And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh,” says the LORD. “But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go. (Jeremiah 45:5)
We all suffer the same temptations, and in a world so focused on success, achievement, personal accolades, and self-gratification, the pressure grows worse every day. All around us, the principles that drive society and communities press in, demanding our conformity, and it often happens in subtle ways, making it easy to miss. The world system grows bolder and bolder in raising itself up against the principles of God that we all too often lose sight of the simple truth of His Word that the new life in Christ is the greatest prize of all. We long to be the dazzling butterfly rather than the simple moth.
This is the vital question every Christian should ask: Do I seek life in Christ or do I seek the counterfeit life the world offers?
It may seem that the answer is obvious – we follow Jesus. Of course we seek life in Christ. But today’s verse raises a new perspective. It cuts directly to the crux of the matter by asking us to determine what it is we seek. The implication is that we may well be seeking the wrong things without even realising it. The focus of the question is ‘great things’ which is perhaps the single most difficult temptation to avoid.
The truth is that our human nature – our carnal nature – instinctively seeks great things. We all want to be recognised, to have some value to those around us, for our achievements to be noticed and for our hard work to be rewarded. We want to earn what we feel we’re worth. We want to leave something of value for our children and grandchildren, be it financial value or simply respect. All these things are not inherently wrong in and of themselves, but pride works in us to turn them into fleshly desires – desires which raise themselves up against the spiritual value of life in Christ. Anything of the flesh is always in direct opposition to the Word of God.
The reality is that it doesn’t matter that we don’t hurt or abuse others in our desire for these things. We can be committed workers in the kingdom of God and still have these fleshly needs. Many ‘preachers’ and ‘prophets’ today started off humble and devoted to God’s purposes, but along the way, they have been turned off course by the inner desire for ‘great things.’ In essence, they exchange the life in Christ for the rewards of the world.
The context of today’s verse is a young man, Baruch, whom Jeremiah used to read God’s words to the leaders and princes in Jerusalem. He had dictated the warnings of coming judgement, and Baruch no doubt assumed that all would respond favourably. To cut a long story short, he was bitterly disappointed when the king shredded the scroll and burned it. The young man fell to complaining, voicing his disappointment, having lost sight of the simple truth that his role was simply to deliver the message. It’s a story we can all relate to. How often have we been encouraged with zeal for God’s purposes, only to be bitterly disappointed when others respond negatively to the words we have been prompted to speak? What, we may well ask ourselves, is the point of life in Christ if it doesn’t bring results?
The issue isn’t whether or not the words were of God. Though sometimes, in our enthusiasm, we may rush out before we’ve heard the full instruction, we are often obedient and still face apparent failure. We lose sight of the full relevance of life in Christ – that, like Jesus, we will often be rejected by those to whom we are sent. In fact, it’s quite possible that we should even expect this. In a world which promotes only the ‘comfortable’ aspects of Christianity – blessings, prosperity, and unconditional love – the warnings of God and the truth of our inherent sinfulness and unrighteousness will never be a popular message.
The truth, a lot of the time, is that our disappointment comes out of our seeking for ‘great things.’ We seek some kind of validation, to be justified in the eyes of men rather than in the eyes of God. Today’s verse admonishes us not to seek great things for ourselves. It’s not a suggestion or a request. It’s a clear and definite command, a reminder to guard our hearts and to cut short the temptation to seek out the approbation of the world. Compromise is a slippery slope, one which is all too easy to slide into. The moment we find ourselves imagining the favourable outcome, or how many people will respond favourably, or the difference we will make, that’s the time to pull on the handbrake and get back to God. Life in Christ is never about us. It’s about something way bigger than us. It’s about living in the eternal rather than the external.
We’re also reminded about the one thing we all dread and resist – adversity. Comfortable Christianity paints and unrealistic picture of an easy life, safely sheltered from the difficulties the rest of the world will have to face. This is unbiblical. Life in Christ does not protect us from the adversities that will always confront every single person in this fallen world. While we live in this world, a world ruled by Satan and his minions, adversity is guaranteed. For a true believer, there is more chance of it than for the unbeliever – the devil will do everything he can to turn us from life in Christ. One of his greatest weapons is the natural tendency of human beings to seek great things. If he can set us up for disappointment, he will, but most of the time, we do the work for him.
Yet God promises us our lives. Not the life the world offers, which is counterfeit and transitory. He offers us eternal life, a life lived in the Spirit even while we are here on earth. This great contradiction is the power of God at work in us – when we lay down our lives, we will find them. When we crucify self – the natural human inclinations – we will find resurrection life in Christ.
The power of this manifests in and is sustained by absolute faith. It’s the kind of faith that knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that all things work to the good of those who love the Lord, that He is in control, that with Him all things are possible, that His plans and purposes will always be fulfilled, and that what He has promised will always come to pass. It’s faith that looks to Him for approval, that desires only to hear our God say ‘well done, my good and faithful servant.’ It’s faith that grabs hold of the truth that, wherever we go and whatever we do or say in obedience to Him, He will grant us our lives. In fact, that He already has. Life in Christ here in this world is the beginning of life in eternity.
This is the prize that God has promised and which we should seek. It’s natural to seek great things, and He understands that. Because He understands our human frailty so completely, He has given us His own life to enable and empower us to look beyond self, to resist temptation, and to avoid the crushing disappointment that always follows when self intrudes and sets unrealistic expectations. Life in Christ is not only the prize. It’s also the power to achieve it. But it means that we must recognise and lay down everything that gets in the way, and be willing to live it as Jesus did – totally and completely.
Father, forgive us for setting ourselves up for disappointment by desiring great things. Help us to look past the temptations of the world, to avoid compromise, and to willingly lay down those things that hinder Your work in us. Help us to seek rather the life in Christ You have so freely given, and to leave the outcome of our obedience in Your hands.