There is one story that my wife and I have read multiple times that both shakes and sustains us in our Christ-centered hope beyond the grave. It is the familiar story of John and Betty Stam–two people who truly risked all for the sake of Christ. They met as students at Moody Bible Institute and both surrendered their lives to be missionaries in China. They signed up with the China Inland Mission in response to a call for 200 new missionaries to be sent to China. China was an incredibly hostile place for a missionary to be at this time. However, fear found no place in John Stam’s mind. In his address to the graduating class at Moody in 1932, he said:
Shall we beat a retreat, and turn back from our high calling in Christ Jesus; or dare we advance at God’s command, in the face of the impossible?…Let us remind ourselves that the Great Commission was never qualified by clauses calling for advance only if funds were plentiful and [if there is] no hardship or self-denial involved. On the contrary, we are told to expect tribulation and even persecution, but with it victory in Christ.
Betty left for China one year before John in 1931, but they were reunited and married in 1933. In September of 1934 Betty gave birth to a baby girl. In December of that same year, Communists ravaged the village they were serving in and took them captive. John and Betty were both 25 years old and had an infant. On December 6, 1934, John Stam wrote a letter to his superiors at the China Inland Mission informing them of his capture. He concluded his letter with these words:
Things happened so quickly this a.m. They were in the city just a few hours after the ever-persistent rumors really became alarming, so that we could not prepare to leave in time. We were just too late. The Lord bless and guide you, and as for us, may God be glorified whether by life or by death.
Two days later, John and Betty Stam hid their daughter in a basket to save her from execution just before they were stripped of their clothes and paraded through the streets of a neighboring town. They were then taken to a hill outside the village. John was ordered to kneel before his wife. The last thing Betty saw of her husband was a long sword taking off his head. Betty was next. It is told that she did not scream, but trembled as she lay down next to her husband’s lifeless body. With a similar swing, the same sword that beheaded her husband ended her life.
Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised…If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” After reading the account of John and Betty Stam do you see what Paul is meaning here? If Christ has not been raised, the gospel is false, the Stam’s faith is empty, they are guilty of their sin, and they have no hope after death. So, risking their lives and the life or their daughter is absolutely ludicrous—it is insane—if Christ has not been raised. We should feel so sorry for the Stams that they gave their lives and gave up comfort for a false Christ, if it is true that Christ has not been raised.
But Christ has been raised! And so, the radical sacrifice of John and Betty Stam makes total sense and is enviable, as they found joy in risking all for Christ for the glory of Christ in all nations. Sacrificial obedience and radical risk-taking for Jesus is the only thing that makes sense if Christ has been raised. New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner writes, “The lordship of Jesus is inseperable from his resurrection.” Jesus walked into universal lordship and cosmic kingship when he walked out of the tomb.
If you want to waste your life, then live as if Christ has not been raised. Risk nothing. Sacrifice nothing. Obey only yourself. Gain every comfort you possibly can. In the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:32 “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
If you claim comfort as your king, yet you claim Christ as your Savior, you are serving a dead Jesus. Oh, how long will we live like we believe in a dead Jesus? How long will we ignore the poverty and injustice that surrounds us? How long will we ignore the lost people that we see every single day? How long will we neglect the nations and the over 2 billion unreached peoples who have little to no access to the gospel? Will we come to the end of our lives and reflect back saying, “I’ve wasted it”?
May we start living in light of the unavoidable truth of the resurrection. Paul ends this chapter with these words: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (v. 58). Christ has been raised! So, spend your life for his glory. Give selflessly. Love passionately. Serve sacrificially. Take radical risks for Christ and his glory in your neighborhood and in all nations. Commit yourself today to not waste your life, but to live a life worthy of being envied—a life that delights in risk-taking obedience to Jesus, the Lord of life and death. The life that is not wasted is the life that is spent for Christ for his glory and our joy.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.