Alfred Nobel had the unique opportunity of reading his own obituary. One day he opened the newspaper and saw his name in the obituary column. It had been printed by mistake, of course, but Nobel was distressed that he was remembered as the man who created dynamite, something used for mass destruction. Nobel decided to make some dramatic changes in his life. Wanting to change what people would remember him for, he went on to create the Nobel Peace Prize.
If you weren’t aware that Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, then apparently his plan worked. Instead he left the legacy of the Nobel Peace Prize.
We all will leave a legacy. What will people remember about us? What will our family members say? What will we be known for? If we don’t like what we come up with as we think about this, it isn’t too late to change.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul stated and left his legacy. His turbulent life was coming to an end, yet he had truly made a difference. His final words were not a message of defeat but one of victory.
He was not like Solomon, who looked at his life in retrospect and said, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV).
Nor did Paul look back on his life and say, like his namesake, Saul, the king of Israel, “Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21 NKJV).
The apostle Paul was able to say what he said because he lived a life that was right before God. Because of that, he had no regrets.
At the time, Paul was sitting in a dungeon in Rome. An amazing series of events had led to his imprisonment. It started with Paul’s desire to go to Jerusalem and preach there. A prophet named Agabus had taken the belt Paul had been wearing, wrapped up his own arms and legs in it, and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:11 NIV).
When Paul’s friends heard that, they began to weep. They asked him not to go to Jerusalem. But Paul would not be deterred. I guess he really meant it on the day of his conversion when he said to Jesus, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6 NKJV). Paul did not fear imprisonment. He did not fear what people could do to him. He gave his life completely to God.
It reminds me of the words of Jim Eliot, a 20th-century martyr who was killed in his endeavor to take the gospel to a tribe in Ecuador known at that time as the Aucas. In his journal he had written,
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Paul went to Jerusalem and preached, and sure enough, people were angry with him and wanted to kill him. He was arrested and whipped, and then he was transferred to Felix, the Roman governor.
Now if Paul had played his cards right, he could have talked his way out of that mess. Instead, Paul spoke to Felix about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come. Paul challenged Felix to come to Christ. Felix procrastinated, and after a period of time, Paul exercised his rights and privileges as a citizen of Rome and appealed to Caesar. So Paul was put on a ship and sent to Rome.
He was taken to a place known as the Mamertine Prison, which was nothing more than a cold, dark cave cell with no window. There was only a hole through which food could be lowered. Needless to say, Paul was in a pit. And it was from this pit that Paul wrote these words: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6–7 NKJV).
Notice that Paul didn’t say he ran the race; he said he finished the race. That’s the key. It is not enough to start well; we need to finish well. It is not enough to run fast; we need to run fast and long.
This is a long-distance run. The goal is to make it across the finish line.
The Bible is filled with the stories of so many people who had tremendous potential but crashed and burned in the spiritual race. Samson had the incredible ability to vanquish his enemies. He would kill them left and right on the battlefield. On one occasion, he killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. Yet he went down in flames because he played around with sin – and sin ultimately played around with him, culminating in his own death.
Then there was Gideon, who had such humble beginnings and was mightily used by God. But as his life came to an end, he lowered his standards and fell into immorality and pride.
Both Samson and Gideon started well, but they didn’t finish well. They ran fast in the beginning, but they didn’t get across the finish line like they should have.
Paul wanted to be of the company of those who finished the race, joining the ranks of those who did so in God’s winners’ circle—men and women who finished well.
Paul truly had made a difference with his life. And if we are on the right course, our lives can make a difference as well. We all will leave a legacy. What kind will you leave?