08 March 2007

Not a bad epitaph

by Dan Phillips

As you probably know, John Piper's father passed into the Lord's presence. Piper writes of the final moments, movingly, here. Piper's words are redolent of his love and admiration for his father, and for the message that his father's life was and remains.

I think about death fairly regularly—my death, that is. I suppose that sounds morbid, and it can be. But consider the words of the Preacher:
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
...4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
(Ecclesiastes 7:2, 4)
It's funny, isn't it? Some single people will get married, some won't. But all think about it. We think a lot about many things that may or may not ever happen to us. But the one thing that is about as statistically certain as it gets — our death — many seemingly never give much serious thought.

There's actually a lot I could write about this, and may return to it. But for now, just one thought.

Recently in this connection I was struck by almost a passing statement in Mark, chapter 14. You know the story. The Cross is looming, and Jesus dines with Simon the leper. A woman slips in, breaks open some extravagantly expensive perfume (a year's salary!), and pours it over Jesus' feet.

Judas is outraged. The disciples fall right in line with his outrage, and rise to their full self-righteous height to condemn her excess. They object to this act of wasteful, appallingly bad stewardship. I imagine they expected Jesus to approve of their solicitous attitude towards the poor. But Jesus slaps them down something fierce.

In the course of the smackdown, the Lord says this: "She has done what she could." That's the ESV. But woodenly literally, the three words of the Greek text [ὃ ἔσχεν ἐποίησεν, ho eschen epoiēsen] read, "What she had, she did." Rotherham gives it as "What she had, she used."

Now, this woman did not paint Jesus a painting. She didn't "have" that. She didn't build Him a monument. She didn't preach a sermon to thousands, in His name. She didn't write a poem, a letter, a book. She didn't "have" any of those things.

But Jesus wasn't interested in what she couldn't do, or what she didn't have. He didn't have a word to say about what she didn't have, what she couldn't do.

She did have perfume, and very expensive perfume. What had she been thinking when she purchased it? Surely only of herself, of how lovely it was, of how delightful of a fragrance it would give her, how people would see her and think of her.

But she was converted at some point after this large purchase or acquisition (I hypothesize). What to do with this gigantic bauble? She could have done many things with it. She could surely have done exactly what the disciples suggested. She did not. What she did do was to pour it out on the Lord. Extravagant, breathtaking waste; it really peeved the disciples. But Jesus loved it.

And so, reading that phrase in Greek—"What she had, she did"—I thought: "Now, that wouldn't be a bad gravestone: 'What he had, he used.'"

Will that be, to any degree, a fit epitaph to my life? Could it ever truthfully be said, in my obituary, "What he had, he used"? The beginnings of many of my gifts for study, thought, expression and whatnot originated in sheer self-concern and self-interest. I read what I wanted to read because I wanted to read it; I said and wrote what I wanted to say because it amused me, or got me something I wanted, or gave vent to some feeling.

But I was converted, drawn by sovereign grace to repentant faith in Jesus Christ. This changed everything. What to do with all those abilities, and whatever new abilities came with conversion? The whole was recast. The entire scene shifted, the world changed, priorities were crashed, dashed, rebuilt, replaced. What to do with it all now?

Now, 30+ years later, statistically I am closer to the day of my death than to the day of my birth. What have I done with it all? What can I do with it in the remaining minutes, hours, days, years? Am I using what I have to its fullest? Will I?

The question presses on me more urgently than I'm able to communicate to you.

Now I offer you the thought as well. Could it truly be said of us, "What he had, he did"; "What she had, she did"?

Dan Phillips's signature


REM said...

Thanks for getting me to think about death (and my gravestone).

Tyler Bennicke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
centuri0n said...

You rock, Dan.


donsands said...

Tremendous. Encouraging. Made me take a moment for prayer.

janelle said...

That was inspired. Thanks.

amandajane said...

I often think of the line from the hymn
"When I see thee as thou art,
I'll praise thee as I ought"

I don't think we will have regrets in heaven, but its good to remain heavenly minded about our gifts and talents, as we don't know how much time any of us have. Giving it all, will only ever be a shadow of what Christ gave for us.

Anonymous said...

Before becoming a stay-at-home-mom my career was as a funeral & cemetery director. I oversaw two large metropolitan cemeteries which had approximately 600 burials each year. I buried the very young and the very old, the indigent and the wealthy, the ill and the accident victim, the intentional and unintentionally dead. Death is the equalizer.

And, amongst all those graves and headstones my favorite belonged to the mother and father of Dr. James Dobson. Under his father's name it said two words..."He prayed".

DJP said...

Amandajane, nothing will spoil Heaven, because Heaven is about Jesus. But 1 Corinthians 3:15 means something, and if it doesn't motivate us to sober thought, seems to me we're not reading it right.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder Dan. Seems the Lord has been reminding me of my mortality in many ways lately, thru the sudden death of a friend's sister and the heart attack of a brother-in-law - both of whom are/were my age.

I've also been thinking a lot about my personal ministry, and how it really isn't mine, but Christ's, that He has gifted and enabled and called my to fulfill. Your post brings both these thoughts together - can it and will it be said of me that "he did what he had"?

C.T. Lillies said...

What she had she did

Thats a good one Dan and thanks for sharing it. Should we be able to put something like that on our tombstone in conscience I think we could go out smiling.

"...the word of God is not bound."
--2 Timothy 2:9

HOOKEM said...

Heart reaching post. As we see the same scenario play out in John 12, I reflect back to Luke 10:41-42 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." As Martha was distracted focused on serving, Christ reminded us that Mary had it right...as she did in John 12 while anointing His feet, what she had was focused solely on HIM.

Thanks for the great reminder DJP. A great way to start out the day.

Wilson Porte Jr. said...

Obrigado pelas palavras encorajadoras! Thank you for your words of encouragement. Tenho sido muito abençoado por você aqui no Brasil! I have been blessed by your words here in Brazil. God bless you life and ministry. Thanks.

Robert Ivy said...

Excellent post Dan. I really don't think there's a more beautiful or revealing story in Scripture about someone other than Christ than this. I too, hope to be like that woman.

April said...

I too am thinking about death, my grandfather is living his last day's on this earth. I am filled with regret. Regret that I didn't put myself out more to tell and show him Jesus. He was raised a good Italian Catholic but after my grandmother passed he never went to church again. My father has been spending more time with him and try's to share and find out what he thinks about God. I am so...ashamed that I didn't know more about him.
Time IS short , thank you for the exhortation to use what we have. Not waste time on what we wish we had or what so-and-so has.

dp23 said...

Many years ago I heard a sermon on Shamgar (Judges 3:31) - "He did what he could, where he was, with what he had" - a challenge that has stayed with me....

cslewis3147 said...


thank you so much for that post...after the day (week), etc...I've had I really needed that...I appreciate your writing, peace be with you.


DJP said...

dp23—that actually sounds pretty cool.

Also a testimony to pithy, pointed outlines. (Seriously.)

Theophilus said...

One of the more sober and, well, useful sermons I have ever heard was one in which we were exhorted to view our lives from the perspective of our casket.

That is to say, when making a decision, consider the long-term lasting impact and legacy it will leave. So also in choices of career, lifestyle, use of time etc.

This is a message our culture would do well to hear more of, especially the Church itself.

Mykee said...


Cindy said...

I have seen dead bodies many times. When you work in the nursing profession, or medical profession, you see a lot of it.

I have had to do postmortem care a few times, preparing the body for the family. I have worked in nursing homes and this is where you see this a lot. Generally speaking, you know when they are about to decease because their respirations are shallow and short compared to deep and long.

I have a very realistic approach towards death and we all know it can happen anytime. But for those of us who know Christ Jesus, we can actually long for death, like the apostle Paul did, because we know absent from the body is to be present with the Lord! And no more rat race!!! No more IRS, no more bills, no more trials, no more evil people!!!

Sometimes I wonder why God continues to keep me here. I'd rather be with the Lord and I mean that because there is nothing here for me in this world when you compare it to Eternity where only righteousness dwells.

Also I don't understand how some Evangelical Christians rallied at Terry Shiavo's case. My living will has D.N.R., in other words, no heroic methods used to save me.........as a Christian why would you want to stay in this crummy world as a vegetable? This people who rallied to Terry's side have not witnessed first hand all the problems associated with a bedbound patient. They have not spent countless hours tending to bedsores, changing diapers, emptying catheters, etc., etc., but I have and I would never want to live like that and truly I don't think Terry would have wanted to either. I think it is more compassionate to end someone's suffering then to leave them bedbound for decades, not to mention the incredible medical costs.

DJP said...

Briefly, it was because there was no solid reason to believe she had herself expressed these wishes, her philandering husband had barred tests experts deemed essential to evaluating her state and treatment that would help her, and they did not let her die gently but starved and dehydrated her to death. That's for starters.

Cindy said...

The feeding tube was the only thing keeping her alive. Her brain was dead. But understand I didn't make that comment to start a debate. I understand that people feel very passionate on both sides and I just stand on the other side. I certainly don't agree with abortion. Clearly that is wrong, but I don't you would want to live like that. But if you do, that is your choice. But, I would not.

For starters, I am a organ donor and I would encourage others to be as well. That for starters is life, provided it is QUALITY of life!

DJP said...

You'd said, ...I don't understand how some Evangelical Christians rallied at Terry Shiavo's case. I was trying to supply that lack briefly. My memory is that experts said that the tests that would have been more revelatory of the state of her brain were refused by her husband.

Cindy said...

Actually, her husband had no problem with a brain biopsy. When it came back, she clearly was in a severe vegetative state.

DJP said...

I'm not talking about after he'd succeeded in getting her slowly starved and dehydrated to death. I'm talking about a particular test before, that might have been helpful, that he would not allow.

Cindy said...


You can not do a brain biopsy until the patient has deceased. This is why in Alzheimer patients it is the same way. They can't determine the severity of the Alzheimer's until they do a biopsy, so the only way to determine what stage an Alzheimer's patient is in, is to go by their symtoms.

Cindy said...

forgot the p in symptoms

DJP said...

Yes, Cindy, which is why I was ever talking about a brain biopsy.

You know, you said I don't understand how some Evangelical Christians rallied at Terry Shiavo's case, and I didn't make that comment to start a debate.

The more you argue about answers given to address the first statement, the more dubious both it and the second are becoming.

If you lacked information—itself hard to understand, as we were hardly silent—as to why Christians opposed her philandering husband being allowed to kill this very sick young woman, you lack it no longer.

If you are still wanting to argue, please take it to your blog.

Cindy said...


No need to get mad at someone who doesn't agree with your point of view!

I have no time to argue. I was just stating my point of view. I am not trying to demean your point of view either. So no offense, just relax please.

DJP said...

Your inaccurate guesswork about my emotional state aside, this closing observation:

You said you could not "understand how some Evangelical Christians rallied at Terry Shiavo's case."

If you say it again, it won't be because Christians' perspective hasn't been explained to you.

Cindy said...

I don't need those who rallied for Terry's life to explain their point of view.........I already KNOW their point of view. I was articulating my point of view and just for the record, I wasn't necessarily responding to your words, Dan, in your post, rather just the topic of death in general.

I too am a Christian with a perspective and point of view and just because I don't go along with the popular, does not mean my perspective is wrong. Like I said before, I have worked countless hours taking care of bedbound patients, and I can empathize with the husband. Just because the media and her family painted a horrible picture of him, does not mean it is true. We are not to judge another person's heart. I understand both the family that fought to keep her alive and her husband that wanted to end her suffering.

If you look at my second post you will see that clearly I said I wasn't here to debate anything with anyone. I am not debating who is right or wrong. Perhaps all the confusion has come from....."I can not understand how some evangelical Christians came and rallied to her side"......then I went on to state my perspective so that those could understand why I stood I the opposite side of the fence.

If you can't accept that as a peaceable statement, then there is nothing more I can say.

Grace and peace.