For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Jesus in the previous verse has just outlined that it will cost His disciples to follow Him. They will have to deny themselves and will have to take up a cross in order to follow Him. He is saying that following Jesus is not a selfish quest to fulfill everything you want. It is a quest to discover how you can most effectively serve and please God. This will require that you deny yourself some pleasures and wants that you could have that others may enjoy. It will require that you must die to some choices, some ways of living, some perfectly acceptable actions. The reference to the cross is as the instrument of death. In order to follow God, it will mean voluntarily dying to some things you would dearly love to do.
This is different than those self-help programs which tell you that you can and deserve to have everything you want. You don’t and it’s not true. Being a follower of Christ is costly, but the payoff is also more than any self-help program can offer. You don’t get what you want, you get what Christ wants for you –an abundant life that is better than you could think or dream — a life full of deep and satisfying relationships. It is a life full of abundance of love that overflows into others’ lives.
Jesus says at another point in His ministry that all those who are weary and heavy laden should come to Him so that they could find rest for their souls. He goes on to say that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. We need to have His yoke, His path, and His way of life for it is easy and light, but it does represent a dying to the yoke that our selfish nature wants.
This passage in Matthew 16:26 is a wonderful corrective to the excess and selfishness of our present generation that wants more and more and never can say enough. It is clear that in Jesus’ day – as in our own – people were chasing profit and material goods and whatever seemed like the thing to have. He was trying to shake them into reality. It does not matter if you have all that stuff if you have to trade the development of your soul for it. If you get all that your flesh desires (clothing, money, jewelry, televisions, cars, houses, attractive friends and spouses, parties, popularity, etc.) and yet you have had to numb out your conscience or avoid the development of your soul to get it, then it is a waste. Or even more tragically, when you get to the end of your life and God examines your soul and there is no riches toward Him. There is no depth of relationship with God. You have not even tried to establish a relationship or live by His rules, and you have to forfeit your soul to hell.
I am deeply troubled by the race our culture is in to gain more stuff. We do not yet understand that stuff is not the secret to success in life. Relationships are the real gold of life. Deep meaningful relationships are the treasures of life; first and foremost a relationship with God.
Jesus is saying rather bluntly, what can you amass or gain in this life materially that will in pay for your impoverished soul to be taken out of hell and placed in heaven? The answer is “nothing.” Don’t run after that kind of riches. Be rich toward God.
* This material is copyrighted © by Gil Stieglitz who retains all rights to the material. The verses quoted are taken from the NASB Bible 1995 edition.