Together we look at one of the most strange verses of Scripture with puzzled minds: “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4). The roaring lion is replaced by a barking dog—that is the picture we are given here. So see, there have been better people than you and I—but many of them are now gone. So that, “Whatever they did in their lifetimes … is long gone, and they have no part in anything here on earth anymore.” (verse 6, Living Bible)
I can show you better sermons than I will ever preach. They are in books in my office, but they will never be read by today’s people. These lions lie buried, but I, an average dog, still am alive to bark!
And it’s true, the most humble house painter is more valuable to us than the greatest artist lying in a grave. Monet, the great artist, cannot paint my door; he is dead; but the living house painter can!
This strange verse, which is a kind of proverb, should be carefully thought about and applied. Yes, if Billy Graham were alive, I would not be needed—but he is not. I read very often of spiritual giants of the past. Yesterday, they impacted the world, but that day is gone, and so are they. I would not compare myself with them, but a living dog is of more value than a dead lion! We are here, and they are not.
At one point in the Battle of Britain, when it was a razor’s edge as to who would win, Churchill, who was watching, gave the word, “I want all our best pilots in the air now!” The air commander said, “Sir, they already are!” Churchill said, “Then send up anyone we have left on the ground with any plane that can fly!” In that limited sense, God has sent us to join the fight now!
So we all have a very great advantage over these other Christians of yesteryear—they are now gone and we are still here. They cannot do what you can now do! Let us be practical, there is no value in my saying, “I miss George Whitefield,” the great English evangelist of the 1700’s, “If only he were alive”—but he isn’t! Yet, I am and I have a purpose for being here, so let’s get on with it. We honor them, and they laid a strong foundation for us. — I speak of faithful servants of Christ in the former communist countries, who died in prison camps; we honor and respect their memory. They were “lions,” and we are but dogs—but we are living dogs! Furthermore, I know God does not just want me to take flowers to their graves, He wants me to finish their work. They roared, and I can bark!
That was the exact challenge Joshua faced. Who was a greater leader than Moses? But Moses died, and Joshua had to stand up before the people and say, God is now announcing to us, “Moses my servant is dead” (Joshua 1:2). So, what happened next? — Joshua called in the leaders and declared in the most simple terms, “We don’t have time to sit around any longer in a funeral home and grieve.” “… get ready to cross the Jordan River. In three days we will go across and conquer and live …” (Joshua 1:10-11) It’s true the majestic lion was gone, yet they did not have the luxury of paying extended tribute to their greatest leader and venerating his memory—it was time to move on! Joshua was not Moses—but after these thirty days of mourning it was time to cross the Jordan and conquer the land.
Let’s all admit those that came before us were greater. They were lions. We, at best, are little puppies. Thank God for their courage and commitment. Very often many died as heroes of the faith unknown, unsung, and unheralded, but that was then and this is now. They are dead, and we are alive with a mission.
For a brief moment, take a deep breath in their honor. In their day they were standing faithfully against all odds, but never mind, God has honored them better than we can, so let’s leave it to Him. You and I are dogs, but living dogs, and we are here to serve. We may be average and mediocre, but we are here to finish the mission.
When Dr. George W. Truett passed away, many people at First, Dallas, asked, “Who can take his place and fill his seat?” But, his replacement, Dr. W. A. Criswell, actually took the church to new heights in size and influence. Billy Graham often said that he was number three, that two other men were more gifted as evangelist than he, but after they stepped aside, God promptly promoted him.
So, as you must now realize, that is a fact, you are somebody’s replacement. They may have been a lion, but if God wanted them to be here, they would be! Therefore, let not pity or pride continue in us—just fill the empty seat! “A living dog is better than a dead lion.”
The sudden death of His effective servant never has taken God by surprise or created an emergency in the kingdom of God. The Lord has never left any work that He initiated without a worthy replacement. At this very moment He is preparing replacements. Even now, He is preparing a replacement for me and you. Hidden in the shadows, unperceived by us, He is skillfully at work now.
Picture it, suddenly the greatest of leaders, Moses, is gone. Think of their thoughts of despair and dismay. Moses had led them for four long decades. We can understand some saying in their sorrow something untrue, “He is irreplaceable.” And furthermore, the people of Israel were on the doorstep of the land of promise, so, his absence occurred, humanly speaking, at the very worst time. Yet, God was ready for He had Joshua waiting and ready!
Mark it, all “lions” have to be replaced by dogs, but what seems a tragedy has often been a master stroke of God’s wisdom. Elijah was the greatest prophet in Israel; he was replaced by Elisha, who, as a matter of fact, had twice as many miracles as Elijah. Always in God’s choice there are gifts that are complimentary. No, Elisha was not Elijah, and Joshua was not Moses. It is very possible that Moses would not have been as effective in the land of Canaan as Joshua—we leave all of those mysteries to God.
Spurgeon was correct in saying that the Lord will “make out with other means when He decides to cut me out.” You may think, “I’m not a worthy replacement,” but be careful, God has creative methods and His versatility has its purpose. In fact, history shows God may take a person like me or you, with far fewer gifts, that He might show His power. Remember this verse: “… God has chosen, the things that are not, that he might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.” (II Corinthians 1:28-29) The wording in the Living Bible is helpful in an added way, “He has chosen a plan despised by the world, counted as nothing at all, and used it to bring down to nothing those the world considers great, so that no one anywhere can ever brag in the presence of God.” (verses 28-29)
In 1986 I was given a book with the blunt but Biblical insights of Martin Luther; I cannot forget his comments. He said, “We tell our Lord plainly that if He will have His church, then He must look to and maintain and defend it, for we can neither uphold nor protect it; and if we could, then we should become the proudest asses under heaven!”
The living dog replaces the dead lion, and yet, God’s work goes on as He builds His church, and extends His kingdom. We do not know who wrote these words, but they are timely and true:
How He uses who He chooses And with every purpose fuses them; And in every act induces them To try His splendor out— God knows what He’s about!
We are placed by God at this moment of history to bring the gospel to the unreached and un-evangelized. God’s enduring passion is to glorify Himself through us. Place yourself at His disposal.
Again, in reference to the Battle of Britain, there were Polish pilots in Britain who had never flown British Spitfires. They did not have adequate training so they had to learn by doing it. They were put in to fight with the German Luftwaffe; they all became experienced fighter pilots overnight, and they helped win the battle. Maybe you see yourself in that role too. Take off, fly, and win with God’s help.
And we know the words “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few …” (Matthew 9:37-38) We little puppies are now the laborers and the ones He has sent. As the “sent ones” we have oceans to cross and borders to leap over and a culture to bridge. We all feel like “dogs,” but we are the living dogs; like Paul and Barnabas in ancient Antioch, we are to go and go gladly and bark! (Acts 13:3) If we cannot roar, we can bark, and a barking dog today is better than a lion’s roar of long ago. By God’s grace, let’s just do it!
Don’t forget, and never question it—“a living dog is better than a dead lion.” (Remember, God said that!) So, we will all believe it and let the world hear our bark and feel our bite! I’m not the best, but I am one. I cannot do all things, but I can do some things. What I can do, I will do; yes, for the glory of God and by His grace I will do!
Let us confess it together—God does not select the qualified, He qualifies those He selects! With that, we assume our assignment.
“Outstanding people have one thing in common: an absolute sense of mission.” Zig Ziglar