Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.John 10:7-10
The abundant life is the gospel (good news). Jesus uses the image of a gate through which sheep come in to convey what it is he offers to those that “enter through him”. They will be saved; they will find pasture; they will have life and it will be abundant. The term abundant life conjures up images of flourishing, thriving, wholeness.
What does the abundant life consist in exactly? To know what it is, we must first know what it is not.
Firstly, the abundant life is not the abundance of possessions (wealth/riches). Three vignettes from the bible will suffice to bring this point across.
In Luke 12:13-15 we have a man who had asked Jesus to tell his brother to divide his inheritance fairly, being told by Jesus :”Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” Jesus had probably perceived the true motives behind the question and puts it simply to him that you cannot measure whether your life is good, whether it is blessed and worthwhile: by how much you have. The aim of life is not acquiring riches.
The second vignette is in Mark 10:17-25 where a man comes to Jesus to ask him how to obtain eternal life (in other words the abundant life). Jesus in the end says to him there is ‘One thing you lack” sell all your possessions, give to the poor and follow me, then you will obtain the abundant life. The man rather than rejoicing we are told left in despair because he had great wealth. Jesus, being the expert that he is on the human heart, rightly perceived that the rich young man’s wealth was actually a serious barrier to him accessing the eternal life he sought. It is ironic that the man’s abundant wealth caused him to lack what was necessary to obtain eternal life. He treasured his wealth above God and was not willing to give it up in order to gain eternal life. To put it differently: His source of happiness, security, identity and meaning was his wealth and he was unwilling to let Jesus be that source.
Jesus after the rich young man left sums up the scene and says ” It is hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”. Jesus was correcting a false prevailing assumption which was that if a person was rich it showed that they had God’s favour. Jesus was making it clear – being rich does not automatically mean you are favored by God. To put it differently, wealth is neither a sign that your life is approved of by God nor is it a mark of the abundant life.
The third vignette is from the life of the apostle Paul. If anyone lived the abundant life in the sense that Jesus meant – it should be Paul. Paul’s life was not marked by an abundance of possessions and riches. In his letter to the Philipians upon thanking them for the gift they sent, he tells them that, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” In his letter to the Corinthians he “boasts” about his sufferings, ” I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.” Paul is clear that his life has been marked by times of abundance, need, hunger and thirst. Clearly then, if Paul lived the abundant life, wealth cannot be a marker for it.
So then the abundant life is not about prospering financially, having an abundance of wealth and riches. In fact wealth although in itself is a good thing, it does present a unique danger to us in that it easily able to lay hold of the heart and tempt us into believing that more wealth and riches will give us security and ultimate satisfaction; which God alone can properly provide.
Secondly, the abundant life is not about having an abundance of good health. It is not a life free from illness or sickness. Two scenes from the Bible should illustrate this.
In his letter to the Galatians Paul reminds the church of their kindness towards him when he first preached to them while he had an illness, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.” We learn here that Paul preached and began the church of Galatia while he had some illness which also appears to have been severe because it was somehow a trial to the Galatians.
Not only that, strangely enough, Paul says it was because of his illness that he first preached to them. The illness, and we are not told how exactly, was the cause of his preaching to the Galatians. The main point is clear. Paul who surely must have lived the abundant life, who wrote two thirds of the New Testament, who was taken up to the third heaven, who brought a boy back to life who had fallen to his death while Paul was preaching, who healed others – that same Paul had an illness.
The second illustration is from the life of Paul and Timothy. Paul offers Timothy some advice on how to handle his frequent illnesses as he says, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” We learn from this quite a few things.
Firstly, Timothy who was mentored by Paul and was a prominent church leader had stomach problems and frequent illnesses. Timothy was not exempt from illnesses. Secondly, even more telling is what Paul does not say. Paul did not say “Claim your healing Timothy”, or do you not know that “By His stripes we are healed” he said none of the spiritual things we normally hear today in response to illnesses experienced by believers. He says to him in effect use wisdom and good judgment, take some wine or medicine which will help you.
So then a life free from disease and illness is not necessarily part and parcel of the abundant life, at least this side of heaven. A day for sure is coming when sickness, pain, suffering will no longer fill the pages of our lives. However, until that day comes, we must live with the fact that our bodies will fall apart. A point that Paul never shied away from. In Romans 8 he says “…we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”; in his letter to the Corinthians he says “Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day”. He acknowledges that things, including our bodies, fall apart.
The abundant life, in the present fallen age we are in, does not consist in wealth and health. However, we have a true living hope in Christ who rose from the dead and put and end to death and sickness and that day is coming when we will “put on the imperishable” and receive new bodies that will never fall apart. And will enter into God’s abundance in the new city, the new Jerusalem; a city of pure gold, with walls made from jasper, sapphire and all types of precious stones.