What you choose to say at the end of your life isn’t the most important thing in the world. What God says about you is.
Judging by the popularity of famous last words, there’s a lot of pressure to be exceptionally clever with your final breath. Or profound. One or the other. Or both, if you can manage it. After all, these are going to be your last words—your final bit of wit or insight to share with the world. They’re going to remember these words long after you’re gone.
Okay, so there’s a good chance they’re going to forget them or misremember them or substitute something wildly apocryphal. But don’t worry; you’re in good company. The Internet and some quote books will tell you that Beethoven said on his deathbed, “I shall hear in heaven,” that Groucho Marx exclaimed, “Die, my dear? Why, that’s the last thing I shall do!” and that Oscar Wilde griped, “This wallpaper will be the death of me—one of us will have to go,” but there’s not always much evidence to support those quotes as last words. In fact, for quite a few popular famous last words, there’s quite a bit of evidence they were never said at all.
So much for making your last words count. As much as we might romanticize them, history shows that deathbed remarks rarely survive the sands of time intact—and the truth is, there are other words that carry far greater weight than anything you could think to say before this life ends.
Let’s talk about those instead.
Two parables about two kinds of servants
A long time ago, Jesus told His disciples stories about “a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them” (Matthew 25:14). With that delivery came a responsibility—in a similar parable, the man told his servants, “Do business till I come” (Luke 19:13). In one parable, the servants were given talents, while in the other parable, they were given minas—two measurements of money in the ancient world.
Some servants obeyed their master. Some didn’t. When the man returned and took stock of his goods, he praised and rewarded his faithful servants, chastising and punishing those who ignored his instructions.
His words to those servants are iconic. The praise, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21), contrasts harshly with the censure, “You wicked and lazy servant” (verse 26).
These parables are metaphors for the Christian’s responsibility in this life—to take the gifts he or she has been given by Christ and do something with them. Like the servants in the story, we can either live up to that charge or hide from it—and like the servants in the story, we can expect either praise or censure depending on our actions.
Good and faithful.
Wicked and lazy.
At the end of it all, which set of words will God use to describe you?
The line between good and wicked
Those are the last words that really matter—the ones God says about you. Mutter whatever profundities you like with your last breath; be as clever or as insightful as you can be. But for Christians, God’s final assessment of our time on earth is the only thing that really matters.
There’s quite a gap between, “Here lies a good and faithful servant who will enter into the joy of his Lord,” and, “Here lies a wicked and lazy servant who will be cast into outer darkness.” If we want to be in one camp and not the other, now’s the time to do something about it.
What exactly is that something?
Well, in these parables, the distinction is as simple as this: the faithful servants did what they were told, and the wicked servants didn’t. It’s about obeying God. Jesus said, “Keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Christianity isn’t a free ride—if we don’t put what we’ve been given to use, Jesus isn’t going to be pleased with us at His return.
But there’s more to it. To understand more about how to improve ourselves, we’ll have to dig a little deeper.
Here are three keys to making sure you hear the last words that really matter.
1. Faithful servants understand what they’ve been given
In the parables of the minas and the talents, the master entrusts his servants with money. The money doesn’t belong to the servants; it belongs to the master. And while he trusted his servants to manage it, that trust came with a responsibility and an expectation. In the master’s absence, the servants needed to put the master’s goods to use.
But the parable isn’t really about these fictional servants.
It’s about you.
It’s about what you’ve been given.
It’s about what you’ll do with it.
God has entrusted you with knowledge of His truth and the purpose of your life. You have access to His Holy Spirit as you look to overcome your sins and strive to live more like your Creator.
What the servants were given was precious. Though scholars are not entirely certain about the relative values of these monetary units in modern terms, one theory holds that a single talent of silver would have been the equivalent of 20 years of wages for an ordinary worker, and a mina would have represented about four months’ worth. But the treasure you have access to? There is no equivalent value to it on the whole of this planet.
The masters in these parables were giving their servants the ability to accomplish more than they ever could aspire to do on their own. The gifts God gives us come with responsibility and expectation, but they also enable us to do more, to be more, than we could ever be on our own.
2. Faithful servants do what they can with what they have
In the parable of the talents, the servants given five and two talents both managed to double their starting amounts. They both received the same praise: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
This is important. The servant who started with two wasn’t criticized because he failed to produce five. They both started with different amounts, but they both seem to have put in the same effort with what they were given, and that’s what the master focused on. If the servant who only had one talent had been able to say, “Lord, you delivered to me one talent; look, I have gained one more talent besides it,” his master would have praised him too.
Instead, that servant hid the talent and did nothing with it (verse 25). That’s what made him a “wicked and lazy servant”—an unwillingness to even try to do something with what he’d been given.
God cares about what you’re doing with what you’ve been given. Are you out there trying to put it to use, or are you burying it all in the ground?You’ve been given a gift by God, but He’s not measuring your progress against your fellow Christians’ progress (2 Corinthians 10:12). He cares about what you’re doing with what you’ve been given. Are you out there trying to put it to use, or are you burying it all in the ground?
Paul explained to the Corinthians, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. … To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4, 7, English Standard Version). And he told the Ephesians that God’s people are “knit together by what every joint supplies” (Ephesians 4:16).
If you’re using what you’ve been given to become a better Christian and to support others as they do the same, then you’re on the right track. You’re putting your Master’s goods to use—and that’s what matters.
3. Faithful servants grow as they work
In the parable of the minas, each servant received the same amount of money, and they received further assignments based on how they managed that money in their master’s absence. For us, though, the goal is character growth. The more time we spend focused on growing spiritually, the more minas we’ll be able to present to Christ at His return.
Paul echoed this thought when he compared the Christian journey to a building project: “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
Building on the foundation is important, but so is the quality of our material. We might be able to get by with the bare minimum, but God is going to be far more pleased with a finished product that incorporates beauty and durability. As we put a greater effort into our relationship with God, we’ll be able to put finer and more durable materials into our building efforts.
In so many ways, what we accomplish with God’s minas and talents is a reflection of how close we are to our Creator.
Preparing for the Master’s return
That’s what God is looking for in His good and faithful servants. That’s part of what sets them apart from the wicked and lazy ones—a willingness to engage with the work they’ve been given to do. Good and faithful servants understand the priceless treasure they’ve been given, they put that treasure to work, and in the process, they build something beautiful that reflects who they’re becoming.
There are a lot of things you could choose to say with your final breath in this life, but at the end of it all, that’s not what matters, is it?
Good and faithful servants understand that the Master will return one day—and when He does, He’s going to have something to say about what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve built with His goods. They’re keeping busy today to make sure that, one day, they hear the only last words that really matter:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
To learn more, read our blog post “The Meaning and Lessons of the Parable of the Talents.” For more insight into what God expects from His servants, read our free booklet Change Your Life.