If someone were to offer you something that he could guarantee would make you able to never stumble, to make you fruitful in your service, would richly supply you entrance into the eternal kingdom, would you be interested? There are folks who go everywhere promising secrets about those kinds of things, as you may know. But, in II Peter 1, Peter says that if a person is focused on adding to his faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control, and to self-control patience, and to patience godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love, then that person will be blessed in the ways I have just mentioned. If we are increasing and if we are making those great spiritual graces real in our lives, then what promise this passage holds to us!
On the other hand, in verse 9, the apostle Peter writes, "For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins." Notice the eye problems that are mentioned in that verse. Someone who is blind and, as the American Standard puts it, "he sees only what is near." The King James says "he is blind and cannot see afar off." The idea in that case would be that here is a very special kind of blindness. It is one that makes us incapable of seeing past the present moment and what we want right now. Guy Woods observes that the kind of nearsightedness that is being spoken of in this passage refers to someone who is constantly squinting and blinking in an effort to try to see farther than where he is right at that moment. Bro. Woods says that "a person who is hindered in vision like this sees indistinctly. He cannot distinguish the true realities that are before him. He sees only the things about him, the world and its affairs, and that he has lost the power to look into the future and to see by faith beyond the gates eternal."
William Barclay further says of the "seeing only what is near" word that is used in this passage, that "it is easy to become short-sighted in life, to see only things as they appear at the moment and to be unable to take the long view of things, to have our eyes so fixed upon earth that we never think of things which are beyond." The ease with which that happens cannot be denied. We struggle with it all the time. So it serves us well to be reminded of how crucial it is to spiritual growth and to fruitfulness and to our hope of entering the eternal kingdom, to be people who learn to take the long view of things in our lives, and to live in view of things that are real and not merely in view of appearances at the moment.
I want to do two things in our study this morning. I want to offer some examples of this principle of the long view from scripture, and then we would like to make some practical applications to all of our lives.
Let's begin with two examples of this principle of the "long view" in our lives - one negative and one positive, and both, by the way, mentioned by the Hebrew writer. If you will remember that the Hebrew writer was concerned with having Christians be able to not grow weary but instead to be patient and to stay with their commitment to the Lord and their belief in the Lord, then it becomes all the more impressive that he brings up these two examples. The first example is Esau as mentioned in Hebrews 12:16, 17. The Hebrew writer says that he is urging his readers "that no one be a fornicator (or sexually immoral) or unholy (some versions will say godless) like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears." You will remember that at the end of Genesis 25 the story of how Esau came in from hunting out in the field just exhausted. At that moment he was tired, he was hungry, he wanted something to eat and to satisfy him so that he could rest. His brother Jacob happened at that moment to be there, maybe in the process of preparing a meal - a kind of red stew. Esau said, "Give me some of that red stew." Jacob said, "If you will sell me your birthright." The birthright belonged to the older of the sons in a family and it meant not only a double proportion of the material goods that the father would have, but also the blessing. In this case that blessing involved the purpose of God to make him great and to bring a blessing to all the nations of the earth. But you see, Esau was the kind of a person who was more impressed with how he felt at that moment and what he wanted right then than he was with the future possibilities and the benefits that could come from being a blessing to everybody in the whole world. So Esau made the deal for one meal, and that a meal of red stew. He sold so much for so little. Esau was the kind of man that the Hebrew writer says is "a profane man." He is unholy. That is, he has no ability to respect what is holy and what is meaningful and what has eternal consequences. He is the kind of a guy who will sell out for trinkets. He showed no appreciation at all for what was his rightful possession, and he sold it. Esau was a man who could not take the long view of things.
On the other hand in a chapter earlier in Hebrews 11, the Hebrew writer calls his readers' minds back to the example of Moses. You remember Moses' childhood and how he was kept alive by his mother and then hidden in a basket in the river and watched by his sister until Pharaoh's daughter found him. Then his own mother was hired to take care of him as a little boy, and he was brought up in Pharaoh's own household. All of the luxury and all the prestige of Pharaoh's palace was in Moses' grasp. But the Hebrew writer says in Hebrew 11:24, "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy 'the fleeting pleasures of sin.' He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than all the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward." Notice two phrases from that reading especially, the first being "the fleeting pleasures of sin" (the pleasures of sin for the moment). There is no denying what this says. The world offers some stimulating pleasure. What could have been enjoyed in Pharaoh's palace would have been something that for the moment would have brought pleasure. Notice also that there is the mention of the "treasures of Egypt." I read somewhere that a few years back when King Tut's tomb was discovered and unearthed, that several thousand pounds of pure gold were found just in that one king's tomb. Moses was in a position to have come into possession of all the treasures of Egypt, and yet he gave that up. He did it in order to be with the people of God. He did it in order to suffer with the people of God. He took a view of things which said it would be better to suffer with God's people than to enjoy the treasure and the pleasure of this world for such a short time. Whether you and I can see things like Moses or whether we see things like Esau will tell the story of our lives.
A father had a little boy he was trying to bring up, and this little boy was constantly being reminded of the real world by bumping into this or that or by stumbling over this or that or hurting himself in some way. The father had always tried to help his little boy through those things. As the boy grew, the hurts became more personal and more inward. One day as the father was trying to encourage his boy to hang in there and to do the right thing, he told his son "You have to take the hundred-year perspective." He said, "It won't hurt a hundred years from now." That is not much comfort at the moment, is it? But as you and I mature, we realize that we have to look at life that way. We ought to measure our goals by how things will look after a while and not how they look just now. Something that will not be of value a hundred years from now will not make our lives what they ought to be right now.
A good illustration of this difference between the long view and the short-sightedness that can overcome us is found in the contrast at the end of Philippians 3. At the end of Philippians 3 Paul describes enemies of the cross of Christ versus citizens of the kingdom of heaven. If you will observe carefully, you will see that the big difference is their viewpoint. One looks at what I want right now. The other looks at what is worth waiting for. Notice as I read beginning at verse 18, "For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." Do you see the difference in viewpoint? One says, "I want what I want right now. I want my desires satisfied now!" The other one says, "I believe there is something worth waiting for, and I intend to await what is really valuable which is citizenship in heaven." The long view or the short view.
Let's take that principle now and try to apply it to some aspects of our own lives. In view of what we have read, we all ought to say to ourselves that when we are handling material things, we ought to take the long view. Edgar A. Guest said one time, "One day we will stand with empty hands and wonder what we are worth, all of us." In the Old Testament there is the story of Abraham, the great patriarch, and his nephew Lot. God prospered them so much, Genesis 13 says, that there came to be strife between their herdsmen. Abraham called his nephew and said, "Look, we are brethren. You look out over the land and choose what you want, and you can have that and I will go in the other direction." I am paraphrasing, of course. Lot lifted up his eyes and looked out over the plain around the Jordan and the Dead Sea area, and he saw what it was like back then, all watered and good pastures and all of that. He could see the material benefit in it, and he said, "I will take that." And in telling words the Bible says, "Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom." What agony that choice ended up bringing him! One of the most powerful questions that has ever been asked was asked by our Lord in Matthew 16:26. "What shall a man be profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" That is thought provoking, isn't it?
In handling our material things we want to remember what is more important. We want to take the long view. In I Timothy 6:17-19, Paul instructed Timothy, "As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but in God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." Take the long view when it comes to things.
Secondly, we can apply this truth by saying for all of us that when we are facing temptation, we ought to take the long view of things. Temptation is a powerful experience. Our enemy knows how to approach any one of us to exert the maximum pressure on us and on our convictions. But what we are able to see is often the determining factor in how we handle temptation to do wrong things. I can give you so many examples from scripture. Eve saw that the fruit of that tree was to be desired for food, but she didn't see the consequences of ignoring what God had told her to do. Achan in Joshua 7 saw a goodly Babylonish garment and some gold there among the spoil, but he didn't see the defeat of his people and the shame that came on them as a result of his sin in the camp. David looked over there in the evening from the top of his roof and saw a beautiful woman bathing. He didn't see the embarrassment and the shame and the agony that would be brought on his family by the deed he determined to do. There are so many examples of that.
On the other hand, Jesus responded to temptation by the long view. When the enemy said, "Look at these stones. Turn them into bread. Satisfy yourself." Jesus said, "Nobody can live just by bread. It takes every word that comes from the mouth of God." When the devil said, "Cast yourself off of here. Everybody will see you. The angels will come and bear you up." Jesus said, "You shouldn't tempt the holy God." When the devil said, "Look at all these kingdoms of the world. I will give them all to you if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus saw that there was somebody else to worship and only he is to be worshiped.
I remember talking sometime ago with a young man who was thinking of walking out on his family. It was a very emotional situation. This young man had a number of pressures on him that were tempting him. I remember saying to him when he asked what he should do, "I am just asking you to do what you will be proud of when you get 75." Take the long view when temptation pressures you.
Thirdly, we can apply this point by saying that when you and I are pressed by trouble, we should take the longer view of things. Trouble can look awfully hopeless at the moment. I want you to think in your mind's eye of your favorite sporting contest. It can be football, or basketball, or baseball or whatever game it is you really like. Occasionally on ESPN there will be a replay of some classic game, some game from history that was so exciting. You can watch those games and you can take a slice of that video at any point and you might find that game going in exactly the opposite way from how you know it is going to turn out. It may look to you like the team that you know is going to win is losing instead. Did you realize that life is like that too? If you get caught up in just looking at a slice of the moment and of the temporary, you may miss the real truth about where victory lies. In this story of Moses, for example, in Hebrews 11, in the sacrifice that Moses made, one verse later in verse 27 it says that "by faith he left Egypt not being afraid of the anger of the king for he endured as seeing him who is invisible." How do you endure trouble? You have to see beyond this video clip of the moment to how things ultimately are going to turn out.
Paul in 2 Corinthians 4 and 5 deals with this. He points out at the end of chapter 4 that things that are seen are temporary; things that are unseen are eternal. And then in chapter 5, verses 6-8, he says, "So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord for we walk by faith and not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." What he is saying there is that even with the worst that can happen in this life, being away from the body, take the long view. Walk by faith and see how things are going to look from the eternal perspective.
A fourth application of this is that when we are serving, we ought to take the long view. When a person is involved in good works and when he is involved in serving unselfishly, he may begin to think that all that matters is whether we are getting results at the moment, and we may think that as long as we are outwardly succeeding, then whatever it takes is worth it even if it involves the sacrifice of personal integrity and of faithfulness to the Lord's word. There are some things that are not worth it. When we are serving, who we are serving is more important than what kind of results we think we see at the moment.
When we are serving, we may start to feel that we are not doing any good or that it is not worth it. That has happened to more than one servant down through the years. And yet, Paul said at the end of I Corinthians 15, "Be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." That is the conviction of a servant. He has to take the long view of things.
And then I want to say that when we have sinned, we need to take the long view. When any one of us stumbles and sins, as we do, either in attitude or action, there are two dangers that may challenge us. One danger is that we think we got away with it because no one said anything to us at the moment, because no consequences seem to have come up against us at the moment, nobody knows. I got away with that. That is an awful mistake, isn't it? David learned that the hard way in his own personal journey.
On the other hand, it is possible that when you and I have sinned, we may be overwhelmed by it. The guilt of that failure that took place at the moment may be so astonishing that we are just not able to accept ourselves or to believe that God could accept us, and we give up. In either of those cases, the long view is needed. In Moses' day the people of Israel grumbled and complained and spoke out against God until God sent fiery serpents among them. Those serpents bit many of the people, and they started dying. And when they started dying, they cried out to Moses, "Go plead with God to take this away from us." And God had Moses to make a serpent out of brass and to raise it up on a standard in the midst of the camp, and God said that when anybody looks on that serpent, when anybody takes the long view, when anybody is not so short-sighted that all he can see is what is going on at the moment, then I will heal that person. In John 3:14-15, Jesus said that as Moses lifted up that serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up (he is talking about the cross), so that whoever believes in him may have life which is eternal.
It is in our ability to see that all the difference is told. Michael Green, in his commentary on II Peter, says of this near-sightedness that we are speaking of that the meaning is "that such a man is blind because he blinks or willfully closes his eyes to the light. Spiritual blindness descends upon the eyes which deliberately look away from the graces of character here to which the Christian is called." We are encouraging ourselves to take a longer view in that. Don't willfully turn your eyes away from what the Lord wants us to become. Instead, take the long view. Jesus is the object upon whom our attention needs to be focused, and focusing on him will pay so abundantly if we stay with it over time.
Maybe you are here today and you need to get your attention focused squarely on the Lord. If you are ready to confess your faith in him and to be baptized into him, this would be a great day for it. If you are a believer and you have been failing to add these graces, if it is turning your eyes from Jesus and if you are not taking the long view, this would be a good day to readjust. If you are a brother or sister in Christ of ours and you need to let us know that you are a Christian and that this is the family that you want to be a part of, you might let us know that so we can meet our obligations of fellowship toward you. If we can help you in one of these ways, won't you let it be known today as we stand and sing together?