A Right Balance
If we were to judge the comparative worth of the soul and the body from what we see around us, we would quickly come to the conclusion that the body is far more valuable than the soul. This is simply because men pay so much attention to the former, but so little to the latter. No one questions that far more thought, care, labour and money is spent on the body than on the soul. Today, more than ever before, people are concerned with health and fitness. The cosmetic trade is a multimillion dollar industry. Fashion and sport are an obsession with countless thousands. Dieting, healthy eating and fitness–training are all boom businesses. Sadly, this emphasis on the body is not restricted only to the unbelieving world. Many a Christian spends more time in front of the mirror than before God, or more house on the sports field than on his knees. Of course, it is perfectly right to care for the body, for we are to glorify God in our bodies (see q Cor. 6: 20). Indeed, bodily exercise itself is not unprofitable, though only “for a little” (1 Tim. 4: 8). The point is that the care exercised towards the body and the soul ought to be in their due proportion. “Exercise thyself unto piety” the apostle tells Timothy “for bodily exercise is profitable for a little, but piety is profitable for everything, having promise of life, of the present one, and of that to come” (vs 7–8). Contrary to the received wisdom of the age, the soul is more important than the body, and this should be reflected in how we use our time, our energy and our money. Sadly, Christians are very often put to shame by the followers of false religions, who though blind as to the truth, have rightly judged the overwhelming importance of the soul.
Our greatest snares are daily duties. Just because they are necessary and right in themselves, we seek thereby to keep the conscience quiet under the plea that duty must be attended to. Certainly it is right to do our duty, but it is always wrong to neglect the soul. If the soul is neglected, then all is wrong. Has the soul no claims? Do we owe no duty to it? Many satisfy themselves by spending a brief spell on the Lord’s Day attending to what they call their spiritual interest, and then devoting the remaining six days to their business, hobbies and entertainment. Sadly the soul comes in for a very small share of their time and consideration. How many saints of God are obsessed with adding every last detail to their “wainscoted houses” (Ha. 1: 4)—for the comfort of their bodies? The question needs to be asked, Would they spend so much time, energy and money on cultivating the welfare of their souls? How many Christians have looked down on Martha as one “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10: 40)—overly taken up with the needs of the body—without realising that the passage is a word from God to them! Many true believers have never grasped the fundamental truth that true Christianity is an obsession with Christ (Phil. 1: 21), and that, as a consequence, spiritual matters must take precedence over all other matters.
Now we shall neither rightly understand the worth of the soul nor appreciate its claims, until we have learnt its value from the Word of God. Certainly the body is important: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the compassions of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your intelligent service” (Rom. 12: 1), “Do ye not know that your body is [the] temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor. 6: 19). However, its value bears no comparison with the value of the soul. The Lord Jesus Himself asked “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mark 8: 36, 37). Here He clearly taught that one human soul is of greater value than the whole world—that if a man were to gain the world and yet lose his soul, his loss would be immeasurable! The world is material and must pass away (see 1 John 2: 17), but the soul will never pass away. It is immortal, and will exist for all eternity. Either the Father’s house of many abodes (see John 14: 2) or the Lake of fire (see Rev. 20: 15) will be the permanent dwelling–place of the soul. It is this fact that makes the soul so precious, and that gives it such a value to the compassionate heart of Christ. No one can measure the worth of a soul as He can. He knew that the redemption of the soul was “costly” (Ps. 49: 8), but He counted that cost and paid the ransom price of its redemption with His own precious blood.
Of course, if the soul is spiritual and immortal, nothing will meet its need that is not both perfect in its nature and permanent in its duration. Where then, are we to find this character of blessing fro the soul? Certainly not in this world. Vanity, decay and death are written on everything down here. There is nothing perfect or permanent in this scene. Nothing can be found under the sun that will meet the need or satisfy the desires of one human soul. Why? Because only God can fill the soul. Man differs from the animal kingdom in having a spiritual dimension and only God can fill the void that man away from God feels so keenly. As the psalmist says “For he hath satisfied the longing soul and filled the hungry soul with good” (Ps. 107: 9). An animal is happy if the needs of the body are met, but man requires something above and beyond this. He may have every material comfort possible—but lasting happiness and real peace will elude him if he neglects his soul. Again, he may have very little in the way of bodily comforts—may even be in great physical suffering—and yet be perfectly happy? Why? For precisely the reverse of the first example—because the needs of his soul are being met.
Many believers spend their lives ministering to their bodies, leaving their souls starved of all attention. Such would do well to learn the lesson of Solomon who indulged on a magnificent scale in everything that could be supposed to gratify and delight—“I withheld not my heart from any joy” (Eccl. 2: 10). He tried mirth and pleasure, wisdom and folly. He made great works, built houses, planted vineyards, gardens, parks and trees. He acquired servants and maidens, herds and flocks. He got himself men–singers and women–singers, a wife and concubines. He gathered silver and gold in abundance, and the peculiar treasure of kings. “And I became great” he says “and increased more than all that had been before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mind eyes desired I kept not from them: I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour, and this was my portion from all my labour. The I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought and on the labour that it had cost me to do [them]; and behold, all was vanity and pursuit of the wind, and there was no profit under the sun” (Eccl. 2: 9–11). Oh to learn this lesson! Yes, we have to go about our daily lives—working, eating, and household chores. Yes, we need clothing and housing. Yes, we need to exercise our limbs and care for our bodies. Yes, we need time to relax, and time with our families. This is not disputed. But to lavish our attention on these things to the neglect or our souls is utterly wrong. The way many or us conduct ourselves—pursuing our ambitions and financial goals, following every worldly fad and fashion, investing in everything we can afford for the comfort of our bodies and the entertainment of our minds—this is the kind of conduct that might very well leave a question as to whether we had any souls to minister to! It is easy to see why an unbeliever, with his heart darkened as to Christ (see 2 Cor. 4: 4) should immerse himself in what is merely sensual—but a Christian?! Is not his career, his ambition, his life all centred in Christ? Has he not given up spending “money fo [that which is] not bread” and labouring “for that which satisfieth not” (Is. 55: 2) and instead found his all in the Lord Jesus? “My people” says the Prophet “have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, to hew them out cisterns, broken cisterns that hold no water” (Jer. 2: 13). My people! May you and I be kept from such a path! Demas, once of service to the Master, turned aside to the illusory attractions of “the present age” (2 Tim. 4: 10). He did not cease being a Christian, but he lost his focus. Sadly, he has many modern–day companions.
How many are eagerly chasing after the fleeting phantoms of time to the entire neglect of their souls! Supposing every desired object was reached, and all possessed—the house of our dreams, a health, loving family, the status in society we long sought (really, place in this world!)—what would be gained? Only a deeper sense that all is vanity. They are but quickly fading excitements, like fireworks in the sky. For a moment how appealing they seem, but how rapidly we find that they are only tinsel! They only serve to increase the painful sense of want within, to bring to light the utter misery of the poor neglected soul.
“In the last, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink” (John 7: 37). These words are as applicable to the saint as to the sinner. Nothing can be plainer than this passage. Here, and here alone, you and I will find lasting satisfaction. What are all the tins spoken of in Ecclesiastes compared with the joy found in Him? They all fade into utter insignificance! Oh that we might learn the need for an all–consuming occupation with Christ! When the heart is occupied with Him it can relish nothing else. In Ecclesiastes the heart was too large for its portion; in the Song of Solomon the portion is too large for the heart. Millions mouth the words “my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23: 5) yet how many know much of its practical reality? In His presence there is fulness of joy (see Ps. 16: 11). “Thy love” says the lover of Christ “is better than wine” (S. of S. 1: 2). May you and I know more of it—and increasingly!