This morning, the "image is everything" motto is alive and well. People seem – more than ever – drawn to aesthetically pleasing things. Whether the pursuit is the looks of youth, wealth of the world, or the praise of men, society today desires above all else to have those things that are perceived by natural sight. Young people today look for the best looking person to date/marry. Young adults look for the highest-paying avenues to amass personal wealth and fortune. While having a spouse that is naturally good-looking or a well paying job are not sins, those characteristics upon our lives should not be what motivates us. Rather, the Bible repeatedly tells us to look upon things of an inward, hidden nature. Therefore, having a job that adequately provides the needs of our families while also being a situation and environment that is conducive to our spiritual walk should be the factor when selecting employment. Having a God-fearing spouse should be the motivating and driving factor in our decision to marry. In all things in life, we should seek to avoid the "image is everything" motto.
Recently, I personally encountered two situations that made me ponder the verse above. One was listening to talk radio, while the other was a personal conversation with a work colleague. Both circumstances made me realize just how great a blessing the true knowledge of the gospel is for our daily walk and warfare here below. The talk radio comments that I heard dealt with encouraging people to visit the land of Israel in the middle east, while the personal conversation dealt with the subject of death. Two very different subjects, yet our study verse gets to the heart of the answer for both situations that I encountered.
The radio DJs were emphasizing how important a trip to Israel would be. Both of them had gone, and both of them encouraged "every Christian listener" to their program to call this number, sign up, and travel there. Now, at the outset, I will say that if someone wants to go there, I certainly have no problem with that. I have always enjoyed travel and delight in the memories I have of seeing far off places and other countries. However, some of the promotions that they gave for this trip included statements like "church life and reading your Bible will only give you the black and white picture of the Christ. This trip will enrich your faith by painting everything in color for you. To be there, you will then see faith in a way that you never could unless you go." To be perfectly honest, these types of statements give me the willies. Compound that with the fact that the strip of land known as Israel is commonly referred to as the "Holy Land" makes me shiver all the more.
If seeing the spots of ground that Christ walked on was tantamount to our faith and proper walk of discipleship in this old world, reason states that Christ would have commanded it somewhere would he not? Yet, the story of Christ that the Bible declares shows a very different mindset. He told a Samaritan woman that proper worship was not regulated to a spot of ground but rather a methodology of spirit and truth. (John 4:20-24) He inspired Paul to pen the words above that our walk of faith is not bound by sight. Furthermore, the land that Christ walked – if it was ever holy – ceased to be holy when His feet left it for glory. The only spots of dirt that I deem to call holy are the places where the Spirit of Almighty God overshadows His people while met together in the proper way. Church life is the holy ground when the assembly meets. It is holy because He is holy and sees fit to visit with us.
In the conversation I had with a co-worker, we talked about the common fear of death. He talked of his feeling that a "celebration of life" would be more fitting for someone before they died rather than after. Rather than stand around a casket and talk about how good a life had been led, he felt that those close to someone should gather round before the death and make them feel better by telling them that their life was not in vain for all the impact that they had had on those around them. Again, at the outset, I have no problem with family gatherings and visiting with those on death's door to encourage them and cheer them up, but his whole thinking for the purpose of doing it was so that they would not fear death and die with more feeling of comfort.
If having a celebration of life was what made death bearable, one would have no hope of bearing death should they have no family or friends at hand during their last mile. Rather, death is made bearable when we consider that the very Person of Christ holds our hand through the whole journey. Though we are constantly in death's shadow, yet He ever abides near and close to us. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. When that final moment comes for our eyes to close in death, His face is the first and immediate one that we see. To get to the point of comfort in that trying and difficult hour, we must look to things that these old eyes cannot perceive. While He is near unto us, we still need to feel after Him, and not those things that we see. (II Corinthians 4:17-18)
Taking these two fresh experiences and coupling them together, how do they relate to our verse above. What is interesting about the verse above is that it is a parenthetical quote set in the midst of a longer sentence. Therefore, the thought contained within the parenthesis is directly infused into the main point. Paul's main point(s) have to deal with death and how we labour before eventually meeting that death. The very thing my two circumstances relate to. If someone constantly pursues the perishable things of life, what will happen to them during their final hour when all their natural things have dried away? Paul has asserted at the end of the 4th chapter that the affliction will not seem light and but for a moment. Rather, it will seem like an impenetrable mountain. I told my colleague that my hope was not that my friends and loved ones would celebrate my life before I died (or even after it for that matter). My hope was to be able to say what Paul did in his final hours/days. (II Timothy 4:6-8)
To have the confidence that we will meet our final chapter honorably, we should attempt to live our lives between now and then chasing and pursuing hard after godliness. (I Timothy 6:6) Do I need to literally see Jordan's River, or do I need to naturally experience the sights and sounds of Jerusalem? Heavens no! Do I need to perceive the sights and sounds of faith in God's house congregated with His saints? Heavens yes! This requirement lays upon us the task of standing in beliefs that the Bible declares. Some have said that the doctrines of grace are only fit to die by. Well, I am thankful that they are fit to die by, but I am equally thankful that they are more than suitable and sufficient to live by as well.
Paul tells us in the same sentence as our study verse that death should be thought of as preferable to us. We should rather to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. However, we can be present with Him here in this old world. Notice the contrast that Paul makes in verses 6 and 8. Absence from the body equates completely with being present with the Lord. There is no in between. However, the converse is not true. Paul did not say that presence with the body equated to absence from the Lord. Were that true, we would never feel Him here in anything in our lives. Rather, Paul employs the term "at home" in the body equates to absence from the Lord. If we are at home with this old world (pursuing after those things that we can see in the world), we will find absence from the Lord and His comforting presence. Walking by faith is so foreign from being at home with this old flesh. The two are polar opposites to each other.
Friends, Paul lived his religion and died in the full assurance of what he had preached. My hope is that I will be able to do the same. I may never see – and really do not intend to – the land where Christ walked and talked while on the earth in flesh. I have seen and hope to see many times over again the land where Christ's Spirit meets and greets the people of God engaged in worship. I rather hope that I am never thrown a celebration of my life. My preference for my funeral – should the Lord not return first – is for the ministry to simply talk about how good God was to me rather than any service I may have rendered to Him. May our walk never seek to depend or trust those things that we see. To do so, we should not fear coming death, and we should equally not fear the things of life between now and then. Walking by faith centers upon One that is unseen to the natural sight but who is greater and more powerful than all things whether in life or in death.