LIVE WITH ETERNITY IN VIEW
He answered, "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." Luke 16: 27, 28 (NIV)
By Philip A Matthews
The full text of this story reads like this:
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, "'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire."
But Abraham replied, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us."
He answered, "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment."
Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them."
"No, father Abraham," he said, "but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent."
He [Abraham] said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."
Now I'm not sure whether this story Jesus told was a parable or not. It could have very well been a true occurrence, especially since He named the beggar, Lazarus. Furthermore, tradition has it that the rich man's name was Dives. There are many lessons to be learned from this story, but the one we want to focus on today is the attitude of Dives while in hell or Hades, as it is also called. Notice his first concern in hell is for personal relief. His second concern is for his five brothers who are still carelessly and selfishly living and doing their thing on earth. Notice that he was willing to forget about his own desperate desire for relief if only his brothers could be warned not to come to that place. Suddenly, after living a life of immense selfishness and disregard for others, he is overwhelmingly concerned for somebody else. Notice how much the pangs of hell change people!
The world has seen some unbelievably great and effective missionaries and evangelists down through the years. But the greatest missionary this world has ever seen would be a soul just released from hell! Imagine what would happen if Dives himself were to be allowed to return to earth for one week. He would go straight to his father's house and start screaming, "YOU FOOLS! WAKE UP, YOU IDIOTS! DON'T YOU KNOW THAT DEATH, HELL AND EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION IS JUST A BREATH AWAY? CAN'T YOU SEE THAT SATAN IS JUST WAITING FOR YOU JUST A MOMENT AWAY? FORGET ABOUT EVERYTHING THAT YOU THINK IS SO IMPORTANT NOW! TURN TO GOD, NOW, BEFORE IT'S ABSOLUTELY, ETERNALLY TOO LATE!!!"
His brothers, I'm sure, would think he had gone stark raving mad. But this would not deter or silence him in the least. He would unceasingly plead and beg them, on his hands and knees, to carefully consider and reconsider what he's telling them. Think of the unimaginably great relief he would feel if just one of them would listen to his voice.
Next, he would turn his attention to all his friends and neighbors. He would go back to talk to all his old girl friends, ex-wives, and forgotten acquaintances. He would even warn his enemies of the hellfire to come! In a short time, the entire city would think this rich man had gone crazy. Before long this guy would be scouring heaven and earth for souls to warn about the dangers and reality of hell. He would never tire. He would never allow himself to get distracted. He wouldn't stop to enjoy life to the fullest and he wouldn't care whether he was persecuted or not. He wouldn't bother to get himself all wrapped up in earthly busyness. There would be times he would not eat, drink, or sleep. There would be things he would deliberately miss out on simply because they would not amount to a hill of beans when heaven and hell are at stake. No, my friend, I'm telling you, we have not yet seen the missionary fervor of a soul just released from hell!
Now why is it that we would expect a soul just released from hell to act so desperately, while we Christians who preach this and claim to believe this act so nonchalantly? Is this stuff true or not? Do we believe it or not? Is there truly a heaven and a hell? Is there really a life after death? Is there truly an eternity, in which every soul on earth will live in one of only two places? I ask this because, if there is-if heaven and hell and eternity are really for real-then most of us ought to be living vastly different lives than we now do.
Just imagine: if we let the souls now in hell come back to earth, do you think they would know how to live then? Do you think they would make the same mistake of forgetting God and rejecting Jesus Christ? Do you think they would continue to squeeze God little by little out of their lives? Do you think they would carelessly allow sin and selfishness to rule their lives-their new lives? What would they tell us about living our lives? What would they view as the most important things in life?
I am convinced that they would tell us that the only truly valuable things in this life are the things that pertain to or affect the next life. The only things that really matter in this life are the things that have a bearing on the next life. Eternity gives meaning to this life. Without the next life, nothing else really matters. If there is no hereafter, then it doesn't really matter at all what we do here. As the apostle Paul and others have reasoned, "Let's just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:32), and that's that. But if there is a hereafter, if there is a reckoning day, then what we do today takes on infinite and eternal significance.
Everything we do ought to be done with eternity in mind. Everything we say must be said with eternity in mind. Our entire lives must be lived with preparing ourselves and others for eternity as our chief business. We must make our lives count, and that can only be done by living life with eternity in view. We must continually ask ourselves, "Will this hurt or hinder my own soul? Will this help save some other soul? Is this really a waste of time? Will this count in eternity?"
Take Jesus Christ as our example. He came to earth and lived His entire life with eternity in view. His sole purpose for coming to this world was to insure that we would have a happy hereafter. He did not have time to build nest-eggs and buy big estates and sit around smelling the roses. He lived here for thirty-three and one-half years, and I don't believe He wasted a single day. Even at twelve years old He told His parents, "Don't you think it's about time I was about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:49).
He regarded one soul as so valuable that He gave up heaven and came to earth to save that one soul. He knew that going to hell is so indescribably awful and terrible that He gave up His life and died just to keep that one soul from going to hell. Can you imagine how horrible the place must be, that the Son of God Himself would suffer such an agonizing death on the cross just to enable one soul to avoid such a place?
This tells us something, Christians: We ought to be doing everything within our power to save souls from hell. How can we be so indifferent? How can we keep doing business as usual? When will we wake up and realize that there really is no business but God's business? All other so-called important business becomes utterly and absolutely insignificant when compared with eternity. Who cares whether the stock market goes up or down? Who cares whether or not we ever balance the federal budget? Perhaps you have the best job and the biggest house and the fastest car. Or perhaps you have the worst job and the smallest house and the slowest rattle-trap in town. But when it's all said and done, and eternity has swallowed up this time-world, what does it matter? What is life all about anyway? What are we supposed to be doing while here?
If we would truly live life with eternity in view, it would have three very important effects upon our lives. In fact, it would revolutionize our lives, and the lives of all those around us.
First of all, it would cause us finally to get our priorities straight. We Christians are all twisted and warped in our ideas of why we are in this world and what God expects us to do. The biggest trick Satan has is to deceive people into thinking that trash and trivialities are important while the truly important things are trivial. We would begin to spend our lives working only for those things that have eternal significance. Transient stuff would cease to occupy and waste our time. We would evaluate and judge everything in life by its value to the cause and kingdom of Christ. Does He need this? Will it help advance His interests? Does it help my own soul and the souls of others?
These are the questions asked by the great missionary, David Livingstone, who brought the gospel to the heart of Africa. He said: "I will place no value on anything I have or may possess except in relation to the kingdom of Christ. If anything will advance the interests of that kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by the giving or keeping of it I shall most promote the glory of Him to whom I owe all my hopes in time and eternity." Do you hear what this man is saying? He evaluated everything in his life by its usefulness to God. If it was helpful to Christ, he kept it. If it was an unnecessary hindrance, he got rid of it.
The second effect viewing eternity should have on us is to harden us against the trials and temptations of life. We spend far too much time worrying about, fussing over, and struggling for things that will mean absolutely nothing in eternity. We spend far too much time crying, complaining, and carrying on about troubles that befall us. Since none of this will really matter in the end, why must it mean so much to us now? Sometimes we sing the song "When We All Get To Heaven." There's a verse in there that says, "Just one glimpse of Him in glory will the storms of life repay." Another song I know says,
"What though my life be peace or pain?
It will only soon be o'er.
I want to walk the way that leads
To heaven's eternal shore."
So then, we are not to be so easily affected by life's temporary trials, led astray by life's transient temptations, nor distracted by life's fleeting enjoyments and pleasures. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:18, "...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." Therefore Paul was able to endure and utterly disregard three shipwrecks, five beatings with bullwhips, three beatings with rods, several stonings, several imprisonments, a couple of riots, a poisonous snake bite, and finally, a beheading-all for the purpose of saving souls from hell. "What's a little beating," he thought, "if I can save some soul from eternal damnation?"
Last, viewing life in the light of eternity will cause us to value people more and properly. We will quit looking at people as mere physical beings-just pieces of meat-but as priceless, never-dying souls that have only a short, perilous time of preparation here before they end up stuck somewhere in eternity forever and forever and forever. People are never-dying souls. The drunk man sitting in the ditch is just as much a soul as the uppity man sitting on the throne. In hell, it won't matter who sat where. Our job is to keep as many as we possibly can from going there. And that's a job that we are not doing very well, nor are very many of us too concerned about it.
I am made to think of this song written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. long ago, "It Will Matter But Little At Last:"
When we get to the end of our journey
And our struggles are over and past,
What we've had out of life as our portion,
It will matter but little at last.
Some of us may have had a fair voyage,
Or we may have been stung by the blast;
Whether we've been through storm or through sunshine,
It will matter but little at last.
Though our hearts have been broken by sorrow,
Though our skies have with clouds been o'ercast,
Though our backs have been bent with the burden,
It will matter but little at last.
There is only one thing that will matter:
Have our lives with the Savior's been cast?
Whether we're trusting Him for salvation,
Is the thing that will matter at last.
It will matter but little what we have passed through,
When the shades of the valley at sunset we view;
Whether small and unknown, or a king on some throne,
It will matter but little at last.
A true story is told about a man named Charlie Peace, who had been condemned to die in the country of England. When it came time for him to die, he was led out to the gallows by the chaplain of the prison to be hanged. To the chaplain, this execution was like so many of the others he had attended-just another criminal, just another day on the job. He sleepily and routinely began reading the Bible verses about death, hell, and the so-called "Consolations of Religion." Halfway to the gallows, Charlie Peace began to think, "This man is nearly sleeping while I'm getting ready to go to hell." "Stop! Stop! Stop a minute!" Charlie Peace exclaimed to the preacher. "Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk all over it, if need be, on my hands and knees, and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!"
What a rebuke from a dying sinner. Yet it is a fairly accurate observation: the Christian church in general has yet to prove by its actions that it really cares whether this world is lost or not. If we are so serious about saving souls, then why do we continue wasting God's money on huge, magnificent, extravagant church buildings costing $20, $30, even $50 million each? Are these magnificent edifices truly for God-or for us and our religious egos? How efficiently are these monumental church-building projects saving souls and changing the world? Also, why do we Christians, on the average, give only four percent of our income to God? And how many of us are involved in missions and evangelism, either at home or abroad, either directly or indirectly?
Over 200,000 people die in this world every day. Most of them are lost forever. I'm told that 80,000 of them die having never even heard of Jesus Christ. In India alone, there are 300 million souls living under the deceptions of Hinduism, spiritism, animism, and other false, Satanic religions, who have never heard of a man named Jesus Christ. In his book, Revolution In World Missions, Y. P. Yohannan writes that some of the Indians think that Jesus is a new brand of soap or medicine. One Hindu store owner, when asked if he knew Jesus Christ, replied, after thinking awhile, "No. I've been in this village all my life, and I know most of the people in the surrounding villages, but I must say that I don't know anybody around here by that name." There are more than 500,000 villages in India without a single Christian in the whole place!
Meanwhile, life goes on. We get up each morning and worry about the color of our clothes, make decisions about the kind of toothpaste we're going to use, argue about where to spend our extra money, fuss over whose turn it is to choose the TV show tonight, dream about what's for dinner, and make our leisure plans for this weekend. We might even get a little spiritual and go to Bible study now and then. But when it's all said and done, we have really done almost nothing for the kingdom of God. But can there even be a such thing as a Christian with nothing to do? Sure, there are millions of Christians doing nothing, but there are absolutely no Christians with nothing to do!
How can we possibly go on with business as usual in a dying world? How can we continue to let the pastor and a chosen few do most of the work in the congregation? How can we let the old saints do most of the praying? How can we continue to get bogged down with stuff that will mean absolutely nothing in a few short years? It's simply because we have neglected to live life with eternity in view. To be honest, in the light of eternity, most of us Christians are absolutely wasting our lives!
Brethren, God is calling for each of us to make our lives count for eternity. He does not call us to get bogged down and entangled with the cares of this earthly life. He has called us upward, out of the world. And He wants us to take everybody we can with us. We are not earthlings; we are citizens of heaven! And as such, Christ requires us to live in this world as He Himself would live-with the sole purpose of pleasing God and saving others. Anything less is not worthy of the Lord Who gave His life's blood to save us.
Now let us pray: O God, we ask you to look down on us today. Forgive those of us who have been taking life so easy and indifferently. Help us to begin living life with eternity in view. Stir us greatly, and help us to realize that we have "only one life, it will soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last." In Jesus' name, Amen.
© 1998 Philip A Matthews