“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.”
– Philippians 3:7
Over the summer, I finally watched Breaking Bad and was blown away by the show’s climactic moments that portray our society’s struggles of violence, greed, and pride. However, there’s one quieter scene that has kept bouncing around my head for longer than I expected.
Throughout the show, we follow Walter White, a chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer who cooks crystal meth to pay for his treatment and support his family. As Walt grows increasingly attached to the money and power he is receiving and it becomes harder to hide his crimes, he faces dilemmas that change him from a loving and desperate father into a hardened kingpin whose family increasingly resents him. In the episode “Salud,” Walt takes painkillers after being badly injured in an argument and ends up missing his son Junior’s sixteenth birthday. Later in the episode, Junior goes to check in on his clearly intoxicated father, who then uncharacteristically breaks down in tears and apologizes. The next morning, a sober Walt finds Junior and opens up about his own father also dying young before saying, “I don’t want you to think of me as the way I was last night. I don’t want that to be the memory you have of me when I’m gone.” 
This line hit me hard. Though I don’t like to admit it, I think the reason is because I often find myself feeling like Walt here. Deep down, I know there’s a part of me that also longs to be remembered after I’m gone, a part that’s scared of not doing enough with life, or worse, thinking that nothing I did truly mattered. I don’t really like this feeling, and so in looking for guidance, I found some comfort by going down a rabbit hole into 2 Corinthians.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul is dealing with false teachers who have infiltrated the church in Corinth, a church which already struggles with factions and internal divisions, as we know from Paul’s earlier letter.  These “super apostles,” as Paul backhandedly calls them, prioritize status and money, and they try to discredit Paul for possessing neither. Among the accusations, they mention how Paul’s “letters are weighty and forceful, but his physical presence is unimpressive, and his speaking is of no account.” 
I always pictured Paul to be this powerful presence as a speaker, especially since in Acts we see Paul’s grand speeches throughout the Mediterranean and are told how “every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”  I was caught off guard to read this accusation since the two accounts then felt like they were somehow in tension with each other. However, as I looked into it, I started to learn that a lot more is going on.
A helpful clue comes from New Testament professor Judith Diehl, who explains how “in that culture, oratory was a recognized talent and trade, and clever speech was designed to make money.”  This is consistent with what we find in Chapter 11, where Paul asks, “Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?”  Paul is acknowledging that he could have been like the rest of the world, using his preaching for money, but decided not to, since his priorities were to build up his congregation, not himself.
Adding onto this, New Testament professor Craig Keener in his popular Bible Backgrounds Commentary points out how the accusation against Paul “need not mean that he is a terrible speaker,”  but instead that “Paul’s speech reflects insufficient rhetorical training to impress the powerful people of society.”  I think the word “impress” is key there. Paul certainly could have spoken in such a way that his preaching would bring recognition to himself, but how could he do that when the point of his preaching was to bring recognition to Jesus?
Suddenly, Paul being accused of poor public speaking starts to make sense. It’s not that he was incoherent, but rather that he had a tool at his disposal that could have brought him money and status, but he instead used it to bring people to Christ, something that puzzled the super apostles. Instead of solidifying his own legacy, he helped spread Jesus’. It’s the lived-out example of Paul’s maxim in Galatians: “If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” 
Going back to that scene from Breaking Bad, it’s interesting to see how much Walt is acting like a super apostle. He is so obsessed with money and power that acting emotional and vulnerable in front of his son is seen as a blemish on the legacy he is trying so hard to curate for himself, so he asks his son not to remember that moment. It wasn’t enough to just be remembered; Walt needed to have control over what those memories were.
What makes the scene hit even harder is Junior’s response to his father’s request. “Remembering you that way wouldn’t be so bad. The bad way to remember you would be the way you’ve been this whole past year. At least last night you were real.” 
In an excellent video essay on this scene, YouTuber Aleczandxr comments how Walt “was ironically doomed to become the type of person that would never leave the type of impact he desired.”  Walt worked so hard to hide his double life as a drug lord that it ended up costing him his relationship with his family, even when all his son wanted was for his father to be present and honest. Junior’s final line of the scene reminds us how we all impact people in ways we may never know, ultimately rendering our legacy different from anything we could predict regardless of how hard we may try to control it. This fact that we can impact those around us without ever knowing the results is both an incredible privilege and a terrifying responsibility.
As I’ve thought more about legacy, I’ve often been drawn to this beautiful reflection on Jesus’ command to be salt. “Do you have any memories of finishing a great meal and having the conversation turn to how great the salt was? Me neither. It’s something that does its job but doesn’t draw attention to itself. The body needs it in order to maintain fluid balance, blood pressure, and nerve/muscle function. It makes the flavor of food peak. And yet very rarely do we feel the need to notice or talk about it… Our eyes are searching for big things, breakthroughs, defining moments… and Jesus reminds us that the kingdom of God is like salt. Mostly unnoticed, doing good work.” 
Like Paul, we all have been given tools that we can use either to promote ourselves or to promote Jesus. Though I still struggle with this longing to create a legacy, I think by following Paul’s example, I can work to care less about legacy and also make sure the memory that I do leave uplifts the right things. And more importantly, I can take comfort in knowing that the only one who will truly remember my legacy is also the one who made me and knows me and wants to help guide me towards His purpose. Lord, give me the strength to promote and to trust you more.
1: ”Salud,” Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 10.
2: 1 Corinthians 1:10, New International Version.
3: 2 Cor. 10:10, NIV.
4: Acts 18:4, NIV.
5: Judith A. Diehl. The Story of God Bible Commentary: 2 Corinthians, ed. Tremper Longman III and Scot McKnight (Zondervan Academic, Kindle Edition, 2020), 325-326.
6: 2 Cor. 11:7, NIV.
7: Craig S. Keener, IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (IVP Academic, 2014), 510.
8: Ibid., 509.
9: Galatians 1:10, NIV.
10: “Salud,” Breaking Bad.
11: Aleczandxr, “The Hidden Origin of Heisenberg,” 19 Apr. 2022. https://youtu.be/U-H_U4-bnTw.
12: Nancy Ortberg, “Following Jesus,” in Living the King Jesus Gospel, ed. Nijay K. Gupta, et al. (Cascade Books, 2021), 201.
Andrew Nachamkin ’24 is a Statistics and Classics double major and is a board member of Telos and Williams Christian Fellowship. From Cold Spring, NY, he enjoys basketball, theater, his Kindle, and his friends.