January 2009: Editorial: Soul Savers, Not "Life Savers"

It is a common belief today that the church should function as a community relief center. It is the place to go for discount clothing, day care, medical services, or a "hand out" when money gets tight. In the midst of trying to save lives, it seems many have forgotten that saving souls for everlasting life is the true mission of the church.

While it is accurate to say that living a godly life generally leads to a good life (Psalm 1), that is not always the case. Frankly, whether or not we are comfortable in this life is not God's greatest concern. It is not as if God wants us to suffer: actually the opposite is true, but problems are just a part of life.

Difficulties can be the result of poor decisions on our part, or that of another. God gives us free will, and allows us to decide how we are going to live. Implied in that idea is the fact that we can make bad decisions that bring pain into our lives. These choices that cause some level of suffering may or may not involve sin. If someone loses thousands in the stock market, they likely have not sinned, but they are feeling some pain over their poor investment choices. Complications from a drunk driving accident would be an example of a sin-created problem.

Good choices do not always bring about a comfortable life. In fact, Paul told us, "all that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Doing the right thing has brought about suffering for countless individuals-- even costing some their lives.

It is a misconception that God's greatest concern, and the mission of His church, is providing physical comfort in this life. God makes it clear from the book of Proverbs that those who live righteously avoid regular problems that plague the wicked; however, to think that godliness always brings happiness is to ignore the stories in Scripture that teach differently. I do not think Paul was happy about being stoned, or beat with 39 stripes. There is a difference between happiness and joy. Though we may not be happy about specific events in life, we can still have joy. That is why James could say, "count it all joy, my brethren, when ye fall into manifold temptations" (James 1:2). It is not that the trial brings pleasure to its sufferer, but through trial faith is made stronger, and hope is made brighter (James 1:3-4).

Not too long ago I heard a preacher speak about James chapter one. His thoughts were superb. He noted that James was able to discuss suffering in just three verses because he does not say all the nonsense often said today. His teaching was simple. Problems in life are tests of faith that produce patience. If we are patient through trials we will be made perfect and complete. James reveals to us that our faith matters most to God. Brother Mark Roberts said it this way: "God is more concerned with our character than our comfort."

God would rather man live his life in suffering and pain, and die prepared for the judgment, than for man to live in luxury and lose his soul. Remember Jesus' story about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)?

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?" (Matthew 16:24-26).
God provided the joys of life for us. He wants us to find pleasure in His creation, but the riches of heaven far outweigh this world's passing pleasures.

Rather than spending its time, effort and expense on addressing the social ills of the world, the Lord's church needs to fulfill the missions it was established for: Praising God, edifying the saints, and seeking the lost. Money was not the answer for the lame beggar in Acts 3. The spiritually crippled need-- and the church must give them-- the Gospel. The Lord's church needs to busy itself with saving souls, and let other organization worry about improving lives.

Brent Moody