All This, for Nothing
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36).
Barbara ‘Basia’ Piasecka was born in Poland in 1937, and after graduating with a degree in art history and with $100 in her pocket, made her way to the United States and secured a job as a cook in Oldwick, New Jersey at the home of multi-millionaire Seward Johnson of the Johnson & Johnson Company. Basia was not much of a cook and was demoted to housemaid. She was, however, beautiful and charming and before long Seward was having an adulterous affair with Basia. He divorced his second wife and married Basia. She was thirty-four and he was seventy-six years old. She spent enormous sums of her husband’s money on art and grand schemes of unbridled avarice. She built a mansion in Princeton, New Jersey called Jasna Polana and planned an elaborate chapel underneath the mansion where she, Seward, and her beloved dog Princey (which had an air-conditioned dog house) would be interred in a crypt. Below the crypt was to be a bomb shelter to protect them against Soviet invasion. The shelter would be sealed off by two 50,000-pound doors and have multiple periscopes to watch for the Soviets after the nuclear holocaust. She never completed the crypt. Basia never completed much of anything. She was incredibly difficult, known for her blood-curdling temper, and demanding of those around her.
Seward died in May, 1983 at the age of eighty-seven and is buried in Fort Pierce, Florida. Basia, much to the dismay and anger of Seward’s children, was given the vast majority of his fortune. Forbes in March, 2013 estimated her fortune at $3.6 billion but many experts suggest her wealth was vastly over-estimated, and only a fraction of that amount. After Seward’s death Basia, who had separated herself from just about everyone, increasingly became reclusive and moved to Monaco. She sought meaning in religion and pursued a number of religious pilgrimages, eventually living in Assisi, where ‘St. Francis will be looking for me.’ She found no peace there, feuding with town authorities who prevented her from making the changes she wanted on the property she bought near the main church. She was diagnosed with leukemia and made her way back to Sobotka, Poland where the mountains supposedly emit a healing energy. Prior to Basia’s death a local journalist, who had unsuccessfully tried to interview her, was picnicking about fifty yards from Basia’s estate and was able to hear her talking to herself, as she strolled by, saying, ‘What was all this for? All this, for nothing?’ She died in April, 2013 a lonely, angry, bitter woman. She always sought respect and honour from the beautiful people of the world. None of them attended her funeral, and she is buried in a crowded cemetery in Wroclaw, Poland. Art historian Jozef Grabski, who knew her well, said, ‘A lot of rich people think they can buy life. She didn’t believe she could die.’
Jim Elliot, on January 8, 1956, along with four fellow missionaries, all of whom were married and all but one fathers, was speared to death by several Auca Indians in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador. They had firearms in their possession but promised never to use them on the Indians, only to protect themselves against wild animals or snakes. The martyrdom of these five missionary men became world news and many pundits wondered aloud at the squandering of their lives on savages. ‘So young. So talented and dedicated.’ In October, 1949 Jim Elliot wrote in his diary, ‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.’ Their deaths ushered in a remarkable missionary movement that sent scores of missionaries to Papua New Guinea and other stone age tribal peoples around the world, resulting in the transformation of multitudes of people, delivering them from satanic darkness and superstition to freedom and peace through Christ. Shortly after Jim’s death, Elisabeth his wife and baby daughter, Valerie, lived for nearly a year amongst the Auca Indians. Elisabeth said that Jim’s love and willingness to die for the Aucas only intensified her love for them.
While Jesus travelled with his disciples to Caesarea Philippi he questioned them, saying, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ They responded by telling Jesus that some said he was John the Baptist, others thought he was Elijah, or one of the other prophets. Jesus then asked them who they thought he was. To this Peter proclaimed, ‘You are the Christ.’ He was acknowledging that Jesus is the long-awaited and anointed prophet, priest, and king. Jesus proceeds to tell them that he would suffer many things, be rejected, killed, and be raised from the dead three days later. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, when Jesus said, ‘Get behind me, Satan, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’ Jesus them summoned the crowd with his disciples and told them that if anyone wished to come after him, then he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow him. ‘For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’
Christians in the western world have a choice to make. Islamic fundamentalism is presenting the church a remarkable opportunity to contrast Christianity with Islam. Islam seeks worldwide domination; and we should all know by now that they have no intention of peaceful co-existence. They seek conversion by the edge of the sword. Our Lord Jesus says we conquer the world through his blessed gospel of love and grace, but we must be willing to die to see it happen. Jesus said, ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life, loses it; and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life’ (John 12:24, 25).
The choice is obvious – will you choose to live like Basia Piasecka Johnson or like Jim and Elisabeth Elliot? Will you live a self-absorbed life, spending your money and time on temporal things which you will leave behind when you die, things which actually work against peace and joy? Will you say, near the end of your life, ‘What was all this for? All this, for nothing?’ Or will you live like Jim Elliot? Are you honestly able to say, ‘He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose’?
What are you to give up? Give up control of your money, time, and affections. I am not suggesting you must take a vow of poverty. I am not saying you cannot enjoy the fruit of your labours and live comfortably. I am saying, however, that you take seriously Christ’s declaration, ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matt. 6:20, 21). How do you know you are living as Christ demands? If your wealth is eaten up by an economic disaster or by illness or some other catastrophe; if your wealth is stolen by an unscrupulous money manager and you are honestly able to say, ‘The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,’ then you are living as Christ Jesus commands.
Going all out for Jesus – our time, money, and affections, praying, giving, labouring, dying literally and figuratively for the propagation of the gospel – is what the world needs to see. Only the gospel of grace can stop ISIS or Al Qaeda, and the gospel will only work if we are poured out as drink offerings for the sake of Jesus.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Things For Good? June 29, 2020
The Banner of Truth was due to hold a Ministers’ Conference in the UK in March, and another in the USA in May. These had to be cancelled due to the COVID crisis. It was the first time for about 60 years of running conferences that this had happened. Over the last week or so […]
Are We There Yet? June 26, 2020
We Christians are heaven-bound pilgrims. The question is, do we see ourselves that way? Have we fostered this kind of pilgrim mentality in our own lives? If not, impatience may be the culprit. In this respect, many of us have been shaped by our culture more than we care to admit. To put it mildly, […]