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Give Yourself To Something Bigger Than Yourself

John 6:57-67

Today l would ask you to think with me about the subject of loyalty…

Our text comes from one of the crisis moments in Jesus’ ministry. When He first began His itinerant preaching, people flocked to Him in droves. There is even a suggestion in the early chapters of John’s Gospel that Jesus was embarrassed by the numbers who came. Everywhere He went, the response was the same. Such overwhelming popularity inevitably draws resentment—and Jesus’ popularity was no exception. The established religious leaders began to marshall themselves against Him. Their opposition became organized and entrenched. Within a short period of time, Jesus could see the handwriting on the wall. He began to refer more and more frequently to the possibility of the cross. According to John, that word “cross” was a word which many of Jesus’ disciples did not care to hear, and so they turned away. They left Him, many of them, the Bible says. At that point Jesus turned to The Twelve, those who were closest to Him—and you can almost hear the anguish in His voice as He asked: “Will you also go away?”

That is our text, and it is a most crucial question. For loyalty, of course, is the key to the success of any group or organization. A team, a family, a club, a company, a labor union, a school, a church—if loyalty is not present in each, then the group will not be what it ought to be. Loyalty is the essence of success in any group. That is why loyalty is so heavily emphasized in Scripture.

If you were to sit down one afternoon and evening and read the New Testament straight through, you would discover that it is in large measure an appeal to our loyalty. It is a symphony written about a single theme—and that theme is captured in Jesus’ question, “Will you also go away?” That’s just another way of asking: “Are you loyal?” Therefore, I would like for us to consider the subject of loyalty and I would like for us to frame it in three questions.

First, what is the definition of loyalty?

Loyalty is a willing devotion to a person or a cause or a group with such devotion being lived out on a daily basis. Josiah Royce, who was for many years a professor of philosophy at Harvard, wrote what is probably the finest book ever written on the subject of loyalty. It is entitled The Philosophy of Loyalty. In that book, Royce says that loyalty is “The will to believe in something outside the self and to express that belief in the practical life of a human being.” Loyalty is not just an idea. It is not just a concept. It is nothing less than the way we live.

Now if that is true—and I believe it is—if loyalty is practiced on a day-to-day basis in a human life, then sooner or later that loyalty will be challenged. It will be put to the test, just the way Jesus put the loyalty of His disciples to the test. In other words, there will be moments along our life’s way when we are tempted to lay aside our ideals, to avoid making sacrifices, to take the easy way out, to skip the high road and opt for the low road. Indeed this is so much the case, that I would say that if our loyalty in life has never been put to the test, then that loyalty doesn’t mean very much. Loyalties are always tested.

George Selwyn, who wrote some of the greatest chapters in the history of Pacific missions, was educated at Eton and Cambridge in England. He went on to become the first Anglican bishop of New Zealand. There he entered into a ministry which was costly in the extreme, but nevertheless, he pursued it with unfailing loyalty and courage. There is a memorial built to honor him there. It is a large white marble sarcophagus, and carved into the top is the figure of the bishop stretched out as if he is sleeping. There is a look of great calm and beauty upon his face. His hands are folded upon his chest. Behind the monument, there is a window in the shape of a cross. The window is made entirely of crimson glass, so that at certain times of the day, when the sunlight streams through the window, a great blood-red cross falls upon the face and the hands and the heart of the sleeping bishop. To me, that is a picture of that man and that is a picture of what loyalty is. He chose to follow Jesus Christ in His life. He lived out that commitment every single day. No matter how he was tested, he held fast. That is loyalty. It is a willing devotion to something or someone, lived out in the daily flow of our lives, no matter the cost.

But secondly, what is the implication of loyalty?

Loyalty is what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Now we are on the edge of a great mystery here, but I think that together we can understand part of it. The fact is that our noblest living occurs when our sense of loyalty is intact, when we give ourselves to a cause which is bigger than ourselves.

A doctor-friend of mine told me about a man who came to see him. The man was deeply despondent. There was no joy, no enthusiasm, no tone, no brightness to his life. As the doctor talked to him, he discovered that this man’s life was totally focused upon himself. So what the doctor said was this: “You need to give yourself to something bigger than yourself. If you can’t find anything else, then pick out one of the major league baseball teams and follow it and cheer it all the way through the season.” Today, of course, we are talking on a much more profound level than cheering for a baseball team. But it is a fact that we live better physically, spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually when we are given to something grander, something bigger, something greater than ourselves.

Joseph Fort Newton was a great preacher a generation or two ago. In his autobiography, he said that there are only four things that you can do with your life. You can run away from it—that is you can try to avoid making any commitments in life. Or you can run along with it—that is you can follow the crowd and do whatever the crowd wants to do. Or you can run it alone—that is, you can do the things you want to do only for yourself. Or you can run it with Jesus Christ—that is, you can give yourself to something bigger than yourself. That last option, Newton says, is the only one which leads to victory in life.

You see, when you live a life than is no bigger than your own hatband, when your commitments are focused only on your own attitudes and concerns, when you spend your days living in a gray twilight which never knows either defeat or victory, when you live like that, you are living life on a level lower than it is meant to be lived. Life is to be given over to something great and grand and soul-stretching. It is great purpose which makes great people.

Look at Jesus Himself. In all of His terrifying suffering, He was serene and confident. Before the spinelessness of Pilate and the buffoonery of Herod and the cruelty of the soldiers and the red-hot hatred of His enemies—treason and treachery and disloyalty all about Him, no one speaking for Him; no one standing with him—still in all of it He was kind and gentle and forgiving. He loved them all to the end. How could He do it? Because He knew that He belonged to God…because He knew that He had given Himself to something even bigger than Himself… because He knew that His loyalty to the Father remained firm and fixed—that’s how He could do it.

That is why I keep coming back to this pulpit, Sunday after Sunday, pouring out my heart and my life before you, trying to help you remember that you belong to God, that you are heaven-bound, that you are Easter people, that you are wrapped in the reality of the resurrection, that death will never conquer you. For when you understand that, when you surrender yourself to that which is greater and grander than you are, then you can face any challenge and overcome any obstacle. That means that when your loyalty in life is fixed upon the Lord, then no task is too big for you and no dream is beyond your reach. When you give yourself to something bigger than yourself, then life becomes more wonderful and more meaningful than it can be in any other way.

That brings us to the third question: What is the application of loyalty?

Queen Mary, the grandmother of the present Queen Elizabeth II, once wrote a letter to her granddaughter and in the letter she said: “Remember that life is made up of loyalty—loyalty to your friends, loyalty to things beautiful and good, loyalty to anything or anyone you love, loyalty to your country, and above all—for this holds all other loyalties together—loyalty to God.”

Well, what about our loyalty to God? Jesus says to us: “Will you also go away?”

Did you know that it is possible in America now to hire a picket? There’s a company called “Proxy Pickets, Inc.,” and if you have something on which you need to take a stand or if the moment to be counted arrives, then you can call this company and hire a picketer or a demonstrator. The company will then send someone to picket or demonstrate on your behalf. Isn’t that incredible? That’s a new business in America, but it’s an old business in the church. You see, most members of the church expect other people to be loyal enough to the church to make it what it ought to be.

I will confess to you that I am tired of hearing excuses for the church, especially for the Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church in this nation is losing members at an alarming rate. There are individuals who try to rationalize that away by saying things like: “Times of affluence are always hard on the church”…or “the demographics are presently against the church”…or “the church’s ministry is primarily prophetic, proclaiming truths which are not popular.” Rubbish! The reason that the church is not as effective as it could be is that there are too many preachers and too many church members with too little loyalty to Jesus Christ! There are too many standing on the sidelines watching the game. There are too many who never make it the consuming purpose of their lives to live for Jesus Christ in and through the church.

When I think of that, I think of Napoleon at the Battle of Archais. lt was a bloody battle, but Napoleon won it. However, one of his generals, General Crillon, never showed up with his forces even though he was scheduled to be part of Napoleon’s battle plan. When Crillon finally presented himself after the battle, Napoleon said: “Go hang yourself, brave Crillon. We fought at Archais today and you were not there.” Well, my friends, the Church of Jesus Christ is engaged in war against the forces of evil in our world and the need for men and women and young people to stand for Jesus Christ has never been greater—but too many are not enlisting in the fight. So Jesus says to us today: “Will you also go away?”

That is why I keep coming back to this pulpit Sunday after Sunday, pouring out my heart and my life before you, trying to help you remember that no one in all of history, no matter how strong and imposing that person might have been—no one has ever captured the world’s imagination as Jesus has. There is no one else who has ever lived like Him, and there is no one else whom so many have sought to be like in their living. As Carlyle put it: “Higher than Him thought cannot go.” Jesus is the best thing that I know. He is the one on whom I am betting my life. It is He who called me to this pulpit, and I have spent these last five years trying to proclaim Jesus and to live Jesus among you. I have given my all to call you to give your all to Him.

So…

Many people go through life looking for the nice things in life—a nice family, a nice job, nice income, nice pension, nice house, nice car, nice investments, nice health plan, nice club, nice church, nice minister. Do you know what the end of that story is? It’s a nice mound with a nice stone and a nice name and a couple of nice dates carved on it out in the middle of a nice cemetery. O, my beloved, if that’s all you go after in life, then you will have pampered yourself into mediocrity when you could have forged yourself into immortality. I call you today to give yourself to something bigger than yourself. Give yourself to Jesus Christ. Make Him the supreme loyalty of your life.

As for me…well, if sometime down the future, you should pause for a moment to think of me, I would ask you only to remember this—that sometimes, occasionally, once-in-a-while, I had the courage to climb up in this pulpit and say what needed to be said—the words of John from long ago: “The world will pass away and the lust thereof; but those who do the will of God, they shall abide forever.”

Today Jesus asks: “Will you also go away?”

Today, it’s time for you to answer…

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