The affluence of our culture has produced a plethora of opportunities that most of those who have been born into this world are not even remotely familiar. One opportunity that we have before us is to live a longer life and not just longer but one that is healthier and supposedly happier. We are bombarded by retailers who have products, programs, or drugs that will enable us to capture our loftiest aspirations of life. When watching television (by the way, this will not likely produce a longer life!), one is bombarded with advertisements about these kinds of goals. There has been such extensive medical research done that we now know better than ever before how to get more and more out of the human body and mind.
Yet, we must ask ourselves the counter-culture question-Is this the gospel lifestyle? Sacrifice what you can to gain the healthiest, longest and perhaps happiest life possible?
In Mark 8:34, according to Jesus, the life of following Jesus begins with the command-“let him deny himself.” While this command alone seems impossible enough, Jesus continued to explicate what this entailed with two more commands that we “take up his [our] cross and follow me [him].” Denial of one’s desires that are not congruent with the Master’s and being willing to suffer anything out of obedience for the King is the demand and goal of life as defined by Jesus.
Jesus never held out or promised a longer life on earth by following Him-quite the contrary!. Yes, the fourth of the 10 commandments promises that honoring one’s parents can lead to long life on earth (Deuteronomy 5:16). Yes, this command and promise is carried over by Paul in the New Testament (Ephesians 6:3). However, Jesus also foretold that there will be occasions when even a father will have his child put to death on account of following Christ (Matthew 10:21). The hope of a believer is not living longer before death. Rather, the hope is living after death forever with Christ (Philippians 1:21). The greater testimony of the New Testament regarding the promise of salvation offered to sinners destined for eternal death is eternal life. Those who obey the gospel call of Jesus, no matter what earthly losses they may incur (home, family, land, or even their life) on behalf of Jesus, will most assuredly receive “in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).
Yes, it would be a gracious and kind gift of the Lord to give us long life and to use that life for his gospel purposes. But a longer life ought never to be the final goal. The surrendered life; the joyous obedient life; and the narrow life is the fixation for the believer. Purposefully and sacrificially trying to live a longer life on earth will distract us from the life demanded and promised by Jesus. We cannot make sacrifices to live longer on earth while seeking to make sacrifices in obedience to the gospel call of Jesus. You cannot seek a long life on earth and the Lord Jesus without ignoring and contradicting the lifestyle demanded by the gospel call of Jesus.
The apostle Paul’s labors, imprisonments, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, lack of food, and the constant dangers from people and the elements of weather and certainly threats placed on his life would not be recommended by most doctors for living a long life (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). Our lives are not to be kept but to be given away in love for others and surrender to Christ.
A great prayer that would model Jesus and Paul would be the prayer of Jim Elliot. He wrote this prayer in his journal while in college in 1948. “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.”
May the Lord give us full days of true living for him and may we count every day a gift of grace, not to be demanded or idolized.