Well, the toughest weekend of my short ministry career is over with. Our church and neighborhood community came together to grieve and celebrate the life of Stephen Namie: friend, father, disciple, worshipper, facilitator of others’ worship, artist, and overall just incredible guy. On Friday, over 1000 people overflowed our parking lot and filled our worship center. We laughed, cried, prayed, and sang to the glory of God for such a life.
On my morning drive to the church, I was reminded of Paul’s sentiments in Phil 1:20-21. “…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
A man in prison, awaiting his sentencing, knowing that his rivals were trying to stir up trouble for him by stealing his followers and influence, exclaims that he wants to honor Christ in his life and death. Wow. Death was not a foreign nor fearful subject for Paul. It was a familiar acquaintance like that neighbor of yours you’re always running into, but just can’t stand. His wish was not the stuff of a suicide watch. No, his life was consumed with one aim – to honor the One who had so gloriously saved his soul. And he aimed to do that by life and death.
I’ve often wondered how I can honor Christ in my life – with my money, time, energy, gifts, etc. I’ve considered how to leverage more of myself to make Him known. I love being with people who are thinking the same – wondering how to honor Christ with their work in the inner city, or how to honor Christ in a new marriage, or in their jobs, even in their sports! I’ve sat in on meetings where people strategize how to reach an entire nation to honor Christ. I love these people dearly.
But rare are the times when I’ve thought about how to honor Christ in my death. We don’t like to go there. It’s too morbid. There are too many other factors in play. It affects too many other people outside of me. We shy away from embracing risk for the kingdom because we’ve been led to believe that it’s reckless or selfish to consider giving up our lives in order to honor Christ. What about your family? All those dependent on you? Honor Christ in my life? Yes. Honor Christ in my death? What about my wife and kids?
And so, “compassion” and “selflessness” tell us to take care of the family, tend to our duties, and then to follow Christ. Risk is ok as long as it only affects you. Anything else would be irresponsible. Remember how that worked out for the ones who wanted to follow Jesus after they had taken care of their life chores? We don’t even know their names. They’re anonymous examples of the kind of well-meaning responsibility that could keep us from following Jesus. I’m not saying to go out on some vigilante crusade in the name of Jesus. I am wondering aloud that perhaps there needs to be a bit more conversation on the death side, as well as the life side, of what it means to honor Christ with our bodies.
When the service ended, I sat there weeping uncontrollably. So many thoughts flooded me at once. “I’m going to miss this guy. What do we do now? Why didn’t I get to know him better? He was an amazing person! Jesus really was the center of his life. Jesus was the center of this service!” As I cried, I realized that he had done what I want to do – honor Christ with my body, whether in life or death. Then I thought, “how absorbed with Christ do you have to be that the only thing that matters is honoring him? Whether by life or by death?” I want that. It’s not about a death wish as much as it is an all-consuming life vision of Jesus that everything is on the table for the purpose of making him known: my family, my work, my life, even my death.
People die every day. I get that. But how many die with the ultimate aim of honoring Christ even in their death? Every person who stood up to remember and give testimony to Steve’s life preached the gospel. Every memory came around the identity of Jesus and the beauty of faith in him. Christ was honored by his death.
Steve didn’t just live a moral life. He wasn’t just a good man. Yes, he was kind, full of joy, a servant, etc. But these are just platitudes that would window-dress the real beauty and fire of this man alive. He was Jesus-saturated and Jesus-entranced. Paul prayed what Steve got to live – “For me, TO LIVE IS CHRIST. TO DIE IS GAIN.” Steve lived to honor Christ with his body – whether by life or by death, and he gained the desire of his soul.
I pray that I would live (and die) towards the same joyous purpose.