But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone 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 coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.
Paul’s farewell meeting with the Ephesian elders always challenges and inspires me. From it I learn much about what it means to serve Jesus as an elder in his church. However, as I read the passage today I felt encouraged to live my life as Paul lived his life. I saw several characteristics about how Paul lived that by God’s grace I could apply to my own life.
Live openly. Paul lived openly before the Ephesians. They knew who he really was. They had seen him in action. They live side-by- side with him. Paul was not duplicitous. He did not hide himself.
Speak plainly. Paul shared the truth about Jesus in a way the Ephesians could understand. He was bold in what he said, even when he had to call people to repent. He didn’t get caught up in rhetoric or eloquence. He certainly wasn’t complicated.
Take risks. Paul lived his life for Jesus, taking whatever risks necessary. He doesn’t take the easy way. He takes risks in terms of his relationships and also in terms of his activities. He doesn’t avoid the possibility of difficulties and afflictions. He has a confidence that the same Holy Spirit who sends him is the Holy Spirit who goes with him.
Persevere in grace. Paul refused to give up. He would not quit. He chose to persevere until he fulfilled his life’s purpose. Paul understood that life is a marathon not a sprint, requiring a long term vision and commitment. Paul also understood that such a life could only be lived by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. His was not a works-based perseverance but a grace-based perseverance.
Pay attention. Scientists today have discovered that how we pay attention shapes our lives. Paul knew this almost two millennia ago! Paul challenged the Ephesian elders first to pay attention to themselves — how they lived, how they thought, their relationship with Jesus. Then Paul also challenged them to pay attention to others — their well-being and their safety. It is striking that “paying attention” is the first responsibility of elders.
Be alert. Related to paying attention is the need to be alert. Paul knew that there were many dangers in the world, spiritual as well as physical. Paul also knew that there were many people and things that would want to take us away from our faithfulness to Jesus. He remained alert to all these threats and encouraged the Ephesians to do the same.
Take responsibility for yourself. Paul worked hard to provide for himself and the others who were with him. He didn’t depend on handouts from others. He didn’t see either the church or the government as having the responsibility to take care of him. He didn’t blame other people when things went wrong in his life. Paul took responsibility for himself as an example to others.
Live generously. Paul understood that giving, not receiving, served as the basis for joy in living. He gave freely and unreservedly. He especially sought to help those who are weak and in need. He gave not only resources but his very self.
How is Paul’s example challenging you to live today?
Gracious God, thank you for the example of people like Paul. It is amazing to think how he lived unreservedly for you and your glory. Please show me one thing from Paul’s example in this passage that I might begin to integrate into the way I live today. Thank you for your grace and mercy, shown through your Son Jesus Christ, so that even when I fail in these things I know that you are with me. You pick me up when I fall and set me on the right path. Thank you for your generosity in my life and the love that you have shown me through Jesus. Amen.
The Rev’d Rodney Woods is minister of the City Temple in London.