When the “perks” become ultimate, the ultimate becomes a “perk”

A few months ago, (May 4, 2012) I wrote a post about my conviction that the U.S. Military, as it exists today, provides an amazingly accurate analogy for what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

In this post, I’d like to take hold of the U.S. Military analogy one more time, but now I’d like to broaden the scope of the analogy from the individual believer’s walk with the Lord to the ultimate purpose Jesus has for His church that He builds, (hint:  He was, is, and always will be The Missionary God).

I’d like to begin by asking a multiple choice question regarding any and all branches of the U.S. Military:

Which one of the following is the ultimate reason the U.S. Military exists?  (Only one answer is correct!)

A.  To provide each member with specific vocational training and vocational work that will make their post military career much more likely to be successful?

B.  To provide the opportunity for career advancement, travel, and financial resources for further education upon completion of their term of service?

C.  To provide the opportunity for travel, first class recreation, decent housing, and all medical and dental needs for its members and their immediate family?

D.  To willingly obey the Commander-in-Chief of the United States when he deems it necessary for the good of the U.S. that the military actively engage an enemy of this country at any location necessary, even if by doing so, that member of the military might be required to give up his/her own life.

Clearly, although the U.S. Military provides everything listed in A,B, and C, above, those things are not the reasons why the U.S. Military exists.  Those are all good things, and the U.S. Military spends literally billions of dollars to ensure that those things are provided for its members.  But really, those things are more like the “perks” that are provided to those who willingly choose to submit themselves to the ultimate purpose of the U.S. Military, which is letter “D”.

I vividly remember the day that I “swore in” to the U.S. Army, at the age of 17, on May 29, 1976, (a month after I graduated high school).  All of the cool advertising and various marketing tools used by the recruiter focused on A, B, and C.  And it sure sounded like those were great reasons to join.  But at the AFEES station in Los Angeles on that day, the reality of what I was really signing up for hit me like a ton of bricks as I raised my right hand and repeated the oath of obedience,  voluntarily giving over to the Commander-In-Chief at that time, (Gerald Ford…soon to be Jimmy Carter), the authority to send me anywhere he deemed necessary even if it meant my life could realistically be brought to an end in the process.

Because of what I understood that I was doing on that day, even at that young age, I’ve always been bothered by those who have joined the U.S. Military as part of the reserves or the various National Guard units.  Unless I’m mistaken, they all “swore in” too, taking the same kind of oath that I did.   And because that is true, it irritates me to no end that when the wars of the last 12 years took place and they were called upon to transition to active duty and be deployed, a large number of them complained, saying something to the effect of “this isn’t what I signed up for!”  Wrong…its exactly what they signed up for!

Where did these complaining pseudo-soldiers/sailors/airmen go wrong?  They joined for the “perks” and were convinced that the “perks” were the reason the military existed, even though they actually did “swear in” and take the oath.  For some reason, they never actually understood or believed that the purpose of the U.S. Military wasn’t ultimately or primarily for their own benefit.

Might there be an application here to the local church and it’s members?  I’m convinced there is.

Have local churches, by over-emphasizing  the various ministries they offer for the good and the growth of their own members, actually contributed to a foundational misunderstanding by their own members of the ultimate reason for the church’s existence?  I think so.

Have the leaders of local churches inadvertently communicated to their members that the “perks” of being a member of God’s Kingdom and a part of their local church are what is ultimately important and thereby relegated the actual ultimate reason to a “perk” that the members of the church have the option to participate in or not?  Again, I think so.

And if the above two observations have any validity, might it not also be valid that the pastors and church leaders have contributed and communicated these things because they themselves believe the “perks” are what’s ultimate?

I’ve probably stirred enough irritation with this post so I’ll shut it down for now.  But I will expand on these things in my next post by spending a bit of time pondering U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and some principles they operate by that perhaps pastors and church leaders can learn from.

8 replies
  1. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    Great example of Kingdom citizenship. I’m being totally honest when I tell you I was literally thinking about this very thing on Wednesday after our men’s discipleship group. I was thinking specifically in regards to the rights given up by the person enlisting and the new legal system they put themselves under. How they actually LOSE many of the privileges that regular Americans have legally become something similar to a bondslave. Of course they get the perks you mentioned in addition to basic room and board and a few bucks to spend at the commissary, but they are literally voluntarily bound to a master whose will is their duty to perform.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your analogy next time. Until then, what’s the application? If we’re evangelising like the recruiters, focusing on the perks instead of the mission, then how/what do you recommend we change? How do we best disciple those who came into the Kingdom with recruiters’ propaganda in their minds? How do we lead those whose hearts are like the reservists you mentioned?

  2. Jeff Jackson
    Jeff Jackson says:

    Jon, I knew we were on the same Holy Spirit wavelength, I just didn’t realize how close the connection was!

    For now, I’d say the simplest application is that our evangelizing needs to focus the potential recruit on the worthiness of the Giver to be surrendered to rather than on the gifts that He gives.

    If the Apostle John thought that the new believers (that he refers to specifically as “little children”) of his day could grasp the idea that “your sins are forgiven you FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE” 1 John 2:12 then my conviction is that new believers today can grasp the same concept–that their salvation is first and foremost for God’s glory, not primarily their own good, (Psalm 25:11 Isa 43:25 and so forth) and that as Jesus told Peter about what was ahead for him and John’s comment that Peter’s death would glorify God,(John 21:19), our presentation of the gospel needs to be a focused a bit more on the COST of following Jesus rather than the benefit of following Him.

    Discipleship wise, the same principle. Just teach what Jesus taught about self-denial, loving your enemies, and so forth, and then study the lives of Peter and Paul as they’re actually recorded in the New Testament. The epistles certainly don’t have a focus on the perks although they are referenced. The epistles basically make clear that growth in Christ comes at the cost of death to what we used to hold dear, even life itself.

    And finally, holding up those who have given up their lives for the sake of the gospel, especially in the realm of missions, as examples rather than challenging disciples to emulate Christian leaders who have been blessed by God with notoriety and more of the things the world offers as a result of their walks with the Lord.

    The bottom-line is that satan’s inaccurate perception of Job’s basis for his faith in God would actually be accurate for a large majority of those in many churches today (Job 1:9-11 and 2:4,5).

    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:


      Not my intention to be contradictory, but to further the discussion.

      Why does Jesus repeatedly appeal to our desires for personal benefit or blessing to [apparently] stir us up to further good deeds for His glory? Absolutely we should let our light so shine before men that they may see our good works and bring glory to God (Matt. 5:16), but when Jesus asks us to endure the hardship of persecution He says, “For great is your reward in heaven.” Or when, in Luke 6, He calls us to do good to our enemies He appeals to desire by saying “your reward shall be great” (v. 35). In Luke 14, “When you have a party, invite the lame, poor, blind and maimed. They cannot repay you, but you will be repaid at the resurrection.” Matthew 6, “He who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Acts 20:35, “Give to the poor, because it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

      Again, not seeking to be antagonistic… genuine intrigue.

      • Jeff Jackson
        Jeff Jackson says:

        Just running out the door…so I need to be brief. Great question Miles!

        The key to the examples you gave (and others) is that the rewards promised will be distributed and revealed AFTER our physical deaths in this life. The promise of those rewards in that realm actually encourages us to be willing to give up anything this world has to offer, including life itself, because being in His presence with no sin-based hindrances and giving all glory to Him is what we were originally designed for.

        Whatever that no sin-hindered relationship looks like then, I believe the rewards He gives us for how we’ve lived here, will actually give us a greater capacity for bringing Him the glory He deserves and a greater satisfaction for those who receive those rewards.

      • Jon Langley
        Jon Langley says:

        Miles, I agree that those are great questions, but I think the “perks” you mention are quite different from the “perks” mentioned in the OP: “…the various ministries they offer for the good and the growth of their own members…”

        Is the local church about what I can get to improve my life now? Or is it where I go for healing, nutrition, training, preparation, and planning of the mission I’m now assigned to; a mission that when completed will bring great rewards?

  3. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Remembering back to my early days as a believer, what I (or we as “Jesus freaks”) was committing to was never in question. It was certainly “D” using your multiple choice Q’s. Back then it was often said that as believers we were signing a blank contract when we committed our life to Jesus (ie: Matt 16:24).

    Sadly, that mindset doesn’t seem to exist, or if it does, it’s in theory only. There is no doubt that responsibility lies at the feet of all of us leaders, indirectly or directly. Whichever, the Lord Jesus, our Commander in Chief, will hold us accountable. This is always “hit” me (and still does) whenever I stepped up to teach or provide leadership in some public way.

    Great post…keep ’em coming!

  4. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    A dear friend of mine is an associate pastor at a church that has specifically focused on the temporal perks for many years now, employing a fear-based policy of not wanting to lose any people. His frustration and sadness is palpable in our conversations because this approach has resulted in a “churchgoer” demographic where 90% in attendance are apathetic (not involved in any ministry at all), disrespectful to God (talking loudly throughout the time of corporate worship), disrespectful to authority (openly disagreeing with God’s word and those who teach it), unrepentant (habitual sin with no response to conviction), and totally self-serving (only attending meetings where there is free food or some other personal temporal benefit).

    This church is numerically the size of a military company, but it only has one very small platoon that’s anywhere near healthy enough to do battle. In fact, they’re more the size of a section. The other sections and platoons are easy pickings for the enemy forces. In fact, they’re probably quite the joke amongst the enemy forces.

    This is not only sad for me personally — as somebody who knows these people and this local church well — but also sad for all of us as members of Christ’s Kingdom. Rather than having these brothers and sisters in good health and involved in the mission, they’re actually draining the resources we’re supposed to be using to pull others from darkness to light as we defeat the darkness with the love, grace, and the truth of Christ’s gospel.

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