Seneca once said, “the life we receive is not short, but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
This isn’t to deny that life is brief, as both Scripture and observation make clear. In James’ letter, he says this: “what is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” The Psalmist tells us that in his day the most people could hope for was living to the age of 70; maybe 80 if they were very healthy (Psalm 90:10).
I remember sitting by the bed of a senior saint who was dying in the hospital. She was in and out of consciousness and fearful of dying alone. Several of us took turns staying by her bedside, often playing some of her favorite music, praying out loud, reading Scripture, or merely talking so our voice could soothe her. At one point in the middle of the night, when she was awake, she looked at me and said “I’m new at this. I’ve never died before.” Grabbing her hand, I smiled at her and retold the promises of Jesus. She replied, “I’m so glad Heaven will never end. I can’t believe my time here was so short.” With that, she fell asleep and died the next morning.
Life is short. Most of us would count ourselves lucky (to use the wrong word) to make it past 80. Yet, I think the point Seneca is trying to make is that we get to live for 70-80 years! It’s time to see the glass as half full and make our decisions accordingly. What will you do with the time that you do have?
Scripture speaks directly to this issue. In 1 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul compares and contrasts our time on this earth with what’s coming next in our heavenly dwelling. In this life, he says we live in an “earthly tent” but our permanent residence an “an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (v.1). Here, we are burdened. There, we are only blessed. Here, we only see glimpses of God through faith. There, we behold his glory. Yet, therein lies the problem. As the old saying goes, ‘we can become so heavenly focused that we are no earthy good’. In other words, we can focus so much on future blessings that we forget about our present responsibilities as a believer.
To counter this, Paul reminds his fellow believers that we must “make it our goal to please him” (v.9). I love how the Message translates this verse: “pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our condition.” The New American Standard says, “we have as our ambition”. The English Standard Version says, “we make it our aim.” The Greek verb that Paul uses is a compound word, being built off two separate Greek words:
Φίλος (philos) + τιμή (timē)
Love + honor
In Classical Greek, the word could be used negatively (e.g. ambitious, vain seeking of honor, etc.) or positively (e.g. strive eagerly, show zeal). By the time of the New Testament, the term had taken an almost exclusively positive meaning. According to Paul, if a believer is to have a well-lived life, it must be characterized by an enthusiastic love of and dedication to pleasing God.
This zealous dedication is made possible precisely because we believe in the future inheritance God has promised. Once again, the Message beautifully captures this idea in v.6, “That’s why we live in such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads and dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead.”
The danger of wasting your soul
Yet, not every believer lives this way. In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah warns his fellow Israelites with these words (Micah 6:10-14):
Am I still to forget your ill-gotten treasures, you wicked house,
and the short ephah, which is accursed?
11 Shall I acquit someone with dishonest scales,
with a bag of false weights?
12 Your rich people are violent;
your inhabitants are liars
and their tongues speak deceitfully.
13 Therefore, I have begun to destroy you,
to ruin you because of your sins.
14 You will eat but not be satisfied;
your stomach will still be empty.
You will store up but save nothing,
because what you save I will give to the sword.
They professed belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They worshipped. They tithed. On the outside, they looked very religious, but on the inside, they began living for something else other than pleasing God. In their situation, it was their wealth and comfort. For some, it might be fear of what others might think. Once again, the Message captures the stark ugliness of the result: “No matter how hard you work, you’ll have nothing to show for it—bankrupt lives, wasted souls” (v.14).
A Well-Lived Life
Micah doesn’t just leave the Jewish people in despair. He didn’t come to simply deliver bad news, but rather to call them to repentance and point them towards hope. If we don’t want to waste our lives, how can we live them well? How can we please God? How can we avoid becoming a ‘wasted soul’?
Micah gives us the answer in v.8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This three-answer is meant to be a Jesus-centered and Holy Spirit-empowered guide for how to live our lives.
To act justly – This is a personal calling, as well as a social one. Individually, we are to act in a just manner by treating others fairly and removing prejudice from our hearts and minds. Yet it also has social implications. The believer who is faithfully walking with Jesus is uncomfortable when injustice is observed. They cannot remain silent. Injustice is the Christian’s call to action. This includes the unjust plight of the poor and oppressed, but it also includes the unjust rejection of God (it is just and right for God to be praised by all men, everywhere). The cause of justice demands that we become evangelists and social reformers.
To love mercy – Once again, this is individual as well as social. This word can be translated as ‘kindness’, ‘mercy’, ‘loyalty’, or ‘unfailing love’. The Hebrew term is ḥesed, and is the term used of God’s unfailing love to his people. Perhaps the best translation is “loyal love”. A Christian’s high calling is to be zealous is showing love to everyone he or she encounters. We want this ‘loyal love’ to reign in our homes, but also in our nation.
To walk humbly with your God – The zeal of the faithful Christian is tempered by her mortality. We can’t fix anything by ourselves. We can’t solve the world’s problems alone. This doesn’t mean we don’t try, but it does mean that we must always rely on God. God has assigned us one small mission in a much larger spiritual campaign. We can’t win the war without him, but even more to the point, we can’t even accomplish our mission without him.
A Personal Word
Several weeks ago, our nation watched the video of George Floyd in horror. All of us had an emotional reaction of some kind to that blatant act of injustice. For me, it awakened a zeal for the biblical principles of justice that, to my shame, I had allowed to slumber and become forgotten. In the weeks that followed, I became more and more determined to live and communicate these biblical principles. I attended protests, shared the Gospel with dozens of protesters, joined community groups seeking to end systemic racial injustices, wrote social media posts pointing others to Scripture, and met with some of our State’s political leaders. I even had the opportunity to communicate briefly with our Governor, and I used that 15-second encounter to speak biblical truth. In the days and weeks that followed, I became more aware of the need to share Christ with my neighbors, not only because that is the ultimate solution to human-to-human injustice, but because justice requires that our gracious King Jesus be known, loved, and adored. In times of darkness, I was reminded of the need to shine the light of Jesus.
In the wake of that, a friend called me on the phone. He was worried and asked all kinds of questions. Are you putting your job in jeopardy? Aren’t you afraid of losing friends? Isn’t this subject making people uncomfortable?
The questions were understandable, but my perspective was now different. Years ago, John Piper wrote a little book titled “Don’t Waste Your Life”. There is one quote that has stayed with me through the years: “God created me—and you—to live with a single, all-embracing, all-transforming passion—namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying his supreme excellence in all spheres of life.”
Or, in Paul’s words, I have now made it my goal to please God. Nothing else will do.
 Seneca, On the Shortness of Life.