Christianity is not about self-gratification. Just the opposite. The whole tenor of New Testament teaching on that subject might be summed up in Christ’s words: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). Biblical Christianity is about Christ, and those who would suggest otherwise are themselves deceived or deliberate deceivers of others. The biography of Moses as recorded in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews illustrates this reality for us New Testament saints. Position, authority, opulence, and privilege fell into Moses’ lap when he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. Last week we noted that he “refused to be called” her son. But Moses’ self-denial did not end there, for in the next verse we read: “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:25).
The verb choosing is significant. The Greek might be rendered better as “having chosen.” The Greek tense suggests a “single definite act.” Moses made a once-for-all and life-altering decision. With two possible paths before him, he made a deliberate, conscious choice for the hard way, the way that pleased God. For most people, the choice would have been overwhelmingly easy and obvious. The privileges of the Egyptian court offered everything that a young man might hope for. Wealth, comfort, high culture, and much more beckoned. Moreover, he could have those luxuries and still serve the best interests of his downtrodden people by using his influence within the royal court and as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter to procure their deliverance. There is nothing in the life of Moses to indicate that “the pleasures of sin” that this life would have afforded would have been those of debasement and debauchery. The sin lay primarily in the fact that to stay in the court would have been a rebellious act of self-will, for God had called him to separate, to denounce Pharaoh, and to lead Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
God is not naïve. He understands the temptations of sin. Here He acknowledges that sin offers temporal “pleasures,” i.e., “enjoyment.” But the problems with choosing such a path are multiple. First, whether the sin is something immediately recognizable (e.g., stealing, fornication) or something more subtle (e.g., impatience, fear, stubbornness), it dishonors the Lord. Second, it steals time that might have been put to profitable use. Third, it brings God’s chastening. The truth is stark. A believer who sins for the sake of its passing pleasures is more foolish than someone who jumps off a twenty-story building: the momentary sense of flying may be exhilarating, but the inevitable end is devastating.
But Moses’ choice involved more than a refusal to enjoy the temporal pleasures of sin. He actively chose to “suffer affliction with the people of God.” Being a faithful believer, one who serves and honors God, inevitably entails choosing some things that are not pleasant to the flesh. Whether it’s the hatred of the world and the reproach of Christ in some generic way or concrete persecution and suffering, the way of the cross is a way of challenge and trial. This side of eternity, God does not promise the Christian ease—quite the opposite. No less a luminary than David declared: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psa. 34:19). Believers should not try to be martyrs. But if we must choose between the baubles of the world and the burdens of Christ, we should choose the latter. We should, like Moses, choose eternal blessings over temporal blessings. Note: it was not the great exploits of Moses that procured his blessing, but his deliberate choice of God’s will over his own desires.
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