JohnSWilson3 Blog

” ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “
December 13, 2009, 4:41 pm
Filed under: E Acts

I have spent a number of days now reflecting on this farewell address that Paul gave to “the elders of the church” of Ephesus in Acts chapter 20. Partly because of my trying to better understand the organic nature of “elders” and what has been represented in the Christian church today.

This address is also probably the most outstanding farewell anyone could ever make, one that typifies the Christian life of an apostle. I also have to add that I do not think this should be representative of every Christian, although Paul does make a point to describe examples of Christian love that he has written about already from his previous letters to churches. It is interesting that Luke decides to add this short farewell address to the elders of Ephesus but gives us no glimpse at the lengthy talk Paul gave to the church in Troas. Perhaps because much of what Paul spoke of in Troas had been a repetition of what he had written to other churches about.

I like the fact that Paul was a no nonsense practical person. Even as he is headed to Jerusalem to take the monetary gift of the Gentile churches to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem he decides to spend some time “on foot” by himself while Luke and Paul’s companions take the ship from Troas to Assos. No doubt thinking about what Jesus would have him say to these group of older and more mature Christians whom he had lived Jesus life with for years in Ephesus. How Paul must have talked to Jesus in his spirit. How Paul must have listened quietly to Jesus speak by His Spirit as he hiked along the path.

Paul finally boarded the ship with his companions and they made it to Miletus where he “sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.”

Paul’s farewell address to these believers focused on how he gave to others. He begins by describing “how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia.” Paul lived a crucified life who could live by Jesus resurrection life! Paul describes the life he lived by saying how he “served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was tested by the plots of the Jews. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.” Paul’s life was about expressing the love, grace, and mercy of the Lord Jesus to others. Perhaps reflecting on the mercy Jesus had given him who had “persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it” but then “God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” This revelation of “his Son in me” was the key for Paul to go and endure every trial for the sake of seeing Jesus manifested in the life of every body of believers that he formed who believed the gospel of Jesus.

Paul was not content to live an individual Christian life, nor did it ever come to his mind that that was even a consideration. Jesus’ life was meant to be given and shared with one another. As every person who turned to God and had faith in the Lord Jesus their lives were forever changed! Lives were forever touched by the Lord Jesus. Jesus desires to be Lord of not just us individually but us as His body! How I would have loved to have seen and been a part of the body of Christ when Paul visited the homes of believers in Ephesus! To think that I could give something of Jesus to Paul! To think that Paul could give me something of Jesus! But the same Jesus in Paul is the same Jesus in each of His people! Jesus life that was shared then is the same life that can be shared now in each others homes! We must share Jesus with one another if we are to live by His life!

This life so compelled Paul that even though he knew that “prison and hardships” were facing him in the near future he knew that he was being “compelled by the Spirit.” But Paul was a crucified man, a man living on Jesus resurrection life, who like Jesus knew that hardships faced him. Given what we read about Paul’s life, what Jesus taught, and the difficult circumstances that shaped the early church how can we as Christians today focus solely on being a happy person, persons who love themselves and do things that build themselves up? I just don’t read this kind of life in the Bible. Paul describes not happiness but joy beyond understanding, a fruit of the Spirit, but it was a contentment that was not based on whether life was happy, but based on living the life of Jesus. Do we realize that we are only pilgrims on this earth? Do we realize that earth is not our true home? Jesus is our true home! Life in His body is our true home. Jesus said that rain falls on both the good and evil. We face the same stuff everyone else does but as a follower of Jesus we have Jesus life!

So for Paul he could tell the elders “however, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Wow! Paul considered his “life worth nothing”! How does that reflect in today’s self image and prosperity focused church! Our lives are Jesus, we are not our own, we were paid with the price of Jesus blood. Our life really is the life of Jesus, how can it be focused on me? But it is so easy to fall away to the ways of the world, no wonder the Christian life was meant to be lived in the context of relationships, a shared life, with other believers.

Perhaps Paul’s reason for sharing these life altering words was because of what was going to happen in the church. People were going to come into the church and give it new ideas, ideas that moved it away from intimacy with Jesus to intimacy for oneself. If Satan could focus the body of believers on themselves individually Satan could neutralize the effect of the life of Jesus in the believers lives. Paul had seen this time again in each of the churches that formed from his apostolic journeys. How important it is for the body of believers to focus on giving themselves away for and to one another, to Jesus! Paul says to “keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”

Where is the church at now? How have we fallen from the pure and simple devotion of Jesus together in each others homes? During the time of Jesus and Paul the Pharisees were the religious and civil leaders of the Jewish people. They made a bunch of traditions to supposedly help people obey God’s laws but they actually turned people away from God. They had good intentions. Perhaps the problem we see in the organized church is something similar, we have so programmed the church in an attempt to protect the church, so much so that the life of Jesus has been left to the sidelines or actually been removed. Living the life of Jesus together, according to Paul, was a daily struggle. Even Jesus said that to follow Him we must “deny ourselves, take up our cross, and daily follow Him.” What is keeping you, us from really allowing Jesus to be Head of His body? What must change? Paul warned the elders for three years with tears. Perhaps Paul remembered the emotionally charged situations that had occurred in the church in Corinth.

The only thing Paul could say at this point was that he would no longer be able to help this church any more, Paul was going to have to leave this church into God’s hands, perhaps that is best thing for all of us to do. Paul had shown this church how to live by Jesus life, they now had to pass that same way of living on to others. “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

These elders were called by Paul as overseers and shepherds. It is my opinion that God has called every believer to live the life of Jesus, but also raises up others who have gifts that can help the body to live by Jesus life. Frank Viola calls these persons initiators, who have made themselves available to the body, initiating the gatherings of believers, and helping others to participate in the body of Christ. This would include caring for the body of Christ by helping it to stay focused on Jesus and keeping Him Head of His Body.

Paul then gives his final thoughts, perhaps a final word of exhortation to show as an example how they, as elders, were to live among the body of believers, not lording it over others, being the only participants in the body, but serving others, letting others serve and participate. “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Is there not a better word for every person who claims to be an elder in every church that calls itself Christian? Do you covet, lust after prestige, possessions, power? Jesus said not so among you. How much have you worked to earn a living? Have you really supplied your own needs? What about supplying the needs of others? I find what is going on in organized Christianity today something beyond what the Bible says here and unbiblical. Of course this has practical application for every believer. How are we giving to others? To our families? To other believers? To those in need? How much money do we give in “tithing” to an organized church that could actually be used to make a difference in the personal lives of those we know.

How blessed it would be for the body of Christ if they could really give instead of sitting passively in a pew and receiving, receiving, and receiving still more. Perhaps there was a reason that the body of Christ met in each others homes, they could truly know how to give to one another in a personal way, living the life of Jesus in practical ways, being salt and light to those around us, making a difference because of Jesus life in us!