Paul’s goodbyePosted: January 3, 2012
Acts 20:17-38 NASB –
From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them,
“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
“And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
My thoughts –
After three years in Ephesus Paul is saying goodbye here. He was no stranger to controversy here, nor anywhere else for that matter. He had more than a few run-ins with the artisans who made temple idols. At one point they decided to kill him because he was preaching against their livelihood.
Here Paul appeals to the church that he has built up to not allow others who come after to lead them astray. Is he concerned with his legacy? Perhaps. But he is also leaving with a clear conscience. He says to them that no one’s blood can be on his hands. He has held nothing back. He has preached as completely as he could to all that he could. If anyone didn’t get the message that’s not on Paul.
Reading Paul and accounts of Paul it always amazes me that he did all of the work that he did in evangelism while also supporting himself through his own labor. Paul was bi-vocational. While he is appealing to the Ephesians that he did all of the ministry that he could he is also reminding them that he made himself a burden to no one. He paid his own way. He did so by the labor of his own hands.
Paul is leaving for an uncertain future. He has made many enemies, and he is heading to Jerusalem and then ultimately to Rome to answer to the charges of his enemies. And while at the time of this writing his future was uncertain to Paul we also do not know exactly what happened. Paul went to Rome. Paul was imprisoned for at least a year. After that he may have been freed. He may have been killed. He may have traveled to Spain. He may not have. Historians can not seem to agree on what exactly happened to Paul. But Paul believed that he was off to Jerusalem to face death, and it is very likely that he was.
But Paul was less concerned with what he was facing and more concerned with what he was leaving behind. Paul was moving on. Three years was a good run for Paul. The man had a mission. He was spreading the gospel to the entire world in anticipation of Christ’s return. He really did believe Jesus’s return was imminent and he wanted to make sure that the world was ready. Paul left many places. But here we get to see his departure pretty clearly.
People move in ministry even today. As a Methodist I get to see this first hand. Every year there are new appointments. Every year pastors are moved around. Every year pastors and congregations say goodbye to.each other and pastors contemplate the legacy they have left behind.
I am in a position that is not under appointment. I like to.say that I’m “just the guitar player”. I would hope that my church knows better. I would hope that the ministry that I do leaves more of an impact than just the entertainment value of the singing and playing of the music. I would hope so, but sometimes I wonder.
I have no immediate plans to leave. Heck, I don’t ever plan to leave. When I took the position I said that I.would serve as long as they wanted me and I have done that. But leaving happens. That’s the nature of this life. People move on. Or they die. Wait long enough and change just happens. It has to. No one lives forever. Not here.
So I have been wondering what kind of legacy I.would leave behind. Could I honestly say as Paul does here that no one’s blood could be on my hands? Have I shared Jesus with everyone I could through music as well as word and deed? Have I done all that I could? If I found out I had to leave tomorrow could I do so with a clear conscience?
I think that’s the way we should do ministry. Every day ask if we’ve done all we could. Every day ask if we’ve shared Jesus with everyone that we could. Every day ask if we could leave tomorrow with a clear conscience. Maybe that’s too high of a standard. Maybe that’s asking too much. Maybe that’s a recipe for burnout.
But I think that’s the way I’m going to start doing things. You know, starting tomorrow.