Last summer CBS aired the wildly popular Survivor. Sixteen people were marooned for 39 days on a tropical island 20 miles off the coast of Borneo in the South China Sea. Participants were forced to band together to build shelter and collect food. On the last day of a 3-day cycle the castaways came to a tribal counsel and each member voted by secret ballot to expel one castaway from the island. The last castaway, i.e., the “survivor,” won one million dollars. BB, Stacey, Ramona, Dirk, Joel, Gretchen, Greg, Jenna, Gervase, Colleen, Sean, Sonja were voted off the island as seen in the previous episodes.
The final episode came down to Rudy, Rick, Sue and Kelly. Sue went first. Rudy and Kelly voted against her and Kelly said “sorry.” Only three castaways remained: Rich, Kelly, and Rudy. Starting at dawn all three placed their hands on an immunity idol. The last one holding the idol received immunity. Rick removed his hand voluntarily when offered orange slices. Four hours and eleven minutes into the contest Ruby’s hand came off when shifting positions. Kelly was immune from elimination and voted against Rudy thereby eliminating him.
The contest that began with sixteen castaways dwindled down to the final two. The last members voted off the island chose the winning survivor. After 39 days of hard island living, 39-year-old Richard Hatch from Newport, Rhode Island won Survivor. Since then, there’s been a second edition taped in Australia, and more are on the way.
Survivor was an immensely popular show; in fact, more people watched the final episode than either the Republican or Democratic convention. I have to admit that I did not see any of the programs except about half of the final episode but I read the newspapers and heard the news about the events on the island. What message does Survivor communicate to our society? Several concepts emerged clearly from the “Gospel” according to Survivor.
I. Some Only Want to Be Served
From what I read and heard those involved in Survivor were not interested in serving others. The primary interest of each survivor was being served. In fact, to serve someone else might be interpreted as sign of weakness and a character flaw to be exploited by another member of the group. Not one line did I read nor one sentence did I hear where a single one of the cast members of Survivor sought to serve someone else unless the action might somehow benefit the one who served. That is not atypical of the world, in fact, that is just like the world.
Contrast that with what Paul wrote in Romans 1:1. Paul called himself a servant. Where did Paul learn that? Do you think that Paul learned that in college? Most schools do not have a course entitled Service 101. Do you think that Paul learned that in school or from business associates? Did Paul learn that from a camel trader? Or another tent maker? Paul learned that when he met Jesus on the Damascus road and Christ changed his life.
Jesus said He did not come to be served but to serve. Jesus said that one day the first shall be last and the one who is last would, one day, be first. Jesus said if we demand that someone serve us then we will one day be last but if we serve we shall one day be first. The Christian who demands that others serve him or her has missed the calling of the kingdom. Kingdom calling is a heavenly calling to earthly service.
Jesus, in the shadow of the cross, girded Himself with a towel and began washing the disciples’ feet saying, “I have set the example before you.” His example was an example of service.
John Newport, at the age of 83, died August 18, 2000. Newport was a preeminent theologian among Southern Baptists. He taught theology and philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for 47 years and another three years at Rice University. He was compared to the New Testament Barnabas. “Barnabas” means “encourager” and John Newport was an encourager. But what I really found impressive was not that he authored seventeen books or taught for fifty years, as impressive as that is. But for over thirty years he spent Thanksgiving, every Thanksgiving, with international students at Southwestern Seminary who had no place to go for the holidays. John Newport was a servant of the Lord.
II. Some Only Want to Be Successful
From what I read and heard those involved in Survivor were interested only in success — that was the only goal. How victory was achieved was not important. Survivors could manipulate, lie, cheat and steal. Only one goal was significant and that goal was to be successful.
That, too, is typical of our new millennium. Worldly standards are measured in terms of success only. I read the humorous story of the professional who needed new note pads for his office and had his name printed on the note card along with his title. When a fellow professional saw the new pads he also had to have new note pads with his name, title and job description on the pad. All-in-all the information took up half of the page. Worldly standards are measured in terms of success.
Contrast that with what Paul wrote in Romans 1:1. Paul was “separated” unto the Gospel. Paul was not concerned with personal success. You can see that clearly in Corinthians where Paul wrote that he planted seeds of the Gospel and Apollos watered. Personal success, personal gain, personal victory meant nothing to Paul. Paul was not a success-only person but Paul was separated unto the Gospel.
God does not demand that Christians be successful. Nowhere do the Gospels record the words of Jesus demanding that Christians be successful. God demands that Christians be faithful. Jesus said “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” How does that verse conclude in Matt 28? Does Jesus conclude by saying “And be successful?” Does Jesus conclude by saying, “Thriving?” “Prosperous?” The verse concludes with the words of Jesus: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” In the verse known as the Great Commission not a word, an admonition, and not a hint of being successful. The Great Commission demands that Christians be faithful. And if Christians are faithful God will provide the success.
I saw Union University President David Dockery in the hallway at the beginning of the Fall Semester 2000. Like me, he’s a good Alabamian who follows the Crimson Tide. That fall Bama opened the season ranked number three in the nation and played UCLA for the season opener. Dr. Dockery said the Alabama players had been reading the news clips about how good they were. We agreed that the Alabama/UCLA game would be a difficult game for Alabama. As the game turned out it proved to be more than just difficult. Alabama lost 35-24. Alabama was prognosticated to win the game. Though success was predicted, Alabama lost.
If success becomes the goal for Christians, and if Christians measure that success in dollars or homes or automobiles or servants commanded, then one day every person will be an unsuccessful person. Why? Death is the great final equalizer. In death dollars, homes and autos will all be lost.
But if we understand the purpose that God has for Christians then one day every Christian will be successful. The purpose that God has for the Christian is simply to be separated unto the Gospel. Faithful Christian, separated unto the Gospel, will be successful. Why? Again, death is the great, final equalizer, and one day Christians will hear the voice of the savior saying “Well done, my good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a few things I will make you ruler over many.” One day Christians shall know success as the voice of the Savior says, “Enter into the kingdom.”
The Gospel according to Survivor is success only. The Gospel according to Jesus is separated unto the Gospel.
III. Some Only Want to Focus on Self
From what I read and heard those involved in Survivor were interested in self only. The survivors were not interested in anyone else. In fact the survivors were opposed to everyone else.
The attitude of the “survivors” was that of Greek mythology’s Narcissus. Narcissus was so handsome that all of the girls wanted to be with him but he would have nothing to do with them. As he bent over a pool of water he fell in love with his own reflection and could not leave the pool. Only death could set Narcissus free. So he wasted away while looking at his own reflection in the pool. It was stated that as he crossed over the river into the world of the dead Narcissus leaned over the boat in order to catch a final glimpse of himself in the water.
Narcissism is alive and well in the new millennium. Its shout is heard from every segment of society from business, to social outings and recreation. The voice is that of self-only. But that voice is not biblical and has no place among Christians.
Contrast that with what Paul wrote in Romans 1:3. Paul wanted nothing but to know Jesus. Paul was not concerned about himself. Paul cared for Christ and Christ alone.
Bobby Bowden is the ball of energy and excitement of the Florida State Seminoles. Bowden coached at West Virginia University before his position at FSU. There are many Southern Baptist churches in West Virginia still ministering and worshiping because of the ministry of Bobby Bowden. When churches could not afford pastors or interim pastors, Bowden filled pulpits without salary in order to assist the struggling churches. This isn’t a self-only mentality. Instead this is a Son-only mentality.
Nothing was more revealing of the “Gospel according to Survivor” than the words voiced by one of the losers. This person was bitter. Here was an enraged and disappointed, lash out, strike back, kick you when you are down, do not turn your back on, spit in your face person. She called Richard a snake and Kelly a rat and said by nature the snake eats the rat and she voted for Richard. I perceived her to be served only, success only and self only.
As born-again believers, committed unto Christ and his teaching we are to be servants only, separated unto the Gospel only, and Son only.