You may have heard a popular quote credited to a Moravian missionary from the 1700s named Nikolaus von Zinzendorf. It makes the rounds from time to time on social media, and it’s typically met with likes and affirmative replies. Preach the gospel, die, and be forgotten.
I think we should change it to: Preach the gospel, die, and be remembered.
To be fair, I understand why pastors, preachers, and ministry leaders appreciate it. It falls in line with the words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). In other words, glory is reserved for God alone. Our faithfulness should mirror his faithfulness, not be the mountain everyone gazes at in awe and wonder. I believe that too.
Is It Good to Be Forgotten?
So why do Zinzendorf’s words rub me the wrong way? I think it’s because I don’t want to end my time on earth as someone who essentially never existed. I know that may be taking Zinzendorf’s original point a little far, but listen for a moment.
To be sure, our motivation for preaching the gospel shouldn’t be to achieve greatness and immortality in the eyes of people. At the same time, I don’t think the desire to be remembered as a faithful servant is an ungodly ambition.
I don’t want to end my time on earth as someone who essentially never existed.
Why does it matter to us to be people who aren’t forgotten?
First, we’re made in God’s image. Because of the imago Dei, we reflect a God who is eternal. Further, as his redeemed people, we reflect indelible marks of his mercy and grace.
Second, Scripture assures us that those who practice righteousness will have a legacy that will not be uprooted:
Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
who conducts his affairs with justice.
For the righteous will never be moved;
he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. (Ps. 112:4–7)
The psalmist argues that the person who lives an upright life can be assured his life will not be lived in vain. The Lord will preserve him through all seasons. The psalm doesn’t say the person who practices mercy, grace, generosity, and justice will become Twitter-famous, but it does say the faithful won’t be forgotten.
Third, our own lives are shaped by the memories of saints who have influenced us for eternity. Being remembered for the right reasons is a righteous pursuit for our hearts.
Remember the Faithful
Paul remembered the faithfulness of Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5). His praise for their faithfulness was only possible because it had been passed down to Timothy and hadn’t been forgotten.
Don’t we all have memories of believers whom we cherish?
I remember the week my father passed away. His death was unexpected, and I had to delay my grieving because there was so much work to do to prepare for his memorial service. My pastor at the time was out of state on his summer vacation, and the church was under strict orders not to disturb him.
The psalm doesn’t say the person who practices mercy, grace, generosity, and justice will become Twitter-famous, but it does say the faithful won’t be forgotten.
Nevertheless, my phone rang the day after my dad’s passing, and it was my pastor. The phone call was brief, but in those few minutes, he took the time to console me, pray for me, and tell me he was sorry he couldn’t be there with me. In that moment, that pastor provided a brief but gracious outlet for some of my suspended grief.
I listened to hundreds of sermons from this man, and I couldn’t tell you so much as the title of one of them. But I remember that phone call.
Our exhausting drive to gain bigger followings, preach knock-it-out-of-the-park sermons, and establish public platforms isn’t the way to be remembered. It’s actually small, seemingly insignificant, rarely seen, and what most would perceive as forgettable acts of others-oriented service that form a legacy worth remembering.
So preach the gospel, die, and rest assured, you will be remembered. God preserves the memory of the faithful.