Do Something That Will Be Here After You’re Gone
II Timothy 4:1-8
I want to ask you a very personal question: When your days on this earth are done, how will you be remembered?
Of course, most of the time people are kind, gracious, and thoughtful in their remembering of those who have passed on from this life. However, that is not always the case. In earlier days, the remembering was done for all to see right on people’s tombstones—sometimes with humor, often with blunt candor. Here are some actual epitaphs on tombstones from earlier generations …
On the grave of Ezekiel Aikle in Nova Scotia we find these words:
Here lies Ezekiel Aikle, age 102.
The good die young.
In Ribbesford, England, there is this inscription on Anna Wallace’s tombstone:
Anna Wallace… the children of Israel wanted bread
And the Lord sent them manna.
Old Clark Wallace wanted a sweet wife,
And the devil sent him Anna.
In 1837 in Winslow, Maine, someone was unhappy with a man named Beza
Wood—so here’s the epitaph they put on his tombstone.
Here lies Beza Wood enclosed in wood,
One wood within another.
The outer wood is very good.
We cannot praise the other.
In a cemetery in England, we find this poem:
Remember me as you walk by
As you are now so once was I.
As I am now so shall you be.
Remember this and follow me.
Someone actually carved a reply on the bottom of the tombstone:
To follow you I am not content
Until I know which way you went.
On a tombstone in Georgia are these words:
I told you I was sick.
In Thurmont, Maryland, these blunt words appear on a tombstone:
Here lies an atheist —
All dressed up
And no place to go!
And then in a church cemetery near Cambridge, England, an Anglican priest is buried there with this extraordinary plaque marking his grave:
Here lies Father William.
He served as vicar of this church
For more than thirty years
Without the slightest trace of enthusiasm.
Well, at the end of the day, what will people say about you and me? If they were totally candid and honest, what would our epitaph say? In the ancient Jewish Talmud, it is suggested that to be successful in this life, you should plant a tree, have a child or write a book. What that actually means is this: At the end of the day be sure that you have done something that will be here after you are gone—something that will outlast you -something that will live on when your days on this earth are done. Now, picking up that theme, I find it fascinating to note that the Apostle Paul actually wrote his own epitaph. In 2nd Timothy 4, we read these powerful words, “The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” That, in essence, is Paul’s epitaph, and the words make clear that he gave himself to doing things for Christ that would remain after he was gone. There is a sense, then, in which the words were not only an epitaph but also a “last will and testament.” It was how Paul wished to be remembered—and I would suggest that it wouldn’t be a bad way for us to be remembered either.
When our lives come to an end, I hope we will be remembered as having fought the good fight.
The word “fight” in the original Greek is the word “agon” from which we draw our word “agony.” What Paul means here is “I have given my all. I have stood tall for righteousness and goodness. I have poured all that I am and all that I have into my work for Jesus Christ. I have paid the price to be the disciple of the Lord.” It’s the picture of an athlete leaving the field, physically drained, but knowing that he has given his best, knowing that he has given his all. That’s what Paul is saying, “All that I am and all that I have, I have given to the service of Jesus Christ. I have fought the good fight.”
Many years ago, there was a movie entitled “Stars in My Crown.” It was the story of an elderly African-American man who was a devout Christian. He owned a farm outside a small Southern town. Precious metal was discovered on that land, and a fortune was to be made by mining it. However, the man refused to sell the land or allow it to be destroyed by mining. The farm had been his family’s home for three generations. The people in the town then tried to force him off the land even to the point of threatening to kill him. A Methodist preacher heard about this, and he went out to visit the old gentleman. While the preacher was there, men from the town came out wearing white hoods carrying blazing torches. At that point this elderly man stepped out on his front porch to face the mob. He was wearing his best Sunday clothes. He said that he was ready to die and that he had asked the minister to draw up his “last will and testament.” He then asked the minister to read the will aloud. As the minister read the will, the angry mob was stunned because the old man was actually giving everything he had to them. He willed the farm to the banker who had seemed so determined to get it from him any way he could. To one of the white-hooded men, he gave his rifle. To another, he gave his fishing rod, and on it went, one item after another. He literally gave everything he owned to those who had come there to kill him. Well, the impact on the mob was visible and incredible. Seeing such goodness and love in the face of their own hatred and selfishness was more than the mob could stand. In shame, guilt and embarrassment, one by one the men in the mob turned away and went home. Now at that point, the grandson of the preacher who had come out to the farm with him said, “Granddad, what kind of will was that?” The preacher replied, “That, my son, was the will of God.”
And so it was. You see, the will of God for us is to stand tall for what is good and right and to do it in the love and Spirit of Jesus Christ. That’s what it means to fight the good fight. So let me ask you today. When you come to the end of your own life, will you be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have given my all for Jesus Christ. I have fought the good fight”? That’s certainly how I would like to be remembered. How about you?
Also, I hope we will be remembered as having finished the race.
That’s what Paul said. “I have finished the race.” Now we know by the word Paul used here that he was not referring to a sprint or a dash but to a marathon. A marathon, of course, is 26 miles in length. I have learned something from talking to those who have run marathons. I’ve learned that, while every marathon race has a winner, what is far more important to the devoted marathon runner is simply to finish the race. Given the distance of the race, it is truly significant just to be able to say, “I finished the race.” Well, the Christian life is like that. It is not just a quick sprint through life, nor is it a competition to outrun or outdo everybody else. Instead, it is a commitment to keep on running—even when it’s hard—and to run all the way to the finish line. That’s what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 24, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”
I heard about a deeply committed Christian woman who was seriously injured in a car wreck. The next morning the doctors came into her hospital room and said, “We hate to tell you this but your right eye is so badly damaged that we’re going to have to remove and replace it with an artificial eye.” They had no idea how the woman would respond to this news. They were stunned when she then said, “Well, if you’ve got to give me an artificial eye, then be sure you give me one with a twinkle in it.” Now, isn’t that great? You see, she wouldn’t quit in life. She wouldn’t give up. She wouldn’t descend into self-pity. She was in the Christian life for the long haul. She kept on running the Christian race even when it was hard. That’s exactly what Paul did. He paid a heavy price for his faith. He suffered hardship, privation, and persecution to an extraordinary degree, but he wouldn’t quit no matter how hard or demanding it was to serve Christ in his life. He endured to the end—and as a result what a glorious legacy he left to those who have come after him. So let me ask you today, when you come to the end of your life, will you be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have served my Christ, even when it was hard. I have finished the race”? That’s certainly how I would like to be remembered. How about you?
And then I hope we will be remembered as having kept the faith.
Paul, of course, kept the faith alive and living by building and spreading the church, and that church continued to grow and spread long after Paul was gone. When you read through the first 8 verses of 2nd Timothy chapter 4, it is quite clear that Paul desperately wanted to leave behind a testimony to his faith in Jesus Christ through the work and ministry of the church. Well, my friends, true Christians always want to leave some testimony to their conviction behind. They want to provide for their loved ones. They want to plan their own funeral so the affirmation of their faith is held high. They want to remember the church and the other agents of the kingdom enterprise with at least a tithe of what they leave behind. So mark this down: What we say after we are gone will be determined by the will we leave in this life.
Let me be specific. In the book of Numbers chapter 27, it may be a surprise to you to know that there is a clear instruction from God for his people to write a will. Now, I know, there are some people who think this kind of talk is morbid. I don’t agree. Sixty percent of the people in America, at this moment, do not have a will. That’s not just a shame. That’s sinful! Some people don’t write their wills because they think only rich people should do that. That’s silly. If you have anything at all, when you die you are going to leave it, and you have the right and the responsibility under God to say what’s done with it. Some people don’t write wills because they say it’s too expensive. Not so, unless of course, you have a huge estate and then you can afford it anyway. Some people even say that if you write a will, it will make you die sooner—silly superstition. In fact, writing a will has the opposite effect. It gives you a sense of satisfaction that promotes peace of mind and good health. And then some people say, “There’s no reason to hurry. I’ve got lots of time.” Well, that may be the silliest excuse of all. I’ve known people who said they were going to wait and become Christians at the midnight hour in their lives—and they died at eleven thirty! A lot of people put things off and wind up losing the opportunity which is theirs.
Permit me to speak personally at this point. Trisha and I want to do something for Christ that will be here after we are gone. Therefore we are not only tithing our income to this church now, but we have included this church in our will. We want to leave a legacy of our faith in Christ, and so the Providence Church is in our will. I would invite you to consider doing the same. Let me then ask you: When you come to the end of your life, will you be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “I have provided for the church in the future. I have kept the faith”? That’s certainly how I would like to be remembered. How about you?
Today I am calling us to the kind of commitment to Jesus Christ we see in the Apostle Paul—a commitment that stands tall for Jesus Christ, a commitment that stays true no matter what, a commitment that keeps the faith alive and passes it on to the next generation, a commitment that will endure even after we are gone. So let me ask you today: Will the world remember you and me as having fought the good fight, as having finished the race, as having kept the faith? I hope so. Oh, I hope so …