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12. Positive about Death

Thoughts from my journey with JESUS.

Bible reading Ecclesiastes 6:12-7:6.

Perhaps because of my two battles with cancer and the unpleasant after effects of my treatments, I have spent a lot of time thinking about death and what follows it.

It is a subject avoided by many people. Sudanese/South Sudanese people face up to death considerably more than most Europeans, because, in Europe, older people are frequently away from home in hospitals or other institutions when then die. For many Sudanese/South Sudanese, where families often live generation by generation side by side, it is usual for even young children to ‘experience’ death first hand. In my opinion this is one big advantage these dear African brothers and sisters have over Europeans like me!

The tragic wars within and between the Sudan and South Sudan have also made their death tolls abnormally high. The lack of development outside major cities, with little or no good medical facilities, also contributes to a comparatively short life expectancy for the people.

I want to argue that:

1) For all people, to think about their own death is a good and helpful thing

Ecclesiastes 7:1-2 reads: “… and the day of death better than the day of birth. … for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart”. (italics mine).

Death is equal for all human beings. Whichever tribe we come from, however rich or poor we are, whatever education we have had, the number of children we have had, however long we have lived – when we die we are all identically dead:

  • Our dying may well have been considerably different: in hospital, at home, on the battlefield, in a road traffic accident, during flood, fire or famine, from old age or a terminal illness.

  • Our death is uniformly common. People we used to know will then say, “they are dead”, and that is what we will be.

In Bible teaching I am aware some scholars tell us that there is a world of difference between “wisdom” in Proverbs and “wisdom” in Ecclesiastes, with the latter often being written ironically – saying one thing while meaning the opposite. However, I am certain in my own mind that these thoughts on death are legitimately taken without twisting any Scriptures (you, the reader, must decide for yourself).

2) Either way may I please exalt Jesus Christ?

In Philippians 1:20-24 Paul wrote from his prison cell, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body”, (italics mine).

If you do something by choice, you do it because you want to, not because you must. I was devotionally reading this part of the Bible around the time of my first cancer back in November 2006. In the commentary I wrote, “Lord, either for me. I really do not mind”.

Paul urged the Philippian church to suffer and live in a way that:

1. Rests the fate of life and ministry in God Himself

2. Trusts implicitly in God’s sovereignty

3. 100% honours God in all of life and death

4. Reflects, to all, every Christian’s guaranteed heavenly citizenship.

Here I am just a little bit like Paul. On days when all goes well I am happy to still be here on earth. On other days, bad days, I wish I was already in heaven!

I wonder, how about you?

Imagine a stool (below) with three equal-length wooden legs, ‘a), b), c),’ to keep you balanced and supported, while you sit to milk your cow. Keep these three principles in mind:

a) Stool leg one, desire to depart, to be with Christ, which is better by far:

In Philippians 1 Paul writes of “Christ Jesus” (or similar) eighteen times!

  1. … servants of Christ Jesus; holy people in Christ Jesus, vs1;

  2. peace … from the Lord Jesus Christ, vs2;

  3. until the day of Jesus Christ, vs6;

  4. the affection of Christ Jesus, vs8;

  5. blameless for the day of Christ, vs10;

  6. righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, vs11;

  7. in chains for Christ, vs13;

  8. preach Christ (x2), vs15,17;

  9. Christ is preached, vs18;

  10. the Spirit of Jesus Christ vs19;

  11. Christ will be exalted, vs20;

  12. to me to live is Christ, vs21;

  13. to depart and be with Christ, vs23;

  14. your boasting in Christ Jesus, vs26;

  15. the gospel of Christ, vs27;

  16. suffer – on behalf of Christ, vs29.

Paul’s fixation with Jesus here developed his obsession to be with Him there.

A right desire to depart and be with Jesus brings with it a very loose hold on one’s earthly possessions, on people, on plans, indeed on many, ‘things of this world’. It gets life here into a proper Christian perspective.

b). Stool leg two, dedicate yourself to the Christian service of others

“it is more necessary for you”, Philippians 1:24, (italics mine).

  • Like parents, who give of themselves to bring up children

  • Like sugar, which sacrifices itself into nothing to flavour a cup of tea

  • Like the footballer who passes the ball to someone better placed, rather than shoots at goal himself, ‘for the good of the team’

  • Like church-people who attend services and other events to give, not just to get. Be as involved as you can when opportunities to serve come along

c). Stool leg three, disciple yourself and others,

Philippians 1:27-30

Whatever happens”, vs27 – bad, worse, terrible, miserable, etc., or acceptable, fine, great, miraculous, etc.,

conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”, vs27, (italics mine).

1. Stand firm – do not slip back from Christ into the world’s ways

2. Strive together as one – let Holy Spirit make you and use you as He wants

3. Suffer on behalf of Christ – vs29, Paul wrote from prison where:

  • he was suffering, but not stopped, in serving Christ

  • curtailed, but not cut out, in ministering to others

Brenda and I left Khartoum International Church through illness finally in 2004. We were not even halfway through our own ’10 year plan’. But God had other ideas. Since then, using DVD and audio recordings, with publishing and writing books that God has enabled us to produce, He has advanced His ministry in Sudan and South Sudan, from preaching to 250 people weekly and regularly teaching small classes for 2 Bible/theological schools in Khartoum, to having written, edited, raised the finances for, published and printed almost 100,000 books in the three major used languages.

“Christ is preached, and because of this (I honestly must admit, only on a good day)

I rejoice”, Philippians 1:18. To God be all the honour, praise, thanks and glory. We are at best only unworthy and unprofitable servants, who have tried to do our duty, Luke 17:10.

3) Why do good people die?

Finally, in our thoughts about death and its impact on our living today, let’s try to answer a frequently asked question: “Why do good people die?”

The somewhat surprising answer is, in answer to Jesus’ prayer!

Jesus was sharing in conversation with His Father when He was recorded as saying,Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world”, John 17:24, (italics mine).

Look at the verse above very carefully, especially the first section that I have highlighted.

  • Would we lessen, or even give up, our prayers for the health-recovery of our loved ones, family and friends if we understood that our Lord Jesus was praying the opposite?

  • Would we pray differently about our church’s relief from her present and terrible suffering if we understood that our Lord Jesus was praying the opposite?

  • Would we change the focus of our prayers at funerals if we understood that our Lord Jesus was praying the opposite?

  • What else should we think about re-evaluating in our attitudes and in our prayers, if we truly understood that our Lord Jesus was praying for His people to be immediately with Him in His glorious presence?

  • After all, is this not the ultimate ‘why?’ of everything?

Our Lord Jesus constantly had heaven uppermost in His mind while on earth. To be one of His genuine followers we must try to copy Him in this. Take to heart that death is the destiny of (almost) everyone. Settle that you will try to lift Jesus up in your body, by life or by death. And remember that our Lord wants all His people to be with Him in the glory of heaven. “Lord Jesus, make us ready. Please”.

Originally written as BiMonthly Encouragement, 1st November 2017.

Discussion guide

1. Why do you think people generally do not like to talk about dying and death? Do you feel comfortable doing it now? Why? Why not?

2. From Philippians 1:20-24 Paul expressed his desire that, “now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”. Why do you think most Christian believers appear to spend more time thinking about their physical life than their eternal life? Is this good or bad?

3. Which of the three imaginary ‘stool-leg’ principles (a).b).c). above) is the weakest one, in your experience and in your observation of other Christians? Explain why you believe this is so. Is there anything else you think would help people live more with death in mind?

4. Since our Lord Jesus wants us to be with Him in glory, John 17:24, in which ways must we change our priorities over living well and dying well?

5. Pool your ideas on each one of my last five bullet points, near the end of this chapter. Feel free to raise objections to any of them, but if you do try and use Scripture to support your argument

6. Outline in your own words your understanding of “for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart”, Ecclesiastes 7:2b. Compose one sentence that captures the Teacher’s mind.[1]

[1] Ecclesiastes 1:1, 12-13; 7:27;12:8-10. Probably Solomon, son of King David.


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