James Merritt - Die Right
Since I'm only going to live once, I think I want to live right. And since I'm only going to die once, at least physically, I want to die right. Now the question is, how do you do that? Well, there was a man by the name of Paul who wrote a letter to a church in a place called Philippi. I have been to Phillipi many times. He wrote a letter to a church in Phillipi, and in this letter, he includes some words that I believe gives us three things that we need to die right. If you brought a copy of God's Word and want to look along, let me tell you where I am. I'm in a book called Philippians. As you can see, it's almost at the end of the New Testament, okay. It's in the New Testament, just a little bit past the end of the book. It's Philippians chapter 1.
Let me kind of set the background. Several letters that Paul wrote are called prison letters, and the reason why they're called prison letters is because Paul wrote them in prison. He wrote this letter while he was incarcerated in a Roman prison. Now, as we study this passage, I want you to keep one thing in mind before we get into it. When Paul wrote this letter, and when Paul wrote these words, he didn't have a clue what was going to happen to him. He didn't know if he was going to stay in prison for a long time. He didn't know if he was going to be set free at some point in time, or he didn't know if he was going to die. He literally did not know what the future held, so he begins by saying these words in verse 19. "For I know that through your prayers," that is the church in Phillipi, "and God's provision of the spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me," being in this prison, "will turn out for my deliverance. 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".
Here's what Paul said. "I don't know if I'm going to live. I don't know if I'm gonna die. I don't know if I'm gonna be set free, I'm gonna rot away in this prison, or they're gonna take my head off, but what matters most to me is not whether I live or die, but how I live and how I die. I want to live right, and I want to die right". And so he gives us three things that we've got to have if we're going to die right. So I would just say to all of us today, since we know we're going to die, we may as well die right, and there are three things we've got to have to do that. Number one, I must have the right view of life. I gotta have the right view of life. I'm gonna say it one more time. You're not ready to die right until you're ready to live right, and if you want to live right, you've gotta have the right view of life. Now Paul tells us what his view of life was in a very simple message. He says, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain".
Now Paul did something that we're all going to do right now, and everybody can do this. Paul put his life under a microscope. He just got dead-level honest with himself, and he said, "Okay, if I could summarize my life in one word, what would I say my life is"? Everybody can do that. Now I want you to imagine that you are walking down the street, and you turn a corner, and somebody says to you, "Okay, what is your life? In one word, what would you say your life is"? Now, if we're honest, here's what some people would say. Some people would say, "Well, my life is money. If I'm gonna be just really honest, deep down, my life is money. It revolves around money. I'm consumed with making money". Other people would say, "My life is sex," and there are people out there, they live for the one-night stand, and they live for this relationship and that relationship.
There are a lot of people who would say today, "My life is drugs. I'm an addict, and whatever else I've got, I've got to have drugs". Some people would say, "My life is fame. I live for the applause of the world". Some people would say, "Well, my life is sports. I just, I mean, football, basketball, baseball, golf. My life is sports". There are some people who are very noble. They would say, "Well, my life is family. It's my wife. It's my kids. It's my grandkids". Paul said, "My life is Christ. The obsession of my life is Christ. The love of my life is Christ. The foundation of my life is Christ. The center of my life is Christ. The circumference of my life is Christ. The obsession of my life is Christ. My life is Christ".
Now let me just stop. That makes perfect sense, if you're a follower of Christ. Let me tell you why. If the gospel is true, if the gospel is true, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on a cross, came back from the dead, paid for all of our sins, and he's King and kings, and Lord of lords, if all of that's true, then there are no alternatives to Christ. What other choice is there out there? What other option is there out there? As a matter of fact, I want to make a proposition to you. I want you to think about two things right now. Think about your life, and think about Christ, all right. Think about your life, and think about Christ.
Now, I want you to put those two things together, and I want to propose to you two propositions. Jesus alone is worthy of your life, nothing else. Not money, not fame, not fortune, not popularity, not power, not influence. Nothing else is worthy of your life except Jesus. Secondly, your life is too valuable to give to anything, but Jesus. It's just too valuable. It's worth too much. Christianity is Christ, period, end of discussion. It's not church. It's not preaching. It's not religion. It's not the way you dress. It's not doing this or doing that. It's not keeping that command, not breaking that command. Christianity is Christ. It is Jesus. Let me put it to you this way. You could take Buddha out of Buddhism. You'll still have Buddhism. You can take Muhammad of Islam. You'll still have Islam. You can take Confucius out of Confucianism, and you'll still have Confucianism. You'll be confused, but you'll still have Confucianism. But if you take Jesus out of Christianity, you have nothing. Christianity is Christ.
Now I want to tell you the single most important thing that should be true of your life, if you have the right view of life. Because some of you are probably sitting there wondering right now, hey, I'm not really sure. Do I really have the right view of life? Well, I'll tell you the single most important thing that's true about you if you do. The single most important thing about you, if you have the right view of life, is whether or not the people that you are closest to and the people that are closest to you, and the people that come in contact with you, your spouse, your children, your family, your colleagues, your workmates, your teammates, your neighbors. Here's the key. Do they see Jesus in the way you live? Now if they do, you've got the right view of life.
When Henry the Fourth was the king of France, some of his servants and courtiers were complimenting him on how vigorous he was, even though he was growing older, and one of them said, "Sire, you might even live to be 80 years of age". And when they said that, when that servant said this to him, listen to what King Henry the Fourth said. This is so good. He said, "The number of our days is reckoned. I've often prayed to God for grace, but never for a long life. A man who has lived well has always lived long enough, however early he may die". A man who has lived well has always lived long enough, however early he may die. If you want to die right, you gotta live right, and if you want to live right, you've gotta have the right view of life, and there's only one view of life that is right, and that is if you can honestly say, "For to me, to live is Christ". That's the right view of life. Then we gotta have something else. We've gotta have the right version of death. Gotta have the right view of life, but we gotta have the right version of death.
Now listen to the second part of this verse again. Ready? He says now, "For to me, to live is Christ," and then he says something that I know a lot of you are gonna say, "Uh uh, not buying that". "And to die is gain". Now the word there for "gain" literally means profitable. It means beneficial. It means it is a good thing. Now let's just be honest. The only people that we think or believe that death is gain for are people who run funeral homes, okay, because you know, I don't know that death is a gain for me, because I really believe, I think the last thing hardly any of us think about when it comes to death is, "Oh man, that's a good thing". You know, I mean, really, unless you're really on the outs with somebody, or you're mad at somebody, or you don't like somebody, when somebody says, "Hey, did you hear so and so died?" the first thing you say is not, "That's cool". Really? Boy, that's great. That's fanta... got any more good news? Ah, man, that's so sad, and that's so bad, and that's so heartbreaking, and yet Paul said, "If your life is Christ, then your death is gain". If your life is Christ, then your death is gain.
Now let me just stop. I know that's a hard sell, and I'm not talking to those of you who may not know Christ, or you're not a believer, you're not a follower of Jesus. That's a hard sell to a lot of us right now who are followers of Jesus. I mean, you do love Jesus. I'm gonna prove it to you. If you're a follower of Jesus, and don't raise your hand, but if I were to ask you this question, "Do you really believe that when you die, you're going to heaven"? You'd nod your head. If I were to say to you, "Well, do you believe that heaven is the most wonderful place in the universe"? You'd nod your head. But then you know what we all do? We spend a lot of time doing everything we can to keep from going there, right? You know, Joe Lewis, the famous boxer, he said, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die". I mean, it's true. I want to go to heaven, but we don't wanna die. And yet Paul said, "That's not me. I tell you, when I think about death, here's the word I think about. To die is gain".
Now you may think, "I don't believe that. He's just blowing smoke". Well, I'll tell you why I believe what he said, because what he said in verse 23. Listen to this. He said, "I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is better by far". Now I want you to let those words sink in a minute. "I'm really torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far". Now, we're gonna get honest, all of us, including me. His attitude is 180 degrees different from our attitude, okay. Here's what we would all say, if we were honest. We're willing to go to heaven, but we want to stay here as long as we're healthy, and we want to enjoy our family, and we want to enjoy our friends, and we want to enjoy life. We're willing to go, but we wanna stay. Listen, I'm honest. The older you get, the less you care what people think, okay.
I don't want to die till Georgia wins one more national championship, just one. I don't want two or three, just give me one more. Paul said, "It's not me. James, you're willing to go, but you want to stay. I'm willing to stay, but I want to go". Paul said when you've got the right view of life, it's Christ, you'll have the right version of death. To die is gain. Now watch what happens. When I have the right view of life, and when I have the right version of death, then I must have the right vision of life and death. Now I want you to watch how Paul closes this up. Paul says, "It's only when you have the right view of life and the version of death, you'll have the right vision of life and death".
Now you know what that vision is? And by the way, you will know that you've captured that vision. You know how you'll know it? You know that you've got the right view of life, you'll know you've got the right version of death, you'll know you've got the right vision of life and death when you are really conflicted. There are gonna be times where there's gonna be a battle going on in your soul as to what to do, because I want to go back to that statement one more time, what Paul thinks about living and dying. Listen to what he says. "I'm torn". Most of us are not torn. I know what I want to do. I want to be here for a while. Paul says, "Not me. I'm torn. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far".
So Paul's got, he said, "Look, I got a battle going on. The battle's going on between my desire and my duty. That's the battle. My desire is to leave and be with Jesus. I want to go today. I want to go now. I'm ready. But I've got a duty to stay and work for Jesus. So my problem is I'm willing to stay here, but I want to go there," where we're saying, "Well, I'm willing to go there, but I want to stay here". Now here's what I want you to understand. Why was Paul willing to stay? Why was Paul willing to stay? Totally different. It was not, you're not gonna like this. In fact, I'm about to mettle right now, so just get ready. It was not so he could retire, do what he wanted to do, go where he wanted to go, put his feet up on the couch, watch TV, go to the mall, travel the world, and see all the sights.
Now let me just stop. Nothing wrong with anything of those things. I'm not critical of any of those things. That's not the point. Paul said, "You know why I'm willing to stay? If this is what God will... you know why I'm willing to hang around for a while"? Now watch what he says. "If I'm to go on living in the body, this will mean," not retirement, not becoming a couch potato, not heading off to the beach in Florida, "it will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know". Now here's where I want to mettle a minute. If your goal is to live a long time so you can retire, you got the wrong view of life. You've got the wrong version of death, and you've got the wrong vision of life and death. Paul said, "Do you know why I'm willing to live a long time? Not so I can retire, but so I can reenlist, so I can leave my earthly job for what God wants me to do".
Now if you've not heard anything else I've said, whether you are young or whether you are old, I want you to listen to this next statement, okay. This is the one. Just please, hear this, you don't hear anything else. You should never finish living until your work for God is finished, and God is never finished with you until your work for him is finished. You should never finish living until your work for God is finished, and God is never finished with you until your work for him is finished, and God's not finished with your work for him until he's finished with you. So you'll say, "Pastor, how do I know when my work on earth is done"? When you're out of here. Until then, you've got something you can do for God and something you can do for others. You may retire from your work. You never retire from God's work, never.
There was a philosopher by the name of Horace Kallen. He put it perfectly when he said this. Listen to this. He said, "There are those who guide their lives by the fear of death, and there are those who guide their lives by the joy of life. The former live dying, the latter die living. When I die, I intend to die living". That's how I want to die. I wanna die living. What did Paul mean by that? "I want to die living". All right, listen, and we're gonna wrap this up. He said, "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but I'll have sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death".
Now listen to what Paul said. Paul said, look, the important thing about your life is not how much money you make or how many years you accumulate, or how many skills that you master. He said, what's important about your life, who do you magnify? That word "exalt" means to magnify. Who do you magnify? He said, "You know what? The way I live, I want it to magnify Jesus. And the way I die, I want it to magnify Jesus".
Now that raises a question. Wait a minute. Does Jesus, the Son of God, the King of kings, the Lord of the lords, the creator of the universe, does he really need to be magnified? Well, yes he does. Let me tell you why. Go out tonight, if it's clear, and look up in the sky, and just look at all the stars. Now here's something we all know. Every star that you see is a lot bigger than it looks to the naked eye, because if it wasn't, you couldn't even see it. So we know it's a lot bigger, but there's what will happen. You can go to a Hubble telescope, and look at those same stars, and all of a sudden, you realize, dear Lord, I didn't know how big that star was. I didn't know how bright that star was. And what Paul was saying was our body, whether it's in life or in death, our body is to be a telescope that brings people closer to Jesus and makes Jesus even bigger.
As a matter of fact, there's not a better way for us to live our life every day than to be asking this question every day. Am I magnifying Jesus in my life? Is the way I live, is the way I conduct myself, is the way I do business, is the way I treat my neighbors, is the way I treat my family, my wife, my kids, is the way that I handle my transactions, is it magnifying Jesus? And you may say, wait a minute, how do you do that? How do you magnify Jesus? All kinds of ways. With our lips, we can magnify Jesus by the words that we say. With our hands, we can magnify Jesus by the deeds that we do. With our feet, we can magnify Jesus by the places that we go. With our hearts, we can magnify Jesus by the love that we share. But Paul said, look, whether we live or whether we die, we ought to magnify Jesus.
Let me tell you what he meant. We ought to live in such a way that people would see Jesus in us, and we ought to do in such a way that people will remember Jesus about us. I've often thought about dying, and you think more about it. I'm not morbid about it, but you think about it as you get older. And so, you know, I get to kind of fantasizing, I guess you'd say. So I've died, and I'm in heaven, and there will be times somebody will say, one of my sons, or they'll say to one of my grandchildren, "Merritt, did you happen to know a James Merritt"? "Yeah, that was my dad," or, "That was my pop". And I hope that what they'll say is, "Boy, your dad was all about Jesus. That's all he talked about. He preached Jesus. Every message was full of Jesus. He loved Jesus. He shared Jesus. He lived for Jesus".
That's what I want people to do. I want people, as they watch me today, see Jesus, and when I die, I want them to think about Jesus. You know, in Africa, a lot of Christians pray what they'll call, they pray that they'll die what they call a good death, and what they mean by dying a good death is not a death that's free of pain or free of suffering. What they mean by good death is this. They say a good death his when you die, regardless of how you die, when you die, God is glorified, Jesus is magnified, and faith is multiplied. They said that's dying a good death. Now here's what Paul said, and we're gonna wrap all this up. Paul said, "If I live, I'm gonna live for Jesus. If I die, I'm gonna live with Jesus. So for to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain".
Doctor Rogers, when he preached on this text, you know what the title of his sermon was? I love it. I wish I'd stolen it from him. "Heads, I win. Tails, I win". Isn't that good? If you're a Christian, that's true. Heads, I win. Tails, I win. Now, we're gonna get this real personal and then we're gonna pray. So you were on a street yesterday. You were downtown in Atlanta, and you kind of turned a corner, and there's somebody there with a notebook, and a pen, or a legal pad, and they said, "Excuse me, I'm taking a survey. Can I just ask you a question? How would you fill in this blank? For me to live is, blank".
You didn't have any prior warning. You didn't know what they were doing. For to me, to live is, blank. Now there's no need to lie. How would you have answered that question yesterday? If some of you were honest... some of us are honest. Well, for me, to live is money. For to me, to live is fame. Well, for to me, to live is my job. For me, to live is family. And what Paul would say is if you put anything in that blank except Jesus, then for you, to die is loss, and I'll tell you why. If you live for money, you're gonna leave it all behind. If you live for fame, people are gonna forget you. If you live for power, you're gonna lose it all. And oh, if you live for family, when you die, depending on whether or not your family knew Jesus, either you will never see them again, or you will wish you didn't.
Now there are three things you better get right. You better live right, and you better die right, and you better be forever right. And here's the good news. Once you let Jesus into your life and take control of your life, you're guaranteed to get all three right.