Monday, October 02, 2006

Acts 20:17-38

We have in today’s passage a tender scene. Paul, having lived and traveled in Asia Minor and the Greek peninsula for a long time, desired to visit Jerusalem again. On the way he sought a meeting – a reunion, if you will – with the elders or leaders of the church in Ephesus, where Paul had lived and taught for more than two years. As fellow believers in Jesus, Paul and the Ephesian Christians had developed a deep spiritual bond during those years. Because of this, on his way to Jerusalem, Paul asked the church leaders to come to Miletus, a little further down the coast from Ephesus, to meet with him and enjoy each other’s company again.

Yet Paul wanted to do more than mill around and chat with old friends, reminiscing about the past. Paul thought the trip to Jerusalem might result in persecution and perhaps even death for him. He certainly felt that, whether through martyrdom in Jerusalem or elsewhere, he would never see the Ephesian elders again.* So, in addition to renewing and rejoicing in their spiritual bond, Paul longed to encourage and strengthen the elders and believers in Ephesus in their life in Jesus. Hence, what we have in today’s passage is a kind of last will and testament to his dear friends. How tender it is, then, when we read of their kneeling and praying at the end, all the while weeping and embracing in what they believed was their last time together on earth.

Of this “last will and testament” there is much we could ponder to our benefit. Yet one particular point, I think, deserves much prayerful consideration as virtually the focal point of Paul’s instruction here and indeed of his whole life. In verse 24 Paul revealed his heart when he stated that he valued his own life not at all except in relation to Jesus and the task Jesus called him to fulfill, namely, witnessing to the good news of God’s astounding grace. Paul employed the metaphor of running a race to signify this task when he expressed his longing only to finish the race and finish it well. It is an inspiriting expression of vigor, passion, and perseverance, conditioned by the great good Paul found in Jesus.

I start many good things. Too few do I finish. May this not be so with my faith. May it not be so with any of us. Living the good news of Jesus faithfully in heart and mind, in word and deed, may we run the race and finish it well, to the glory of God.

Gregory Strong

* As it turned out, Paul was wrong. He did not die in Jerusalem, and he may even have visited Ephesus again. Yet, this does not diminish what he and the Ephesian elders felt in the situation, and how he ministered to them so pastorally.

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