You will die.
Cheerful thought, is it not? But it is the reality we face—we have an expiration date. There will come a moment where we will take a final breath, our passage through this life will have run its course, and we will find ourselves standing before Jesus.
(Oh, yes, we always have the hope that maybe Jesus will return before we die. We won’t have to face the veil. If that happens, what an incredible joy it will be, but every generation of Jesus-followers since Paul believed theirs would be the generation of his return. Peter, even writing mere decades after Jesus’ ascension, had to assure his readers that the Lord is not slow but patient. A day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like a day. There are still plenty of people on this earth in desperate need of God’s patience, just waiting for salvation… So, chances are: You will die before Jesus returns.)
The question is: When you die and stand before Jesus, what will you be standing with?
Our gold, our silver (bank accounts and bitcoins) will be left behind. One day, likely, our name will even be forgotten. Our children will mourn us, our grandchildren too. Our great-grandchildren? Great-great grandchildren? It’s more certain they’ll have no clue who we were. (Except maybe they’ll see those Instagram posts in some “wayback” archive. Shudder.)
We think about legacy and building a name for ourselves. Legacy is a good thing, if it matters.
Paul wrote Second Timothy as a letter of legacy. He knew his death was imminent, and he was a drink offering about to be poured out. Alone in his prison, with a word from God that his time had come, Paul didn’t lose faith. He did, however, think about his legacy. It wasn’t about his name on a building (I think he would scorn the idea of St. Paul’s Whatever Church). It wasn’t about his wealth or degrees. He didn’t care to be famous (though he is one of the rare humans immortalized in history). He said in Philippians that you can take it all and flush it down the toilet.
What mattered was knowing Jesus and making him known.
What Paul pondered as he sat in prison, waiting for the other shoe to drop, was Timothy’s ministry and spiritual health. Timothy was a man precious to Paul, “My dearly loved son” he called him in 2 Timothy 1:2 (CSB). Not a son by birth; no, Timothy’s father was Greek, but a spiritual son. Paul is not the man who led Timothy to faith. He was highly influential in the spiritual development of Timothy, but Paul credits the work of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Still, Paul took Timothy under his wing, built on the foundation of the women who reared him, and ultimately confirmed his gifting and calling into a work of ministry.
That was what mattered.
Paul wouldn’t fade into obscurity, but he didn’t care about his fame. He cared about the heart of his spiritual child and Timothy’s love for Jesus and others. The young man had hit a rough patch. Paul had heard about it and couldn’t say goodbye to the world without an effort to nudge Timothy back to full-blown faithfulness.
This was his legacy.
Swedish author Fredrik Backman wrote a little novella called The Deal of a Lifetime. It is about a man who had sacrificed his family to build his own fame. Later in life, he encounters a mysterious woman who seems to hold the keys to fate. Sitting in a hospital bed with a dying girl in the next room, the man learns from the woman that he has a choice. He can save the girl, but he’ll have to give up everything he ever built (with a bit of a twist). I’ll leave it to you to read, if you want, to find out what the man chose, but it’s a fitting parable of this reality.
We can think we matter, enjoy the limelight for our fifteen minutes, or we can really matter and try to leave behind something that lasts an eternity longer than our fame on earth.
You’re not getting any younger. One day, you’re going to die. What legacy will you leave behind?
Mike Bergman is the pastor of a very normative church in small-town America. He is passionate about the weather, his family, foster care, and Jesus.