Christians and Life Expectancy

A headline that has found its way into several major newspapers this week and subsequently caught my attention, is the recent government report of America’s increased average life expectancy. Men and women in America, on average, are now expected to live for 78 years. As a point of reference, The National Center for Health Statistics reported that the average life expectancy was 75.8 years in 1995. Concerning this most recent report, Associated Press reporter, Mike Stobbe, writes

For the first time, U.S. life expectancy has surpassed 78 years, the government reported Wednesday, although the United States continues to lag behind about 30 other countries in estimated life span.

The increase is due mainly to falling mortality rates in almost all the leading causes of death, federal health official said. The average life expectancy for babies born in 2006 was about four months greater than for children born in 2005.

As I thought about how this new information affects Christians, it occurred to me that we could make the mistake of either undervaluing or overvaluing this new report. With that in mind, I would like to suggest a few ways in which Biblical truth should impact the way we receive these current statistics.

(1) We should remember Christ’s words, “To whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). It is only in recent times that men and women have enjoyed such longevity. My hero, Jonathan Edwards, only lived to 53; his wife, Sarah, died at 49. This was normal. Now, however, because of improvements in medical technology and diet, Americans enjoy an unprecedented length of days. Yet, for those who are aware of the fact that they will someday give an account to the Lord as to how they used their time, these new stats should not primarily make us look forward to added years of ease on the beach; it should make us consider our stewardship of time (Ephesians 5:15-17; Psalm 90:12). If we are given more years, we will be held accountable for more years.

(2) We should be thankful for these extra years. Earthly life is a gift and we should receive it as such, with joy and appropriate thankfulness. If the Lord sovereignly adds extra years to our lives by way of medicine and better food, then we should thank him for it and enjoy it (Psalm 92:1-4).

(3) We should realize that tomorrow is not guaranteed. On the other hand, God is not bound by America’s average life expectancy. He is ultimately in control of how many days we will spend here are earth. James tells us that this truth must lead, not to boasting about what we will do or not do tomorrow, but to humility as we realize that God decides whether or not tomorrow will even come (James 4:13-17).

(4) We should not let these stats allow us to be lackadaisical in evangelism. I suppose that our efforts in evangelism could be unwittingly affected by the knowledge of a longer life expectancy: people are living longer, that gives us more time to evangelize—we do not need to be as urgent about it right now. Yes, on the average, we will have more years in which to evangelize our neighbors and our communities, but urgency must never be allowed to dissipate. I think Jesus’ example in Luke 13:1-5 is instructive here:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

In this example, what was most important to Jesus is that these people repent; if they did not repent from their sins and turn in faith to Him, they would perish, just like everyone else who does not repent and trust in Christ. In fact, I would dare say that life expectancy should not even begin to be an issue when we think of our long-term evangelistic efforts. If we were to ask Jesus what he thought about life expectancy and evangelism, he probably would say, “Tell them to repent.”

(5) We should look forward to added years of fruitfulness. If God gives us more time on earth, we should be eager to make the most of it through fruitful labor. That was Paul’s attitude. Although he longed to be with Christ, and even considered that to be better than staying here on earth, he saw his time on earth as an opporutnity for effective ministry. Paul writes, In Philippians 1:18b-25,

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as 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. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith…

It is my prayer that the Lord would keep me from squandering my life in silly pursuits. I do not want a longer life to equal more wasted time. I want to be found faithful with the precious time God has given me. I trust you do to.

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