An epitaph is “a phrase or statement written in memory of a person who has died” (On-Line Dictionary). A few epitaphs that I found interesting, amusing, and informative include: Edgar Allen Poe's epitaph: “Quoth the Raven, 'Nevermore’”; Dean Martin: “Everybody loves somebody sometime”; Mel Blanc: “That's all folks!”; Abraham Lincoln: “Now he belongs to the ages”; Merv Griffin: “I will not be back right after this message.” And consider the sad facts stated of George Johnson in his epitaph: “Here lies George Johnson. Hanged by mistake, 1882. He was right; we was wrong. But we strung him up and now he's gone.”
Perhaps epitaphs are not used as often or as extensively as they were in days gone by. Most tombstones today contain only names and dates. In the Bible we read of a lot of epitaphs written by inspiration of God (II Tim. 3:16-17; II Pet. 1:20-21). So, these are epitaphs written by God. Let's notice a few of them.
First there are several epitaphs that speak good things about the ones they are written about. For instance, it is said of Enoch, that he “walked with God” (Gen. 5:24). Paul's epitaph would include the words, “Kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:6-8). Consider these other statements: of Jesus, “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38); of the church in Philadelphia, “hast kept My word” (Rev. 3:8). Of Dorcas it is said that she “was full of good works.” The following epitaphs are what all of us hope can be written of us at death: “At rest” said of all who “die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13). “Well done” said to those on the Lord's right hand in judgment (Matt. 25:21). And perhaps the greatest compliment ever paid to anyone is the epitaph written of Noah in Genesis 6:22. It states, “Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.” Is it any wonder that a man of this character would “find grace in the eyes of the Lord?” (Gen. 6:8). If that statement can truthfully be written of us at death, nothing else will really matter.
But not all epitaphs written by God were good. Some were bad. Consider the following epitaphs: of Judas, “Betrayed Him!” (Matt. 26:25); of Jezebel, “She repented not” (Rev. 2:21); of some in Peter's day, “Have forsaken the right way” (II Pet. 2:15). Hymenaeus and Alexander will always be remembered by the epitaph Paul wrote of them: “Have made shipwreck of faith” (I Tim. 1:19-20). And remember the rich man's epitaph, “In hell he lifted up his eyes being in torments” (Luke 16:23). The church at Ephesus had “left their first love” (Rev. 2:4). Other statements of scripture that serve as epitaphs for some include, “Sinned wilfully” (Heb. 10:26); “Obeyed not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thess. 1:7-9), and the statement made of Demas, “Loved this present world (II Tim. 4:10).
What will your epitaph be? What statement or statements will be able to sum up your brief span on this earth? Will the world be better because you were in it; or will the influence you leave behind be detrimental to the good of man? Someone has observed that “We preach our own funerals while living; nothing can be said to change the way we have lived our life, the influence we have wielded, the good or bad we have done.” There is a great deal of truth in that old adage. A friend of mine once asked me if I would speak at his funeral. He was unfaithful in his service at the time. I told him, “Give me something good that I can say.” I simply meant that he needed to live his life in a way that his epitaph could be good―and pleasant.
So again we ask the question, “What will your epitaph be? God wants you to have a good one. He urges, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). We are even told that His goodness leads us to a good end (Rom. 2:4). God's longsuffering is allowing us time to make preparation (II Pet. 3:9). If we want to have a good epitaph, if we want our lives summed up by statements that are good, then we need to be like Samuel and say, “Speak Lord, thy servant heareth” (I Sam. 3:8-9). Put your life in harmony with God's word; walk as He walked, press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God, and your epitaph can be a great one!