by Tom Wacaster
Good-byes are never easy. Unfortunately the closer we are to someone, the more difficult the farewell, and the more heart-rending the separation. When the final moment comes for separation words escape us and the uncertainty of the future reminds us that there is the real possibility that we may never see this loved one again this side of eternity.
The apostle Paul was no stranger to good-byes. His missionary journeys provided occasion for widening his circle of friendship. But with every new acquaintance there was the inevitable moment of separation that awaited Paul and those whom he came to love so dearly. When we read the letters of this great man of God, along with Luke’s record of Paul’s life and work, we are impressed with the great love Paul must have had for those who were so near and dear to him. Like many of us, Paul must have had his circle of especially close friends. But beyond that circle, Paul still counted his brethren among those whom he cherished above even earthly kin. To the Thessalonians he wrote, “But we were gentle in the midst of you, as when a nurse cherisheth her own children: even so, being affectionately desirous of you, we were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7-8). Paul expressed his thankfulness for the Philippians: “I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication with joy, for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:3-5). We can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Paul to tell those brethren good-bye, especially when he knew that there was a possibility that he would never see them again.
I get the distinct impression that some of those good-byes caused Paul great grief. When Paul was hastening to get to Jerusalem before Pentecost (as recorded in Acts 20 and 21), he was warned by Agabus that trials and tribulation awaited him in that city. The brethren, when they heard the words from Agabus, “besought him not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12b). Paul answered, “What do ye, weeping and breaking my heart?” (Acts 21:13).
In Acts 20, the inspired penman Luke provides us with Paul’s message to a group of brethren who, in his own words, “shall see my face no more” (verse 25). Returning to Jerusalem and the fate that awaited him there, Paul and his company made a stop at Miletus. There he sent for the elders of the church in Ephesus. Notice the following points regarding Paul’s farewell to these brethren.
First, he reminded them that he had never lost sight of his aim and purpose. He could say in all clear conscience that he “shrank not from declaring...anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house” (verse 20). He “shrank not from declaring...the whole counsel of God” (verse 27). As a result Paul was “free from the blood of all men” (verse 26). Any preacher who is worth his salt will see to it that he preaches the whole counsel of God. He may not endear himself to those who do not love the truth, but to those who are like the noble Boreans, he will form a bond that will not be broken by separation in time and/or distance. Over the years this scribe has endeavored to preach the whole counsel of God without fear and favor of men. If I have failed it is not because of an unwillingness on my part, but one of oversight.
Second, Paul did not account his life as dear unto himself (verse 24). When a man can reach the point where his service to God is more important than his life, he has reached a most noble plateau in his spiritual growth. John was privileged to see in a vision that great host of the redeemed who had overcome “because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death” (Rev. 12:11, emphasis mine, TW). Those first century martyrs “had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, ill treated” (Heb. 11:36-37), yet they remained faithful. Why? Because they did not account their lives as dear unto themselves. That kind of self sacrifice will endear yourself to those who have “obtained a like precious faith.”
Third, Paul gave the elders a charge. It was a charge to fulfill the responsibility that was theirs as elders, overseers of the flock of God (verse 28). You may not serve as an elder, but each one of us has a “charge” nonetheless. It is a charge to be faithful even in the face of death (Rev. 2:10), to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), to “present yourself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, handling aright the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), and it is a charge to “preach the word in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:1-2). I am confident that you will maintain your faithfulness to heaven’s call to “live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:12).
Fourth, Paul encouraged those elders, and by implication all of God’s faithful servants, to maintain loyalty to the word. “And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified” (verse 32). The Bible is your compass and guide, your owner’s manual for the proper care and operation of the spiritual man. Don’t neglect the study of it. Lay it up in your heart. Treasure it, read it, meditate upon its precepts, and never, never, never deviate from the truths contained therein.