What matters most to you in life? What is it that you really running after—that you spend much of your time thinking and dreaming about?
“This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind.” (Ephesians 4:17)
Everyone values something. This varies by individual, but some of the things people care about are having fun (and this can be interpreted in different ways, from getting drunk, to immorality, to more innocent pursuits), getting an (or a better) education, getting a (or a better) job, earning more money, being elected to office, buying a nice (or a nicer) home, getting published, and so on and so forth. Some of these, such as drunkenness and immorality, are inherently wrong—we should never do them under any circumstances, but most things people run after are, in and of themselves, innocent. Yet today’s verse says that we should no longer walk [live] as the rest of the Gentiles [those who don’t know God] do. What does this mean?
What this means is that people who don’t know God run after anything and everything other than God in an effort to find something that will satisfy them, that will fill their lives with meaning and purpose. The problem is that this is futile—it won’t work. God created human beings to know Him and live in a close and loving relationship with Him, and all the other wonderful things in our lives—even the ones that aren’t wrong in and of themselves—won’t make up for the absence of God. Only submitting to Him and trusting Christ’s death on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins will work. But what about those of us who know God? How does this apply to us?
Those of us who know God are not to keep running after the things we used to—the things that were important to us before we got to know God—because we now know better. It isn’t that we aren’t to get an education or run for office or do any of the things that people typically do; it’s that this should not be the over-riding concern of our lives.
This is not to say that we might not have to put quite a bit of effort into something. When our son was preparing for the spelling bee in elementary school, we spent quite a bit of the day, every day, over and over, drilling the words. It was necessary to achieve the goal of winning the county bee. But before committing to such an investment of time and energy we had recognized that this was for God’s glory—to honor Him through this achievement if He allowed it—not primarily for our or our son’s glory or praise.
Presently our daughter is in the process of trying to improve her math and writing skills so she can achieve a high school on her SAT test and get a scholarship. It is a good goal, and it involves quite a bit of work on her part—working 240 problems four times a day—but we are not worshipping (laying all at the altar of) her academic success. To the contrary, while we are trying to do our part to be faithful, we have placed the results in God’s hands for His glory—one way or another, and recognize that even if she does not derive any financial benefit, she will be better prepared to serve God in some way because of her efforts.
You may likewise have a talent or ability that you really feel God wants you to develop to His glory and for His purposes, but you must put Him and His goals first—even above your most cherished dreams or desires. I Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “Therefore…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” That is how we avoid idolatry, which is defined as wrongly valuing something (or someone) more than God. That is the distinction—most of the time it is not specifically what it is that we are doing, but how it relates to our relationship with God. Do our efforts reflect a desire to use our abilities to the fullest extent God allows and are they motivated by a desire to glorify Him with the results, or have we placed them in His place and become willing to sacrifice all, even Him, to achieve them?
Blaise Pascal famously said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every human which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” Whether it is because of an emptiness that we wrongly try to fill with things other than God, or because of other sins—greediness, a desire for pleasure, and so forth—people who don’t know God keep getting it wrong. That is what is meant by “in the futility of their mind.” They think these things will satisfy, but they never will. Jesus said, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to 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 the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.” (Matthew 16:25-27)
So how do we save our lives? According to Jesus, it is by losing them for His sake. While this does not mean that we never expend effort to better ourselves or accomplish something, our real goal will always be God’s purposes.” As those who have been born again of His Spirit and who remain in His Word, our primary driving motivation in life will be His desires. While we may seek to gain a scholarship, a position, or a public office, these should be tools placed in our hands to be more effective doing the real job—the true work God has equipped us to do, which is the furtherance of God’s kingdom and His righteousness in us and in others.
Thank You that You give us the tools to accomplish the work you want us to do in this life. Help us no longer walk as those who don’t know you do—in the futility of their mind—but help us be busy seeking Your kingdom and Your righteousness throughout our lives! In Jesus name, Amen.