The world defines success in life as an accumulation and evidence of power. The Greek word translated “soul” here is translated “life” about half the time. So in this passage, Jesus is redefining success for life. He does so by posing this question: “What is the gain if a man acquires the whole world, yet forfeits his soul”, or life?
This comes on the heels of Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow him. Jesus says the one who loses his life in this way will find it. This is an absurd thought in a world where material accumulation is the highest ideal. But in God’s economy, this is the path to a fulfilled life. The world’s way brings loss of life. God’s way brings an abundance of life.
The victory life has to offer is not about what we can accumulate but who we can become. Not about power, but about character. By laying aside material desires and following Jesus, we gain spiritual wealth.
The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of character. Jesus, at times to the chagrin of the disciples, did not come to establish a kingdom of earthly power or of silver and gold. He came to establish a kingdom of love and truth.
Life is short. It is but a breath. Any arrogant toys we gather won’t go with us when we leave this planet. But our soul (our “life”) will continue. God beckons us to pursue true life. To be refined, empowered, and awakened to our calling in this world. When we follow God’s path, we seek a reward beyond measure and beyond time. The life that is truly life. When we look at it this way, taking up our cross and following Jesus makes perfect sense.
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
– Matthew 16:26-27