of eternal souls, our lives must be geared heavenward, aligned with Christ. Paul says in Philippians 1:21 to 24, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”
Paul was content, whether dead or alive, because he had Christ either way. The one thing that kept him hanging on to this life, as he sat in prison longing to be with his Savior, was people–the chance for further ministry to souls. Do you live with so much of a Christ-centered eternal view that each day God keeps you here on earth–your attention is only on the stuff that counts for eternity?
Remember what William Wallace said (or Mel Gibson’s Hollywood version)? “Every man dies–not every man really lives.” Apart from Christ, we are all dead–that’s what Ephesians 2 tells us. We are spiritual zombies. And that death, unless Christ intervenes, is death forever–eternal. So you know what that means when a soul perishes without Christ? They go from death to eternal death. They never really live.
But here’s the glorious good news of the Gospel–when God awakens the soul, Ephesians 2:4, are you ready? We are raised to life, so that though we’re stained with sin, we have life and the guarantee that when we leave this place, we get to really live. In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul encourages the Church in the midst of earthly suffering. He says, “Look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
It’s amazing how much people will invest to upkeep their body. I’m not talking about showering, balanced diet, workout routine–I mean people going to insane lengths to hold onto their youthful looks, like plastic surgery, injections, desperate measures to enhance looks. C’mon, people–it’s a losing battle. The “outer man is decaying,” as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4–no one can deny that.
My daughter Finley loves popsicles. When a 2-year-old eats a popsicle, ironically, only about 20% of that thing ends up inside the mouth. The rest is all over the face, hands, clothes, hair, and almost every time at some point, that whole popsicle falls to the ground. And when that happens, do not think for a second that you can throw it away. Oh no, she wants it. She picks it up and attempts to wipe off the nastiness that has attached itself.
The person who is so consumed with their appearance, denying their deterioration, is a little like my 2-year-old, wiping a dirty popsicle with dirty fingers, trying to salvage whatever she can as it melts away. Again, it’s not about neglecting your looks, it’s the danger of being preoccupied with it. If we have God’s perspective, we know God has an awesome remedy for our decaying bodies–it’s called glorification.
A friend I’ve had in my life since my teens, who I relentlessly shared the Gospel with until he specifically asked me to stop–to this day, when I bring up spiritual matters he’ll say, “Well, you know me Pat–I only believe in what I can see, taste, or touch.” He’s just dismissing the conversation, but I know that my friend, and every other unbeliever, has a sense that there is more beyond this life.
In the book that speaks of wisdom and folly, Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has “set eternity” in the heart of man. They know it, and the brokenness of life only accents that desire for something better. Our pastor Chris just said in a message recently, “Heaven is a place we’ve all been yearning for, but just don’t know it.”
Paul talks about a groaning inside us, a longing for that heavenly dwelling–to kick off this earthly tent, and to experience the real, glorified life that we were meant for. Repent of your idolatry and cultivate a heavenly perspective.
Third Store up treasure in HEAVEN
Jesus said in Matthew 6:19 to 21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Then in Matthew 6:24 He says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” Notice again the emphasis on heart. I think it’s important on the topic of money to be mindful that it’s not about having it, it’s the way in which you hold it. The discontented millionaire who can’t get enough wealth to satisfy his craving is no different than the poor man who visits the millionaire’s house and wishes it was his. But your spending, whether you have relatively more or less than those around you, does indicate something about what you treasure. For example, living beyond your means is one of those clear indicators that, instead of owning your money, it’s owning you.
I did a search online and found a vacation site with this slogan, “Your time is valuable.” We wouldn’t disagree, right? But there’s an assumption here about how that time should be used. And what’s their answer? That you spend copious amounts of money treating yourself to relaxation and pleasure, whether you can afford it or not–because “your time is valuable.” A 2017 survey was taken about spending, and 74% of the people in this survey said that they’ve gone into debt to pay for vacation, and the average debt amount of those who admitted to it was over $1,000.
Are you investing in Heaven? And do you prioritize eternal things with it–church, missions, evangelistic efforts, helping those in need? Or would you fit that statistic, having not only spent too much of your money on self, but even gone into debt to gain those experiences? How can we point our resources to this priority of people? A couple of thoughts–have a budget. Uncontrolled debt kills your ability to free up funds for Gospel purposes. Pray and ask the Lord to show you how He might want you to spend His money, and then make sacrifices–maybe forever you’ve been looking at that $15,000 car (and even saved up for it). How about finding one for $10,000 that gets you where you need to go, and mail the $5,000 to one of our missionaries?
Fourth Embrace hard RELATIONSHIPS
We were made for relationship. God saves us through a relationship with Christ, and then places us into the body of Christ to have genuine relationship with one another–and it’s messy. But we are called to dive in, even when it’s sticky, even when its time-consuming, even when the person’s awkward or their sin issues annoy you. My number one relationship on earth, of course, is my wife Natalie–and it’s been the hardest relationship I’ve ever had, and the most rewarding. Every married person in this room would agree–amen?
Investing yourself into purposeful discipleship relationships will require regular sacrifices of your comfort. At the very least, it’s going to keep you up at night, bring you to tears, drop you to your knees in desperate prayer. But it is the greatest activity, with the highest rewards–and like nothing else, it brings God glory.
During VBS ministry in New Zealand, Natalie dealt with some pre-teen gals who gave her some serious attitude. At the beginning of the week, it was really tearing her up–but I watched my wife throughout the week hang in there and embrace those tough relationships. And it was so cool to see those girls at the end of the week totally fall in love with Nat.
Paul, who helped that baby church grow up in Thessalonica, says in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 to 20, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? 20For you are our glory and joy.” My brother Joe was the last in our family to come to faith in Christ, so I got to watch as God drew Him. He and I were in a discipleship group together during our high school years (led by Shawn Farrell). Having seen my brother before Christ, and now in Christ, I know that I will have a sense of major joy when I see Joe stand in the throne room one day, having been ransomed by the blood of Christ and covered in His righteousness, able to worship Him in perfection forever!
Fifth Follow the example of CHRIST
When Jesus came to Peter and Andrew by the Sea of Galilee, Matthew 4:19 says, “He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” Jesus, of course, was the ultimate disciple-maker, and His invitation to those who would follow Him was to come along and do the same. Christ has given every one of us a purpose. Listen to the description in Mark 8:34 to 36, “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?‘”
I think for most young people, eternity is hard to keep in view. But if you are a Christian, you need to hear Jesus’ warning about wasting this life. Let me give you something practical that might particularly help the students in this room. Students, let me give you some advice that, if you take, will put you light-years ahead of your peers. Spend time with older, godly saints. Every one of us should be seeking investment from older, godly saints–and there’s an extra special benefit when they’ve walked with Jesus for longer than 30 to 40 years. And here’s some of the questions you need to ask them–What’s most important in life? How should I spend my time? What matters most?
This is June Adams. She was an older, godly saint that Natalie and I spent time with before we started dating. June was a widow and lived on her own in a mobile home park in Sylmar, CA, and at 84 years old you knew what her life was all about–she loved her Savior, and her heart beat for the lost to know Christ. She also made it her life goal to get Natalie and I married–she was a bit of a matchmaker (thanks, June).
When June went home to the Lord a few years back, because of the impact she had on me, it really awakened me to the brevity of life–the reality that even to live a full 80 or 90 years still fits in the category of a vapor (James 4). One moment we are here, and the next–gone.
This rope represents your life–this small red end is here on Earth before death. And the remainder, that’s our eternal residence! And you know who’s there? Christ and people–not your worldly fame or your thousands of Instagram likes, not your money, your house, your boat, your houseboat, toys, animals or any other thing. There will be Christ and the people that He drew to Himself through the proclamation of His Gospel from the lips of saints throughout history, like you and me.
This life is short–eternity is forever. Are you spending this life on that which counts for this life? People (not things) are eternal. May we give ourselves to that which matters most to God, and invest in souls.