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What We Cannot Keep, What We Cannot Lose

by Andrew Davis on August 27, 2018

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot, Wheaton College, 1949

This inspirational statement from Jim Elliot captures the spirit of Christ’s command to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:21, “Go, sell your possessions, give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then, come follow me.”   It is just as Christ had said earlier in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.”   Jim Elliot lived a life full of passion for Christ, and that passion gave him a clear eye to see what was temporary and what was eternal.  What are those things we cannot keep?  What are those things (or that thing) we cannot lose?  It is well for our shallow and materialistic age to consider this.

  • We cannot keep our possessions, for the grave strips us of every ounce.
  • We cannot keep our reputations, for man’s empty praise means nothing before the throne of God.
  • We cannot keep our abilities, for one by one they slip from us as the years lengthen.
  • We cannot keep our earthly knowledge, for human wisdom will not avail on that final day.
  • We cannot keep our mortal bodies, for “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50).
  • We cannot keep our lives, for “It is appointed for men to die once, and then face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Then what are those things, or what is that thing which we cannot lose?  Jim Elliot wrote simply, “One treasure, a single eye, and a sole master.”  The one treasure we gain is our soul, its one eye is the joy of face to face fellowship with the sole master, Jesus Christ.  To be alive before God eternally in heaven was the consuming desire of Jim Elliot’s life.  The incredible value of our soul Jesus made abundantly clear when he said in Matthew 16:26, “What good would it be for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  Or what would a man give in exchange for his soul?”   Jim Elliot did not seek to save his earthly life at the expense of eternity. 

But what of the losing and the gaining?  This was the secret of a martyr’s life. God prepared Jim Elliot for martyrdom years before it ever occurred.  This preparation emerges in a letter Jim wrote to Elizabeth in 1949: 

"Dearest Betty, ‘We are the sheep of His pasture.  Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.’  And what are the sheep doing going into the gate?  What is their purpose inside those courts?  To bleat melodies and enjoy the company of the flock?  No.  Those sheep were destined for the altar.  Their pasture feeding had been for one purpose, to test them and fatten them for bloody sacrifice.  Give Him thanks, then, that you have been counted worthy of His altars.  Enter into the work with praise."

"The one treasure we gain is our soul, its one eye is the joy of face to face fellowship with the sole master, Jesus Christ."

Throughout Jim’s years before he gave his life for the conversion of the Auca Indians of Ecuador, God had strengthened his passion for service and sacrifice.  His life meant nothing to him, but that he might finish the task God had given him.  So, he lost everything worldly people try so hard to retain.  But he gained a rich welcome into eternal habitations through gates of splendor, and no one can take from him what Christ gave him at that moment.