We all have heard or read "Famous Last Words" - those historic faux pas that outlive their authors... embarrassing memos that rise up to haunt us... impassioned goofs that return like a well-thrown boomerang... Oh, for the ability to erase them all.
Daniel Webster was one of America's greatest living treasures during the early 1800's. His verbal skills, mixed with an extraordinary intellect, positioned him as the most dominant player in American politics. He was without peer. But, in 1848, speaking to the U.S. Senate, Webster said something that today makes us smile, "I have never heard of anything more ridiculous, more absurd than the claim that the nation will profit by the acquisition of California. I contend it is not worth one dollar."
Decca Records controlled the American music industry for decades. Their star-filled vault held the contracts of Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee, Buddy Holly, and many others. Their ear for talent was unmatched. But in 1962, after their talent scouts reviewed a group of "mop heads" from Liverpool called The Beatles, Decca Records said, "We don't like their sound. And besides, guitar music is on the way out." Ten years later, the Decca Record label disappeared.
Economist Irving Fisher, in October of 1929, reported that "...the stock market has reached what looks like a permanently high plateau. The market is a safe and prudent investment." That same month, a deafening thud was heard throughout America as Wall Street crashed.
In 1942, Thomas J. Watson, chairman of IBM, said, "Realistically, there is a market for about five computers in the entire world. There is no reason to risk our current success on such a limited venture."
Looking into the future and reading the trends accurately is a rare ability.
You'd expect the Apostle Paul, one of history's most quoted personalities, to have left a memorable line or two amongst his last words. After all, during his ministry he'd been offered a preview into the future. Through a God-given knothole, Paul peeked into heaven's splendor. Surely his last words would include something about golden streets and pearly gates. But instead, Paul's farewell was not about the then-and-there, but rather the here-and-now. He spoke, of all things, about pastoring.
Paul's final words were addressed to Timothy, a pastoral candidate. Like many ministerial plebes, Timothy had questioned this strange choice of occupation. After all, his mentor had more scars than friends, more jail time than spare time. And because Paul's battles were from both sides of the church door, Timothy must have wondered, "How can anyone shepherd unruly sheep and menacing wolves at the same time?"
The apostle didn't leave his protégé wondering for long. Paul's exhortation has become his famous last words:
- Be faithful in your duties. (2im 1.8)
- Hold on to sound doctrine. (2Tim 1.13)
- Guard what you say and do. (2Tim 2.22-24)
- Be willing to suffer persecution for the gospel. (2Tim 3.12)
- Work hard at preaching the Word. (2Tim 4.1-2)
These were Paul's non-negotiable pastoral priorities. That's why he could say, "I've fought the good fight, I've finished the course, I've kept the faith..."
And, as a result, Paul - and countless others like him - heard another set of famous last words: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant... enter into the joy of your master." Is that your goal, too?
Vice President of Church Relations
P.S. If you're looking for great preaching tools, don't forget Preaching Magazine. It's my favorite. Check it out at Preaching.com. Do your congregation a favor by subscribing.
Publication date: May 13, 2010