Malcolm Forbes, who died in 1990, was one of the wealthiest people to have lived in our time. Forbes enjoyed all the symbols of status that one can achieve in this life. Prosperity. Possessions. Power. Privilege. And a pleasurable lifestyle that comes with it.
In his book, The Man Who Had Everything, Christopher Winans relates a motorcycle tour that Forbes took through Egypt in 1984. After viewing the tomb of King Tut, Forbes seemed in a reflective mood.
As they were returning to the hotel in a shuttle bus, Forbes turned to one of his associates and sincerely asked: “Do you think I’ll be remembered after I die?”
The billionaire publisher is remembered for his “opulent lifestyle and lively self promotion.” Forbes is also remembered as the man who coined the phrase, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
Indeed Forbes possessed lots of toys. Hot air balloons. Motorcycles. Boats. Planes. Castles. Art. In fact, he once paid over a million dollars for a Faberge egg.
Forbes’ philosophy is shared by many today. However, consider a different point of view from Jesus’ question in Mark 8:36. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”
The Bible does not sanction laziness or the failure to achieve. Financial success is not a sin. Indeed we are commanded “to work with our hands.” To provide for our families. To share with the needy. To support the Lord’s work (Eph 4:28; I Tim. 5:8; 1 Cor 16:1-2). Yet, an inordinate fixation on material possessions and monetary wealth is warned against throughout Scripture. It is called covetousness, which is a form of idolatry (Col 3:5).
Jesus’ probing question calls for a life with greater values, deeper devotion, and an eternal focus. It speaks to the issue of discipleship. Self-denial. And what it means to follow Jesus.
Here’s the full context of Jesus’ statement. “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mk 8:34-38)
There’s a rotten cliche’ that claims “Everyone has their price.” From a materialistic mind set, sadly this may be so. Our world daily assesses the value of everything. Stocks. Bonds. Real Estate. Insurance policies. Pension Plans. Professions. And businesses.
Yet, Jesus says the value of one’s soul far exceeds the world’s wealth. The word used is kosmos which, Thayer says can encompass “the aggregate of things earthly; the whole circle of earthly goods, endowments, riches, advantages, pleasures, etc.”
Forbes annual list of the 400 richest Americans totaled $2.4 trillion in 2016. Just imagine that you controlled all that wealth, let alone the whole world. Your options would be endless. You would enjoy unlimited pleasure, enduring prestige, and incredible power. However, the value of your soul, is worth more. Much more.
The soul is invaluable because it will live on beyond the grave. It is one thing you will take into eternity. Every gain in this life will be a loss, if we lose our soul.
Seriously consider the musing of this unknown poet:
Out of this life I shall never take
Things of silver and gold I make.
All that I cherish and hoard away
After I leave, on earth must stay.
All that I gather and all that I keep
I must leave behind when I fall asleep.
And I wonder often, just what I shall own
In that other life, when I pass alone.
What shall He find and what shall He see
In the soul that answers the call for me?
Shall the great Judge learn, when my task is through,
That my soul had gathered some riches, too?
Or shall at the last, it be mine to find,
That all I had worked for I’d left behind?
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman