Dear Brethren and Friends,
“If only I knew then what I know now...”
Regrettably, changing the past only happens in movies and books, not in real life. Missed business opportunities, a home not purchased, an education passed over… oh, the regrets. The clock never turns back. Well, almost never. There is Joshua’s long day, but even then, there is no indication that decisions could be reversed—only the sun. Missed opportunities are just that: opportunities passed by and that often never come again!
Make Your Decisions with Care
The Bible reveals that the decisions we make today should be made with care, as they may carry with them long-term consequences. Esau realized too late that his birthright was of far greater value than a bowl of soup. He was tired and hungry. How could he know? Then again, how could he not know? God tells us he despised his birthright and, “afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). As we are told in Genesis 27:38, “And Esau lifted up his voice and wept.” The die was cast! Imagine what it will be like in the resurrection when he realizes, to a degree he could never understand in his lifetime, the value of that bowl of lentils: the incredible real estate later given to the sons of Joseph!
Then there is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. We understand this was a parable, but it was given to illustrate a lesson. The person, no matter how rich, who places his efforts and interests into the here and now is choosing unwisely. His “lentils” may come in a more elaborate bowl with more interesting spices, but, still, lentil soup it is!
The real-life young ruler, seeking eternal life, came to Jesus and was given a choice. He could remain as he was, or else, Jesus told him, “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21). Evidently, his vast store and variety of lentils were more important to him than eternal life, for we are told that he “went away sorrowful.”
The lesson that should not be missed is that, following this encounter, Peter wanted to know what the disciples’ reward would be since they had left all to follow Him. Jesus’ answer to them has provided great encouragement to any who have suffered family or business conflict as a result of choosing the truth. “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30). Many of us have experienced the first part of this promise and are now looking forward to the age to come!
Understanding the Costs
Yet there are those who have little vision and who trade away the Kingdom of God for today’s lentil soup. Luke 9:57–62 gives three examples of men called to follow Christ, but who apparently chose to act on other priorities. While the rewards of discipleship are wonderful beyond our imagination, the immediate cost can be significant to mere humans such as you and me. This is why we are told we must “count the cost,” and why we normally review Luke 14:26 and the verses that follow prior to baptizing someone. For Jesus declared, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” We understand that “hate” here means to “love less by comparison,” yet some have been forced to choose between a spouse and obedience to God. Others have had to make a choice that disappoints and angers their parents. And how many have lost jobs or been passed over for promotions for following God’s Truth?
None of this should come as a surprise to those who read the scriptures, but did we ever hear a sermon on this subject in the churches that some of us once attended? I never did! And what about this passage? “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:34–37). We should never take these words lightly or think that Jesus did not mean them!
The Price—and Reward—of Discipleship
The cost of discipleship is being willing to give up everything that is near and dear. While this may be frightening, the reward is worth it. Consider: Is there anything you wouldn’t give up right now in exchange for eternal life in the Kingdom of God, if you knew you only had five minutes to live? What could possibly compare with coming back to life and living forever without pain or suffering? Consider further: Just how long do you have—five minutes, five days, five years, five decades? Not a one of us can know for certain that we will see another day, but even if we live a long, prosperous, and physically rewarding life, it will come to an end sooner than we once imagined. Jesus asks, “For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:26, ASV). And then He promises the person who puts it all on the line for the Kingdom, that he will be rewarded according to his works (v. 27).
Sacrificing today for tomorrow is something most of us do as a matter of routine. We do our homework in school because we know it will go better the next day in class. We educate ourselves to get ahead in the work world. We save some of our paycheck to make a special purchase. We postpone sexual gratification to prepare for a more special relationship with a lifelong mate. And we take time to pray and study so we can have a relationship with our Creator, knowing that we need His daily assistance if we are to be in the Kingdom of God.
How many have we known along the way who dropped out of the race? What form of lentil soup were they pursuing? What difficulty was so great that they would toss in the towel and give up eternal life? Clearly, they lost the vision or never had it. Sadly, most never realized the gravity of the choice they were making. What about you? Do you recognize how the little decisions each day—whether to pray, whether to study, whether to fast, whether to give of yourself for others—all add up to whether you are choosing eternal life or lentil soup?
There are several references in the New Testament describing a future day when some will weep and gnash their teeth over the poor decisions they made. They will only understand after gaining a glimpse into what they traded away. Right now, we do not know all that God has in mind for His faithful children. How can we know? We are physical, mortal beings. God is Spirit and eternal. But we can trust our Heavenly Father. And we can do as Moses, who chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Hebrews 11:25–26, KJV).
We, too, must have respect for the reward offered us and recognize that respect is shown in the daily decisions we make. As Luke 16:10 tells us, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”
Let us act on what we do “know now”—avoiding a future of regret and demonstrating that we choose life over lentils.
—Gerald E. Weston