Goodbyes - 2007

Paul and the Ephesian believers wept as they said their goodbyes at the end of Acts 20, likely to never meet again in this life.  Their affection and care for him was great, just as we have experienced with those who have touched our life in very positive ways.  As I read the whole chapter, it seemed like a key to their beautiful relationship is found in verse 24:  “I consider my life worth nothing to me.”  This Christlike attitude had guided every interaction between Paul and others.  It doesn’t mean he had low self-esteem.  On the contrary, he understood more than most the great value of every human soul and just how useful a life can be when it is committed to the will of God.  Yet he also understood that life’s value has nothing to do with pleasing ourselves, providing for our human comfort and satisfaction, nor indulging human appetites.  Those who pursue a life of self-gratification may well find themselves alone and terrifically unhappy when all is said and done.  But like Paul, those who follow the example of the Lord Jesus in laying aside self-interest to love and serve others unselfishly discover the real value in life, experiencing the richness of truly loving relationships and forging strong bonds of friendship and devotion.

 

However, regardless of the wonderful human ties that we may form, the day comes when connections are broken.  Dear friends must one day part; every relationship of the flesh—spouses, parents, children, siblings—comes to its end.  Even profoundly spiritual relationships, like that between Paul and his Ephesian friends, are not permanent ones.  At the moment of parting, he was directing their attention—as he always had—to that which was permanent:  “I commit you to God and to the word of his grace.”  As much as we appreciate those around us who encourage our soul, we must keep our primary focus on the only lasting relationship, the one between us and our God, established through the Lord Jesus.  He reminded them that they were the church of God—not of any man—“which He bought with His own blood.”  Remembering who paid the price of our redemption keeps us settled and secure as human relationships come and go.  Voices we have loved to hear may one day grow silent; the word of His grace continues to speak, building us up and giving us an eternal inheritance.

 

Paul warned them that some relationships would let them down.  Even from their own number men would arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after themselves.  The potential for treachery and unfaithfulness lies in every human heart.  Yet no individual was singled out.  All were given the same counsel:  “Keep watch over yourselves!  Take care of each other!  Be on guard!”  If we do this, we’ll never be the one who disappoints or betrays.  So how do we keep on guard?  What do we watch for?  Watch your heart’s affection!  Christ must receive our love first and foremost.  Anything or anyone who would usurp that place becomes an idol, something God hates and which will bring sure destruction.  Don’t start valuing your own life!  Laid down in God’s service, its value is immeasurable; reclaimed to please ourselves, it becomes worthless, empty, and even dangerous in its potential to lead others astray.  Partings will come.  How wonderful when they only leave us encouraged to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness above all, leading to the day when we are reunited forever on the eternal shore.