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Competing Interests

(By Rob McLeod)

Matthew 6:24-25,31-33 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [wealth]. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Have you ever attempted to work two full time jobs? How about attempting to vacation while still on call for work?  Or here’s a good one—as a child did you ever attempt to play chess or checkers ‘against’ yourself? Life experience teaches us early on that we don’t have the physical or mental capacity to properly serve competing interests. This is also true in the spiritual realm.

Christ’s words from Matthew 6 are a clear reminder that to faithfully serve the Lord we cannot be consumed with the cares of this life. Pursuing wealth and being anxious over the future is a competing interest with the Lord’s work. When we are overly preoccupied with our needs and our comfortability it drains our time, energy, and focus from the Kingdom work. We only have so much capacity given to us. If I am consumed with job advancement, a purchase, ease of life, or even the meeting of my practical needs I am unable to simultaneously put my ‘all on the altar’ for the Lord. If I fear that the Lord will not supply my needs I will ‘hedge my bets’ and shrink back from a full commitment to Him. This is a simple fact and our Lord’s teaching on this matter reinforces this as true.

Think now of Olympic athletes. Many of them have trained in their profession since a child. They have foregone many luxuries and distractions in life merely for the chance of reaching the podium. The Lord’s work similarly calls for such a commitment but with a much higher eternal purpose and satisfying reward. I Corinthians 9:24-25 says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate [that is, self-controlled] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” Also, Hebrews 6:10 states, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”

Let’s consider Christ’s words from Matthew 6 again. Our natural thinking is to say that we should first get our life’s needs met and then when that is accomplished, we can fully pursue the Lord. However, the Lord’s approach is quite the opposite. He teaches us that the best to way to ensure that our earthly needs (not wants) are met is to “seek first the kingdom of God” such that “all these things” (food, clothing, etc) will be supplied to us. This thinking runs counter to our natural thinking. 

Does the preceding discussion imply that we shouldn’t care about where we work? Does it imply that we shouldn’t seek vocational training or have a working plan for our future? Of course not. What it does mean is that all of our plans and requests should be laid in their entirety at the Lord’s feet for His approval and blessing. If He grants approval to proceed in a certain direction then we can be at peace. If His plan is different than we expected for ourselves we can also be at peace. In all of this, we can be assured that by submitting to His direction our practical life needs will be ably met. In this lifelong process of pursuing the Lord’s daily will for our lives we must ask for His wisdom. James 1:5-6 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”

We must be willing to have the Holy Spirit expose us in the areas where we are trying to serve competing interests. If the Lord is putting His finger on a certain area of our lives that needs to be submitted to Him why, in the light of eternity, would we kick against it? All of our daily needs will truly be met as we pursue Him! It does seem that we have a short term memory when it comes to trusting our Saviour. Perhaps it is for this reason that the apostle Peter wrote that he was writing his second letter (2 Peter 3:1) to remind his readers of what he had written in his first letter. Also, in the Old Testament we read on several occasions (for example, Joshua 4) that the Israelites were instructed to construct piles of ‘memorial stones’ to remind subsequent generations of the Lord’s miraculous provisions in their lives.

Finally, from Hebrews 13:5-6 we read: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may bold say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”