Martin Luther King, Jr.: How to Leave a Legacy That Matters

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Monday, January 21, 2019
Martin Luther King, Jr.: How to Leave a Legacy That Matters

Martin Luther King, Jr.: How to Leave a Legacy That Matters


After 256 regular-season games and ten playoff games, we now know that the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots will play in Super Bowl LIII on February 3. This will be the Patriots’ fifth Super Bowl appearance in the last eight years and third straight.

We also know that the game, as important as it is for the two teams, their cities, and football fans around the country, will change little about the world.

Meanwhile, North and South America witnessed last night the last total lunar eclipse of the decade. It was called a “super blood wolf moon” because the moon appeared slightly larger than normal (“super”), it was a full eclipse (thus traditionally called a “blood” moon), and it was in January (thus called a “wolf” moon in Native American and early Colonial times).

But like the Super Bowl, this interesting event will leave no lasting effects on the world.

How can you and I leave a legacy that matters?

For the answer, let’s turn to a man who was assassinated fifty years ago but “being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4 KJV).

Give everything to something

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. This annual observance is held on the third Monday in January, in proximity to Dr. King’s January 15 birthday. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill making the day a federal holiday.

As a young man, Dr. King had many options. He was an outstanding student, skipping both the ninth and twelfth grades of high school and entering college at the age of fifteen. He became a pastor at the age of twenty-five and completed his PhD at Boston University the next year.

A brilliant orator, he had a very promising future in pastoral ministry or academics. Then Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus. Dr. King led the Montgomery bus boycott in response. He was arrested and his house was bombed.

Convinced that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he devoted the rest of his life to the cause of civil rights.

Dr. King warned us: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” He was convinced that “a man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” The singularity of his focus teaches us to give everything to something, no matter the cost.

In Matthew 19, Jesus was on his way toward Jerusalem when “Pharisees came up to him and tested him” (v. 3). Our Lord was obeying his Father’s will, but this fact did not exempt him from persecution.

From his experience we learn that we must not measure success by popularity or lack of opposition. The opposite may be more the case.

The greater the cause, the worthier the cost.

How one person can change the world

Martin Luther King Jr. entered the ministry at the age of eighteen out of what he called “an inner urge to serve humanity.” He believed that “everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”

To leave a legacy, remember Jesus’ statement: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). To change the world, serve the world.

Here’s an example: Bill and Melinda Gates have invested $10 billion in three organizations that bring medicines to remote villages and war zones. The results produced by these organizations have been astounding.

Polio cases have nearly disappeared (the number worldwide last year was thirty-one). The number of children under the age of five dying in low- and middle-income countries has dropped by about 40 percent. AIDS deaths have fallen by more than half.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Bill Gates calls his commitment to these organizations “the best investment I’ve ever made.”

People who change the world may not be familiar to the world. For instance, the Colson Center’s John Stonestreet recently profiled Tom Phillips, the businessman who shared Christ with Chuck Colson and was instrumental in his salvation.

John notes, “All the great work Chuck did for prison reform, and of course the ministry of BreakPoint and the Colson Center, not to mention Chuck’s extraordinarily influential books on Christian worldview, can be traced back to Tom Phillips.”

Then he adds: “Very few of us will ever have the sort of towering life and influence of a man like Chuck Colson. But every single one of us can be a Tom Phillips.”

Do you know why you’re alive?

There burns in every human heart the desire to live a life that matters. We want to be successful, but we want even more to be significant.

I was nine years old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on that terrible day in Memphis. He could not know that I would write this article about him five decades later. Nor could he know that the hotel where he was murdered would become the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.

And he could not know that his life would inspire generations to follow his example. If we will give everything to something out of a passion to serve our Lord and our neighbor, we will change our culture in ways we may not understand this side of eternity.

Dr. King: “No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they’d die for.”

What would you die for?

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Publication Date: January 21, 2019

Photo Courtesy: Pixabay