In the summer of 1993 memorial services were held for long-time evangelist Joe Malone at the West Berry church building in Fort Worth. He had requested for his sons Avon and David to conduct the service. When they found the funeral plans he had made, the instructions to Avon for the funeral sermon contained just two words: "Exalt Christ." In his death, as well as in his life, Joe Malone was concerned with putting Christ first.
In fact, I suppose that a person would not be concerned with putting Christ first in his death unless he had put Christ first in his life. It is so easy to put many other things in front of Christto put our religion in a little compartment on Sundays (and perhaps Wednesdays) and keep the rest of our lives for ourselves.
Christ, however, is our example to encourage us not to put ourselves and our desires first. Although He existed before His birth in the form of God, He did not hold tight to the good things that He had. Philippians 2:5-11 tells us that He emptied Himself (what is so empty as a human baby!) and took the form of a servant. But even as He served us in human form, He did not put His concerns first. Rather, He lowered Himself to dying a common criminal's death, that writhing in pain while nailed to a rough-hewn cross. He did this for us: that is why we praise Him. But our praise pales before the exaltation with which the Father has rewarded Him, for God has given Him the Name that is above every name. Everyone will sooner or later confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The apostle Paul likewise did not put himself first. Philippians 3:6-14 tells us that he abandoned the attempt to be right with God by blamelessly keeping His law and suffered the loss of all things, just for the sake of knowing Christ. He thus shared His sufferings and trusted God to declare him righteous based on his faith in Christ. In all this, his hope was to know the power of Christ's resurrection, the exaltation that God will give all faithful Christians.
Just as Paul imitated Christ, so we too are called to exalt Him by abandoning a self-seeking life and suffering with Him. But we can be assured that if we do, then God will exalt us too. That is the hope that causes Christians to praise God as much at a funeral as in our everyday lives.
Copyright © 1993, Bruce Terry. All rights reserved. This article may be freely reprinted in bulletins and newsletters so long as no charge is made to the reader and this copyright notice is included.