Forfeit Your Soul




Matthew 16:26

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”


Madonna Louise Ciccone was born 1958 in Bay City, Michigan. She released her first album in 1983. She followed it with a series of albums, which made her immensely popular. Her very R-rated music videos became a fixture on MTV. Many of her songs have hit number one on the record charts, including "Like a Virgin", "Papa Don't Preach", "Like a Prayer", "Vogue", "Frozen", "Music", "Hung Up", and "4 Minutes".

In 1996, she won critical acclaim and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her role in Evita. Madonna's other ventures include being a fashion designer, children's book author, film director, and producer.

Madonna has sold more than 300 million records worldwide and is recognized as the world's top-selling female recording artist of all time by the Guinness World Records. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, she is the best-selling female rock artist of the 20th century and the second top-selling female artist in the United States, behind Barbra Streisand, with 64 million certified albums. In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked Madonna at number two, behind only The Beatles, on the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists, making her the most successful solo artist in the history of the Billboard chart. She was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in that same year. She is considered one of the "25 Most Powerful Women of the Past Century" by Time magazine. I could go on. Madonna is an excellent businesswoman. The Cranfield School of Management described her as “America's smartest businesswoman.”

Now I do not recommend Madonna's music or her music videos, which are filled with naked or nearly naked bodies, but given all I have said about her so far, I was astonished to come across this statement. Madonna said, "Money . . . sex . . . food. . . . they’re not what’s going to make us happy. They’re not real. They don’t last. There’s only one thing that lasts, and that’s your soul. And if you don’t work on that, and you don’t pay attention to that, then all the money in the world is not going to help you." [Citation: David K. Li, “Again Like A Virgin,” (10/7/02). Madonna on Materialism, 5/11/05.]

Did you hear that? The top-selling female recording artist of all time, “America's Smartest Businesswoman” says that if you are looking for happiness in money, sex, food, and stuff, you are not going to find it. Happiness is only found in things of the soul.

By definition, your soul is your spiritual essence that survives death. Because the soul is immortal, it is obviously the most important thing about you. Thus, Jesus asks, in Matthew 16:26, what good would it do you if you owned the whole world but lost your soul? The implication is, of course, no good at all.

Actually, down through history, there have been jokes about selling your soul. In the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou, A young musician meets the devil at the crossroads at midnight and sells his soul for knowledge about how to play the guitar. The musician's name in the movie is Tommy Johnson. He is named after a real life musician, Tommy Johnson, who also reputedly sold his soul to the devil.

In New Zealand, a man sold his soul to a Pizza place. I am not making this up. Back in 2008, a New Zealand pizza chain struck a deal with Walter Scott to buy a deed to his soul. This was after Scott attempted to sell his soul online. Scott offered his soul on the TradeMe site, saying, "I can't see it, touch it or feel it, but I can sell it, so I'm going to palm it off to the highest bidder."

The online auction attracted more than 32,000 hits and over 100 bids before it was taken down. TradeMe business manager Michael O'Donnell said the company had received an "overwhelming number of complaints from the TradeMe community.” "A lot of people felt it was offensive even though we thought it was there for good fun," he told The Associated Press. "So the compliance team pulled it." He said the auction attracted many bogus bids. The last bid on the site was listed as $3,799, the last genuine bid was $456.

Hell Pizza (that is the name for a Pizza chain in New Zealand) contacted Scott shortly after the online auction was removed and offered him $3,800 for his soul.

"The soul belongs to Hell, there is simply no better place for it," Rachael Allison, head of marketing for Hell Pizza told The Associated Press. "He was pretty delighted."

Several years earlier, in 2001, 20-year-old university student Adam Burtle tried to sell his soul on eBay, but the auction was pulled after the company ruling that something tangible needed to be exchanged for a viable sale.

[Filed by Anya Strzemien see]

So Walter Scott got $3,800 for his soul. It does not sound like that much. Jesus would say that Walter is seriously undervaluing himself. According to Jesus, there is not enough money, property, power, pleasure, or fame in the world to make selling your soul a good deal. A soul is not some part of us, some spiritual trinket that we can give away with a certificate of ownership like a kidney. In fact, in Matthew 16, the Greek word for “life” in v25 is the same word that is translated “soul” in verse 26. Your life is your soul. Your soul is your life, and it is the most valuable thing in the universe. We should never give it away.

Yet we do. As much as we may laugh and roll our eyes at Walter Scott, he is not doing anything that is all that different than other people do every day. He is a bit more blatant about it, but every day people trade their souls for one thing or another, and that one thing or another is never worth what they pay.

The process is subtle, and seductive. Here is how it works. It begins, maybe, with a felt need: a certain standard of living, or a certain amount of respect, or a particular status in society. That need becomes a matter of life and death, the bare minimum I must have for happiness. Thus, I start working so many hours that my family starts to suffer, my kids start to miss me but eventually learn to get along without me, my spouse becomes a stranger. Maybe I cut some ethical corners. Maybe I take advantage of a colleague to vault up the corporate ladder. Finally, maybe I get what I want, and then one day I wake up and look in the mirror and wonder how I became who I am. I have gained the world, and I forfeited myself.

The price is love or approval or comfort or escape. These things all have at least two things in common. First of all they become so important to us that we give up our true lives as God's people to have them. We give up eternity to have them. We give up a life shared with God for some piddling, paltry existence with trinkets that we think we want. Ultimately, we give up everything for a lie. These things never deliver on their promise. In the end, everything we think is so important crumbles away to dust and leaves us with empty hands, empty hearts, and empty lives.

In J.R.R. Tolkein's Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, there is a miserable creature named Gollum. He was not always so bad. He was not always Gollum. He was a hobbit named Smeagol until the glint of the Ring caught his eye and he gave up everything else to live for nothing more than to have and to keep the Ring, which he called “My Precious.” The Ring dominated his life and killed him in the end. However, he lost his life, his soul, long before he died. He lost everything for the Ring.

Things like that do not just happen in books and movies. The world is full of things that quickly and easily become “My Precious” and turn us into creatures we would not recognize if we could look through time and see how things will turn out. That is why following Jesus means living in a certain way, and not living in other ways. Jesus wants us to enjoy live, Jesus does not want us to be miserable or unhappy, but Jesus knows how easily our efforts to have what we want — can wind up costing us our souls.

In Matthew 16:25, Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We might think that verse sounds odd. How do we save our live by losing it? But Jesus knows what life really is, what it is really about. We are not made to spend our lives chasing all our ambitions and pursuing every whim. That is not who we really are, and when we live like that, we eventually lose ourselves. We are made to live with God, to fulfill God's purpose. That is real life. When we live that way, when we live for God, we have figured it out. We have the answer; we have hit the jackpot.

When we think of Jackpots, we think of the lottery, which shows our twisted way of thinking. Specifically we think of the Powerball Lottery. Here is a trivia question for you. What is the largest Powerball jackpot in history? $365 Million. On February 22, 2006, a group of eight coworkers at the ConAgra Foods plant in Lincoln, Neb., claimed a $365 million jackpot. The group elected to take the cash option valued at $177.3 million. Their respective shares were $22,162,500. After withholding of 25 percent federal and 5 percent state tax, they got $15.5 million each.

Let me ask you a personal question. Have you ever bought a lottery ticket? Do not answer that. I will make a personal confession. I have. When Powerball first became legal in South Carolina, I bought a few lottery tickets, then it dawned on me that my chance of winning was about the same as being struck by lightning and eaten by a shark at the same time, so I gave it up as a waste of money.

However, have you thought what you could do with $15.5 million dollars? Help your family. Give to worldwide missions. Help the needy and poor. Give to any worthwhile cause. And oh yes, get something for yourself or take a good long vacation.

Most people in this world are mostly interested in money. They want the big jackpot. They figure with money they can have whatever else they want in life: a house, a car, a trip, a spouse. Some people are totally absorbed with wealth and material things. They think money can buy anything.

However, 1 Timothy 6:6-8 says,

(6) Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment,

(7) for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.

(8) But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

I like the phrase “godliness with contentment.” The two go together. No godliness, no contentment. Godliness refers to being a devout or reverent person. Our contentment is our satisfaction with our lives. I Timothy seems to indicate that godliness must come before contentment. Could it be then that we are not satisfied because we are not devout? That is something to think about.

Since we will take nothing with us when we leave this world, why is it that we work so hard to accumulate so much in this life? The problem is that we want so much and we think we need so much. Some people reason thusly, “If I want something badly enough it must be that I need it. Otherwise, I would not want it so badly.” How is that for poor reasoning?

I Timothy says, if we have food and clothing, we should be content with that, but we are not. One of the reasons for our discontent is that we are in America where we have so much, and that seems to make us want even more. Everyone else is buying stuff, we think we need that stuff.

I have heard that there is nothing wrong with having money as long as money doesn’t have you. This goes for material things too. Money in itself is not good or bad. What destroys us is our passion to possess.

Why do we want stuff that is turning to dust and ashes even as we get it? The only logical answer is that we do not really believe in life after death. We grab what we can, while we can, however we can and then hold on to it as long as we can. That is not the way of life. That is the way of death.

Back in 2006, in West Bend, Wisconsin, someone thought they hit the jackpot when they made off with $26,000 worth of beer. Thieves stole a tractor trailer rig loaded with cans and bottles of Miller beer according to the local sheriff's department. Many people would say, Jackpot. It is party time. It would not be so for me. I am not much of a party animal. My party is a cup of coffee and a good book.

Speaking of parties the biggest party in America is coming in a couple of weeks on March 8--Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Mardi Gras means literally “Fat Tuesday,” but its roots lie in the Christian calendar, as the feast before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That is why the enormous party in New Orleans ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday, with battalions of street sweepers pushing the crowds out of the French Quarter towards home.

I suppose that most people who go to Mardi Gras are looking for some fun. They wear funny costumes, toss beads, cheer the parades. Others make Mardi Gras into an excuse for sin. But we do not have to wait for Mardi Gras to sin. Plenty of people do a good job of that every day of their lives. Because of the way they live, they forfeit their soul.

In Matthew 13:44, we read, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

God is what is important. Living for God is the only way to live. The kingdom of heaven is a treasure, the greatest treasure of all, the greatest jackpot of all. Amen.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 05/02/13