THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD
T. PIERCE BROWN
Most of my preaching life, especially as I have been involved in personal evangelism, I have asked the question, “What is the most important thing in the world?” in order to elicit the answer, “My salvation,” or its equivalent. Or I would ask, “What is the most important question in the world?” in order to get a discussion started around the topic, “What must I do to be saved?”
In my later years, I have become convinced that as important as those things are, they are actually secondary. It is my opinion that a great deal of damage may be done, when and if we substitute the good for the better and the better for the best.
This is an easy thing to do when we are trying so hard to push what we think is the most important job of the church, or of the individual Christian. As a result, we have an unbalanced religion, perhaps becoming denominational or cultish in our tendencies, depending on how far we take the matter. The Crossroads andBostonmovements resulted, not only from the indifference of the average congregations to the value of personal evangelism, but from the unbalanced emphasis that was given to that as THE standard by which our Christianity could be measured.
The most important thing in the world is to glorify God, and one of the reasons we have done no more damage than we have by teaching that the most important thing in the world is the saving of a soul is because the most significant thing in the world that glorifies him is our salvation, and one of the best ways to glorify him is to work for the salvation of our fellowman. Glorifying God should be the ultimate purpose behind all preaching, programs, building, or activity, no matter what is its nature.
There is a significant difference between the concept of the ultimate end of mankind being to win souls to Christ and the ultimate of mankind being to glorify God. The failure to understand and point out the difference results in a slight warping of Christianity, and a resulting failure to live as abundantly and productively as we should and could.
One of the small ways we have failed to differentiate between the ultimate purpose of life — to Glorify God, and the second most important thing in the world — salvation of souls, and the attendant emotional psychological and practical results we shall now suggest.
When we come to Acts 2:36-38, practically every preacher of the gospel I know, including myself, has provided an exegesis similar to this: “Peter had pointed out to the Jews that they had crucified the Lord and were guilty of the most grievous sin. When they realized their condition, they were pricked in their hearts and cried out, `What shall we do?’ for they wanted to get rid of the guilt of their sin. They received the answer, `Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins,’ and thus received the answer to their question.”
All of that is true, but I believe there is a greater truth that created the response we see there, in contrast to the kind of response we often see now. Let us give another exegesis of it, that you may more clearly see my point.
Peter had pointed out to the Jews that they had crucified the Lord and were guilty of the most grievous sin. When they realized that he was the Lord, and accepted him as such, both intellectually and emotionally, they were pricked in their hearts and cried out, “What shall we do?” for now they wanted to glorify him as Lord! They received the answer, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins,” and gladly receiving this as a gracious gift of a resurrected and reigning Lord, they were baptized. Then, they continued steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers.
Of course these two explanations are not mutually exclusive, thank God, but surely a discerning mind can tell the difference between the lasting response (they continued steadfastly) of one whose primary thought was to accept in HIS appointed way the Lordship of Christ and glorify HIM, and the sometimes vacillating response of one whose primary thought was to escape the punishment for his sins (get remission of sins)!
Whether we contrast it as a “Theocentric” rather than an “Anthropocentric” religion; whether we realize that much of our religious life may be self-centered rather than Christ-centered; whether we express it as the difference between an attitude of “What do I get out of it?” instead of “What does Christ want me to put into it?” it comes out about the same way.
Surely, not even a tyro in Christianity has failed to realize that the thousands of empty pews at all sorts of services are a result of an attitude which is, “If I do not get what I want out of it, I am under no obligation to come” or “The Preacher does not turn me on, so I quit.” How many hundreds of us have started off with the crippling psychological barrier like this: “The water is warm, the baptistery is ready, the clothing is prepared, and we are happy for you to come” with the subtle and unrecognized implication that if the water is cold, and you have to walk a mile in the snow, breaking the ice to be baptized, and the lions, the rack or stake might await you at the end of it, you really ought to wait!
Do you not see that if the ultimate purpose of your life is to “get saved” as it is often inelegantly put, then when you have done what it takes (or what you think it takes) to do that, all of your intellectual and emotional being is geared to stop at approximately that point. Why should a person whose goal is to win a hundred-yard dash run on for half a mile?
But if your ultimate purpose from the beginning is to glorify God, then there is no stopping place for you. You do not practice a subjective religion in terms of what pleases you, or in terms of what rewards you get, but you immediately and regularly understand, assimilate, and practice such passages as 1 Cor. 10:31, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God!” You automatically have answered hundreds of questions about such things as “social drinking” (or even non-social drinking), dancing, vulgar shows, etc.
You do not ask the question, “Do I have to come on Sunday nights or Wednesday nights to be saved?” for it never occurs to you. The thing by which you measure each response and action in life is, “Does it glorify God?” and not, “What benefit do I personally get from it?” You will still have to “study to show yourself approved unto God” (2 Timothy2:15) for you do not always know automatically how to glorify him. But now your center is different, so your circumference will change, as will your direction and speed.
This re-evaluation of what is the ultimate purpose or the most important thing in the world will not only help us prevent majoring in minors, but will help us not to get lop-sided in our attitude and work. If I should knock on more doors and set up more Bible studies than you, that does not mean you are a second-class citizen, for you may glorify God in another way just as much as I.
Lest I should be accused of trying to lessen our individual responsibility to do personal evangelism, may I repeat that in my judgment one of the greatest and most significant ways we can glorify God is to “save our selves and them that hear us.” There is nothing of which I can think that is more Christ-like than seeking to save the lost. Yet His ultimate purpose was not, as we have often put it, to save the lost, but to glorify God. So the ultimate end we should have in mind is the glory of God, or the secondary will become primary and Christianity will be perverted just that much. Any amount is too much!