Tom Elliff
Oklahoma City, OK

After pastoring for forty-two years, Tom Elliff served the International Mission Board, first as Senior Vice President for Spiritual Nurture and Church Relations from 2005-2009, then as President from 2011-2014. Tom served pastorates in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma and as an IMB missionary in Zimbabwe. Tom also served as president of the SBC Pastor's Conference and two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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When A Godly Person Dies

By on July 24, 2010

In recent weeks several close friends of ours seem to have entered that phase of life which presents them with their last opportunity for stewardship, the stewardship of death. Should that be the case, there will come the inevitable questions regarding the death of “good people.” After all, the reasoning goes, there are so many “bad people” around, and it just seems unfair for those to die whose lives have touched us in such positive ways.

It does us good, I think, to turn to God’s Word for the answer to questions regarding life and death. After all, God is sovereign in these matters, and He is the One who determines the eternal destiny of us all. It is in God’s Word that we encounter this astounding declaration: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones” (Ps 116:15).

“How can this be?” we want to cry out. “How can it be precious for godly people to die? How can God look upon such an event and see great value in it?”

It will be wise for us to consider the following:

1. Everyone, even the best among us, has an appointment with death. This passage speaks of the death of the Lord’s “godly ones.” We are reminded of this truth in Hebrews 9:27, 2 Cor 5:1-11, and 2 Tim 4:6-8. That physical body of yours is just a tent, the “suit of clothes” that the real “you” lives in. Our physical bodies, in their present sin-cursed state cannot be our permanent home. As a pastor I’ve preached many memorial services. Death did not generally come when, where, or how the individual had supposed it would come. But ultimately death did come. And, unless Jesus returns in your lifetime, death will come for you, no matter how godly you may be.

2. As in our lifetime, the Lord is perfectly aware, and engaged through all that happens in our death-time. The death of His godly ones is precious in the Lord’s sight. Sometimes we have the idea that a Christian’s death occurs in a divine “attention vacuum.” It just wouldn’t happen this way if God was minding His business. But we are constantly reminded of God’s unfailing attention. He “never slumbers nor sleeps”(Ps 121). We cannot “flee from His presence” (Ps 139).

3. Through faith, we can come to understand how the death of a godly person can be “precious.” Think about it!

a) The death of a godly person is precious to the one who dies, because it bring immediate entrance into an intimacy with God that can never be experienced apart from departing this world. The Jews of the Lord’s day sought to describe this experience as going to rest “in Abraham’s bosom,” a picture of intimacy. Paul spoke of death as a departure from this earth, only to be met by the “Lord, the righteous Judge” who would place upon his brow the victor’s crown of righteousness. “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8).

b) The death of a godly person is precious to other believers who are left behind, for it revives our appreciation for heaven and the importance of living today in the light of eternity. In Paul’s reflection on death (2 Cor 5:1-11), he reminds us of the fact that, one day, we must all stand before the Judgement seat of Christ. There the issue will not be whether we will be in heaven; that will have been settled. The issue will be what we did with all God gave us here on earth; what kind of stewards we were. As our fellow believers enter heaven it only makes heaven that much closer to us.

c) The death of a godly person is an incredibly loving message from God to the unbeliever, saying “You must think about where you will spend eternity.” Funerals always leave the congregation with eternity in view. For some, the death of a godly person will be wasted on them as they fail to consider their own brief life in light of eternity. For others, a funeral service can become the most precious moment of their earthly life. But only if they will repent and believe in Christ unto salvation.

The psalmist affirms that the death of a godly person is “precious,” something honorable and prized, something to be highly esteemed.

Just knowing that the death of a godly person is precious in God’s eyes helps me grapple with the issues of life and death.

I hope it does the same for you.

Rejoice evermore!

Tom Elliff

2 Tim 1:12