WHAT DO WE LOOK FOR IN LIFE?
The Scriptures and events in the world seem to indicate more and more that we are living in the last days. What should be our focus, our values and our choices as we recognise the impending judgment and the imminence of the Lord’s Second Coming? What would be the problem areas and challenges we will face as disciples of the Lord? How can we make sure that we do not fall in these last days? These are the many issues that will be addressed in this book.
In the last days, it is important for believers to have the right perspective in life. Otherwise, we can easily be led astray from the narrow path of discipleship. In seeking to examine this perspective, it is helpful to ponder over several pertinent questions.
We shall first look at a question which is fundamental and the answers to it may determine the outcome and direction of our lives in the last days. The question is “What do we look for in life?” What is it that truly offers fulfilment and satisfaction to our lives? In other words, what do we pursue; what is our ambition in life? Some of God’s children may of course respond, “As Christians, surely it is understood what we look for in life; after all, should not our ambition be centred upon God and the will of God?” Some others may exclaim, “Certainly it is to seek after God’s desires and to please Him!” In reality, we know that the outworking in the lives of many of God’s children is far more complicated than this. It will be particularly so in the last days.
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times, some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). “But realise this, that in the last days, difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
From these two passages, we notice the difficult times Christians and non-Christians will be exposed to in the last days. The term “some will fall away from the faith” suggests that among them were those who were originally of the faith. The other term “holding to a form of godliness” points to various ones who outwardly appeared to be Christians and yet in reality had gone far away from God. The dangers of pursuing ambitions motivated by the love of self, pleasure and money are not confined to non-Christians. God’s children can also be easily led astray, especially in the context of the pressure and temptations in the last days. Similarly, the ambition to be great and to have power and authority is not only a problem with non-Christians; the Lord’s people, in pursuing such a desire, can easily be manipulated by the evil one and deceived into championing doctrines and teachings taught by deceitful spirits and demons.
The warnings in the Scriptures are clear and distinct. What we look for in life must also be crystal clear to ourselves. Otherwise, we may not even be aware of the secret longings lurking in our hearts which may make their appearance time and again and yet we are not even conscious that they have always been there. So, we may even make assertions that we desire to honour God and to do His will in our lives but these are mixed up with other motivations which may not be far different from those harboured by many non-Christians.
If we ask non-Christians what they look for in life, we may receive a wide spectrum of answers. These may include friendship, love in marriage, academic success, fame, status and wealth. We know that in real life, for many who managed to taste some of these desires, they found no true lasting satisfaction and meaning after attaining them. There are countless true life stories of many wealthy individuals who are disillusioned and bored; equally many are those who find disappointment in earthly friendship, in marriage and in valueless status in this life. However, many others still continue to pursue these temporal longings and illusions, each one saying to himself that it would be different for him – “I would not end up like the other person, when I get rich, I would find true happiness”. The story repeats itself again and again with so many shipwrecked upon the sea of life, clinging on to false hope and memories of what it could have been.
The Bible records for us the varied experiences of one man who had tasted so many things in life and also the verdict he arrived at, at the end of all these encounters (see Ecclesiastes 1:8 -2:11). Notice the wide range of worldly pursuits the writer was involved in, which many men may not even have the opportunity to experience, and yet observe also the tone of emptiness, boredom and despair in the conclusions he made with regard to all these he experienced.
1:8(a)- all things are wearisome;
1:9(b)- so there is nothing new under the sun.
All seem boring and unsatisfying after some time to the preacher.
1:14(b)- all is vanity and striving after wind.
2:1(b)- and behold, it too was futility.
We see this sense of emptiness and despair coming through again and again and pervading the whole account of Ecclesiastes. The preacher, here, had the opportunity to taste all that many men and women longed for and his conclusion was undoubtedly clear – nothing on this earth truly satisfies ultimately. Worldly pursuits appear attractive initially but the end of it all is futility and emptiness; this would be the experience of all those who seek worldly ambitions and live lives apart from God and eternal issues. The world and all it can offer, with all the engineering of the evil one, cannot give true and meaningful fulfilment in life. In fact, hidden in it is much sorrow, despair and spiritual death.
The many pursuits in life and what the world can offer can be likened to the water we drink which does not quench our thirst and satisfy us. True satisfaction and meaning in life is only found in the Lord Jesus and in what He offers. “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life'” (John 4:13-14). Only the Lord Jesus can give us the living water which would truly quench our thirst and give us true meaning and fulfilment, with eternal life. All other water may appear to be able to quench our thirst but it is only an illusion – we will thirst again!
In John 4:34, the Lord gives us an indication of the satisfaction in His own life as well as the implications for our lives. That which is food and satisfaction to Him is to do the will of the Father and to accomplish His works. So it is for ourselves too. If we truly desire true fulfilment and satisfaction, it cannot be apart from the will of God for our lives. All other pursuits, which are not in line with God’s will, will not bring true fulfilment; instead they will ultimately destroy our true happiness and lives.
We have the clear warning from the writings of the apostle Paul regarding the dangers of the love of money and the desire to get rich in 1 Timothy 6:9-10. These can lead on to other harmful desires and all sorts of evil, culminating in destruction and ruin. For the child of God, it might also mean straying from the faith and walk with God. Although the warning is directed at the unhealthy longing to be rich, the principles and implications would also apply to other wrong pursuits in life, which may include the ambition to be great, to have status and power in life. Such desires would lead to corruption and the contamination of the soul.
Even though God may allow some of His children to be in a position of having wealth, status and authority in society, yet, He would require them to maintain the right perspective as well as the proper outworking. We see this elaborated in 1 Timothy 6:17-19 for those who are rich in this present world. What is clearly needful is to keep the right perspective and focus. The ultimate hope and security is in God alone and the outworking should concentrate on the eternal rather than the earthly and temporal. We need, as it were, to store up treasures in heaven, rather than treasures on earth which will rust. The principles apply similarly to status, power and authority. These should be seen in the proper light and they are meant for service and for the building of God’s kingdom rather than for personal desires and satisfaction. We see therefore that apart from God, all earthly pursuits do not satisfy and give fulfilment. Also, such pursuits are temporal; they cannot be looked upon as our true hope and security. They are uncertain and they do not last. Then why is it that God’s people continue to allow such pursuits and desires to take hold of their hearts and lives?
We must recognise that we have a formidable foe who is an expert in the art of deception and temptation. If God’s children allow themselves to be spiritually shortsighted and allow the flesh to feed itself, then, it is not surprising that many will fall away from the faith. There needs to be consistent vigilance in keeping the right perspective as well as putting to death the desires and deeds of the flesh. Only then can God’s children ensure that they walk along the narrow path to true eternal life and fulfilment. 2 Timothy 4:10 stands as a grim reminder of what can be the outcome of the life of one man who had tasted God’s goodness and had been accorded the privilege to be a co-worker of the apostle Paul. Despite his exposure as a co-worker and Paul’s own positive example, Demas ended up loving the world. The attractions, offer and pull of the world proved too much for Demas and he succumbed. Let us prayerfully and humbly seek to be true to the Lord in our direction of life.
What do we look for in life? What ought we to look for in life? We see here the driving force and motivation behind the life of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:8-17. There is a sense of intensity coming through as Paul expressed his desires and longings to know the Lord Jesus, to enter into a deep and meaningful fellowship with Him and to experience the power of His resurrection. In expressing all these, Paul also enjoined other Christian brothers and sisters to join in following his example. He wrote, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude, and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15). It is clear that Paul’s ambition of pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus was not just limited to himself – his desire was that all of God’s children would follow him in the same quest and in the same direction in life. And in this same passage, Paul also lamented that there were many who set their minds on earthly things. As children of God, our citizenship is in heaven and we wait eagerly for our Saviour, the Lord Jesus. It is imperative then that we do not allow our minds to be set on earthly things but instead, we should press on, together with the other saints, along the road that Paul had travelled.
In sharing his godly ambition, the apostle also touched upon areas which manifested his own views and insight into the futility of many earthly pursuits and values. Status in life and intellectual achievements, for example, were things which Paul saw clearly as not valuable in God’s scale of values. If we observe Paul’s early life (see Philippians 3:5-8), there seems to be much that Paul could boast of in the flesh. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew among Hebrews, a Pharisee and someone trained in the religious training of Israel and generally respected by many. Also, in other passages, we know that Paul was also a scholar, tutored by the well known Gamaliel. In his own religious life, Paul was meticulous in following the Law, describing himself as blameless as to the righteousness which is in the Law. Not many young men could boast of such a background in Israel. Yet, all these things Paul counted as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. In fact, in his own words, he counted them as rubbish as contrasted with knowing and gaining Christ. He knew that status, background and intellectual achievement, by themselves, could not contribute in any significant manner to his quest to know the Lord and to be like the Lord. The Lord God might be able to use such areas if they are properly surrendered to Him. Nevertheless, these areas can easily be used to bolster the flesh rather than contribute to true spirituality. In his own life and ministry therefore, Paul was careful not to depend on human wisdom or human resources to fulfil his objective. The apostle, having seen clearly these issues, did not allow himself to pursue status or intellectual achievements as part of his ambition and longing in life.
We see the great adaptability of the apostle Paul in his life and ministry in Philippians 4:11-13. We note also how wealth and luxury did not have any hold on the life of this godly apostle. In whatever circumstances he might be in, Paul learnt to be content and not only this, he could adjust himself to carry on in humble means or in prosperity. Whether hungry or filled, suffering need or in abundance, Paul pressed on with his goals and ministry. With such a posture and with such deep convictions, the temptation to get rich or to be physically well-off had no effect on the life of this man. Paul was very clear as to what he looked for in life. Obviously, wealth and material success were not items which interested him in the least. He knew how to make use of the circumstances to fulfil his responsibility and commitment to God and His kingdom. Certainly, we can do well to learn deeply from Paul in this instance. And if Demas had learnt this well from Paul, he could have kept himself pure and true for the Lord. But alas, he did not have the strength and convictions to see him through.
What about friendship and emotional ties? These are not wrong in themselves but could such areas be snares that cause the Christian to compromise? In the epistles of the apostle Paul, we can see many occasions where he revealed his appreciation of Christian friendship and fellowship. Particularly, in the closing of the various epistles, Paul saluted various ones by name and indicated his warm appreciation of these dear ones who had stood by him in his ministry. Certainly, Paul was one man who valued friendship and fellowship in the Lord. However, when it comes to situations where friendship stands in the way of loyalty and faithfulness to God, the apostle would not compromise.
He was prepared to stand alone with God if need be, in order to preserve the purity of the gospel (see 2 Timothy 4:16-18). We see this stand of Paul expressed clearly at a crucial period in his life. No one supported him. In fact, all deserted him and Paul had to stand alone in the defence of his life and ministry. Yet, at the same time, the apostle experienced God’s enabling and strengthening, for the Lord stood by him and saw him through. It was at such a time perhaps that Paul remembered how the Lord Jesus Himself was left alone at His trial and crucifixion when all His disciples fled and deserted Him. Nevertheless, the Lord remained steadfast and obedient to the Father and this must have been an inspiration to Paul himself to realise that ultimately, what counts is to be true to God even though friends and emotional relationships may let you down.
Paul’s relationship with Mark probably serves as a good illustration of how the apostle viewed friendship in relation to faithfulness to God (see Acts 15:36-40). This is not an easy passage to discuss and here we do not intend to go into the passage proper in detail. What we want to highlight is that the passage reveals that Paul was not keen to bring Mark along and the reason given was that Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. The reason that Paul gave was not a personal one. It is evidently not so much that Paul had something personal against Mark but on an objective ground, he felt it unwise to bring Mark along.
In 2 Timothy 4:11, we see Paul, in later years, appreciating Mark and asking Timothy to bring Mark along as he was useful for service. This verse itself perhaps confirms that Paul all along had not rejected Mark on personal grounds but rather that the apostle was evaluating Mark on objective grounds in as far as he could understand what was the wisest thing to do. Paul was willing for Mark to come along subsequently when he noticed that Mark was ready and useful for service. This incident seems to suggest and confirm what we had earlier shared about Paul in that he was a man who, although he valued friendship and fellowship, would not allow friendship and emotional ties to stand in the way of what he recognised as loyalty and faithfulness to God.
Perhaps some of us may say – “Wealth, status, fame, friendship – all these do not really matter much to us. What we really look for in life is to be able to carry on in our Christian life without too much difficulty, pressure and discomfort. Yes, we are willing to walk with the Lord, but please do not make it too difficult, otherwise we will crumble.” At the heart of it, we are not willing to bear the cost of discipleship or to suffer for the sake of the Lord. Christian living is alright with us but Christian suffering and spiritual pressure is something else. We would rather live without them.
If we look at Philippians 1:29-30, and 2 Timothy 1:8; 2:3; 3:12, we see that the apostle Paul was clear that suffering for the Lord and persecution are part and parcel of godly living and Christian discipleship. He did not shrink back from them. He did not lose heart, for he knew that “though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). It was in fact from within the four walls of a prison, awaiting sentence and possible death, that Paul wrote triumphantly to the Philippian Christians (see Philippians 1:12-14, 19-21 and 4:4). He was prepared for suffering; he rejoiced in the Lord in the midst of suffering and he was victorious in suffering. The evil one could not use the opportunity to cause Paul to be discouraged or dejected; he could not dampen his spirit nor cause his faith in God to falter. It was in the midst of suffering that Paul continued to minister and to encourage others to rejoice. The apostle Paul did not look for comfort and convenience in life – he sought to glorify the Lord whatever the circumstances may be.
Many of God’s children, however, shrink back at the thought of suffering and pain. Some even believe that a victorious Christian life means freedom from physical sufferings, calamities, illnesses or pain. There are those who would advocate the “prosperity gospel” – since the Lord God is the King of kings, all His children should be prosperous and successful in life. A study of the life of the apostle Paul would reveal how much this godly man suffered for his master. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul was definitely victorious in his Christian life and ministry and his life stands as a positive example to all believers in subsequent generations.
What do we look for in life? Is our Christian longing mixed up with desire for status, wealth, power, friendship and comfort, apart from God? Particularly in the last days, the evil one seeks to distract God’s people with all these attractions. He can give us wealth and status; he can bring along friendship into our lives; he can promise power, success and comfortable living, and together with all these, deception, destruction and death. The pressure will increase in the last days. Will God’s people stand steadfast in Him? Will we remain faithful and loyal? A great deal will depend upon what we look for in life. Are we very clear as to what our ambition should be? What do we really look for in life?