Q. I am having trouble with a particular teaching of Jesus when He says, “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” What does this mean?
A. The verse you’re referring to is John 12:25. The portion that reads “He who loves his life will lose it” refers to the fact that those who have their hearts set on getting all this world has to offer will discover that the good things they receive here are all they’ll ever get. Eternal life will elude their grasp because they won’t have given any thought to it while they had the chance.
The part that says, “He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” refers to those who turn their attention away from the things of this world to focus on preparing for their eternal lives.
Jesus said our primary concern should not be the accumulation of earthly treasure, because it can be stolen or destroyed. Instead, we should focus on storing up treasure in heaven where it cannot be stolen or destroyed (Matt. 6:19-21). That doesn’t mean we’re supposed to live in poverty here, because those who seek first the Lord’s kingdom and His righteousness will have their needs met in this life as well (Matt. 6:31-33).
Paul put our temporal and eternal lives into their proper perspective when He said,
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).
The life we see around us consists of both good and bad, it’s only temporary, and will soon come to an end. But the life we can’t see begins at our death and will last for ever. It’s a life of unimaginable joy in the presence of the Lord that will never end. That’s the one we should be focused on.