Men – Christian and heathen alike – need to leave a legacy. We need to leave something behind when we die. In a very real sense this is what ties us to our families and to civilization as a whole. But beyond being a mere anthropological concern, it is a Biblical imperative.
Under the Law, men had to leave a “legacy” – a monetary inheritance to bless and provide for his family after his death. But even more important was the spiritual legacy that parents were commanded to leave for their children and grandchildren. Perhaps this is best illustrated when the Children of Israel cross miraculously over the Jordan into the promised land. Joshua, their leader,
… said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Jos 4:5-7)
During the past twenty-seven weeks I have been leading our local church in a study of the books of 1 & 2 Kings. In that time, we’ve spent seventeen weeks covering the lives and legacies of Ahab and Elijah. Ahab and Elijah are opposites in almost every respect, but they both left lasting legacies. Ahab’s legacy was one of weak men, poor marital choices, and destruction that cut a bloody swath through three generations of royalty in Israel and Judah. Elijah’s legacy, on the other hand, was one of worship.
Elijah’s ministry came at a critical time, when all of Israel was faced with this question: who should we worship? Jehovah or the Baals? The prophet’s mission statement can be found in his very name: Elijah means “Jehovah is God.”
Ultimately, we find Elijah’s legacy lasting all the way through to the New Testament as an example of boldness, a foreshadowing of John the Baptist, and an example of an ordinary man who had extraordinary faith. Perhaps the greatest statement that can be made of Elijah’s legacy can be found in Luke 9, where Elijah is one of the two figures to appear along with the glorified Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration.
The key difference between Elijah and Ahab was who and what they worshipped. Ahab ultimately worshipped himself, and sacrificed everything else on the altar of convenience and comfort. Elijah worshipped Yaweh, and dedicated his life to His service. And that’s really the point of this post: the kind of legacy you leave will be determined by the thing or one that you worship.
Nowhere in Scripture do we see this fact illustrated more explicitly than in the re-iteration of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. Here, we see that the issue of multi-generational blessing or cursing (essentially, the legacy that we will leave to those who come after us) is deeply connected with the issue of worship:
“‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “‘You shall have no other gods before me. “‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Deu 5:6-10)
While most of us are in no danger of cutting down a tree and carving it into a likeness of the goddess Ashtoreth, or melting down our wives’ jewelry to make a golden calf, our worlds are nonetheless rife with idols and altars on which to worship them. Often these idols come in the form of work, sex, addiction, or even sports. And the altars on which we worship can be our desks, our computers and internet connections, our televisions, and even our smart phones.
At the very heart of every pornography addiction is someone making an idol of their own bodies.
At the heart of every couple “living together” because they “don’t need a piece of paper to validate their love” is someone making an idol of self and of sex.
At the heart of every golfer, sports fan, and athlete who robs his God and his family of time and focus in order to pursue his hobby is someone making an idol of the temporary sense of validation and accomplishment that hobby yields.
At the heart of every workaholic is someone making an idol of the fear and the praise of men.
But those who have a so-called “higher calling” are not exempt. Simply because you are engaged in some kind of “Christian ministry” does not mean that you are not in danger of making an idol of it. In fact, I would venture that those of us who are on staff at a ministry are in the greatest danger of making an idol of ourselves, our churches, our blogs, or our ministry. Church history is rife with examples of otherwise great men who sacrificed their families – their wives and children – on the altar of success, even success in ministry. If we aren’t careful, our pulpits, our blogs, and our desks can become pagan altars as idolatrous as anything Ahab and Jezebel ever built.
Scripture calls us to worship Jesus Christ and let that alone define us and the mark we leave. Paul said it like this:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… (Php 3:7-10)
The thing – or the One – that you worship is already shaping your legacy. What are you leaving behind for those who will come after?