Too High of a Price

“You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them. You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples” (Psalm 44:12-14, ESV).

Jim Elliot was martyred for Christ on January 8, 1956 as he and four other missionaries in Ecuador were attempting to make contact with a warlike, stone-age tribe of Indians known as the Aucas. The story of their martyrdom is told in a book written by Elliot’s wife, Elizabeth (Betty), called Through Gates of Splendor. It is a classic that should be read by every earnest believer in Christ.

Betty Elliot also wrote about her husband’s inner spiritual life, gleaned largely through Jim’s journals. That book is called Shadow of the Almighty and is also a worthy read. At some point while he was a student at Wheaton College outside of Chicago, Elliot wrote in his journal, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

At the time, this martyrdom made the national news here in the United States. The reporters assigned to this story (and even some church leaders) considered the deaths of the five missionaries to be a tragic waste of life. Human nature being what it is, there is no doubt that the wives and loved ones went through periods of grief, wondering about the high cost of reaching a tribe of a few hundred obscure Indians hidden in the jungles of Ecuador. It may surprise many to realize that the Psalmist felt a similar emotion in Psalm 44.

Those who question the martyrdom of these five men — including the church leaders — display a lack of understanding of the worth of the human soul. If men, made in the image of God, were worth redeeming at the cost of God’s own Son, what sacrifice is too much for even the most obscure people group on earth? Their grief, notwithstanding, the loved ones of these men understood this. But do we?

I have known many men who have left ministry because the cost was just too great. The headaches and heartaches of ministry just aren’t worth the relatively low pay, the constant stress, and the scorn of family and friends. Conflicts within the congregation take their toll on ministers’ marriages and children. It would be different if the Lord would demonstrate radically transformed lives as a result of our work, but that is not often the case — here or overseas. We often labor in obscurity, not seeing many results. For many who have left ministry, God has demanded too high of a price of them. In the words of the Psalmist, “[He] has sold [His] people for a trifle…”

Many people who consider themselves to be Christians have left the Church because the cost of being among God’s people (those to whom Jesus is committed) is too great. Humility and contrition are too high of a price to pay. The souls of pagan neighbors or coworkers or family members are just not worth the pain of not getting our way in a church decision. Certainly there are times when a principled stand must be taken in today’s Church, but are we really willing to stand before Jesus for something as trivial as the color of the carpet or which version of the Bible we prefer to read? We don’t want to be “a laughingstock among the peoples.”

Does God really require sacrifice from me? Does He really expect me to humble myself before someone with whom I have had a conflict so that — MAYBE — men might know Him? The wives of the five martyrs would say, “Yes.”

The Qualification of Leadership

This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you (David) from the pasture and from following the flock, to be ruler over my people Israel (1 Chron 17:7).

 The contrast between what men usually consider to be the qualifications for leadership and what God makes leaders from is startling.

 By the time this was spoken to David, he had long ago left the pasture and the sheep. He had been on the run from Saul for 10-12 years. That period of his life had ended with Saul’s death and then David had to create a government and stabilize the country politically. Before he and his army began to subdue the surrounding nations, David turned his attention from the urgent to the important – establishing the people in the worship of the God of Israel.

 While he was considering this matter, the thought occurred to him that he should establish a permanent dwelling place for the Ark of the Presence. While it was not something that God had necessarily intended, He was so pleased that David’s faith was not merely a way of securing the blessings and creature comforts of this life that He promised that David’s line would never fail.

 Men tend to look upon pedigree and physical prowess in leaders; God looks much deeper. God saw in David a man of loyalty, gratitude and faithfulness. He was conditioned by his willingness to humble himself and take care of his father’s sheep. By observing in David a concern for the helpless condition of the sheep God recognized that he would also be concerned for the helpless conditions of the people in his kingdom, a concern that God shared because those same people were made in His image.

 God might have chosen David because he persevered as he ran from Saul; He might have chosen him for his military genius; He might have chosen him for his faithfulness to His cause. Certainly He rewarded these qualities. But He chose Him to be king because of the mercy he displayed for the helpless and needy – the same cause He Himself is given to. For God Himself is described as “a father of the fatherless and a defender of widows” (Ps. 68:5, et.al.).