Friday is for Heart Songs
The following is from Kairos Journal and excerpts a sermon by Ligon Duncan. Longer than my usual post and written by Ligon, not me. This is a great excerpt. Plus he references Gandalf and uses one of my all time heroes (C.T. Studd, missionary) as an illustration. Enjoy.
The Kingdom and the School of Self-Denial
Ligon Duncan serves as senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi.
Ever realize what the “Battle-hymn of the Reformation” (Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) concludes with? A stirring call to kingdom-inspired self-denial—“Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.”
Jesus the Messiah once said: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matt. 13:44 NAS) The sense of the value, the significance, the importance of the kingdom of God is what produces the readiness to sacrifice displayed by this man who “sells all that he has.” In other words the sense of the prime importance (and blessedness) of God’s kingdom, builds in this man a sense of desire and mission, which is expressed in self-denial (in this case manifested in the selling of all he owns).
As pastors, we live in a generation that knows more about self-indulgence than self-denial. We often minister to privileged congregations, without question the wealthiest Christians in the history of the world, blessed with enormous resources but tempted to use those resources merely for their own pleasure. Consequently, we must as ministers of Christ stress the Christian grace of self-denial—in light of the stupendous value of the kingdom. This should be evident not only in what we say but in how we live.
The irony of the self-denial of Matthew 13:44 is that the self-denier becomes the gainer, because “he gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” What would happen if Christians were using our worldly resources—financial, material, and otherwise—in the service of the mission of the kingdom and with this truth in mind? The very suggestion is mind-boggling. But it will have to begin with self-denial. And oh, this life has become so comfortable.
What we need is pastors who know they are in a fight—a fight to the death. The signs are all around us. The vestigia of Christendom are falling about our ears, and we in the West are entering into a post-Constantinian era (eerily like the pre-Constantinian era) for the first time in seventeen centuries. And yet, even in this, there is great hope. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” as Gandalf said. Will we sit on our hands and hope for the return of the Eisenhower years? Or will we engage with principalities and powers, sell all we have and buy the treasure of the kingdom? Not without self-denial we won’t.
For there can be no victory in this fight without expense, no triumph without cost, no real gain without real sacrifice. Such was God’s way with His only begotten Son. Should His adopted heirs expect any different? No, salvation is the free gift that costs you everything, and if we are to tread the head of the serpent under our feet, it will be with self-denial.
“The first lesson in Christ’s school is self-denial,” said Matthew Henry. We need more Christians in that school. That great pastor-theologian, John Calvin, knew why this was so. He once said: “We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.7.1).
C. T. Studd, one of the great nineteenth-century English missionaries known as the Cambridge Seven, also grasped the vital need for self-denial. He renounced a privileged social position and a flourishing sporting career to take the gospel to China in 1885, almost dying before returning home a decade later. After a few years encouraging students in the U.K. and the U.S. to consider missionary work, Studd spent six years in India and, despite fifteen years of ill-health, the remainder of his life in tropical Africa. Asthma, recurring malaria, and dysentery did not stop him giving himself totally to the Lord’s work. Yet, God graciously used Studd and, through his sacrificial labors, brought many to a living faith in Jesus Christ.
Surely, our generation of pastors could use a good deal more of that grace and fruit of the Holy Spirit that is kingdom-inspired self-denial.