We all spend our lives pursuing something. And throughout our lives we are told and taught to pursue the things that people say will lead to true fulfillment and satisfaction. When you are young you are sold on the idea that we need things like fame, prestige, the right career, and wealth to find fulfillment in life. When we get a little bit older, for most in their late twenties and early thirties, we begin to realize that none of those things bring the true fulfillment that we as human beings long for. So then we often turn to the human God given desire to find a significant other and begin families as the means to finding true fulfillment. We use expressions like, “If I just find my husband or my wife, then my life would be complete.” And though those things, when in their rightful places in our hearts, can be a tremendous blessing from the Lord, even those things are temporal and should not be what we seek as means to find or acquire true fulfillment. There are of course other things out there that one could use as examples of things people look for fulfillment in, but you get the idea.
What I find to be odd though isn’t that people are looking for fulfillment, or that they even try all of these things to find that fulfillment. What is odd to me is how many people who profess Christ do. I have been privileged and blessed to step foot on the soil of many nations in the name of Jesus and I hope for the sake of the Gospel, and I have seen this pattern in many professing believers around the world. And it doesn’t matter where…Africa, Europe, North America or anywhere in between, it seems that many of us who profess Christ somehow get caught up in this way of thinking and being.
Sometimes, when I am in my more cynical frames of mind, I often think to myself, “I wonder how many of us who profess Jesus really and truly believe the things we say we believe.” I think such thoughts because those of us who have been Christians for a little while all know the right things to say in terms of where our fulfillment should come from. We say things like, “Jesus is the one in whom I find my peace and my joy.” or “God alone is whom I hope in.” But if we begin examining our hearts and lives a little closer, we often see a very different picture. That is important to note and point out because the actions in our lives and the things that are done in and throughout our lives truly show and reflect what we really believe. The point is, is that mere profession is shallow and hallow. Yet, we in many Evangelical circles cling to profession more than the evidences of true grace being manifested in our lives. Why do we do that? Well, perhaps that might be something to look at and consider in another blog post. For now, I want to stick with the idea of fulfillment, where it is found and how to keep, those of us who are in Christ Jesus, eyes and heart in that place.
This morning I was reading the sixth chapter of I Timothy. It is Paul’s first of two letters to his spiritual son and dear brother Timothy. You might think of these two letters as Paul’s last words to this dear friend and, because it is words inspired by the Holy Spirit, to the Church. In that chapter he talks about some things and truths regarding false teachers and then segues into an exhortation to Timothy and to us that I think is worth considering in this whole discussion of fulfillment. It comes at the end of his talk about false teachers in verse five when he says that they are those “who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.” He then says something in verses six through twelve that is immense food for thought for both our pursuits, as well as our fulfillment or contentment. He says,
“But godliness with contentment is a great gain.
7 For we brought nothing into the world,
and we can take nothing out.
8 But if we have food and clothing,
we will be content with these.
9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
11 But you, man of God, run from these things,
and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, endurance, and gentleness.
12 Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life
that you were called to
and have made a good confession about
in the presence of many witnesses.”
So Paul says that godliness alone, not with riches, not with fame, or even a spouse and a family, but godliness alone with contentment is of great gain. And true godliness only comes from true, genuine and saving faith in Christ. As it says in Isaiah our own righteousness is filthy menstrual rags compared to the holiness of God. Meaning even on our best days we are vile before God. It is only the blood of the Lamb, the crucified Christ that true righteousness and godliness is imputed on us and we are made right and justified before God.
Then after talking about the temporal realities of material things and how none of those earthly things go with us when we pass on into eternity, we find the often quoted and misquoted verse on the love of money and how many because of it wander from the faith and pierce themselves with great pains. It was here in this place that I thought of the many people around the world who profess Christ yet still pursue fulfillment through earthly temporal means…And I was saddened by how many people are piercing themselves with great pains because they are tempted by things like riches and other worldly things that simply do not satisfy.
But then I found myself filled with encouragement when I read Paul’s exhortation to his spiritual son Timothy, and the Lord’s exhortation to us His children, when He said to run from these things and then gives us a beautiful list of things worthy of our pursuits… righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. But the Lord, through Paul, doesn’t stop there…He says fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life. To take hold of something means to have it in your grasp and to cling to it.
Now many when they read this imagine it to be an exhortation to cling to the promise of being in paradise in the new Jerusalem where the streets are gold and sin and evil has been abolished once and for all. But that is not what this exhortation is about at all. Paul says to cling to eternal life…And Scripturally speaking, eternal life is this “To know Him the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.” (John 17:3). It is to know Him. And knowing Him does not simply mean or is limited to our moment of conversion or justification. I say that because it is a relationship. And relationships deepen with time, with life, and with trials. Just look at people who have been successfully married for thirty years and have a healthy loving relationship. Their testimonies almost always include all of those things. Yet it was the fact that they clung to one another in committed devoted relationship that not only brought them through all of their trials and heartaches but grew their relationship to what it has become.
When we take hold of eternal life, to know Jesus, we are actually taking hold of Jesus Himself. And it is in that kind of clinging to Jesus and our commitment to know Him devotedly and intimately that we as Christians can find the true fulfillment that He can bring us. So let us do more than offer up the cliché Christianese answers about where our contentment and fulfillment comes from. Let us rather take hold of eternal life, Jesus our Lord, through deep prayer, continuous little prayer throughout the day, through Bible reading, through Bible studies, through Christians service, through loving our neighbors, through true Christian fellowship and all the other ways which we can apply this commitment to our relationship Him to. Clinging to Christ and knowing Him in this way is not only the way to true fulfillment but it is that which you were called to and have made a good confession about in the presence of many witnesses.