There was an intriguing quote given in Sunday’s sermon, the tongue-in -cheek musings of a now-retired pastor. It’s my guess it was born out of a certain amount of frustration with the work of pastoring:
Three Dollars Worth of God
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
— Wilbur Rees
I couldn’t help thinking what a contrast Paul’s testimony is:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
Once his heart had been captivated by who Jesus was and what He had done for him, there was no sacrifice or discomfort too great to make for the love of Christ.
In the face of death itself he was unmoved: But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. [Acts 20:24 KJV]
Paul had been an extremely zealous Pharisee, worthy of accolades among the who’s who of religious persons. But His zeal and self-righteous certainty was completely turned around by his encounter with Christ. Now he saw Christ alone as worthy of praise. All that Paul had done so far in life he likened to dung. Phil.3:7-12
He came to refer to himself as the chief of sinners rather than the most elite of holier-than-thou’s. His life was no longer about attaining and proving his own worth. It was all about Christ—knowing Him more deeply and making Him known more widely. Rather than persecuting the followers of Christ, now he devoted himself to their encouragement, to cheering them on to live lives worthy of the gospel.
D.A. Carson has done an apt re-write of Wilbur Rees’ poem in terms of the Gospel; it challenges me to consider my understanding of the gospel. What does it take to live a life worthy of the gospel?
“I would like to buy about three dollars worth of gospel, please. Not too much– just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust.
I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation.
I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races– especially if they smell.
I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged. I would like about three dollars worth of gospel, please.”
–D.A. Carson, Basics For Believers: An Exposition of Philippians
(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996/2005), pp. 12-13.
It would seem the gospel has been turned on its head in our comfort-loving times, as though it were there to serve our needs, make us successful, boost our worthiness, make us better people and then ensure our eternal bliss. It’s become an aid to living happily now and hereafter, not a radical piece of news meant to transform the way we see everyone and everything.
But what does it take to live a life worthy of the Gospel?
Jesus said: Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Matt. 10:37-38 ESV
For starters, it takes the love of Christ, His for me and mine for Him. No amount of zealous effort to live righteously will take the place of this. Paul’s life proved this out. It was the love of Christ that compelled him.
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. II Cor.5:14,15
To live in a manner worthy of the gospel starts with being liberated by the love of Christ from my compulsions to prove my own worthiness. The Good News assumes man’s helpless, hopeless estate. Until I recognize this to be my condition I will not appreciate the worth of the Gospel.
When we scrounge to take courage in ourselves that we are worthy persons because of some inherent goodness, we are destined to forever thirst for approval, recognition and affirmation of the good things that we do. And likewise we are destined to be forever shifting blame and covering up our weaknesses and faults, minimizing our sin in order to bolster our ‘worthiness’. This may lead to a conscientious and orderly attempt at right living but it will not lead to a life worthy of the gospel. Only a life of love for Jesus and faith in Him as my Righteousness will lead to worthy living. As I trust Him to live His life in me my compulsive efforts to do the right thing will give way to His love-driven ways. As I am consumed with His great worth, my own will seem irrelevant.
As a believer in Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection on my behalf I am called to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel, worthy of this wonder that I should be called a child of God though by nature his arch-enemy. I have been made heir to the righteousness of Christ. This is a walk requiring utter dependence with gratitude for all that He is and all that He has done in me… It has nothing to do with my worth and everything to do with His! He had compassion. He made me His own. Now I live to bless Him not to prove my worth.
For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…Col.1:9,10
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Rev.4:11 ESV