He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
Philip James Eliot, better know to us as Jim Eliot, was born in Portland, Oregon in 1927 to a chiropractor mother and a Baptist minister. Professing faith at age six, he grew up in a strongly Christian environment. He attended Benson Polytechnic High School, studying primarily architectural drawing while developing an incredible speaking ability, which he used regularly to defend his beliefs.
In 1945, Eliot entered Wheaton College, a private Christian college in the western Chicago suburbs. Feeling that he had been called here by God, he intended to use the time to prepare for ministry. He did not, however, highly value the majority of his studies, considering them to be mere distractions to the Christian seeking to follow after God. This mindset can be seen in a letter written to his father.
You speak of [education] as 'rounding out one's manhood'. It rounds it out, all right, but I'm afraid sometimes it's more in the style of I. Corinthians 8:1, 'knowledge puffeth up'. 'Culture', philosophy, disputes, drama in its weaker forms, concerts and opera, politics---anything that can occupy the intellect seems to turn aside the hearts of many here on campus from a humble life in the steps of the Master, though we sing about this most delicately! No, education is dangerous, and, personally, I am beginning to question its value in the Christian’s life. I do not disparage wisdom --- that comes from God, not Ph.Ds.
A statistic that deeply impacted Jim’s heart for missions was this: “There is one Christian worker for every 50,000 people in foreign lands, while there is one to every 500 in the United States.” Burdened by a call to evangelistic work, Jim spent a summer with a missionary family in Mexico. It was during this time that he made the decision to minister to the lost in South America.
While in the latter years of college, Jim became friends with a Elizabeth Howard, a girl one year older than himself who also desired to become a missionary. However, they did not feel God’s calling for marriage by Elizabeth’s graduation, and thus parted. In a later letter to Elizabeth Jim wrote:
There is within a hunger after God, given of God, filled by God. I can be happy when I am conscious that he is doing what He wills to do within.
In 1948, he was elected president of Foreign Mission Fellowship. That year he wrote in his journal:
God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.
Jim was accepted to Camp Wycliffe, a linguistics program in Norman, Oklahoma, where he learned the skills necessary to transcribe spoken language. It was at this camp that he first heard of the Auca, or Huaorani, tribe of Ecuador – a tribe that had never had any friendly contact with the outside world. Immediately, Jim felt a desire to minister to this people.
Due to various circumstances, he was unable to travel to Ecuador for over a year. During this time, Jim worked with youth in Indiana and Illinois while hosting a radio program, “The March of Truth,” along with Ed McCully and Peter Cathers in Chester, Illinois.
Eliot eventually made his way to Ecuador, initially working to evangelize the Quichua Indians. On October 8. 1953, he and Elizabeth Howard were married in Quito. After a brief honeymoon, they returned to Ecuador to continue their work.
Jim and his wife were joined by Ed McCully, Pete Fleming (Jim’s college roommate), Roger Youderian, and their pilot, Nate Saint, in the effort to reach out to the Huaorani people with the Gospel of Christ. Because of the pronounced hostility of this people, all contact was made by airplane over a loudspeaker. As they flew over the Auca villages, they would drop baskets of gifts and photos of themselves in order to establish a certain amount of cautious familiarity before approaching the tribe personally.
Their work was rewarded after the group was approached by a friendly band of Indians and even gave one of them, “George” (whose real name was Naenkiwi) a ride in the airplane. These peaceable visits encouraged the missionaries, who at last began preparation to enter the village center of the Auca tribe.
They never had the opportunity to meet the natives. On January 8, 1956, the men were discovered dead, killed by a small group of apprehensive Huaorani.
Their wives, upon learning of the tragedy, replied only this – that "The Lord has closed our hearts to grief and hysteria, and filled them with His perfect peace."
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
This now-famous quote from the journal of Philip James Eliot became his life, his testimony, and his legacy. Jim dedicated – and ultimately sacrificed – his very life to further the kingdom of Christ. 1 Corinthians 15 says this:
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord, knowing that your labor is not vain in the Lord.
And the work of Jim Eliot was not in vain. His personal testimony coupled with his legacy of love for the lost spurred his wife and several others to continue the work he and his companions began. The Auca tribe was reached with the gospel of grace, and many – including his killers – came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
There is another reason why the work of Jim Eliot was not in vain – one that perhaps touches closer to the heart of the 1 Corinthians passage.
I received a greatly challenging letter this week from a friend. In it he wrote:
It is very important, Ian, that you give yourself over daily to the mission of Christ. I do not mean you should give yourself to some specific calling, like becoming a pastor or social worker. I mean you should offer up your heart, your life, your soul, your all, to God – wherever you are and whatever you do. The specifics will work themselves out.
If you’re reading this, T, there is lot more about this that I want to discuss with you later. For the rest of my readers, though this is similar to what we hear from the pulpit and read in the Bible frequently, it is unquestionably important that we give ourselves over to Christ. We are called to daily surrender our all to Him – in this we grow in His likeness and in greater obedience to the Father.
We are not fools to give what we cannot keep -- our time, our resources, our earthly pleasures, our wills, even our very lives -- to gain that all the eternal joys of knowing that our work glorifies God; that we of all people have been called children of God; and ultimately that we partake in the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.
Undoubtedly, surrender to Christ is difficult. It takes time. It goes directly against all that our fallen hearts desire. It involves trial. It means that we take up our own crosses and follow Him at whatever cost.
But in the end, there is no greater reward.