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The Measure of Life

Genesis 5:21-27

21 And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah:

22 And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters:

23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years:

24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

25 And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech.

26 And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters:

27 And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.


Would you open your Bibles to the book of Genesis 5:21. We will begin there for the text of the message today and think about the life of Methuselah and the measure of a man’s life. 

It says, “And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him. And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech. And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.”

I want you to notice just three statements concerning Methuselah. He was born, he begat sons and daughters, and he died. Anybody who has read the Bible, everybody who has studied the old catechism, knows that Methuselah is the oldest man whoever lived. In fact the phrase “as old as Methuselah” has been a byword for a long, long time. The Bible records that Methuselah lived for 969 years. Even at that, Methuselah may have died prematurely. If you study the scriptures you will learn that Methuselah was 187 years old when his son Lamech was born. And Lamech was 182 years old when his son Noah was born and Noah was 600 years old when the flood came. And if you add 187 years and 182 years and 600 years that gives you 969 years, the age of Methuselah. 

And that simply means that Methuselah either died in the year of the flood, or he died in the flood. And it may very well be if it had not been for the flood, Methuselah would still be living today. Who knows what may have happened. Well, regardless of what happened, he has become known through the years as a symbol of longevity of life. 

I have lived and preached a long, long time and I never thought about preaching a sermon on Methuselah. When Curtis read the scripture at 8:30 this morning, he said, “Pastor, I’ve read this passage several times and I haven’t been able to see anything you can get a sermon out of. The new year is a good time for a man to try the impossible.” The more he talked about it, the less comfortable I felt with the sermon and with the text. 

Several months ago I was visiting with Dr. Herbert Reynolds, the president of Baylor University, and he asked me if I had ever preached a sermon on Methuselah. When I said that I hadn’t, he pointed out that Methuselah has the distinction of living the longest time of anybody in the Bible and anybody in history. And yet with all of that longevity the only thing that is said of him is that he was born and that he begat children and that he died. And I got to thinking that Methuselah’s solitary virtue is that he lived a long time—969 years. And all the Bible says about him is that he lived and that he begat children and that he died. And with that exception, nothing else is said about this man’s life. 

He did not do anything else worth remembering, or at least it is not mentioned for us in the Bible. He stretched his life out over a long period of time, but that’s all there was to it. And so far as we know he made no lasting contribution to humanity. He just lived and had children and he died. 

In other words, the life of Methuselah had length to it but it had no other dimension to it. He lived a long time, but he did not write any books, he did not design any buildings, he did not construct bridges, he did not make any great discoveries, he did not add anything to the human race so far as we can tell. He simply lived and had children and he died and when he died it was as though he had never even lived. 

Let me remind you that length of life is something that is important to us. All of us are concerned about life. In fact the desire to live is one of the strongest desires and the strongest instincts in a person. And the Bible oftentimes holds out longevity in life as one of the blessings from God. For example in the ten commandments there is only one promise given to us. And that promise has to do with the length of life. In the commandment having to do with honoring your father and your mother, the Lord says that it may be well with you and you may live long in the land in which the Lord thy God shall give to you. And the longevity of life is the promise that God gave to the nation of Israel if they would honor him, if they would keep his commandments. In Psalm 91 the writer is talking about the blessings of God upon those who honor him and those who follow him. And in that psalm the Lord says that if you are true to me and you follow me, I will extend your days upon the earth. So oftentimes in the Old Testament, a longevity of life is held out as a blessing from God to his people. And sometimes we today will say, “I really feel that life is too short. I wish that my life could be extended.” We say that about ourselves. We say that about other people when in reality we are thinking only of a one-dimensional life and that is a life of many years and many days, but a life that does not have anything else attached to it. 

The story of Methuselah who lived 969 years is tragically not just the story of one man, it is in fact the story of the lives of most people today. In fact, if you are familiar with obituaries, most of them contain only the information we have about this man Methuselah. They tell us when the person was born. They tell us the members of his family. They tell us when the person died. And beyond that, most obituaries have nothing else to say about the person of any significance. And so what happened to Methuselah happens again and again in the lives of people. They are simply born and they have children and they die and they are but a length between the passing generations and there is no significance. There is no lasting quality to their lives at all. 

We are bound to ask ourselves somewhere along the way, “Isn’t there more to life than being born and eating and sleeping and working and having children and dying? Isn’t there something of eternal significance to our life and to our existence?” And when we study the scriptures we come to the conclusion that life is to have more than longevity. There are other dimensions that need to be added to life also. We need not only length of days, we also need a breadth of involvement and of interest. We need a depth of commitment and dedication. And we need height of faith and hope. And unless you can add to your life more than length of years, unless you can add that breadth of involvement and that depth of commitment and that life of hope, your life will never be all that God intended it to be. And when you come to the end of it, all that can be said of you is what can be said of Methuselah: “He lived and he begat children and he died and he made no lasting contribution in life.”

I think there is in every one of us a desire and a longing to live a life to full measure, a life that is full of significance, a life that makes a contribution. So if we want to live that life, then we must add to our years some other dimensions. 

Let me suggest to you that if you want to live a life of eternal significance, a life that is really worth living, you must add to the length of your years a breadth of involvement and other interests. 

In fact, entirely too many lives are far too narrow in their scope. That is to say that we live only for ourselves. Our world revolves around our own interests, our own family, our own work and we never get outside of ourselves to see other people, to do things for other people. And as a result of our lives being narrowed down to our own self-interest, we never find life worth living and we never make a lasting contribution. 

1. We need to be broad in our involvement.

If you want your life to be full measure, if you want your life to be rich, then it must be a life that is broad in its interests and broad in its involvements. Especially, it must be broadly involved with humanity and meeting the needs of other people and serving other people for it is in serving others that we find life worth living ourselves. 

The fable is told about a man who despaired of life and one day he came to the old sage to ask permission to be released from life. The sage said to him, “Permission granted, but you must first take this herb of healing and you must go and find seven people who are in need of it and you must minister to them and once you have helped those seven people you come back to me and I will release you from life.” You know the rest of the story. He took that herb of healing and went out to find other people who were in need and as he ministered to them, he ministered to himself. He discovered in his involvement and his interest in other people a new meaning and purpose for his own life and he came back to the old sage to say, “I have changed my mind. I do not want to give up life. I want to live.” In helping others he had helped himself. 

It is always that way. If we want to find life worth living, if we want our lives to have more than length of years, they must have that dimension of involvement and interest in other people and in other things. Otherwise life eventually comes to nothing. 

There is a desperate need of that kind of love and that kind of involvement in our world today. Somebody has said that we are living in the modern ice age. The age of the unseeing eye and the unfeeling heart. And the evidence of that can be seen everywhere. 

In 1768 the Encyclopedia Britannica had four lines on the atom and it had five pages on love. But the latest edition has no pages on love and has 32 pages on the atom. We have become far more interested in atomic power, in atomic energy, in scientific achievement than we are in human relationships. As a result of that we have increased the quantity of our lives but we have decreased the quality of our lives. We have extended our years but we have missed the real meaning of life. 

The Bible keeps reminding us that it is only as we love other people and as we minister to other people, as we broaden our interests in this world and in life around us and in people who have needs, that we find life worth living. So we would do well to adopt the motto of Edward Hale, who said it was his goal in life to look up and not down, to look forward and not back, to look out and not in, and to lend a hand. 

When you want to extend your life in its richness and its eternal significance, you must add to the length of your years the breadth of your interests and your involvements. That is the stuff that life is made of. 

2. We need to be deep in our commitment.

Our lives need not only the breadth of involvement, they also need the depths of commitment. You see it is not enough for a person’s life to have breadth, it must also have depth to it. The difference between a river and a marsh is depth. A river has been narrowed down to its channel and so there is depth to the water. A marsh just spreads out all over the place and our lives can become like the proverbial marsh: they are a mile wide and an inch deep—there is no depth to them at all. But if life is to be worth living it must not only have a breadth of interest and involvement in other people and meet the needs of those people, there must also be a depth of commitment to the things that are of eternal significance. 

Jesus said, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). And our Lord taught us that we find life by losing life, that we gain life by investing life. That the most important thing is that we deepen our commitment to him and to his kingdom and in that deepening relationship we find life at its best. 

3. We need to be high in our reach of faith.

Jesus said on another occasion, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). And while we with all of our energy pursue the things of this world, pleasure and possessions and fame and whatever else the world may offer, we miss the most important ingredient in life that comes through commitment: the Lord Jesus himself. 

You listen to what John has to say to us in the book of John: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17). If you want your life to have a lasting quality to it, if you want it to have an eternal significance to it, then you must invest it in those things that are eternal. Everything that you can see around you, everything that you can achieve, everything that you can possess will one day fade away and it is only the kingdom of God and the will of God that ultimately shall endure. 

If you want your life to be more than that of Methuselah, that you lived and you had children and you died, if you want some eternal meaning to it, then deepen your commitment to the Lord Jesus and to his kingdom and to his work. 

Our lives need more than length of years. They need the breadth of involvement. They need the depth of commitment and then they also need heights of hope. The Latin word for man is “anthropos.” It means “the up-looking one.” And man has been made in the likeness and the image of God. His very physical makeup indicates his uprightness, his ability to look up into the face of God, to see God, to believe in God, to trust in God. And when man has forgotten God and left God out of his life he has become something less than God intended him to be. 

I read the other day that in the days of the Inquisition that oftentimes as they tortured prisoners, as they imprisoned and punished them, that one of the cruelest forms of punishment was to put a man in a prison where the ceiling was so low that he could not stand fully upright. And he was forced to walk around stooped over or sometimes to sit in that cell or sometimes to lie in that cell and sometimes he had to crawl around on all fours like an animal. And though that kind of torture and punishment never killed a man, it did degrade him. You think about the possibility of never being able to stand fully upright and how degrading and how humiliating that ultimately would be for you. You were made to walk upright. You were made to look up into the face of God, to believe in him and trust in him. 

And when we have left God out of our lives, we have created for ourselves a cell with the ceiling too low so that we never become all that God created us to be, all that God meant us to be, and all that under him we possibly could be. 

I think maybe that’s a part of what happened to Methuselah. You know the Bible tells that his father, Enoch, walked with God. And then he was not, for God took him. That means that Enoch had a personal, intimate fellowship with God. And he walked with God in such close personal fellowship that when he died he didn’t really have to die. He really didn’t go through the death process. God just translated him. God just reached down one day and took him into heaven without him having to die. And that was the kind of heritage, that was the kind of family that Methuselah had. He had a father who walked with God. But if Methuselah walked with God, there is no record of it in scripture. 

The Holy Book is silent concerning this man’s religious faith. That fact that your father walked with God, the fact that your father honored God, the fact that your father served God in no way means that you will honor and serve and follow God. If you do that it will be a personal act of commitment and dedication on your part. You must rise in your faith and your hope and in your trust in God. Otherwise you will live and die like Methuselah and there will be no eternal significance to your life. 

Listen, not only did Methuselah’s father walk with God, but the Bible tells us that his grandson Noah was a preacher of righteousness. Somewhere along the way something happened in the life of Noah. He found God as his grandfather Enoch had found God and he walked with him and he honored and served him. 

And when God decided to destroy the world by a flood he saved Noah, the preacher of righteousness, and his family. If Methuselah had been a godly man, if Methuselah had walked with God and honored God and served God, then there is no doubt in my mind that God would have spared him and that he too would have been on that ark with Noah and the rest of his family. But somewhere along the way this man Methuselah missed out on faith and hope and commitment to God. His life was narrowed down to his own selfish interests, to his own small kingdom, to his own petty world. So he was simply born and he begat children and he died and that’s all there was to his life. 

We must add to our lives the breadth of involvement, the depth of commitment, and the height of hope and faith for God has so created us that unless we reach up to him we imprison ourselves in a meaningless world and an empty existence. When we talk about faith and hope it does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that if we have faith and hope in God that we will have no troubles and no struggles and no trials in this world. Not at all. Every person has his share of concrete problems in this world. Sorrow, illness, loss, rejection, disappointment, failure, death—everybody experiences those troubles and those losses and those sorrows in life. And faith never offers us exemptions from those kinds of experiences. Never does it promise that. What it promises is that God will come in to our lives and give us strength and help. And most of all, God will give us hope in the midst of the darkness of life. 

And a part of the cynicism of our present age is that people have no hope in God. They have no faith in God. They no longer look up to him. They look inwardly at their own sources. They look outwardly at those around them to supply all of their needs. And without faith and hope we become less than something than God created us to be. Until we add to our length of years a breadth of involvement and a depth of commitment, and the height of hope and faith, life never has eternal purpose. 

It is a sad thing to say of a man: he lived, he had children, and he died. And beyond that he made no lasting contribution to life. In stark contrast to Methuselah and his 969 years is the life of Jesus Christ, who by the calendar lived only 33 years. But his life in that brief span was the most significant life ever lived on this planet. You see his life had that breadth of involvement. His love was as wide and as broad as the love of God. No person was beyond his interest and his concern and his love. He reached out to all men, to all people. More than that, there was a depth of commitment to the will of God. He said again and again, “My meet is to the will of him that sent me.” Again and again he saw the cross and the future. And he said to his disciples, “I must go to Jerusalem where I will be crucified.” Here was a man on a mission. Here was a man who was committed to the will of God at all costs. He had that kind of commitment that gives meaning and purpose and eternal significance to life. 

And in the midst of all of that there was faith and there was hope. There was confidence that though he would die on the old rugged cross and be buried in the tomb, on the third day he would be raised from the dead. And with that faith and with that confidence he set with a face like a flint toward Jerusalem, unwavering in the purpose and the will of God. 

Jesus’ life took eternal significance not because it was a long life, for it wasn’t. But because it had those other dimensions that need to be measured in life. Breadth of involvement, depth of commitment, the height of hope. And through the Lord Jesus Christ, every one of us can live life in all of its dimensions. 

Years ago I read a statement written in the diary of Jim Elliot, that martyred missionary who gave his life trying to reach an indigenous people in South America. He entered into his journal one day this statement, “I seek not a long life, but a full one like yours, Lord Jesus.” 

What we need most of all is not length of years. For a person can live for 969 years or more and do nothing of significance. For we need our lives to be broad in their involvement, deep in their commitment, and high in their reach of faith. And when you add those dimensions to your life, you find a life of eternal significance. 

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Paul W. Powell - www.PaulPowellLibrary.com

Today's Devotional


Edwin Markham, the poet, reached the age of retirement only to discover that the banker who was managing his money had defrauded him. He was so obsessed by anger and bitterness that he could no longer write poetry. While sitting at his desk and doodling one day the Holy Spirit convicted him that he must deal with his anger or it would destroy him. He decided then and there that he would forgive the man for the wrong he had done. Almost immediately there came to his mind one of his most famous poems entitled “Outwitted." You ought to read it for yourself. Don’t be “outwitted” by anger or bitterness. You must conquer it or it will conquer you. Master it or it will master you. Jesus can and will help.

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