What can we call this and how will it apply to our day’s generation? Would I be out of line if I were to talk to you for a little while about utilitarian religion and expedient Christianity and a useful God? I would like to call attention to the fact that our day is a day when the ruling philosophy is pragmatism. You understand what I mean by pragmatism? Pragmatism means if it works, it’s true. If it succeeds, it’s good. And the test of all practices, all principles, all truth (so called), all teaching, is: do they work?
Now the greatest failures of the ages—according to pragmatism—have been some of the men God has honored most.
For instance, whereas Noah was a mighty good ship builder, his main occupation wasn’t shipbuilding, it was preaching. He was a terrible failure as a preacher. His wife and three children and their wives were all he had. Seven converts in 120 years, you wouldn’t call that particularly effective. Most mission boards would have asked the missionaries to withdraw long before this. I say as a ship builder he did quite well, but as a preacher he was a failure.
And then we come down across the years to another man by the name of Jeremiah. He was mighty effective preacher, but ineffective as far as results were concerned. If you were to measure statistically how successful Jeremiah was, he would probably get a large cipher. For we find that he lost out with the people, he lost out with royalty, even the ministerial association voted against him and wouldn’t have anything to do with him. He had everything fail. The only one he seemed able to please was God, but otherwise he was a distinct failure.
And then we come to another well known person, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was a failure according to all the standards. He never succeeded in organizing a church or denomination. He wasn’t able to build a school. He didn’t succeed in getting a mission board established. He never had a book printed. He never was able to get any of the various criteria or instruments that we find are so useful. I’m not being sarcastic at all; they are useful. And our Lord preached for three years, healed thousands of people, fed thousands of people, and yet when it was all over there were 120 faithful out of 500 to whom he could reveal Himself after His resurrection. And the day that He was taken, one man said, “If all the others forsake you, I’m willing to die for you.” He looked at this one and said “Peter you don’t know your own heart. You’re going to deny me three times before the cock crows this morning.” So all men forsook Him and fled. By every standard of our generation or any generation, our Lord was a singular failure.
The question comes then to this, what is the standard of success, and by what are we going to judge our lives and our ministry? And the question that you are going to ask yourself, “Is God an end, or is He a means?” Our generation is prepared to honor successful choices. As long as a person can get the job done, then our generation is prepared to say well done.
And so we’ve got to ask ourselves at the very outset of our ministry, and our pilgrimage, and our walk: “Are we going to be Levites who serve God for ten shekels and a shirt? Are we going to serve men, perhaps in the name of God, rather than God?” For though he was a Levite and performed religious activities, he was looking for a place which would give him recognition, a place which would give him acceptance, a place which would give him security, a place where he could shine in terms of those values which were important to him. His whole business was serving in religious activities, so it had to be a religious job. He was very happy when he found that Micah had an opening. But he had decided that he was worth ten shekels and a shirt, and he was prepared to sell himself to anyone that would give that much. If somebody came along and gave more, he would sell himself to them. But he put a value upon himself, and he figured then his religious service and his activities were just a means to an end. By the same token, God was a means to an end.