The certainty of death brings clarity to the living of life. For every single one of us, our days will soon be over, and the wise among us will take this reality to heart (Ecc. 7:2). Our mortality ought to awaken us to the truth that as we walk this earthly sod, we are all leaving a legacy.
Our lives are canvases on which we are painting—and those pictures will remain after we have gone. The question is not whether we will leave a legacy but what kind we will leave. Solomon presents the options starkly: “The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot” (Prov. 10:7). Some legacies are blessings; others we’d rather forget.
Paul’s legacy was clearly on his mind when he wrote his second letter to Timothy: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Tim. 4:6). He was aware that the picture he had been painting with his life was nearly complete, and he was confident that, by God’s grace, it was something good: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord … will award to me on that day” (4:7–8).
One of the reasons that we want to steel ourselves against the prospect of death is that most of us do not want to think seriously about such a weighty topic.
Paul’s legacy, and the legacies of his many companions and opponents, have something to teach us about the pictures we are painting on the canvases of our own lives.
Legacies of Harm and Help
Not all in the New Testament painted pictures like Paul’s. As he reflected on his own legacy, he also had something to say about the people who labored with him—and those who didn’t.
In 2 Timothy’s first chapter, Paul records the names of Phygelus and Hermogenes in order to mark how they deserted him. In fact, they were the exemplars of “all who are in Asia”—that is, Anatolia, or modern Turkey—who he says “turned away from me” (1:15). Then there is Demas, who, “in love with this present world, has deserted me” (4:10). These names have gone down in the pages of biblical history as belonging to those who were unfaithful to a needful brother.
Some people not only fail to do good but also actively do evil. Such were “Hymenaeus and Philetus,” who Paul describes as have “swerved from the truth” and who taught their false doctrine to others so that is spread around “like gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:17–18), and “Alexander the coppersmith,” who did Paul “great harm” (4:14). Theirs are toxic legacies—memories that will rot.
But some brothers and sisters in Christ left legacies of great help. Paul names Timothy’s mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice, as godly influences in Timothy’s life. It was they who ensured that Timothy was “acquainted with the sacred writings” from childhood (2 Tim. 3:15). And Paul praises Mark as “very useful to me for ministry,” and Tychicus as well (4:11–12). All of these preached the truth faithfully and advanced the course of the Gospel. And what a legacy has been left by Onesiphorus, about whom Paul wrote, “He often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me” (1:16–17). And Luke, too, remained with Paul (4:11). Each of these men and women was faithful to Paul when so many others deserted him.
These are significant legacies—both the good and the bad—recorded in Scripture to warn us and encourage us. And this is just a sampling of individuals connected to Paul. There are countless other examples for us to consider throughout Scripture. And when we give them due consideration, they confront us with a question…
What About Us?
If you died tomorrow, what kind of legacy would you leave behind? One of the reasons that we want to steel ourselves against the prospect of death is that most of us do not want to think seriously about such a weighty topic. But if we’re to leave a legacy of help and not of harm, we need to take seriously what kind of portrait we are painting right now.
Three resolutions will help put us on a path to a godly legacy:
- Resolve to live so as to be missed—and for the right things! Don’t be missed in the office for the way you ran a meeting; be missed for kind words, for good deeds, for short notes, for loving conversations, and for good laughs. Be like Onesiphorus to Paul: someone who builds up and refreshes. When we are gone, no one will care about the size of our houses, the horsepower in our cars, our stock options, or any of the other things that go to moth and rust. What will live on in the minds of those who follow us will be the quality of our character and the depth and breadth of our love.
- Resolve to live to God’s glory. Do not underestimate the impact of a solitary life lived to God’s glory. Don’t let the Evil One come and say to you, “What you’re doing and where you’re going is irrelevant, and nobody really cares.” Perhaps Lois and Eunice were tempted to think their household Bible lessons to Timothy would be of no consequence in God’s plan—but they would have been very wrong! You can stand against the schemes of the devil, seek to be faithful in the small things, and do whatever you do unto the Lord Christ. A life lived this way is significant, and its memory is a blessing.
- Resolve, with God’s help, to seize the day. We do not know when we’ve painted the final stroke on the legacy we’re leaving behind. Jesus tells a parable of a fool who lived for worldly pursuits and was not ready for the night when his soul was required of him (Luke 12:16–20). Paul, on the other hand, saw his death at hand and was able to say with confidence that he had lived to please God because he did not “run aimlessly” or “box as one beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26). Seize each day, and live for what matters. Use your time and resources to make investments that will go beyond your life. Don’t waste a second. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s, and each day is to be lived for Him.
The psalmist prays, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). When we number our days, pray for wisdom, and resolve to live in the ways listed above, we can hope for a legacy that will bless, strengthen, and help those who come after us—not for our renown but for God’s glory alone.
This article is adapted from the sermon “What Is Your Legacy?” by Alistair Begg.