THE STORY OF JOSEPH
At one time in their lives Joseph’s brothers were driven by jealousy to throw him into a pit, and to sell their young brother into slavery for life. But many years passed and at the end of the story you find the same brothers willing to sacrifice their own lives for the sake of their father Jacob (Gen 44:33-34). Somewhere along the way something in them changed. They went from being people who were willing to kill their own brother for the sake of exalting themselves, to selfless people who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their father. I believe their story illustrates the progression of the Christian life. It’s a life that starts out full of the self-life wanting to ‘save’ our own lives, but after coming to the Lord progresses toward “death to self” - a selflessness which is willing to lay down our lives for the sake of our Father in Heaven, and also for others. This is greatest type of love that we can ever have.
John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
LAYING DOWN OUR LIVES
I would personally equate the idea of laying down my own life with ceasing from laboring for my own happiness and instead live only to make God happy. It’s quite a paradox that this actually is the most happy Christian life – that the only way to have true joy in the Lord is by giving up ambitions for our own happiness and instead be totally occupied with pleasing our loving Father. I believe this is what Jesus means when He says “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mat 16:25).
EXAMPLES FROM THE BIBLE
Mary had this godly quality of disregarding herself for the sake of God. In Luke 1:38 Mary said, “Behold, the bond-slave of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to your word.” Mary was on the path of “death to self.” She would suffer much hardship in life, and eventually she would have to lose her beloved child, watching Him die on the cross. But she basically said to God, “I accept whatever you have for me. I am an unworthy slave existing only for you Lord, do with me what you like.” I’m not surprised that God chose Mary out of all the women on Earth to be the Mother of Jesus.
Daniel’s 3 friends also had this attitude (Daniel 3:17-18) when they were about to be thrown into the fire for their faith. They basically said, “God is in complete control. He can save us if He wants but whether He does or not that’s up to Him – may He do as He pleases. We only exist for Him and will not bow down to anybody else.” These were selfless men, happy to lay down their lives and suffer if that’s what God chose for them.
THE BEAUTY OF DEATH TO SELF
To the world this story may sound like a very sad story – they may see Christians as a bunch of people who have been given the gift of life but cannot enjoy it for themselves. But it’s quite the opposite view from a Heavenly perspective. In Heaven, a resigned life like this is the most beautiful thing.
1Pet 3:3-4 “Your adornment must not be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”
This verse is referring to what God sees as beautiful in a woman, but I believe the principle applies to all people. The principle is that God looks at the type of inner spirit a person has and sees beauty. A person who has died to themselves is the equivalent in God’s eyes to what physical beauty and attractiveness is to the world. The Holy Spirit is preparing a bride for Jesus, and this bride will be one which is adorned with a selfless heart – a gentle and quiet spirit (not loud and harsh because it is not fighting for itself anymore), and that has resigned itself for God’s sake. This is what God sees as beautiful.
TRIALS AND TRIBULATION
The worst tribulation in the world becomes much more peaceful when we have the attitude that “I am happy to accept whatever God chooses for me. If He is pleased to put me into some trial, or keep me in this affliction, then I am pleased to be here. May He do with me as He will, since His pleasure is the only thing that matters.” Like Job who said “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) The important thing isn’t whether we are clothed or stripped in life, only that the name of the Lord is blessed. If our joy and peace comes from God's name being blessed rather than whether we are clothed or stripped, we will be the happiest people on Earth!
May we all be on the right path of resignation to our own lives. Moving from an attitude where we want to build a life for ourselves and hold on to our lives, to an attitude where we exist only for God’s pleasure. I believe this is what it means to be dead to ourselves but alive in Christ. Dead people have no ambition, plans, and eagerness for what can be gained for themselves. The whole world is toiling and fighting to build a good life for themselves. They are trying to build their own kingdom. Let’s be the few different people who don’t seek to build our own kingdom, but seek first our Father’s kingdom because we love Him more than ourselves. Every person on Earth will always labor for whatever his or her first love is. If we love ourselves most, then we will labor to build our own kingdom. But if God is our first love then we will build His kingdom.