How does one say goodbye; how does one finish your life’s work well? If the book of Acts were a movie, the later parts of Acts 20 would be shrouded in sad, sorrowful music – particularly as Paul and his companions eventually depart, leaving the Ephesian elders behind.
But there would also be musical moments of triumph. Paul re-iterates what his mission has been: to tell people what the needed to hear: that one must repent from sin and turn to God; that one must have faith in our Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:21). Then moments of almost musical silence and shock – as Paul notes how the Spirit has bound him to go to Jerusalem – awaiting who knows what. Actually, God has revealed something of what lies ahead: jail and suffering. Paul is headed straight into trouble, his course irretrievably set by the Spirit of God.
How would I feel at that. To my shame, I probably wouldn’t be as deliberate and settled as Paul is. I pray that God would give me the same sense of mission and certainty that Paul has when he speaks verse 24: But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
Oh, Father, may that be the rallying cry of my life. That my one burning ambition was to do your work. You have called each of us to do the same thing – to tell others about your wonderful grace to us in Christ. Give me the proper perspective on my life; let me know that what matters most is not my comfort, my pleasure or even the adulation or respect of my peers. Help me to see that what matters most is your nod of assent to me as a good and faithful servant. And may I, like Paul, not shrink from declaring the gospel. I have Lord. I have, and I’m sorry. Give me the bravery of your Spirit.
I believe it is right to seek to emulate Paul. In fact, he tells us to do so, even as he imitates Christ. But here, speaking to the Ephesian elders, he encourages their continued faithfulness in three areas:
Paul tells them to guard themselves. That is, do not let Satan have any reign in your life. By the Spirit of God, we need to keep putting off the old self that has died with Christ and be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Paul tells them to guard God’s people. We have a responsibility to those under our care; even as all Christians are to encourage and support each other in the faith.
Paul tells them to feed and shepherd God’s flock, the church purchased with the blood of Christ. Why? Because the Holy Spirit has entrusted them to the care of the elders. As a pastor, it is a great responsibility to look after those in the congregation where God has placed me. Note also that the antidote to false teaching is good feeding and shepherding. Keep the sheep well fed on good food (the Word of God) and direct them towards good and away from evil.
Finally – and this is a big finally – Paul entrusts the elders to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself. At the end of the day, what is needed to lead a congregation is not superhuman effort, but the grace of God. That is how we are saved, that is how we are built up. That is how we will receive our inheritance.
Thank you Father. Make me a good under-shepherd, I pray.