What Do You Say at an Unbeliever’s Funeral?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Funerals are hard enough for believers, but what do you say at an unbeliever’s funeral service?

Sympathy and Compassion

Funerals are hard enough for believers, but what do you say at an unbeliever’s funeral service? The Bible commands us to weep with those that weep (Rom 12:15). It doesn’t say we should not weep for unbelievers too. At finding Lazarus four-days-dead, Jesus’ wept (John 11:35). We too should weep for those who pass, and weep for those left behind, saved or not. We are all human and it’s good to grieve and cry for this is part of the healing process. Regardless of whether the person was saved or not, we must always show compassion and sympathy to those left behind. That’s what they need the most right now…not judgmental talk about “He’s probably in hell now” or “He/she’s in a better place now.” God alone knows, but whether the deceased person was saved or not, we must show love and compassion to those they’ve left behind. Let the normal part of human grieving do its work and move alongside the grieving family members and help in any way possible that you can, even if it’s saying, “I’m so sorry…I wished I knew what to say that would help.”

Speak the Truth

In all things, we must speak the truth, including at funeral services or memorial services for those we believe or we know were not saved. It helps no one who is not saved by failing to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Gospel is that unless they trust in the Savior, they are saying “Goodbye” to them and not as to the saved, “See you later.” If there was a bridge out around the corner on a highway, we’d likely get out of the car and boldly warn others and say, “Stop! Stop! The bridge is out.” If they proceed to drive around the blind corner and die, then their own blood is on them, but if we fail to say anything and are silent, we’re culpable in their death. In the same way, when death has shown up in a family’s life, we must warn other living family members and their friends at the funeral that “Today is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). Tomorrow may not even come. We must warn they living while they are yet alive because judgment comes after death (Heb 9:27), so plead with them my brothers and sisters. Pray for them to be reconciled back to God through Jesus Christ (Rom 10:9-12).

No Speculating

If we seem certain that the person who has passed away was not a believer, we should still show compassion to those they left behind, but we can’t sugarcoat it and say, “They’re in a far better place now” or “They’re reunited with their loved one now…” We must not say what is not or may not be true. We must remain faithful to the Gospel and that is only through a saving, personal relationship with Jesus Christ can we be saved (John 3:16-17) and spared from the wrath of God (John 3:18, 36b). There is simply no other way anyone can be saved (Acts 4:12). Unless we warn those still living of the wrath to come, they’ll never see their need to trust in the Savior. The person who passed away may have been seen as a good person, but no human goodness is acceptable to God (Rom 3:10-12; Eph 2:8-9). Unless they have the righteousness of Christ, they will not be in the Kingdom of Christ. And to be shut out of the kingdom is a fearful thing (Rev 21:8). It might seem harsh to preach about God’s wrath, but it makes God’s mercy important to them. And the most loving thing we can do for sinners is to speak the truth and tell them of the wrath of God so that they might seek the grace of God.

Preach the Gospel

Jesus once said not long after Lazarus had died that “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies” (John 11:25). He also said that “everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this” (John 11:26)? Jesus asks us all,  Do you believe this?” The dead will pass into glory if they’ve trusted in Christ. I hope you do believe this, but regardless, at a funeral there will be a mixture of saved and lost so we must at all times, present the gospel and the hope of the living is in Christ. They dead have no more hope unless they’ve trusted in Christ. And for believers we know that to be apart from the body by death means being present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8).

Goodbye or See You Later?

The hope of believers who have lost loved ones is that they will see them again in the Kingdom, so at a believer’s funeral, it’s not “Goodbye” but “See you later,” but if they’ve never trusted in Christ, then it is “Goodbye” and it is goodbye forever. We can’t make the message any easier and not speak of the realities of stepping outside of this life without Christ. A failure to present the Gospel of salvation through Christ alone is a failure to warn sinners of the coming wrath of God (Rom 1, 2).


I pray you’ve already trusted in Christ and passed from death unto eternal life in Jesus Christ because whoever believes in Him, even if they die, and all will die, they shall live again in the presence of God (Dan 12:2-3; John 11:25-26; Rev 21:1-5). For believers, death is only a beginning…a beginning for something eternal. That is eternal life and being in the presence of Jesus Christ for time without end. The wrath of God was placed on Jesus Christ and not on the saints who were brought to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, therefore, I plead with you today if you are not saved, repent today and trust in Jesus Christ or you will surely face God’s judgment and His wrath after your death (Heb 9:27) or at Christ’s appearance (Rev 20:12-15), whichever happens to come first.

While there is still yet time sinner, come to the Savior that you might receive eternal life and the forgiveness of sins. Then you can have the assurance of the saints that nothing or no one can ever take you from the promised coming presence of God (John 10:28-29; Rom 8:35-39).

Here is some related reading for you: Inspirational Scriptures and Poems for Funerals

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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