For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? This is an extreme, a paradoxical utterance. No man can, in any precise sense, "gain the whole world." If he could, it would weigh nothing in the scale against the value of his life. For on life depends enjoyment of possessions. Illustrate by the parable of the rich farmer who boasted of what he possessed, and lost it all when he died in the night. Compare our Lord's advice to "lay up treasure in heaven."
I. THE GREAT GAIN IS EARTHLY THINGS. Look over the whole world. Examine the pursuits of every class. Read the story of the long ages. This is clearly men's opinion everywhere. They live to get, to win, to grasp, to hold what they call wealth, earthly valuables - houses, laud, jewels, money, fame. Is that really great gain? Test it by one thing - How does it stand related to man's real soul life? Then it is seen to belong only to the body, which man has for a while; and in no way to the being that he is, and will be forever. All a man acquires of a merely earthly character belongs to his body, and goes with his body when his body goes; then it is his no more. Treasure on earth is but falsely and unworthily called "great gain."
II. THE GREATER LOSS IS SPIRITUAL CHARACTER. For character is a man's true wealth; it belongs to the being he is, and is forever. And one application of our Lord's teaching here comes out in a very striking way. Gaining earthly things is only too likely to involve the destruction of spiritual character, because it is so sure to hinder that "self-denial" which is the absolutely essential foundation of noble and enduring spiritual character. A man gains the heavenly treasure by what he gives up, and not by what he holds fast to (see ver. 24). The sublime illustration is presented in the case of our Lord himself, who acquired nothing earthly, who gave up everything he had that men are wont to esteem as gain, but who gained the eternal treasure of tested spiritual character, perfected Sonship. In conclusion, meet the difficulty of the apparently unpractical character of such teaching. Show that it is really a question of relativity. Which is to be first, possessions or character? - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?