“He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
Strange indeed, and profound is the Word of the Lord in our text!
By no means an isolated saying of the Lord!
All the gospels record similar passages. We read again in Matthew’s gospel the following: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”Matt. 16:25. Mark puts it this way: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” Mark 8:35. Luke tells us: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world, and lose himself or be cast away.” Luke 9:24, 25. And again, “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.”Luke 17:33. John’s gospel records: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” John 12:25.
Apparent it is therefore that the Lord spoke these words on more than one occasion; emphasizing the fact of their importance and practical significance.
How drastic and final is this Word of the Lord in all these passages, as well as in our text!
He that findeth his life shall lose it!
He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it!
In the context of our passage the Lord had just chosen His disciples and commissioned them. He would send them out as sheep among wolves, and in their going they are to seek the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and to preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. No provision were they to make for the way, but they were to live of the gospel. If they were received, they were to abide; if not, they were to shake the dust of their feet; believing that it would be more tolerable in the judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that city. Wise as serpents and harmless as doves they were to be, and understanding well that they would be hated of all men for Christ’s sake. Delivered they would be to the councils, where they would be scourged and given over to death. They were not to fear them which kill only the body but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. They were to confess Christ before men, while they clung to His promise that He would confess them before His Father in heaven; knowing also that they who deny Him shall also be denied. And the reason why they were not to expect peace and prosperity in the fulfillment of their commission is to be found in the fact that their Lord had not come to send peace on earth but a sword—the sword that brings division in the most intimate relationships of life, so that a man’s foes are they of his own household. Never were they to love father or mother, son or daughter, more than Christ. To neglect this mandate would make them unworthy of Him. They were to take up the cross and follow after Him.
And so, he that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for Christ’s sake shall find it!
The positive truth in the text concerns: Finding a lost life!
But what does this mean?
To what does the Lord refer when He says first of all, “He that findeth his life shall lose it?” And then, what does He mean when He says, “and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it?”
To get at the meaning, it is important, fast of all, we believe, to notice what the Lord says in the original text. If we may be allowed to translate literally it would be something like this: “The one having found his soul shall lose it: and the one having lost his soul on account of me shall find it.” With this translation the Holland agrees: “Die zijne ziel vindt, zal dezelve verliezen, en die zijne ziel zal verloren hebben om mijnent wil, zal dezelve vinden.”
The term “soul” refers to the seat of one’s physical, psychical life—the life that one lives in the physical body—the life one lives in this present world. Not without reason, therefore, the translators have termed it “life.” So that, as one commentator correctly puts it, “the point lies in the reference of the finding and losing not being the same in the first as in the second half of the verse.” He continues by translating the text thus: “Whoever will have found his soul (by a saving of his life in this world through denying me in those times when life is endangered) will lose it (namely, through the eternal death at the second coming). And whoever will have lost his soul (through the loss of his life in this world in persecution, through an act of self sacrifice) will find it (at the resurrection to eternal life).”
With the above explanation we agree. The finding in the first half of the text denotes the saving of the soul when to all appearances it is hopelessly endangered by temporal death; while in the second half it denotes the saving of the soul after it has actually succumbed to death. The former is a finding that issues in eternal death; the latter, one that conducts to eternal life.
And make no mistake by concluding that the Lord is here speaking only of martyrs. No doubt they have the preeminence in losing their lives. Has it not been correctly said: The history of the Christian Church has been written with a pen of blood? Is not the history of the church of Christ replete with examples of those who because of their relation to Christ were required to be burned as torches to light the arenas of pleasure-mad demons, who allowed their bodies to be cast into the teeth of ferocious beasts, or who suffered the members of their bodies to be pulled apart on the racks? Is it’ not so that of the immediate disciple group only one was allowed to pass away on a bed of peace, though he was an exile?
Yet the losing of one’s life has a broader significance than mere martyrdom. The term refers also to the daily act of self-negation. It is therefore not only the martyr on whose bleeding brow the crown of life is gently placed, whose temples have first been tom by a crown of thorns; but there is a daily dying, which perhaps is as hard or harder than the brief and bloody passage of martyrdom through which some enter into rest. For the true losing of life is the slaying of self, and that has to be done day by day, and not once for all, in some supreme act of surrender at the end, or in some initial act of submission and yielding at the beginning of the Christian life.
We must not forget that by natural disposition we are all inclined to make our selves to be our own centers, the objects of our trust; and if we do so, we are dead while we live. But the death which brings life is when, day by day, we “crucify the old man with his affections and lusts.” And crucifixion is no sudden death; it is a slow and painful one. One does not, therefore, naturally choose to lose his life. Rather, he seeks to preserve it and all the material resources at his disposal he would use to find his life in this world, in which, like the fool, he imagines he shall live forever.
How tragic is the end of such an one! He that finds his life, in this sense, shall lose it! With nothing more, such a soul ends in eternal death.
On the other hand, the one having lost his soul shall find it!
That is, the one having lost his soul for Jesus’ sake!
On account of Me!
This must mean, first of all, on account of what Christ Jesus has done for that soul! Understand it well—there is no soul that will lose itself on account of Christ that was not first operated upon by Christ. We have nothing to give to or for Christ that we did not first receive from Him.
You remember it was Simon Peter, with all the emphasis on “Simon,” who said: “I will lay down my life (soul) for thy sake.” To whom Jesus replied: “Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.” The error and sin of Peter was not only that he rashly believed he could do something for Jesus, even give his life for Him; but his great mistake was that he failed to see that he could not lay down his life for Christ until Christ had first laid down His life for Peter. What brought Peter to repentance and bitter tears after he had denied His Lord as was predicted, was not only the fact that he sensed his awful sin of denial, but the look of the Saviour as He passed from the judgment hall of Annas to the ecclesiastical hall of justice (?) before Caiaphas, which look penetrated to the very heart of Peter with the implied words: “Peter, you must understand well that you cannot lay down your life for Me until I first lay down My life for you. I go now to do exactly that. For in a moment I shall be condemned to death not only by the church, but also by the world. I have power, Peter, to lay down my life, to lose it; and I have power to take it up again. And only after I have so conducted Myself, may you, Peter, follow me, and lose your life.”
And so it must always be!
This is also the sense of what John writes (I John 3:16) “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” That is always the order! “On account of Me” must refer, therefore, to what Christ has first done.
Then, in the second place, it can and does mean also, in service to Him! He is Master—I am His slave. Obeying Him I love not my life unto death.
Such losers become finders!
He shall find it!
Or, as John expresses it in the parallel passage quoted above: “shall keep it unto eternal life.” Striking is the immediate context of this reference, where we read (John 12:24) “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” One kernel dropped in the furrow and dying there brings forth a field of waving grain. Christ evidently is speaking here of His own death, a death that would eventually bring forth a veritable harvest of living, glorified souls. And this grace He passes on to all His servants whom He makes willing to lose their souls in this life, in order that they may repossess their souls unto eternal life.
This life we experience now in principle and in a relative sense, in the measure we lose our life for Christ’s sake in this present evil world. That is, when we put the knife to the throat of our sinful nature and mortify the deeds of the body so that they are slain completely, then we live. And when we lay down our lives, we actually lose nothing, but we find the life that shall never end, which is the experience of everlasting fellowship with the God of our salvation in Christ Jesus.
For this is indeed eternal life: “That they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”